Trinity College Dublin has done remarkably well in global university rankings over the last decade. Since 2004 it has steadily risen from the 201-300 band to the 151-200 band in the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Its score for publications went from 27.1 in 2004 to 31 in 2015 (Harvard is 100) and for productivity per capita (scores for Nobel and Fields awards, papers in Nature and Science, highly cited researchers and publications divided by number of faculty) it rose from 13.9 to 19 (Caltech is 100).
The Shanghai rankings measure only research. Nonetheless, this is genuine progress even if slow and boring: at this rate Trinity will catch up with Harvard for publications in another 170 years or so.
So why is Trinity not celebrating this excellent achievement? Instead it is getting very excited about its poor and declining performance in the QS and THE world rankings.
It is a serious mistake to be concerned about falling in these rankings. Last year QS and THE made significant methodological changes so it is meaningless to make year on year comparisons.
Even if QS and THE make no further changes, these rankings are likely to be unacceptably volatile. Both rely heavily on reputation surveys for which scores tend to be very low once you get outside the top fifty or so and consequently are susceptible to short term fluctuations, although QS does damp down short term changes by recycling unchanged survey responses. THE has three income based indicators, institutional income, research income and income from industry and commerce so it is exposed to fluctuations resulting from exchange rate changes. If THE were serious about producing valid and reliable rankings they would use three or five year averages for the income indicators.
And so, as you might have guessed, Trinity is developing a rankings strategy
"The Rankings Steering Group, set up as part of the strategy, is chaired by the Provost, Patrick Prendergast, and has identified the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education rankings as a priority. The strategy will focus on areas such as outputs, citations, funding levels, staff composition and reputation."