Rankings, again – new and renewed

I know that many academics sigh whenever university rankings and league tables are mentioned, but whatever we think of them they are significant in the eyes of key stakeholders. A few days ago I pointed out that September was going to be a month in which these tables would feature prominently, and in fact even more is happening than I had thought at the time.

On Sunday September 5 the Sunday Independent produced its own Irish league table (as far as I can see, this is not available online). Although it is not absolutely clear how they were weighted and assessed, the metrics the paper appears to have used are the percentage of Firsts and 2.1s, the research budget or income (the terms appear to be used interchangeably), the university’s budget deficit (presumably as a negative), the median CAO points for entry (which I would regard as a very doubtful metric for these purposes), the student-staff ratio, and the average rent (where?). Taking all this in whatever way they may have done so, the rankings are: (1) Trinity College Dublin; (2) University College Dublin; (3) University College Cork; (4) NUI Galway; (5) Dublin City University; (6) NUI Maynooth; and (7) University of Limerick.

And now, the next table to be published (unexpectedly, as it had been expected for October) this week will be the world university rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds Limited  (QS) – who until last year produced the Times Higher Education league table. Watch this space.

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8 Comments on “Rankings, again – new and renewed”

  1. Phil Baty Says:

    Times Higher Education is publishing its official World University Rankings on 16 September. See: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings

  2. Trevor Hickey Says:

    Can’t believe you read that ‘paper’! Of course, I would say that being from UL…

  3. kevin denny Says:

    Leaving aside their merits (if there are any) which particular stakeholders put the most emphasis on such rankings?
    I would think prospective undergraduates couldn’t care less about them. This is not to say they don’t care about the reputation of where they go but the criteria used in the rankings aren’t particularly relevant to them & they will focus on what is important to them. Prospective employees? No, they are not that stupid either. Potential donors or governments? No, they are more focused and have access to better information.
    So my guess is that its really only employers (i.e. of our graduates) who might find this cheap signal useful. Say I am comparing two applicants, both with 1sts, one from TCD and one from NUIG. If I can only shortlist one then I suppose I might go for the TCD guy. Though I would not need the Sunday Independent for that. But if both are shortlisted, its not going to matter: I (or the panel) will makes its own mind up, based on what we see.
    So I would like to see some evidence that these rankings (i.e. within-country ones) actually make a difference to real decisions.

    • Kevin, you’d be surprised. First for international students it is one of their most frequently used criteria for making a choice. But Irish students are also hugely aware of them, much more than you’d think. Research partners and industry are heavily influenced by them. We may not like them, but they certainly make a difference…

      • Kevin O'Brien Says:

        “According to Jamil Salmi, an education expert at the World Bank and author of a study on the challenge of establishing world-class universities, the proliferation of international rankings means that students today are far more aware of how their universities compare with others.”

        Interesting article there in its own right.


      • Al Says:

        Ferdinand, it is possible to get distracted by these, and try to change to suit the testing metrics, screw up the change and be more messed up.
        We can get easily distracted by these things.
        Unless we find some serious oil finds we shouldnt be running after these things.

    • Perry Share Says:

      Professor Ellen Hazelkorn of DIT has carried out international research on university rankings and has addressed the issue of ‘who they are for’, for example in this article.

      She makes the point that rankings are highly influenced by bio-science, so that areas as diverse as the arts, humanities, business, engineering and education are devalued. Rankings tend to favour the already well-established and elite (see TCD, UCD, UCC in Ireland). They also favour institutions in the developed over the developing world.

      Perhaps most worryingly they perpetuate a ‘one size fits all’ model of elite education, one that according to Hazelkorn tends to:

      perpetuate a single definition of quality at a time when HE institutions, and their missions, are diversifying. By focusing primarily on research intensity, other dimensions, such as teaching and learning, community engagement, third mission and innovation, and social and economic impact are ignored.

      In the past I was unable to engage with colleagues at a UK university about teaching and learning issues as they were ‘only allowed to talk to people about research’. This was when the RAE was at its height. An obsession with narrow ratings systems in Ireland may have a similar chilling effect.

  4. antoin Says:

    The Sunday Indo list was interesting in that its metrics (or statistics) were simultaneously visible and entirely unaccounted for (including the price of a pint in the college bar!) It was slapped together and will likely develop in a bid to compete with the Sunday Time Irish University of the Year. But all that aside I would say it simply reflected the general impression of university standings . . it might as well have been an online survey. It is dangerous and misleading because it did not attempt to understand what a rankings system does, what it measures and does not measure, or how it fits in an international framework. This is the real danger of rankings; everyone has an opinion but none knows the right questions.

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