Global rankings: the QS version

At midnight Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) released their university world rankings. Just to recap, QS were until last year the partners of Times Higher Education in their world rankings. Times Higher then parted company with QS and entered into a partnership with Thomson Reuters – their rankings are due out next week on September 16, and they yesterday released details of the criteria they have used.

But back to QS. The first thing to note is that their international number 1 university is the University of Cambridge (UK), which has moved ahead of Harvard and thus occupy the top spot for the first time. Indeed it is the first time in any league table that the highest position has not gone to an American university. However, in the top 20 the general distribution has not changed: the US is there 13 times, the UK 4 times, and the remaining three slots go to Switzerland, Canada and Australia. The highest placed continental European university is ETH Zürich at number 18. After that, European universities are fairly well represented in the top 50, but Germany doesn’t make an appearance until number 51 (Heidelberg).

The latter is just one place above the highest placed Irish university, Trinity College, which has dropped 9 places to number 52. There is also a drop for UCD, down from 89 last year to 114 in 2010. On the other hand, UCC has improved its position and has entered the top 200 for the first time at number 184.

It is hard to know for sure whether we are witnessing a trend, but the signs are that Ireland’s universities are, in terms of global rankings, in decline. That this is so is not unexpected, and I suspect that when the details are analysed we will find that one of the key factors will be the student-staff ratio. For two years now student numbers have grown, while due to government rules in the ’employment control framework’ staff numbers have dropped. The necessary impact of this is a decline in the international standing of Irish universities, and the consequences could be serious for Ireland in its plans for a ‘smart economy’.

During the week in which Ireland has also been found by the OECD to be under-investing in education more generally, we are facing a crisis that needs to be addressed positively and urgently. No matter how unpleasant this may seem to some politicians and some others, we need to grasp the nettle of university funding – and at least from my perspective I son’t see how we can succeed in this while we rule out tuition fees; the taxpayer simply does not have the resources to solve this problem on their own.

If we want to arrest an increasingly apparent and potentially long-term decline of our education system, and with it the erosion of any ambitions to be a knowledge society and economy, we had better act now.

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6 Comments on “Global rankings: the QS version”

  1. Colin Scott Says:

    The Irish universities are not the only ones with the problem of more students and fewer staff. The Guardian reports that the main reason that Harvard has been knocked off its top spot by Cambridge is the hiring freeze at the US leader combined with increased student numbers.

  2. Mark Dowling Says:

    Before we start trying to align Irish universities to the interests of the rankers, shouldn’t we assure ourselves the rankings are worth following, especially if we are trying to preserve worthwhile differentiation between campuses rather than creating a chain store of higher education institutions, where you know what you’re getting and it’s highly regarded but too bad if it’s not the education you and the economy want/need?

    • kevin denny Says:

      Or we could ignore the rankings and be self-confident enough to decide for ourselves what sort of higher education is appropriate. I find it hard to believe that Harvard give a toss about these rankings.

      • Al Says:

        Here here!
        We have this complex where the opinion of foreigners are worth their weight in gold.
        We are addicted to the token “say something nice about us” statements, ala St Paddys at the White house.

      • I absolutely agree, Kevin. And then, I’m sure we can manage to part the waters of the Liffey, drain the Shannon, and arrange for fine, dry and warm weather throughout the year… 🙂

        Seriously, this has very little to do with self-confidence. BTW, I understand that Harvard has been furiously putting out press statements today… Being ‘beaten’ by Cambridge will matter quite a lot to them.

        Also, the following quote may be relevant to this:

        “In our Information Society, knowledge is a key currency and access to it is highly unequal. Many individuals, those of us with good social and professional networks, probably have a good idea of where the good universities are. But on grounds of equity, everyone should be well informed. There is a whole body of science devoted to measuring, presenting and interpreting information scientifically. It is called Statistics, and it is time the educational establishment put it to use to serve the public interest rather than making excuses so as to defend the status quo.”

        (Kevin Denny, 2009 – with one word changed…)

  3. […] than a new edition of the old one. In any case, QS have continued with their own rankings, as we noted last […]

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