University funding – again…

The resourcing and funding problems faced by the Irish university sector are continuing to get media attention – with a front page article by Sean Flynn in yesterday’s Irish Times, and various items in newspapers and on radio programmes. It is sometimes hard to work out whether the issues we are experiencing are being effectively communicated to a wider public, but at least the financial position of universities is now getting significant media attention.

Currently, we are being told by the government that we should expect a cut of 3 per cent to the grant we receive from the State for 2009. It needs to be said that a cut of 3 per cent is not a cut of 3 per cent, as the rate of inflation experienced by universities needs to be factored in. Secondly, this cut will hit the sector after several years of successive reductions in funding in real terms, which have already thrown several institutions into serious financial crisis (though not, as yet, DCU).

What we are therefore facing is a pattern of government decision-making that seems to suggest that teaching (as distinct from research, which has been more generously funded) in universities is not a priority. There may be a view in some circles that there is still a certain amount of poor management of resources and some waste in the sector, but a number of external investigations in recent years don’t bear that out; and in any case, even if it were true, universities don’t have the basic management tools under the law to address under-performance, if it were identified. In fact, it is almost certainly the case that under-performance is less of an issue in universities than almost anywhere else in the public sector.

In the end, what this tells us again and again is that we will not be able to address the financial problems in the sector until the issue of how we structure the funding is properly tackled – including, inevitably, the reintroduction of tuition fees and a proper framework of grants and scholarships for those who cannot afford the fees.

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3 Comments on “University funding – again…”

  1. 73man Says:

    Heard you on Radio 1 yesterday making similar points and I agree: what are univeristies going to be for when teaching is consistenty undervalued? Research is all very well but the Government is putting undue emphasis on it because they are slavishly following US models where research can be used to make money. Obviously students coming out with degrees cost too much and don’t make money for the university: therefore they’re a liability.

  2. universitydiary Says:

    Picking up 73man’s point, I suppose I would argue that research *is* very important, in part because it has become the basis on which high value investment can be secured for Ireland. However, I absolutely agree that we cannot go on asset-stripping teaching, or pretending that high quality teaching can be delivered for less and less money – it can’t. And if we can’t ensure teaching quality, the quality of the Irish labour force will be questioned more and more internationally; we don’t want to go there…

  3. Jilly Says:

    I teach in an Irish university, and although I think we still deliver good degrees which offer students a great deal, I am horrified by the government’s policies on education. The university sector (especially in the area of teaching) is already held together with string and sellotape. The only reason we still deliver good degrees is a result of the commitment of staff to doing so, often against the odds. The thought of what will happen if there are more cutbacks is mind-boggling.

    Quite aside from the other issues this raises – of far-reaching social and economic importance – on the ground in the universities, one thing I see this new cutback-culture producing is mountains of more administration and form-filling, none of which we see any benefit from in terms of improvement in the quality of teaching and research. Indeed, the growing dominance of admin (much of it in response to government policies claiming to improve efficiency and costs) in the three-cornered balance between teaching, admin and research that makes up academic working-life is of course just damaging both the quality and quantity of teaching and research. Lewis Carroll couldn’t have come up with a madder system.

    If I trusted the government to structure it so that poorer students weren’t shut out of university, I’d say bring back fees. But sadly I have no reason to trust that this would be done properly…


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