The right Department?

The following exchange took place last week, on May 7, between the Labour Party spokesperson on education and science and the Minister at a meeting of the (Irish Parliament) Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science:

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:    Other countries have separated the third level sector from the school sector because of the relationship between enterprise and employment and research and development. Many in the education sector to whom I have spoken in the past year regard Marlboro Street as the Department for schools, primary and secondary, and the VEC. They believe there is a disconnect and inequality in the relationship because of the role of the HEA. Is there merit in integrating the three in order to have a proper working Department of Education and Science, or should there be a complete separation to take the HEA out of the remit of the Department of Education and Science and move it to that of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as happened, for example, with Science Foundation Ireland? There seems to be a schizophrenic relationship between the Department of Education and Science and the third level sector, as evidenced by the Minister’s manifest distrust of the value for money that the university sector provides.
Deputy Batt O’Keeffe:    My experience is that the Department of Education and Science is all-embracing. It is important to have a continuum in education from primary through secondary into third level. The three should be integrated. I see good integration throughout the sector. I am quite satisfied that the Department is all-embracing in respect of the third level sector. It is important that the education sector was put in place and I am satisfied that it carries out its remit effectively.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:    Other countries have separated the third level sector from the school sector because of the relationship between enterprise and employment and research and development. Many in the education sector to whom I have spoken in the past year regard Marlboro Street as the Department for schools, primary and secondary, and the VEC. They believe there is a disconnect and inequality in the relationship because of the role of the HEA. Is there merit in integrating the three in order to have a proper working Department of Education and Science, or should there be a complete separation to take the HEA out of the remit of the Department of Education and Science and move it to that of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as happened, for example, with Science Foundation Ireland? There seems to be a schizophrenic relationship between the Department of Education and Science and the third level sector, as evidenced by the Minister’s manifest distrust of the value for money that the university sector provides.

Deputy Batt O’Keeffe:    My experience is that the Department of Education and Science is all-embracing. It is important to have a continuum in education from primary through secondary into third level. The three should be integrated. I see good integration throughout the sector. I am quite satisfied that the Department is all-embracing in respect of the third level sector. It is important that the education sector was put in place and I am satisfied that it carries out its remit effectively.

This is an issue I have raised also in this blog in a post last July. The Minister’s view expressed above that there is (or should be) a ‘continuum in education’ is not without logic, but in practice the operation of higher education is totally different from that of primary and secondary education. Universities do have education as a part of their core mission, but they are also bodies that address cultural and economic regeneration, enterprise creation, development of intellectual property, and so forth. In practice even well-meaning government officials charged with overseeing primary and secondary education tend to apply the same basic assumptions to the third level sector. This is not a criticism of either politicians or civil servants, it is simply an inevitability.

The Minister has expressed his view, but it would be helpful if this issue were to be subjected to a more wide-ranging analysis, including a consideration of the experience of placing higher education under different government oversight in the countries where that has been attempted.

Advertisement
Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, university

Tags: , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

8 Comments on “The right Department?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Using your argument it as logical to hive off the primary sector to have the 2nd and 3rd within the department only. Then the 3rd could have more control and not have to clean rubbish out of the ears of the first years. What on earth is the point of loosing two years in 2nd and a year in 3rd with superfluous balderdash.
    Across the West one of the biggest issues is the dismal failure of the primary schools to actually do their job. Mostly because they are expected to do far more than can reasonably lodged to the brain and in directions that are largely contradictory. With classes that are far to large in which the faster cohort would be far better off being home schooled and the slower could do with twice the attention that they are getting at the moment.
    If by the time the Scholars arrive to you they could work from a good basic grounding, just that, for as it stands at the moment much as you might like it you cannot reasonably expect that to be so. High points are little more than an indication of a good memory for a rote.
    But I am not at all sure that Education is proper to any Dept’ of Government for their agenda is more the molding of citizens, mind you I am certain that education should not be under the Churches, any of them.


    • Vincent wrote: “Using your argument it as logical to hive off the primary sector to have the 2nd and 3rd within the department only”.

      No, that’s as totally different argument. While nobody doubts that there are differences between primary and secondary education, here you do find the Minister’s ‘continuum’. But when you get to higher education, the issues change, and the mission is different.

      • Vincent Says:

        U,D. the mission is not different. The entire point is that The Mission is exactly the same just a little further along the line.
        Anyway, Quinn is looking for one General in charge of the Mission from 5yo up to PhD. You want your sector out of the system completely. What I’m saying is your sector handle things from 14/15 onwards. With a real expectation that all that come to that age can read, write and have the basic concepts of maths. In other words the Blackrock, Rockwell or Glenstal method, for the simple reason that no matter how you slice the brown bread the vast majority are going to third level in the future. So you might as well control what you are getting on purely utilitarian grounds.

  2. Aoife Citizen Says:

    It is clear to me that Batt O’Keefe has no understanding of the needs or the potential of the universities and ITs; however, on the one hand, the idea of moving the HEA to Enterprise is terrifying and, on the other, the problem with having a separate minister is that if you put someone in charge of something is that they try to run it.


    • Aoife, I suspect that we are stuck with some politician wanting to ‘run’ higher education. So the game is to give that politician a departmental backdrop that will provide them with good briefing and a sympathetic understanding of higher education issues. There are actually people of great insight in the Department of Education, but they are swamped with ‘schools’ business, which of necessaity they then give priority.

      • Aoife Citizen Says:

        Oh and sorry for the mess I made of my reply above, I somehow managed to submit while I was still editing.

  3. Sarah Says:

    If I understand this right, then you are arguing, or Deputy Quinn is, that 3rd level education is more about enterprise and employment ie business than academic achievement. Doesn’t this represent the trend that’s really disturbing some people about 3rd level education? It’s being driven by business needs instead of educational and intellectual needs. So which courses and lines of research are funded is decided by the funders. While subjects with no dividend – the humanities for example, are increasingly sidelined. I doubt the department of enterprise and employment would have much interest in furthering and developing my own degree subject – history.


    • I don’t think that’s what Ruairi Quinn is arguing. Or at any rate, that’s not what I am arguing. I haven’t in fact suggested Enterprise, Trade and Employment as the home department. But I might. And if I did would be because that Department has had to come to terms with the broader reach and mission of higher education over recent years – including aspects of the humanities. It might need to be renamed in such circumstances, however.

      But the evidence is strong that Enterprise, Trade and Employment have a much more sophisticated grasp of the essence of what universities do.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: