Top university broke rule on swaying rankings, QS says

Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s oldest and highest ranked university, has been censured by Quacquarelli Symonds, or QS, for breaching the rules of its global ranking by running a campaign which they “clearly forbid”.

Trinity, which along with other Irish universities has dropped down the rankings in recent years, launched an awareness campaign designed to ensure that its research is put in the spotlight and make sure key players are aware of upcoming surveys.

Two emailed letters to academics advised them of reputational surveys that would be sent out by two ranking organisations, QS and Times Higher Education or THE.

According to the Irish Times, one letter from John J Boland, vice-president and dean of research at Trinity, also provided a link showing how academics could sign up to become reviewers for the QS survey.

The QS rules state that “it is not permitted to independently promote participation in QS surveys nor to solicit or coach specific responses from expected respondents to any survey contributing to any QS ranking”.

It also warns that should the QS Intelligence Unit receive evidence of such activity occurring, institutions will receive one written warning, after which responses to that survey on behalf of the subject institution may be excluded altogether for the year in question.

Repetition of such activity can lead to a penalty score or being disqualified from the ranking altogether.

A spokesperson for QS confirmed to University World News that it had copies of the two letters sent out in good faith. “It was inevitable that we’d see them,” said Simona Bizzozero, head of public relations for QS.

She said QS is taking advice from its Global Academic Advisory Board, chaired by Martin Ince, and will then “engage” with Trinity.

“The solution we develop will ensure the accuracy of our rankings,” she told University World News.

In a statement, Trinity College Dublin, or TCD, expressed regret over the letters.

“Our letters were sent in good faith and called for participation in the surveys. At no time were they intended to influence the response of the recipients,” the statement said.

“At all times, we respect the integrity of the rankings agencies in their collation of data in informing the annual global rankings,” TCD said.

QS denied there was any evidence of widespread attempts by institutions to skew rankings. Bizzozero said there have been “very few” such incidents in 12 years of the rankings.

“While it is difficult to envisage a campaign of this type making much difference to surveys which had 121,000 participants last year, our policies clearly forbid them,” she said.

“We had posted three years ago an explanation about why our surveys cannot be effectively manipulated, which is still the case today.”

She added: "We think the saddest part of this affair is that a prestigious institution such as TCD felt the need to execute such a campaign, overlooking the potential damage to its otherwise solid reputation as a world top-100 university."

In the new QS ranking of universities by subject area, Irish higher education institutions took six top-50 places – two fewer than last year – with TCD claiming four of those six places and achieving joint highest finish along with University College Dublin. TCD came 31st in nursing and University College Dublin came 31st in veterinary science.