Ministerial responsibility

A few years ago, in a piece I wrote for the Irish Times, I suggested that we should look again at the role of the Department of Education and Science in managing the government’s policy on third level. My view then was that when times get rough the Department tends to protect the resourcing of primary and secondary education but allows higher education to be cut. It is understandable that schools will seem to politicians and officials to be a more important infrastructure in which to invest during an economic slowdown.

I still hold the view that putting responsibility for higher education in the same government department that also deals with schools is not ideal. We are already hearing strong hints that those cutbacks that will have to be made in education in the current context of budget cuts will largely be applied to third level – and if that happens, the consequences will be disastrous. We face this risk in part because we have no government minister who feels a particular responsibility to protect higher education. I therefore believe that the time has come, perhaps at the next re-shuffle, to look again at the possibility of allocating responsibility for higher education to a different department; preferably one dedicated to higher education and innovation, but if that cannot be done, then to another (reconfigured) department.

This has been done in a number of other countries, including the UK. It is time to consider this option seriously in Ireland. And now is the right time.

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3 Comments on “Ministerial responsibility”

  1. Iain MacLaren Says:

    Exactly the opposite has just happened in Scotland, not without controversy. Part of the rationale being that universities are part of the education system and separating them from an integrated approach doesnt help with policies to do with access, widening participation and the association with industrial and commercial development steered them in one particular direction rather than recognising their wider cultural and social roles. I’m not saying which is the correct approach and of course the situation in Ireland is different….

    p.s. I promise to ease up on the Scottish references, but that phrase “UK” is too often wrongly applied when the author actually means England.

  2. universitydiary Says:

    Iain, I take that point, and will try to be more discriminating… Although I think technically the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is a UK Government Department, rather than an English one; though I guess its jurisdiction is in practice confined to England.


  3. Yes, Higher Education is a devolved responsibility in the new constitutional setup. If you are interested, the Learning Futures Taskforce has produced its interim report. This is a result of monthly meetings between the University Principals, the funding agency and the Minister for Education trying to outline a longer term strategy for HE in Scotland. It is available publicly (as are all the minutes of the meetings) at:

    Click to access 0061979.pdf


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