Universitas 21: Irish higher education sector remains one of the lowest funded in terms of GDP

Posted 7 May, 2020

The higher education sector in Ireland remains one of the lowest funded in terms of GDP in Europe, according to Universitas 21

In its latest annual report evaluating national systems of higher education across different countries, Universitas 21 (U21), ranked Ireland 46th out of 50 countries for the level of government expenditure as a share of GDP when it comes to third level investment, a fall of 29 places since 2017.

U21’s ‘Ranking of National Higher Education Systems’ studies 50 countries globally and evaluates their university systems across 24 indicators.

The rankings do not examine individual universities, instead zeroing in on the sector's resources, connectivity, output, and the environment in which a country's institutions operate.

The study also presents estimates of a country’s performance relative to its level of GDP per capita.

While U21 ranks Ireland 19th overall, this is a combined rank based on four measurement categories: 39th for Resources, 15th for Environment, 11th for Connectivity and 20th for Output.

Ireland was among the six lowest ranked countries with respect to government expenditure on tertiary education less than 0.6% of GDP, and was one of four who spent the least in terms of total expenditure as a share of GDP. Expenditure per student and research expenditure were 22nd and 32nd respectively.

Despite this low level of investment, Ireland ranks 10th in terms of tertiary level of education in the workforce.

Ireland’s best category ranking was 11th in Connectivity, which looks at how well a country's education system is connected globally. Ireland scored highly – coming in sixth with regards to web connectivity and when it came to knowledge transfer between companies and universities. It also ranked 14th in both joint publications with industry, up nine places in 2019, and with international authors.

Under Output, where there are nine factors ranging from research output and unemployment rates amongst graduates, Ireland ranked ninth on publications per head of population, and 14th on their average impact.

Regarding the Environment category, Ireland scored well increasing its rank four places since 2019. Among the performance factors for the environment is the proportion of female students in tertiary education.

Summary of results for Ireland out of 50 countries measured: 

  • Ireland ranked 19th overall. 
  • But when government expenditure as a share of GDP is taken into account, Ireland is ranked 46th.
  • On expenditure per student, Ireland is ranked 22nd. 
  • In Connectivity, Irish universities are ranked highly at 11th.
  • Under Output, Ireland is ranked ninth on publications per head of population and 14th on their average impact.

Commenting on the U21 Report, the President of UCD Professor Andrew Deeks said: “The findings of the U21 Report are unsurprising. We continue to perform and deliver excellent output in terms of quality graduates and research and our international position reflects this effort.

“However, the poor ranking of 46 out of 50 for resources is further confirmation of other international data measures. The OCED places Ireland 32nd out of 34 countries in terms of total expenditure as a % of GDP and notes the gulf between Ireland and countries such as Norway, Austria, Finland and Netherlands in terms of Government investment in tertiary education.”

Universitas 21 is a network of research-focused universities that work together to promote the value of internationalisation and multinational collaboration.

Founded by the University of Melbourne in 1997 it has grown to include 27 member universities, including University College Dublin, across 18 countries.

Professor Sir David Eastwood, Chair of Universitas 21, said the U21 Rankings Project had generated a “uniquely important set of longitudinal data” on the impact of national approaches on higher education.

“These annual rankings have influenced international governments, related agencies, university leaders and policy makers, both within and beyond U21 countries.

“The U21 Rankings leave a highly important legacy in understanding the impact of national policies on our universities and in international higher education.”

Lead author, Professor Ross Williams at the University of Melbourne added: “Over the last decade the rankings have tracked the movement to international connectiveness in higher education and its positive effect on national performance. National systems that are inward looking flounder. “

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations