Sunday 22 April 2018

Our 'excellent' universities top EU league table for efficiency

John Walshe Education Editor

IRISH universities have received a major boost by coming at the top of a European 'efficiency' league table.

Weeks after complaints about dumbing down and grade inflation, an EU study reveals that:

  • Irish graduates are the most highly employable in Europe.
  • Irish universities have the highest graduation rate in Europe.
  • Ireland has the highest percentage of graduates in Europe.
  • Universities in Ireland, Finland and Sweden are given the highest 'excellence' rating by academics in other EU countries.

The president of NUI Galway, Professor Jim Browne, said last night that the study was a clear vindication of the efficiency of the Irish university system. There had been too much emphasis on inputs and time spent on hours teaching but the real measure was the "output" and Irish universities had been shown to be very efficient in that regard.

In the case of Galway, student numbers will have increased by 10pc in December over a two-year period, while staff numbers have been cut by 6pc and staff have had to contend with a 10pc pay and pension loss.

"Coping with this increase in student numbers is a great tribute to the staff," he said.

The report says recruiters regard universities in Ireland and the UK as providing highly employable graduates.

On the other hand, Spanish, Polish and Portuguese universities perform poorly on this yardstick. It says also that considering their size, Finland, Ireland and Sweden are the countries with more universities pointed to by their peers as being "excellent". Spain, Portugal and Greece also perform poorly on this indicator. The report concludes that Ireland, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands are at the top in terms of efficiency or to use the jargon "at the production possibility frontier".

"In some cases, this was essentially due to excellent scientific production (Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands), whereas Ireland attained its position due to the graduation output, which is not only high in number but also the best in perceived quality."

By contrast, France, Germany, Italy, the southern and eastern European countries were way down the efficiency scales as was the US. The report says efficiency tends to be higher in countries where institutions are publicly evaluated by stakeholders and independent agencies. The autonomy of the institution when it comes to hiring and firing is another factor linked to efficiency.

The report says that Ireland, France and the eastern European countries are particularly efficient in teaching whereas the Nordic countries specialise more in research.

The findings were welcomed by the Irish Universities Quality Board whose chief executive Dr Padraig Walsh said, however, that the Irish university system must be more transparent.

"It must improve how it informs the public as to who is responsible for standards and quality and how it intends to provide sufficient data and, more importantly, a sufficient level of analysis about the system to the public."

Irish Independent

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