The obsession with Rankings, both at School and University level is inevitable. Here’s what has happened:

Increasing prosperity has meant that a University education has gone from elite education to mass education. (We probably won’t ever have universal third level education for the same reasons that we don’t have universal anything.) The University population is now dominated by the middle classes. Interestingly, despite the (supposed) lack of fees in Ireland,  the proportion of people from deprived backgrounds is not increasing. This is not hard to understand and is typical of worldwide patterns.  With increasing participation in third level education, acquiring a degree is now seen as a necessity. Any middle class families who still doubted this or have been on the cusp, financially speaking, have been tipped over the edge, so to speak, by the lack of fees.  Some ‘lower’ class families may also have taken the leap but, for most of these, the idea of third level education is still something that is not even on the radar. Therefore, while the number of people from ‘lower’ classes may have increased in absolute terms, their relative  numbers have been swamped by increased middle class participation.

Anyway, now that third level education is accessed by the masses, employers need something to differentiate between graduates.  Hence, it is no longer good enough  to have any old degree:  you must have one from a ‘good’ University. This has been the case in the US and the UK  for many years with Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, Oxbridge etc consistently getting the best undergraduates, and providing the leading lights in Government, Industry and Academia.

The natural progression of this, in an Irish context, is to rank secondary schools according to not only how many kids they send to college, but how many they send to ‘good’ colleges.

The scary thing is that this will eventually trickle down to primary schools, and God help us, Montessori schools. This has happened in Japan.

It’s hard to see how this dynamic is going to be changed as it’s very much an organic process.




About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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