The QS World Universities Rankings were updated this week and have presented good news for University College Dublin (UCD). The South Dublin university increased its world-ranking by eight places, ranking it 177th in the world. Trinity, NUIG and UCC also saw their world-ranking increase. The QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings indicates that the improved performance in Irish universities is linked to a stronger academic reputation and a higher proportion of international faculty members.

The increase in world ranking comes at a difficult time for the university sector as funding issues prevail due to an expected decrease in international students travelling to Ireland. UCD President, Professor Andrew Deeks has stated, “I am very conscious that the Covid-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the entire higher education sector across the world and that rankings such as QS, that place a strong focus on internationalisation, will be very much affected in the coming year as we grapple with travel and mobility restrictions,”. The onset of Covid-19 will greatly affect the number of international students coming to UCD as Professor Deeks has expressed, “It would not, in my view, be acceptable to bring students in to Ireland or to live on campus and then to deliver their teaching online.”

The same praise cannot be bestowed upon the universities in the UK as three-quarters of them experienced a decrease in their world-ranking within the top one thousand universities. With Oxford University slipping from fourth to fifth place and University College London falling two places to 10th, it has been argued that Higher Education in the UK has been negatively affected by Brexit. Ben Sowter, Director of Research at QS, has cited the fall in UK universities to be due to the “hostile environment” and “financial uncertainty” following Brexit. He explained, “investment in teaching capacity would serve the British Higher Education sector well, and help it to regain lost ground. So, too, would concerted efforts to ensure that Britain continues to remain an attractive place for talented academics and students to study in the future, and a national desire to continue collaborating with our European and global partners on transformative research projects.”

Irish universities are benefitting greatly with international students as they no longer wish to study in the UK due to the economic and political climate. The main reason for Irish Universities improving in the world rankings is likely due to their higher percentages of international students and staff.

The QS World Rankings have six different metrics on which they are calculated and each of these different metrics are weighted differently. Academic reputation accounts for 40% and is calculated by an “Academic Survey” which “collates the expert opinions of over 100,000 individuals in the Higher Education space regarding teaching and research quality at the world’s universities. In doing so, it has grown to become the world’s largest survey of academic opinion”. Due to this large percentage being based on opinions, it can consequently favour some disciplines over others.

Kathleen James-Chakraborty is a Professor of Art History in UCD and has commented for The Irish times on the matter stating, “Your recent coverage of the university rankings failed to note that “research” in this context mean almost exclusively articles in for-profit scholarly journals in the sciences and engineering with a dollop of social sciences thrown in for good measure. The humanities hardly contribute to the quantitative measures used in these calculations.”


Sarah Connaughton – Reporter