Kathleen James-Chakraborty, a Professor of Art History in University College Dublin (UCD), wrote to The Irish Times criticising Irish universities’ approach to the QS World University Rankings. Eunan O’Halpin, a Professor of Contemporary Irish History in Trinity College Dublin, responded to her letter in agreement.

It was reported that many Irish universities, including UCD, have climbed up the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings. QS publishes university rankings annually and it is the most popular source of comparative data about university performance worldwide. They judge universities on a list of criteria including academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty ratio and international student ratio.

James-Chakraborty outlined in the letter how she disagreed with the validity of some of these criteria, including citations per faculty and international faculty ratio. O’Halpin added that the QS did not include academic freedom of inquiry on the list. James-Chakraborty told The College Tribune that she believes we are the only country in the EU to take the QS university rankings into serious consideration.

On the subject of citations per faculty James-Chakraborty said, “when I taught at Berkeley… the people with top citations in chemistry all had them because they published things people vehemently disagreed with.” They were cited frequently because “they published controversial stuff that probably wasn’t true.” She added, “as a woman I know that my work is often used without being cited … people are much more likely to cite work by men and [especially] by white men.” To her, the number of citations could not be a credible measure of the quality of a university faculty because of these reasons.

UCD has strived to increase their international faculty ratio and now 42% of the staff are from abroad. In a hiring scheme for UCD last year, a candidate was marked out of 100. If this person was not from Ireland, they automatically won 5 points. James-Chakraborty said, “I think it makes the job market for Irish academics much tougher … [when] one of our responsibilities is to educate Irish academics.” She welcomes diversity but she did not believe this kind of hiring scheme was fair.

Professor Eunan O’Halpin mentioned to The College Tribune how the QS university rankings do not consider the level of academic freedom of inquiry and discourse within universities. He suspects that this is a problem for academics in EU countries such as Poland or Hungary. For example, historians of modern Poland or modern Hungary meet objections from their governments who “don’t want serious research on the Holocaust” in case of it contesting their national narratives. According to him, QS does not place importance on university research challenging prevailing ideologies in society.

Both professors believe the system which the QS works by is flawed, particularly because they evaluate the sciences and the humanities in the same way; they fail to account for the major differences between the disciplines. They agree that the QS World University Rankings should be ignored by Irish universities altogether.


Brigid Molloy – Reporter