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Rankings not the full picture, says minister

The recent Irish fall in international university rankings does not give a complete picture of the international standing of Irish universities, which are performing strongly, the junior minister for science, Séan Sherlock, has said.

He was responding on 22 November to the latest round of Times Higher Education and QS World University rankings.

QS figures released in September showed that most Irish universities had fallen in the top 300 rankings, with Trinity College Dublin dropping 13 places to No.65, University College Dublin falling 20 to 134, and National University of Ireland Galway down 66 places to 298.

Only University College Cork bucked the trend, rising three places to 181. Other universities ranked outside the top 300.

According to Sherlock, however, while the rankings showed falls, Irish institutions performed well in the “wider academic landscape” and continued to compete strongly.

For example, he said, Ireland ranked sixth in the world when the number of universities in the top 200 was measured against GDP.

“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,” he said.

The Thomson Reuters Essential Science Indicators 2010, which looks at research impact, ranked Ireland 20th in the world across all research areas, up from 36th in 2003, he said. Rankings for Ireland are higher in specific areas, such as immunology, where it is ranked No.3 in the world, and material science, where it is placed eighth.

Sherlock also pointed to the large number of skilled graduates that Irish universities and institutes continued to produce. On graduate numbers, Ireland ranked fourth in the OECD and first in the EU in third-level attainment for the 25-34 age bracket, he said. This high graduate output was delivered despite the poor economic climate.

The high throughput of graduates meant that Ireland ranked first internationally for the availability of skilled labour, according to the 2011 IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, Sherlock said.

While it was always possible to improve higher education, Ireland overall was performing strongly, he emphasised. The strong base and the quality of research conducted in these institutions would help build a “true knowledge economy”.