Archive for Times Higher World University Rankings

University Rankings Again

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2019 by telescoper

Last week saw the publication of the Times Higher World University Rankings which have once again predictably generated a great deal of sound and fury while signifying nothing very important. I can’t be bothered to repeat my previous criticisms of these league tables (though I will point you to a very good rant here) but I will make a couple of comments on the reaction to them here in Ireland.

First let me mention (for what it’s worth) that Maynooth University has risen from the band covering 351st-400th place to that covering 301st to 350th place. That means that Maynooth went up by anything from 1 place to 99 places. That’s two consecutive years of rises for NUIM.

(I’ll add without further comment that I arrived here two years ago…)

The Irish Media have not paid much attention to this (or to the improvement in standing of NUI Galway) but have instead been preoccupied with the fact that the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, known as Trinity College Dublin for short, has fallen by 44 places to 164th place; see, for example, here. Now there’s no question in my mind that Irish universities need an injection of income – especially in science subjects – in order to improve standards of education and research, but I don’t really understand the obsession with Trinity College. It’s a fine institution, of course, but sometimes it’s almost as if the press think that’s the only University in Ireland…

In response to its declining fortunes Trinity College has claimed that Ireland needs a `Rankings Strategy’. No it doesn’t. It needs something far more radical – a higher education strategy. The current government  doesn’t have one

Anyway, given the rate of Maynooth’s rise and Trinity’s fall it is a straightforward undoubtedly scientifically valid extrapolation to predict that in two or three years time, Maynooth will have overtaken Trinity in the World Rankings anyway!

(No, I’m not going to take any bets on that.)

Turning away from the exercise in numerological flummery that is the Times Higher League Tables, let me pass on some numbers that are actually meaningful. The week before term with not everyone yet registered, the number of students taking Mathematical Physics in the first year at Maynooth has increased by 31% since last year and the number on our fast-track Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (TP&M) programme has increased threefold. These increases are very pleasing. Although lectures proper don’t start until next week, I did an introductory session with the TP&M students this morning. It was very nice to be able to welcome them to Maynooth for what I hope will be an enjoyable time at Ireland’s soon-to-be top University!

The Radio, The Universities and The Culture in Ireland

Posted in Maynooth, Music with tags , on September 14, 2019 by telescoper

Yesterday at the end of a busy week I finally got round to booking a ticket for next Friday’s Culture Night performance at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. That will be my first concert of the new season and I’m looking forward to it. Among other things, it gives me the chance to persevere with Brahms…

However, later on in the evening yesterday I heard via one of the presenters of RTÉ lyric fm, the radio station on which next week’s concert will be broadcast, that there are plans afoot to close down the channel because of funding difficulties.

Since I first arrived in Ireland nearly two years ago, I searched through the available radio stations for one that I could listen to and it didn’t take me long to settle on RTÉ lyric fm, which has been a regular source of edification, relaxation and stress relief for me. I fear its loss tremendously. I’m not the only one. If you’re on Twitter, take a look at the hashtag #savelyricfm.

I listen to the jovial Marty Whelan in the morning before work, and when I get home in the evenings I enjoy John Kelly’s Mystery Train followed by Bernard Clarke’s The Blue of the Night on weekdays and Ellen Cranitch’s The Purple Vespertine at the weekends. All these programmes have intriguingly eclectic playlists, from classical to jazz and beyond, and presenters who clearly know and love the music. It’s not just a music channel, of course. RTÉ lyric fm covers culture and the arts generally, and is the only channel run by RTÉ – which is meant to be a public service broadcaster – that has this area as its province. It would be a crying shame as well as an abdication of its cultural responsibility if all this were lost to save the paltry amount of money required to keep the station going. I’ll do anything I can to save RTÉ lyric fm. For me it really is one of the very best things about Ireland.

I might add that I stopped watching television many years ago and don’t have a TV set. I’m even less inclined to get one now that I’m in Ireland as the schedules are dominated by the kind of crappy programmes I didn’t watch when I lived in Britain and have even less reason to watch now. The radio, on the other hand, in something I enjoy a lot.

Another item that was doing the rounds last week was the publication of the annual Times Higher Education World Rankings. I’ll save a proper rant about the stupidity and dishonesty of these league tables for another occasion, but one thing that has preoccupied the media here about the results is that Irish universities have done rather badly: Trinity College, for example, has fallen 44 places since last year. While I don’t trust these tables much, together with Ireland’s very poor showing in the recent ERC grant round, they do paint a consistent picture of a higher education system that is struggling with with the consequences of years of chronic underfunding.

(I’ll add that Maynooth University bucked the trend a bit, rising from the band covering 351st-400th place to that covering 301st to 350th place. That means that Maynooth went up by anything from 1 place to 99 places. There can be little doubt who is responsible for this…)

For me these stories are both consequences of the prevailing political culture in Ireland, which is a form of neoliberalism that deems neither culture nor public service nor education to be things of value in themselves and therefore just leaves them to dwindle through lack of care. The only think that matters is the cycle of production and consumption. Culture is irrelevant.

While the Irish economy is booming – at least in terms of GDP growth – the proceeds of this growth go to a relatively small number of rich individuals and multinational corporations while most people don’t see any benefit at all, either in their own salaries, or in investment in the public services. Austerity for everyone except the rich has been the policy for the last decade in Ireland as it has in the United Kingdom and the consequences are plain for all to see, in the arts, in the universities and in the lives of ordinary people.

The One True Ranking Narrative

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 27, 2018 by telescoper

Yesterday saw the release of the 2019 Times Higher World University Rankings. The main table of rankings can be found here and the methodology used to concoct it here.

It seems that there’s little point in doing so, but I’ll try to reiterate the objections I made last year and the year before that and the year before that to the completely unscientific nature of these tables. My main point is that when changes to the methodology used to compile these tables are introduced no attempt is ever made to distinguish their effect from changes in the input data. This would be quite easy to do, by simply running the old methodology alongside the new on the metrics. The compilers of these tables steadfastly refuse to do this straightforward exercise, I suspect this is because they know what the result would be: that many of the changes in these tables year-on-year are the result of artificially introduced `churn’.

And then there’s the questions of whether you think the metrics used are meaningful anyway, and whether any changes not due to methodological tweaks are simply statistical noise, but I have neither the time nor the energy to go into that one now…

Notwithstanding the reasonable objections to these tables, the newspapers are full of stories constructed to explain why some universities went up, some went down and others stayed roughly the same. Most of these articles were obviously written by that well-known journalist, Phil Space.

However, not all these narratives are meaningless. The latest Times Higher World University Rankings have revealed that here in Ireland, while more famous higher education establishments such as Trinity College Dublin have fallen three places due to *insert spurious narrative here*, my own institution (Maynooth University) is one of only two to have risen in the tables. It simply cannot be a coincidence that I moved here this year. Clearly my arrival from Cardiff has had an immediate and positive impact. There is no other credible explanation.