Posted tagged ‘number of universities’

Awash with universities?

October 20, 2009

Maybe it’s time to nail one increasingly common assertion: that by international standards Ireland has too many universities. Of course it is not altogether easy to say what one might mean by ‘too many’, but maybe one way of tackling this is to compare the number of universities with that in other countries.

Ireland (the Republic) has 7 universities, serving a population of 4,460,000 (according to 2009 estimates). In other words, we have a university for every 637,000 people. The United Kingdom has 132 universities for a population of 61,113,205: one for every 463,000. Germany has 250 universities for 82,060,000 people: one for every 328,000. France has 269 universities for 65,073,000: one for every 242,000. Switzerland has 45 universities for 7,739,000 people: one for every 172,000 people. And the United States has 1,900 universities (give or take) for 307,745,000: one for every 162,000.

What point am I making? That on the statistics alone the claim about Ireland is not borne out. Even if one were to add the Institutes of Technology (which would be misleading), the figure for Ireland would still only be somewhere in the middle of the above list. On the data alone one would have to conclude that Ireland has relatively few universities by international standards.

As it happens, there are good arguments for looking at the possibility of creating strong strategic links between clusters of institutions in Ireland, and it is in the national interest to ensure that our university sector collaborates very strongly. But the view that has been expressed in various official documents – including the ‘Smart Economy‘ paper issued last December by the government – that we have more universities than do other countries is simply wrong. And, I suppose, that reinforces the point I have made before, that we need to ensure that our policies are evidence-based.