By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent
All but two Irish universities have fallen again in a global ranking system that sees Trinity College Dublin drop out of the top 100.
It was ranked 88th in the last QS World University Rankings but is now in 104th, while University College Dublin slips from 168th to 193rd in the new ranking. NUI Galway has dropped 17 places to 260th, its first fall in this ranking since 2011.
University College Cork said its drop from 283rd to 338th in a year is disappointing but was inconsistent with other assessments. This week's U-Multirank system showed an improved year-on-year performance for UCC.
Dublin City University falls from 391st to 422nd, and Dublin Institute of Technology falls from the 651-700 banding to being ranked between 751 and 800. Only University of Limerick (ranked between 511 and 520) and Maynooth University (701 to 750) remain in the same ranking categories as last year.
The ranking organisers QS said employer reputation scores were down for all eight Irish colleges, and academic reputation fell at seven of them.
“This suggests that institutions in other nations are receiving an increasing share of global academic and employer recognition, at the expense of Irish institutions,” it said.
The relative impact of Irish research also appears to be declining as the rank for citations per faculty were lower this year at seven out of eight institutions. But this was in spite of higher average citations than last year, which did not match global average improvements.
The president of the country’s biggest university UCD Professor Andrew Deeks said its fall from 86th to 536 in the QS rank of student-teacher ratios was a result of employment restrictions and reduced State funding, but that it can no longer be endured. A year ago, he said reducing places for Irish students would have to be considered if there was no solution to funding of higher education soon.
“At a time when countries like China are investing billions into their best universities to reduce their student-teacher ratio to 10:1 and to raise their world standing, the Irish government perseveres with austerity level funding of Irish higher education,” Prof Deeks said.
“As a direct result, Irish parents continue to pay the highest up-front fees for undergraduate education in Europe, and the standing of the Irish university system continues to decline relative to more ambitious systems,” he said.
Despite an increase in public funding for third-level colleges by Education Minister Richard Bruton this year - with €100m more than a year ago now being invested - they continue to receive less than they did when thousands fewer students were attending a decade ago. UCD said that non-Exchequer income now accounts for 65% of its annual income.
TCD dean of research Professor Linda Doyle said it is to the credit of teaching and research staff to remain in the world’s top 150 in the QS rankings against the funding challenges faced by all third-level institutions.
“This latest result for the university shows that we have work to do to ensure that Irish students can continue to avail of an internationally competitive higher education,” she said.
“Our economy is heavily dependent on [foreign direct investment] and on the employment of highly educated staff. We can not afford to fall behind our competitor countries in terms of investment in higher education, it is important for Ireland, not just for Trinity,” Prof Doyle said.
A Department of Education spokesperson said the Government has begun a significant programme of investment in higher education, including the first increases for nearly a decade in current funding for the sector. In addition, she said, the National Development Plan has committed more than €2bn in extra capital funding up to 2027.
The department said caution should be taken about how commercial global rankings are interpreted, as they do not consider quality of teaching or learning, or measure how universities support access or students with special educational needs.
But the Irish Universities Association (IUA) said the out-performance of our universities by better-funded international competitors is evidence of the impact of years of funding cuts, which had been invisible in the short term.
It said ongoing Government caps on staffing levels, while student numbers have grown by a third, is direcly impacting our quality rankings.
" The fall in rankings is a warning light to government that the quality talent pipeline will be jeopardised unless the funding deficit is addressed," said IUA director general Jim Miley.
"It’s time to stop delaying a decision on a proper funding model for Irish third-level education. The Government know what needs to be done and should now bite the bullet," he said.
The IUA highlighted a December 2017 National Competitiveness Council reported that advised the Government "to stop long-fingering a decision to close the funding gap in the higher education sector, which poses a significant threat to our competitiveness rankings and FDI.”