Trinity College Dublin has dropped 44 places in the latest global university rankings, in a further blow to Ireland’s reputation on the world stage.
It has sparked a call on Government from the 427-year-old university for a national strategy on rankings to reverse the ongoing decline in the nation’s standing.
Trinity remains the only Irish university in the top 200 of the UK-based Times Higher Education 16th annual league table, but it has plummeted from 120th place last year to 164th.
A similar fall next year would mean that no Irish university would be ranked in the top 200 in the prestigious Times Higher Education listings.
University College Dublin fell out of the top 200 three years ago and remains in the 201-250 band, along with the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.
Rankings for other Irish universities are: NUI Galway (251-300), Maynooth University and University College Cork (301-350), University of Limerick (501-600), Dublin City University (601-800), Technological University Dublin (801-1000).
The rankings are based on a range of measures under the headings of teaching - including the staff to student ratio - research volume, income and influence, links to industry in terms of innovation, inventions and consultancy views and the ability to attract international students and staff.
The UK’s Oxford University is top overall for the fourth year running, with the California Institute of Technology rising three places to second, Cambridge University dropping one place to third and the Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) completing the top five.
But the 2020 rankings, covering 1,300 higher education institutions, also see further evidence of a continuing shift in balance of power in global higher education, as Asian universities forge ahead. Seven new countries are included, bringing the total to 92.
Irish universities, which are continuing to battle with Government for a restoration of cuts imposed during the austerity era, blame lack of investment for the worsening national standing.
Ireland’s relative position has been slipping for years as other countries invest greater amounts in third-level education and research.
In face of the continuing slide, Trinity has called on the government to work with universities to develop a national strategy on rankings to target funding in key areas and reverse the slide witnessed in many Irish universities over the past decade.
Trinity says the decline is part of a pattern that began in the years following the financial crisis when funding per student was drastically cut, which is directly linked to a deterioration in staff:student ratios. Direct State funding per student is 43pc lower than it was a decade ago.
On top of that, it blames the “defunding of investigator-led research funding to universities”, which, it says, is having an impact on research publication output and innovation
Trinity Dean of Research, Professor Linda Doyle said the university’s decline came despite good performances across many categories, including its capacity to attract international students and participate in significant international research collaborations.
"This is an undoubtedly disappointing result. Looking at the scores behind the rank, our performance is steady. However, this is not good enough in a world that sees many of our global competitors improve their scores through focused and sustained investment by their governments," she said.
"There is no denying that continuing under-investment in university education and research in Ireland is catching up with us."
Prof Doyle said a knowledge economy needed strong knowledge institutions and "the only way up is through investment that prioritises excellence. Next month’s Budget is perhaps the last opportunity to ensure that Ireland continues to have at least one university ranked in the top 200."
She said higher education rankings needed to be made a national priority as other countries have done.
"We need to target funding where it can make a real impact. It is essential that we remain highly ranked to ensure that Ireland remains an attractive centre for global investment and a country renowned for the talent of its people."
Irish Universities Association (IUA) Director General Jim Miley said "the positions of Irish universities on the international ranking system, for all its imperfections, reflects the material reduction in Government funding over a decade for core student tuition, for capital investment and for investigator led research."
He said universities had worked exceptionally hard to plug the gaps left by the reduction in State funding but the competition was not standing still.
"Our competitor countries are investing even more in their talent and all the while we fall further behind. It is time for politicians of all political persuasions to stop saying what they don’t want and to commit to solutions."