Written answers

Friday, 7 September 2018

Department of Education and Skills

University Global Rankings

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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259. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the decline in Irish university ratings in international rankings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35704/18]

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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At the outset it is important to note that there is a diversity of ranking systems under which universities are assessed on the basis of a number of different models.  The most recent world rankings published by QS are one of a suite of ranking models which are published annually which also include the Times Higher Education and U-Multirank.  In addition, QS itself has eight sets of rankings including ‘Top 50 under 50’ and ‘Graduate Employability Rankings’.

The most recent rankings reflected a strong performance overall by Ireland’s Higher Education system.  In the 2019 QS World University Rankings Ireland sees two of its eight top institutions featuring in the top 200, or top 1%, of some 15,000 universities worldwide.  All seven universities and Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) feature in the top 800 worldwide.

However, caution is appropriate in interpreting the results of international league tables of universities in light of the significant methodological issues in terms of how the rankings are compiled.  In the case of the most recent QS international rankings these include that they:-  

- do not measure the quality of teaching or the quality of learning;

- do not take into account how universities support access or tackle educational disadvantage – a key national objective;

- rely on global surveys of academics and employers who may have had no interaction with the institution in question; and

- measure the impact of research by the number of times a paper is cited, however bibliometrics analysis serves fields of research unequally e.g. less than 25% of humanities outputs covered by some databases, and less than 33% of social sciences.  Many research outputs types (books, reports etc) are inadequately included, if they are included at all. 

  As such and in common with other types of quantitative research analysis, bibliometric data should be used with informed care and never in isolation from other metrics, and ideally alongside qualitative analysis and peer review.

  In summary, it is clear that international rankings can impact – both positively and negatively – on international perceptions of our national university system.  Therefore, it is important that we develop a deeper understanding of the key drivers of Ireland’s rankings in order to be able to explain better the factors driving performance, highlighting where the approach could be improved.  In that regard, my Department is currently evaluating the trends emerging from the separate models and will feed the results of this work through the general mechanisms for ensuring quality across the Higher Education system, including the System Performance Framework and the Revised Funding Allocation Model.


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