The Minister explains further…

Last month, as we have discussed here several times, Mr Batt O’Keeffe, Minister for Education and Science, put the issue of tuition fees back on the agenda. Subsequently he indicated that he was personally in favour of reintroducing them, albeit for wealthy students (or students from wealthy families) only. I have indicated before that I applaud the Minister’s willingness to engage with this agenda, which is not politically easy; he has shown some courage.

Nevertheless, there is some way to go before it can be clear whether what is perhaps being planned will really help the higher education sector. Just this Monday the Minister suggested that the government has generously funded the sector, increasing its funding – he suggests – by a third in three years. It is difficult to know what to make of that statement, because I cannot tell what the Minister is counting here – I presume he is including high value research programmes, which welcome though they are do not provide any additional discretionary funds. They are ringfenced for research projects, and indeed require subsidies from core university funds. The grant and fees paid by the government for students has, in real terms, been in serious decline for a number of years.

My fear is that this suggestion by the Minister may be a warning that the government may claw back the money raised from fees, which would be a disastrous approach.

The other point he made which would give me some concern is that money should not be targeted at research and development. If he has been correctly quoted (by RTE), then this is a serious problem: university R&D will be the primary mechanism for attracting new high value foreign direct investment. It would be very dangerous if it were thought by potential investors that R&D is no longer a policy priority for the Irish government. He also seems to put in doubt the government’s support for postgraduate education, which again would be very dangerous, and would be entirely incompatible with the government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI).

There are interesting times ahead!

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6 Comments on “The Minister explains further…”

  1. Walls Says:

    Now, now, now. You know and I know that the current economic crisis is caused by not by an unregulated banking system or by a domestic property market that became overinflated. It came about because the Public Service is getting too rich. From Civil Servants to Universities, we’ve been blithely expecting money for doing something as unimportant as Education. And now we have to stop our ruination of the economy, very quickly.

  2. Dan Sullivan Says:

    I saw Batt make that statement on RTE and he was very certain that further money should not be going into Research but into the undergraduate level. Apparently he is unaware that a considerable portion of the teaching load for undergraduate programs falls on post grads and post docs. With no money forthcoming for them from research programs, they won’t be around to teach either (for which many do not get paid). More generally on this issue, I’m linking below to a post that gives more flesh to what appears to be a 3 card trick that is being attempted within the university sector in order to meet the 3% cut target. In essence monies already allocated by SFI and other state agencies is being returned post project approval by the universities so that it shows them as reducing costs by 3%.

    Knowledge economy me rear. If you’ll pardon my French.

  3. Jilly Says:

    When we talk about university funding (and to continue some of the discussion attached to the earlier post here about so-called under-performance in universities), let’s also discuss the extent to which academics subsidise their profession.

    I work at home for about 20 hours a week (as well as doing about 30 on campus). I do that in large part because it’s the only way I can get that work done efficiently (my office is cold, damp and dark). I do this using the laptop I paid for, the broadband connection I pay for, frequently using the phone I pay for to make work calls, and my own printer and paper, not to mention the heat, light etc for my home. I spend about 2000 euro a year of my own money paying for conference and research travel because the allowance I get from college would barely cover the cost of attending one conference. I dread to think how much of my own money I spend on books per year – I wouldn’t dare calculate it. Conferences, research and reading are essential to me doing my job properly. And ALL of this is coming out of my post-tax salary, because as a PAYE worker I don’t get any allowances for it.

    I know several hospital consultants who are flown all over the world to conferences at no expense to themselves (and frequently getting to take their partners with them, which is beyond the realms of my imagining). I know several barristers who operate largely out of home-offices and claim every paper-clip out of taxes – indeed, one barrister I know earns several times my salary and yet pays roughly the same amount of tax as I do.

    When I’m on campus, much of my time is ‘wasted’ trying to fix broken equipment or use equipment so old that it’s horribly slow and wasteful. When it rains at most universities, water comes through the roof in many buildings. In my previous job the college computer server was so outdated and overloaded that the internet ran at dial-up speed and I had to wait until I got home to download larger files sent in email.

    Everyone who works in every college in this country will recognise this as a normal picture of working life – to be honest we don’t even think it’s odd or wrong anymore. And this is our over-funded system?

  4. […] the ongoing debate over the possible reintroduction of student payment of third level fees, and the dangers that lurk there for the universities, a rather unnerving thought occurs to me. It may be that the […]

  5. Dan Sullivan Says:

    Jilly, it is worth noting that Sen. Mary White (FF) and wife of Pauric White former head of the IDA has spoken of her own extensive travel around the world with her husband I wonder was that also at the taxpayer’s expense. Fact is that the 3rd level sector is a like some intellectual temping agency rite large.

    It is strange that Batt, who was a former CIT lecturer after all, has the picture he does of the 3rd level sector. I worked for over a decade in industry before deciding to return to academia via research. Based on my own experience I reckon that it’s not for me, but I wouldn’t nearly as ready as some are to view the academic workplace as being as cosy as some outside it appear to think it is.

  6. […] The Education Minister explains further… ” University Blog […]

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