Words about Higher Education in Ireland

Yesterday the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science”, Simon Harris announced a “funding and reform framework” for Ireland which you can find here (PDF).

It’s a typical neoliberal trick to tie “funding” to “reform” because that immediately sends a message that Ireland’s universities are somehow underperforming in some way other than the fact that they are grossly underfunded. The document however admits that there is a huge funding shortfall caused by lack of Government investment over many years, leading among other things to huge student-staff ratios. Perhaps it’s primarily the Government that need reform rather than universities?

That said, I do agree that if extra money is going to be sent to universities, there should be some guarantee that it is spent on the right things: not only academic staff but also, where appropriate, laboratory facilities and so on. Based on my experience in several institutions, typically over half of  university’s budget is spent on central services, some of which are excellent but others of which are expensive and not fit for any purpose at all other than wasting money and causing frustration.

As for the proposals themselves, I’d just say that it is good to have a Minister who recognizes at least some of the problems and is prepared to make positive noises about addressing them. However, the document itself is extremely vague. Look at this, for example, from the
Government’s Press Release announcing the new “landmark policy on funding higher education and reducing the cost of education for families”:

That’s it.

Since the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, Ireland’s fees for undergraduate study are the highest in the EU and with the current cost of living crisis (including exorbitant rents) this is in need of reform.  The response however is that the Minister is “committed” only to reviewing (i.e. not necessarily reducing) the fee over some unspecified but probably lengthy timescale.

As with the other items in the “framework” there is no commitment to anything that will halt the immediate crisis currently afflicting students who are struggling to engage and academic staff whose workloads are skyrocketing. In fact I don’t foresee any prospect of material changes before I retire.

Another thing I’ll mention with deep frustration is that there is nothing in the policy about postgraduate education for which there is no framework at all in Ireland and very little funding. It seems Irish Governments just don’t think this is important aspect of what universities do.

Anyway, back to the “policy”, I know that what will actually happen depends on Mr Harris’s success in winning over cabinet colleagues so at this stage he can’t be very specific, but the media somehow dress all this nebulosity up as a policy, which it isn’t: it’s a collection of aspirations.

Warm words, perhaps, but just words nevertheless. We won’t find our for a while whether they actually mean anything.

One Response to “Words about Higher Education in Ireland”

  1. […] P.S. For completeness I should say that I am glad we don’t have an equivalent of the REF here in Ireland, we don’t have an equivalent of the QR funding either. This latter is a serious problem for the sustainability of research in third-level institutions, and it is not addressed at all in the recent proposals for reform. […]

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