Postgraduate woes

When I began my career as a university lecturer, the student body in my institution was overwhelmingly undergraduate. Taught postgraduate courses were quite rare and generally had small numbers, and in Ireland at least there were very few doctoral research students. By the time I left Irish higher education earlier this year to take up my current post in Scotland, the real growth in universities was in postgraduate studies. In addition, it had become government policy – through the promotion of what has become known as the ‘fourth level‘ – to encourage and fund students wanting to pursue a higher degree. This was so not least because of the now common assumption that an increasing number of high value jobs require postgraduate qualifications.

Now, however, the Irish government has apparently decided to discontinue public funding for postgraduate students. While it is understandable that the government must try to find ways of containing the cost of higher education, it is very hard to see how it makes sense to introduce cuts at the level which government policy has consistently prioritized. Or rather, if there is to be a change of policy of such a radical nature, it would seem right to subject that to some discussion and analysis before implementing it. Certainly if Ireland now acquires a reputation of being inhospitable to postgraduate studies and research it will greatly damage standing of the country and compromise foreign direct investment in knowledge-intensive industries. It would not be wise to implement this decision.

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3 Comments on “Postgraduate woes”

  1. ObsessiveMathsFreak Says:

    This country has decided to pay off the bad gambling debts of the banks. We’ve all decided. The money is going to have to come from somewhere; everywhere in fact, so it’s no use complaining now.

    If you want postgraduate fees, next time vote for Joe Higgins and the Shinners.

  2. Vincent Says:

    I cannot find out any more than what you’ve got here. And I simply don’t get it, not at all.
    Just why are they not charging undergrads with family income above €65,000 and leave those in need of grants alone. This seems a step of such monumental stupidity that it’s truly hard to credit it from any party on this Island.

  3. no-name Says:

    From a contradiction, anything follows. One cannot simultaneously maintain a policy of increasing the percentage of the population qualified to the PhD level in the hope that the resulting pool of analytical abilities will transform into a commercially successful Silicon Bog (http://www.forfas.ie/media/asc091215_role_of_phds.pdf — last verified, November 17, 2011; http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/6.09/silicon.html — last verified, November 17, 2011) and, at the same time, eliminate funding pathways for the population into the fourth-level system and follow-on research and development ecosystem, without contradiction.

    It is noteworthy that Ireland and the UK begin within Europe with the highest postgraduate fees of all. It is further noteworthy that the EU model of postgraduate research funding, instantiated by the Marie Curie programmes for researcher mobility, explicitly refers to research students not as students but as “researchers at the beginning of their career”. Moreover, the EU presumes that the standard salary is 38,000 per year (with a 113% country coefficient for Ireland, as opposed to about 60% for Hungary). Most importantly, the Marie Curie rules stipulate that the cost of fees cannot be assumed to be met from the researcher’s salary. (For details, http://www.iua.ie/documents/fp7-calls-2010.pptx — last verified, November 17, 2011.)

    Encourage life-long education, yet remove supports that provide access. Provide “training” sessions for those who qualify for the jobseekers allowances, but eliminate council supports for those seeking post-graduate qualifications.

    From the contradiction, it is valid to conclude that Ireland’s politicians have had the clear sight to identify a strategy which sets it further apart from its European partners and correspondingly is bound to result in long term success. Of course, the opposite conclusion is also valid.


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