Benefits and risks of rationalisation

Over the past day or two, there have been new reports on the possibility of rationalisation in the Irish higher education sector; the Irish Independent newspaper even published an editorial on the subject. There is little doubt that an analysis of the structure of our third level is timely right now, but it is also important to point out some important aspects that will need to be taken into account.

There are two main aspects to rationalisation: (1) the question of the number and size of institutions in the sector; and (2) the question of how the institutions (whatever their number) collaborate to ensure that minority interest subjects are not duplicated across the system, and how they ensure that institutions do not all pursue the same detailed specialisms.

The aspects that need to be taken into account, in my opinion, are these. First, rationalisation is about delivering quality, it is not about cutting costs. I have seen that some comments on this subjects have implied that radical rationalisation would reduce the costs to the taxpayer and/or the student body. This is almost certainly not the case. In fact, the initial impact of almost any form of rationalisation will probably be to increase costs, as the impact of new institutional arrangements is felt. If for example the transfer of staff became necessary, this would be very costly, and if jobs were lost in the process there would be further implications.

Secondly, rationalisation aimed at creating larger institutions is probably misguided. As I pointed out in another post, there is little evidence that the size of an institution has a significant bearing on the quality of its output or its place in world rankings. What may be much more significant is the willingness of institutions to pool resources and collaborate in procurement.

Thirdly, rationalisation that is not well explained and is not the subject of proper discussion with those affected would almost certainly create more problems than it solves – the ground needs to be prepared very well.

That said, there is a good case to be made for rationalisation, and the universities (and other colleges) should embark on discussions quickly, with a view to putting forward proposals at an early opportunity. The idea that we should have seven universities with each doing more or less the same thing is not a viable one at this time. Indeed the rather different nature of DCU (compared with the other universities) shows that a more specialised institution can work very well, if it has a clear focus and mission. But we should not imagine that this will provide quick and easy answers to all our problems.

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One Comment on “Benefits and risks of rationalisation”

  1. Ian There Says:

    […] (DCU President and Irish Blog award nominee) Ferdinand von Prondzynski’s blog post about the merger and the current state of affairs, and an earlier post about the benefits and risks of ‘rationalisation’. […]


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