Ireland’s biggest university, University College Dublin has been named The Sunday Times University of the Year and NUI Galway is the runner-up in The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020. The special 16-page supplement will be published free with The Sunday Times this Sunday, November 3, with a fully searchable website and extended institutional profiles at for subscribers to The Times and The Sunday Times.

Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) is The Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year for the second time in the past three years after coming top of the Institute of Technology rankings once again, just ahead of Waterford Institute of Technology, runner-up for the national award.

The guide contains Ireland’s only league table that measures the performance of all 19 multi-faculty third-level institutions. The full rankings will be revealed on Sunday.

University College Dublin is the University of the Year for the third time since the guide was first published in 2002, having won the award previously in 2006 and 2012. Founded in 1854, UCD has a head count of around 30,000 students and in the 2018 Irish Survey of Student Engagement, it ranked above all other universities in Ireland, according to a Sunday Times analysis of the nine sections of the ISSE. (Only Athlone and Galway-Mayo in the IoT sector scored higher in the newspaper’s analysis of student satisfaction). Student satisfaction is one of eight areas of third level performance included in The Sunday Times Good University Guide’s academic ranking.

UCD’s high levels of student satisfaction are explained in part by a peer mentoring programme which eases the transition to third level for new undergraduates, with UCD’s on-campus accommodation team running events such as cookery classes and yoga sessions for free. Furthermore, all students have access to online cognitive behavioural therapy should they need to deal with issues such as stress, anxiety or depression.

UCD’s student-centric approach is evidenced by strength in other key measures of third level performance, too: it has a graduate unemployment rate of just 3%; the second best student-staff ratio in the university sector; and three-quarters of all graduates leave with a 2:1 or a first-class degree.

The university anticipates that over the next decade its student population will grow by around 25%, adding a further 6,600 full-time equivalent students. Consequently, an ambitious drive to increase academic staff numbers by 500, an uplift of 42% on current levels, is under way. Part of a five-year development plan, the UCD Ad Astra Fellows scheme is casting its net for talent globally resulting in about 100 new hires so far.

University for ALL (Access and Lifelong Learning) captures UCD’s outreach and support activities for underrepresented groups, and more than one in four UCD undergraduates are access students. Most undergraduates belong to at least one society and there is a wide range of scholarships to attract elite athletes.

Alastair McCall, Editor of The Sunday Times Good University Guide, said: “University College Dublin makes a compelling case to third level applicants with its relentless focus on the student experience. Heavy investment in facilities such as the newly-opened Moore Centre for Business and the soon-to-open student village catch the eye, but it is the work behind the scenes to improve student life – particularly pastoral care – that is just as important in such a large university.

“UCD now has a significant lead over Trinity College Dublin in the key areas of student satisfaction, degree outcomes and staffing levels, and goes toe-to-toe with its great rival on graduate job prospects and progression rates to record its strongest performance in our third level ranking for many years. UCD says it wants to expand significantly: it should have no trouble finding the students to bring that about,” said McCall.

Professor Andrew Deeks, President of University College Dublin, expressed his delight in winning the University of the Year title. We are very happy to be University of the Year because it comes after a period of hard work. It’s a great honour and it’s a credit to everyone at UCD.”

“It is a confirmation of what we’ve seen through our strategic planning process, in terms of the progress that the university has made over the last five years, and a validation of that,” said Deeks.

NUI Galway is the runner-up for the University of the Year award in the new edition of The Sunday Times Good University Guide. A three-time winner of the main award over the past 18 editions, NUI Galway impressed the judges this year with a strong research performance, allied to significant support for student entrepreneurship and business start-ups.

Five Galway academics are among the top 1% of researchers whose work was most cited in the world in 2018, and grants have been secured for pioneering work on the treatment of diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The university attracted more than €77m last year in non-capital expenditure research income.

The opening of the new 429-bed Goldcrest student village in February further enhanced student facilities at NUI Galway, which should help build on a strong performance in the annual Irish Survey of Student Engagement in future years.

For the second time, The Sunday Times Good University Guide has given Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) the Institute of Technology of the Year award. It is set to become Ireland’s next Technological University, in partnership with Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) following the announcement of a €2m fund last month for an AIT/LIT consortium.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, minister for higher education, said the merging of AIT and LIT’s strengths would be “transformative for the Midlands and Mid-West regions, for their communities and regional economies”. Athlone’s plans for a new €25m Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) building reflect its confidence in the future. It will provide additional capacity for up to 1,000 students to meet an increased demand for programmes such as pharma, biopharma and microbiology. More than €130m has been invested in the modernisation and development of AIT’s campus since 2008.

More than two-thirds of students took part in the Irish Survey of Student Engagement – double the national average and more than any other institution. Analysis of the outcomes, used in The Sunday Times Good University Guide’s third-level rankings, shows students at AIT are more satisfied with their courses and student experience than any other third-level institution in Ireland.

Alastair McCall said: “It seems highly likely that AIT will form Ireland’s second Technological University in the coming months, testimony to the critical role it already plays in the regional economy and its ambitions to be a national and international player.

“A twin focus on the needs of regional business and a growing student body has paid handsome dividends. Twice the national average number of students responds to the annual survey of student satisfaction, making AIT’s sector-leading results all the more remarkable. Students here know they are on to a good thing – and they want to tell as many people as possible about it.”

Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, President of AIT said: “We are delighted to be named The Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year – the second time in three years. This award marks a pivotal moment in our near 50-year history as we stand on the cusp of becoming a technological university. Our multi-award-winning institute is an educational powerhouse, one that consistently punches above its weight and defies expectations on a regional, national and global scale.

“We pride ourselves on providing an exceptional, student-centred educational experience with a strong focus on applied learning and academic excellence. The student experience is at the heart of everything we do here at Athlone Institute of Technology. Despite our growing student body – more than 6,000 students call us their “home away from home”- our students are names, not numbers and they enjoy one-to-one learner/lecturer interactivity.

“Our people are the core of our institute and this award recognises their boundless passion, creativity and expertise. Our staff, individually and collectively, made a vital contribution to the enhancement of our educational provision through their attention to students’ experiences as learners.”

Waterford Institute of Technology came within a whisker of winning the Institute of Technology of the Year award. Two of Waterford’s strongest suits are a good graduate jobs record – with 95% of students in work or further study within nine months of completing their course – allied with the second highest level of spending on facilities per student in Irish third level.

The Sunday Times Good University Guide is now in its 18th year of publication. It provides the definitive rankings for Irish third-level institutions, together with profiles of each institution and a view from students of what it is like to study there. It also contains the first full listing of 2020 degree courses and the first-round entry points needed to access these courses from the recently-completed 2019 admissions cycle.

There is a tablet edition, plus extended online coverage, at, which features fully searchable tables on each of the eight measures on which institutions are ranked, together with extended profiles of each. It also contains full access to the newspaper’s UK university guide published on September 22.