University College Dublin (UCD) has fallen outside the top 200 in the most recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings, with Trinity temporarily excluded after accidentally submitting incorrect data.
UCD, who were ranked 176th in the rankings last year, are now ranked between 201-250, placing them alongside the Royal College of Surgeons and NUI Galway. Trinity was ranked 160th in the Times Higher Education rankings last year, marking a significant decline on 2011, when the university was ranked 76th. Ahead of publication of the world rankings today, there was speculation that Trinity would fall out of the top 200.
In a press statement, Head of Communications at Times Higher Education , Peter Sigrist, said that the submission of incorrect data by Trinity is “likely to have adversely affected the ranking position initially allocated to it for both the 2015-16 and the 2016-17 World University Rankings”.
Sigrist states that the “correct ranking will now be re-calculated”, and the results will be published later in 2016.
“This process could take some time, but we intend to re-instate Trinity into the rankings as soon as the process is complete”, Sigrist said. The Times Higher Education formal corrections procedure states that when an error has occurred due to a mistake by a university, the rankings will be updated at a “suitable time point”, adding that this is usually “at a three or six month interval after initial publication”.
Times Higher Education Rankings Editor, Phil Baty, in a press statement, said: “We have been obliged to exclude Trinity College from this year’s ranking due to a unintentional submission error on their part, which is likely to have given them a lower ranking than would otherwise be the case.”
Irish universities have shown a consistent decline in world rankings over the last several years. The rankings show that University College Cork (UCC) remains ranked between 351 and 400. NUI Galway, however, rose in the rankings, making it into the top 201 to 250, from 351 and 400 in 2012. Times Higher Education do not publish the exact positions of universities outside the top 200.
Commenting on the general decline of Irish universities in the rankings, Baty said that “it seems clear that the major funding cuts endured by Ireland’s universities are causing problems”.
In a press release issued before the news that Trinity would be excluded from the Times Higher Education rankings, the General Secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), Mike Jennings, blamed the “toxic combination of financial cutbacks and staffing cuts” as the main cause of the fall in rankings, and called on the government to provide “adequate” funding for the sector on the upcoming Budget on October 11th.
In the most recent QS World Rankings, published at the start of September, Trinity fell by 20 places to 98th, the largest decline the university has experienced in the QS rankings since 2005. UCD fell by 22 places, putting it at 176th place, while all Irish universities, with the exception of NUIG, experienced similar declines.
The drop in the QS rankings prompted an unprecedented response from Trinity, who issued a joint statement from the Provost, Patrick Prendergast, and the President of UCD, Andrew Deeks. In the statement, they criticised the lack of government funding in higher education, and pointed to the decline in rankings as an “inevitable result of under investment”.
“The political system must now make the difficult choices that are needed to improve the funding given to universities and in the manner in which this funding is distributed”, they said.
The funding provided to higher education institutions by the government has fallen dramatically in recent years, and is often pointed to as one of the reasons for the decline in Irish universities’ position in world rankings. The publication of the report by the government’s higher education funding working group, chaired by Peter Cassells, in July, was welcomed by many for providing three options for funding the sector.
The three options presented – the abolition of the student contribution and the creation of a predominantly state-funded system, the continuation of the current student contribution charge coupled with increased state investment, and the introduction of an income-contingent loan system – will now be discussed by the Oireachtas Education and Skills Committee, who will have the responsibly for choosing a new funding model for third-level education.
Last week, the government’s Action Plan for Education gave a timeline of the second quarter of 2016 for when a new funding model for higher education funding should be decided upon and implemented. In an interview with The University Times, published yesterday, the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, said that the party has been “open to the alternative funding mechanisms that Cassells has talked of, so we don’t come with a closed mind on any of the options”. In the interview, Bruton also acknowledged that he is open to a compromise on the options outlined by the working group.
Fine Gael is the only party to still have not given a position on higher education funding. Fianna Fáil have outlined their support for a €100 million investment in the sector, and, speaking to The University Times last week, the party’s spokesperson on education, Thomas Byrne, said Fianna Fáil were “wary” about the introduction of loan schemes.
Trinity is in the process of a developing a rankings strategy to improve its position in world university rankings. A Rankings Steering Group, chaired by the Provost, identified the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education Rankings as a priority, with the strategy focusing on areas such as outputs, citations, funding levels staff composition and reputation.
Times Higher Education’s rankings do not simply measure undergraduate teaching, and instead take account of a range of factors when creating their rankings. Teaching makes up 30 per cent of the ranking’s metrics, alongside 30 per cent for research volume, income and reputation, and 30 per cent for the number of citations of university staff. The international outlook, which looks at the international make-up of the staff, students and the research of the university, makes up 7.5 per cent.
The much-referenced staff-to-student ratio, which has often been pointed to as a symptom of the difficulties facing Irish universities, is only 4.5 per cent of the overall factors used to measure teaching.
Speaking to The University Times in March, Baty acknowledged that there was a correlation between funding and a university’s position in world rankings: “Money talks, money’s important, and there is a sense, I think, where universities that we can see are starved of funding or lacking sufficient funding to stay competitive are suffering in rankings.”
One of the biggest surprises in the rankings is that, for the first time in the 12-year history of the rankings, a European university is number one, with the University Oxford now the highest-ranked university in the world. California Institute of Technology is now at number two.
Generally, however, European universities have fallen in the rankings, with six European higher education institutions having fallen outside the top 200. Asian universities have continued to rise, with 19 universities now in the top 200.
“Europe’s success in the ranking cannot be guaranteed in the long-term while more of Asia’s leading universities soar to join the world elite”, Baty said.