There are few people on this blue-green orb of ours that can rival those at QS World University Rankings for their love of systematically analysing and ranking every aspect of a particular subject. I was unfortunate enough to know one of those who could. He was a man who positively lived for rating things, thrived for the stuff. If you tried to suggest a film to him, for example say, 1997's Flubber with Robin Williams, he would immediately unleash at you a slew of questions, demanding you give him either 'yes/no' answers or a rating on a scale of 1-10. "How good was the film?" "How does the CGI used to animate the eponymous, and narratively crucial, small green blob hold up after all these years?" "Did Flubber mark the nadir of Robin Williams' career?" "Does Robin Williams at any point in the film embark on a sexual tryst with the blob?" "How disappointing to you was the absence of such a tryst." Only after answering - incidentally; 2, 4, yes, no, 10; in case you were wondering - would he be sated. He would consider it a wasted day were he to not put in a shift writing up reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon etc. - he even once Google reviewed a meadow. The final straw for me came when he began holding up scorecards - like a judge at a diving competition - to review the standard of our conversations in real-time. I tolerated this for a while, but when he solemnly held up a '3.3' after I told, what I contend was a largely enjoyable, anecdote about Marty Whelan and a lightly microwaved melon, I knew our friendship was up. All of this is an incredibly long-winded way of saying that there can be such a thing as being too invested in ratings.
QS release their rankings annually whereby they rate every global academic institution against a series of metrics. They have recently released their findings for 2019 and it is surprisingly grim reading for Irish universities. Six of the seven Irish universities all recorded a significant drop in the rankings.
Trinity College, which remains the highest ranked of the Irish institutions, fell from being ranked as the 88th best university in the world to the 104th - its lowest position since QS began releasing their rankings. UCD fell from 168 to 193; DCU from 391 to 422; UCC from 338 to 283 and UL fell in its bracketed rankings between 501-500 from last year. The position each of these institutions now occupy is their lowest ever ranking by QS.
Although NUIG have previously been positioned lower in the rankings, they still dropped from 243 to 260 on the list and NUIM saw a marginal climb in the rank from their previous low point last year in the 701-750 bracket.
While there are myriad metrics that are evaluated by QS when collating their results it should certainly be cause for concern that the majority of Irish universities have seen such precipitous drops in their rankings.
Among the metrics used by QS to compile their rankings are the academic reputation of the college in the eyes of other institutions; the reputation the university has among employers; its perception in the eyes of international students as well as the number of academic citations per faculty within the institution - to name but a few.
While the government has pledged to increase funding for third level institutions - primarily through the Project Ireland 2040 - the majority of universities are still working on a shoestring budget and are often having to seek other revenue streams to remain financially viable. This was particularly evident during the debacle earlier this year when Trinity tried to introduce fees for students having to repeat exams which led to widescale protests, further fractures erupting between the college and student body, leading to the college eventually having to rescind its proposals.
It seems clear that further investment is needed in Irish third-level institutions to keep them competitive internationally and to maintain the exceptionally high-standards that have come to be expected of them.
The full list of rankings can be seen on the QS website.