Ireland’s R&I Minister sets record on university rankings

22 Nov 2011

Ireland's Minister for Research and Innovation, Séan Sherlock, TD, pictured speaking at the SFI Shaping the Future Now Summit in Dublin last week as part of Science Week

Ireland’s Minister for Research and Innovation Séan Sherlock, TD, has reacted strongly to recent rankings of Irish universities from Times Higher Education and QS World University rankings, saying these rankings aren’t giving the complete picture, as Irish universities rank sixth globally when you take in GDP.

Speaking during Science Week, the minister also said overall rankings do not reflect Ireland’s “exceptional performance” in certain fields, particularly the sciences.

In the recent QS World University rankings, Ireland had five universities ranked in the top 300 globally. Trinity College Dublin (TCD) came 65th in the rankings, a fall of 13 places, while University College Dublin (UCD) dropped 20 places to 134th. Queen’s University Belfast came in at 193rd place. It was in 197th place last year. NUI Galway fell 66 places to 298. University College Cork rose from 184 in 2010 to 181, also becoming the first Irish university to achieve a five-star rating in the QS rankings.

Dublin City University recorded an increase in its ranking from 330 in 2010 to 326 for 2011.

According to the QS findings, TCD and UCD are in top 100 universities for the majority of HSS subjects, while TCD is in the top 50 for eight subjects and ranks 15th for maths.

“While the headline rankings given to Irish universities by both QS and Times Higher Education have been widely covered by the media, both here and abroad, there is much more to the Irish position in the wider academic landscape, where our educational institutions are continuing to compete strongly from a worldwide perspective,” said Sherlock.

“For example, in the Times Higher Education Survey 2011/2012, when the number of universities in the top 200 is considered against GDP, it shows that Ireland ranks sixth in the world.”  

Ireland’s academic ecosystem

He said that such a high ranking reflects the Government’s strategy of “improving Ireland’s entire academic ecosystem, rather than focusing on a very small number of elite institutions, as is done in some other countries”.

The spin-off effect is to ensure the quality of all graduates from Ireland’s higher education institutions are of a high standard, said Sherlock.

He drew upon a recent IBEC Employer survey: “This found that 75pc of employers have no problems recruiting suitable graduates from Irish HEIs, and the multitude of multinational corporations who continue to invest in R&D facilities in Ireland.”

In terms of Ireland’s scientific prowess, the Thomson Reuters Essential Science Indicators 2010, which measures the impact of countries’ scientific research, ranks Ireland in 20th position in the world across all research fields – a dramatic rise from our 36th placement as recently as 2003. Ireland is ranked even higher in areas such as in immunology (third) and materials science (eighth).  

Ireland also ranks fourth in the OECD and first in the EU with regards to the third-level attainment rates of 25-34-year-olds.

Key figures

  • An ECOFIN Study 2009 ranked Ireland first of 28 countries in terms of graduates per 1,000 inhabitants.
  • At the World Economic Forum 2011, Ireland ranked 29th out of 142 countries overall. Ireland ranked 10th out of 142 for health and primary education. Ireland ranked 22nd out of 142 for strength of higher education and training.

“Of course we know that we can continue to further improve elements right across our higher education and innovation system but it is through the quality of our people plus the exceptional work and research being performed at all of our institutions, that we can successfully build a true knowledge economy, one that will grow from strength to strength,” added Sherlock.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic