University College Dublin last week broke into the top 100 of worldwide university rankings for the first time. The University was ranked at number 89 in the world in the Times Higher Education/QS World University Rankings 2009, up 19 spaces from last year’s ranking of 108. UCD is the second highest ranked of Irish universities; Trinity College also rose in the rankings, up 6 places to 43.
The rankings are compiled based on the weighting of six criteria, including peer review, the opinions of employers, ratios of staff-student numbers, and the number of international staff and students in attendance. UCD scored highly in the employer review and international categories, with an overall score of 69.7, compared to last year’s tally of 68.0, with the biggest jump attributable to an increased intake of international students. Trinity College scored 80.1, up from 78.2, scoring particularly well for numbers of international staff and in peer review. Ratings are benchmarked against an assigned score of 100 for the top-ranked institution.
Speaking in response to the rankings, which were released last Thursday, UCD President Dr Hugh Brady commented that “rankings can never measure the full impact of our institutions but I think the reality is that they do matter; they matter to international students and staff in considering what university to go to, they matter increasingly to Irish students as they consider whether to stay at home or to go abroad for their education, and they’re one of the top ten reasons that [multinational] companies give when they’re choosing where to locate.”
Dr Brady added that UCD had not “set out to rise up the rankings” when instigating widespread reform of the academic system, including the controversial rollout and that the rankings were “particularly gratifying” as a result. Dr Brady paid tribute to staff and students who had experienced some turbulent reforms over the last years, describing the news as “a great credit to the staff and students for all the work they’ve put in over that period.”
However, a university spokesperson sounded a warning bell for future performance in the rankings, commenting that “having made great progress internationally, it will be difficult for the Irish universities to maintain their high rankings given the severity of the cuts they are now faced with, along with the counter-cyclical investment that many competitor countries are making in university infrastructure and research and development as part of their national stimulus packages.”
The news has not met with universal acclaim; one senior academic commented to The University Observer that while “for publicity purposes, these rankings are a university’s dream; in real terms, however, they are pretty much meaningless.”