Ireland has held its position in an international ranking of higher education systems despite public investment failing to match expanding third-level enrolments.
The country remains 19th overall out of 50 countries’ higher education systems in the 2018 Universitas21 Ranking. The system was introduced in 2012 to assess the broader systems in each country rather than the focus of other rankings on individual universities.
In the first four years, Ireland’s system was ranked between 16th and 18th, but has been 19th in each of the past three years.
Its position this year is based on a score of 64.8% compared to the performance of top-ranked United States across four main headings of resources, environment, connectivity, and output. This is down from 66.7% last year, but comparative scores were also down for the higher education systems in 22 of the 30 highest-ranked countries.
Ireland’s ranking for resources fell five places from 25th to 30th, in this case based on a 52.9% score against that of best-placed Switzerland. The measure of resources is largely based on Government investment in colleges, proportionate to national wealth, but also on colleges’ relative spending on research and development.
When account is taken of relative levels of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, Ireland’s ranking is 36th. Although this ranking would probably be higher if gross national income were used instead, because of the importance of foreign firms to Ireland’s economy, this is a drop from 30th in this ranking in 2014.
Despite falling public investment in recent years, Irish universities’ outputs have gradually improved. This is based on measures that include research output, citations of institutions’ research articles, third-level graduation rates, and graduate employment.
Under these collective headings, worth 40% of each country’s total marks, Ireland is ranked 16th, level with its best performance in 2014 and compared to a low mark of 19th in 2013.
The universities and institutes of technology have had to rely increasingly on fees of international and postgraduate students, as well as other private income, to make up for the proportionate loss of income from the Government.
Last year was the first for several years in which public funding for the staff and other running costs of the higher education system was increased, with a commitment to further increases for three years. But they fall well short of the projected €600m a year that the system requires to maintain quality while catering for an ever-increasing intake of third-level students.
Education Minister Richard Bruton was recently criticised for failing to provide the Oireachtas Education Committee with an overview of the impacts of proposals which he asked members to consider almost two years ago. The options to bridge the funding gap were set out in the report of an expert group chaired by Peter Cassells, which was published in July 2016.
Mr Bruton has insisted he will not bring any proposals to Cabinet on future funding solutions without political consensus from the Oireachtas committee.
However, Budget 2018 introduced the first of three phased increases in employers’ contributions to further and higher education through hikes to the National Training Fund levy.
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