Top 100 – at what cost?


As UCD enters the top 100 in university rankings for the first time, Bridget Fitzsimons questions if UCD might now be more proactive in restoring morale to the campus.

News of UCD’s entry into the top 100 of the Times Higher Education/QS World University Rankings is undoubtedly a cause for celebration in UCD’s upper echelons. Higher places in league tables equals greater recognition for the university and thus will attract more students and funding. But at what cost has this come?

bradyWhile no one can say that the rankings are bad press for UCD, one must question the evaluation criteria used by Times Higher Education and QS in compiling these results. UCD has been consistently in debt for at least the last five years, and the current economic climate has not done us any favours. How is it that we are moving up the list?

Arts students are certainly feeling the pinch. Smaller subjects, like Film Studies or languages, have had their funding dramatically cut. At the same time, scaffolding for the regeneration of the Science building continues to spring up, while research in UCD is apparently still going strong. For students struggling to meet essay deadlines because books they need are not in the library, or there are simply not enough copies, these rankings will be met with disbelief. Similarly, academics struggling to maintain relationships with their students due to changing class structures will be surprised that we are moving up the university charts.

There is also clear feeling among the academic world that these rankings are reasonably arbitrary. Each institution considered in the charts is ranked based on a number of statistics, including staff-student ratios, peer rankings and staff scorings. To properly know and evaluate a university, and to gauge its place in a ranking, visits are essential. Only this way can staff and student morale be measured, buildings be seen, and facilities properly rated. While no system is 100 per cent perfect, the Times Higher Education/QS system must be taken with a hefty dose of salt, probably more than enough to induce a hypertension.

It may sound ludicrous, but at times it seems as if the administration forgets that UCD is a university, or any kind of centre for learning. Thousands of students come here every year to learn, and while UCD’s research investment is undoubtedly important, we cannot forget that we are operating within an educational centre. Everyone understands that times are tight, but to victimise certain faculties because they don’t look as ‘innovative’ to rankings officials as others is completely flawed.

Surely if a beautiful new Science Village or Gateway complex can be constructed, first year students can also be given a suitable place to watch their class film screenings or use of a properly-fitted language laboratory to hone their linguistic skills. There must be balance and fairness within the university and its range of faculties, schools and subjects.

It can only be hoped that the UCD administration will take this higher ranking as encouragement to make things tangibly better for students and staff. Taking a lofty world ranking as a mere pat on the back will be fatal for UCD. Our university must continue to strive for academic excellence instead of basking in the light of flawed rankings systems.

At the crux of thse points is that UCD is a centre for education, not somewhere for endless research to take place in lieu of study. While research undoubtedly has benefits for a university and should not be completely done away with, priority needs to be with students and academia. We deserve suitable facilities, proper library opening hours and access to the texts we need. While the development of Science, for instance, is excellent for Science students and should be celebrated, the university cannot simply allow other faculties to fall by the wayside in a misguided attempt to secure better ratings. If UCD takes this as an assertion of its good work instead of an encouragement to do more for its staff and students, it is up to us to stand up and demand better.

While the current economic climate continues, producing the best graduates that the university can is of the utmost importance. Skilled graduates will go a long way in delivering Ireland from economic struggle, and UCD should be playing its part in helping all of us perform as best we can, and achieve good exam results and degrees. We must continue to strive for academic excellence, even when circumstances may not allow us to do everything we want to: that is how UCD can become a truly great university.