The latest university league tables show mixed results for Irish third-level colleges but the country still has nine in the top 5% in the world.
Trinity College Dublin remains Ireland’s top-ranked institution in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, slipping form 138th to 160th place.
University College Dublin (UCD) has returned to the top 200 after dropping out in the 2014 rankings, and is now just slightly behind Trinity at 176th.
The rankings compare some of the world’s 18,000 higher-education institutions on a range of factors, and has been expanded this year to list the top 800 colleges instead of the top 400 of previous rankings.
While NUI Galway keeps a place in the top 300, and is joined in the 250-300 banding by Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, University College Cork has dropped at least 50 places to be banded between 350 and 400.
The expansion of the rankings sees the inclusion of Maynooth University (350 to 400 range), Dublin City University (400-500), University of Limerick (500-600), and Dublin Institute of Technology (600-800).
The Higher Education Authority chief executive Tom Boland said rankings have to be taken in context and do not measure everything a university does. However, he said they cannot be ignored.
“It is welcome that this study finds that, out of 18,000 higher education institutions globally, Ireland’s universities, and RCSI and DIT feature in the top 5% in the world and that UCD and Trinity are in the top 1%.
“But the deterioration in funding is a cause for serious concern and, as we see, it is now being highlighted internationally.”
Despite the increasing numbers attending third level, Government non-capital funding for third-level institutions fell below €1bn last year.
Mr Boland said that, in order to continue to have a world class education and research system, we need to invest in the people and facilities to make that happen.
The Trinity dean of research Prof John Boland said a world-class university required resourcing at internationally competitive levels. “For Trinity to sustain its position and increase further worldwide, requires sustained investment in the university sector.”
While Trinity’s overall ranking fell, it said it improved its reputation for teaching and research based on a survey of worldwide academics.
The Maynooth University’ president Prof Philip Nolan said its highest-ever score recognised the staff’s significant achievements, particularly in the quality and quantity of research, but such rankings also exposed the challenges faced by all Irish colleges.
“The major weakness revealed in these rankings is that we have fewer people and less resources to teach our students when compared to leading international universities,” he said.
A political decision on funding the third-level system, with the possibility of increasing student fees beyond the current €3,000 figure for undergraduates, is unlikely ahead of the general election. Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan promised to act on recommendations of a forthcoming expert group report on the question after she took over the brief last year, but it is now unclear whether she will even publish it before the end of 2015.
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