University subjects and disciplines

It was reported earlier this week in the Irish Independent that, as part of the higher education rationalisation that is expected, the major casualties would be engineering and the arts, particularly minority interest languages (Italian was mentioned). I do not actually believe that we are anywhere close to taking decisions quite of that nature (though we shall indeed address rationalisation), but in our discusions we shall need to be very careful about what image of Ireland we are presenting both to the wider world and to ourselves.

There seems little doubt to me that the major growth of civil and construction engineering of recent years cannot be sustained, and will not continue anyway as a result of student choice. But engineering as a whole must not be portrayed as an area of the past – it remains critical to Ireland’s future and our economic recovery. As for the arts, we must avoid the impression that they cannot be supported in the same way during difficult economic times; the contribution they make to a balanced education system and to a stable society is vital.

As I have mentioned before, we must pursue a rationalisation agenda, and we must do so urgently. But we must also do so intelligently, remembering that today’s conditions, difficult as they are, will not last for ever, and we need to be equipped to deal with the world as it then emerges.

That is not to say that we should not be pursuing an agenda of radical change; but more of that in a coming post.

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5 Comments on “University subjects and disciplines”

  1. Emma Says:

    An agenda of radical change – talk about a cliffhanger! I will await the next post with great interest…

  2. Iain Says:

    Very depressing article in the paper. Whilst it would be attractive to presume that its just journalistic gossip and far from the truth, it is difficult to have much faith in those making the financial decisions these days and although it might be perfectly possible to formulate a tight rationale against simply a cost driven strategy, the reality might be that those wielding the axe are not amenable to such argument.

    We’ll have to wait and see, but certainly a slashing across the sector will definitely have an impact on international perception.

    This type of urgent decision making is an echo of the situation in the Tiger years when money suddenly appeared with a rush to spend in short time frames.

    All of it highlights a more fundamental problem that plagues Irish policy, particularly in higher education, namely the lack of long term strategic planning. Quick decisions: invest one year, cut the next. With degree programmes taking years to complete, its crazy that fundamental changes are potentially going to be made midstream in the academic life of students.

    Stability is what is needed, even if its on a low cost basis.

  3. Wendymr Says:

    That Fine Gael proposal is ridiculous and unworkable. A graduate tax may work in Australia, given the country’s size and location, but in Ireland? I wonder what percentage of graduates would actually stay in the country the full ten years to pay it.

    ‘Rationalisation’ of university subjects may well be a necessary option, but UK experience suggests that it needs to be done on a planned and considered basis. Having seen the fallout for students and staff to a slash and burn approach to closing disciplines and academic departments, I don’t recommend that kind of approach.

  4. ultan Says:

    It’s FG struggling hard not to say “tax” while abusing social insurance. Apparently anyone who emigrated to avoid this tax would have to pay when they return or the “State could reach agreement with other countries to levy the charge on graduates while they are abroad.” (a taxation approach that the Sate seems quite poor at when it comes to Denis O’Brien et al). As for the claim there are “about 10 or 11” colleges teaching economics “here”, well…

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