Higher education, low priority?

As the initial excitement following the publication of the ‘An Bord Snip Nua’ report abates somewhat, it is instructive to note how the proposals are being seen by some of the media commentators. Perhaps one assessment that tells us a lot by omission is the piece in the Sunday Business Post which sets out twelve proposed cuts that would, in the writer’s opinion, cause political problems for the government.

The twelve cuts listed range from welfare payment to Garda stations. They include cuts in schools, but nothing in relation to higher education or research. Cuts in these areas are not, as we see again, perceived as being particularly controversial or difficult.

As I have pointed out in a previous post, it would not be sensible or even right to resist all cutbacks at this time; the national problem is such that we must expect to carry a share of the burden, however difficult. But having recognised that, it is still alarming to see that the university and institute of technology sectors are not thought to represent a vital national priority.

The major challenge for us right now, therefore, is to achieve what we have manifestly not achieved in the past: to persuade the general public and our wider stakeholders that what we do matters, not just within our own little world, but in the world that will determine our future prosperity and security. It is time for us to raise awareness of our vital role.

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5 Comments on “Higher education, low priority?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    You have, as do the other Universities, a ready made constituency. And while you do not have the payed-for letter drop of the NUI and DU. Surely you must send to the Alumni. What is stopping you from informing them exactly what cuts really mean.

  2. Phil Says:

    This link offers fortunate timing of the perilous situation regarding the amount of qualified workers for a knowledge economy that we are generating.

    http://komplettie.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/intel-honest-about-irish-situation/

    Notable in that blog post (unverified it has to be said), was the mention of access to skilled graduates. Other tech driven companies have expressed similar concerns.

    A multinational’s input into a domestic debate is rarely well received, however information such as this does underline the point of the need for a skilled workforce.

    Of note too is that these jobs are not assembly line jobs, vis a vis dell, minimum third level qualifications would appear to be required.

  3. Jilly Says:

    I think this feeds into an interesting paradox in the way higher education is currently thought about/talked about in Ireland. There seems to be a lack of priority given to it, a lack of willingness to accept that it can’t be delivered below a certain cost, etc etc.

    And yet, ask most people whether they want THEIR children to go to college, and why, and they’ll give you not only an affirmative answer but also a pretty clear-eyed explanation involving an understanding of how job markets work now and will work in the future, of the importance of being well-qualified AND qualified to keep learning over the course of an evolving career, etc etc.

    So what we need to do is translate that individual/family understanding of the importance of higher education into a national understanding of it and its collective priority for us all. Easier said than done perhaps, and I for one have no idea why the connection isn’t automatically being made, as it seems so obvious, but it clearly isn’t. Any ideas?!

  4. Heather James Says:

    re: Phil’s comment… When Amazon came to Dublin they had difficulty filling in positions. Many of their employees were brought in from the US or central Europe. As for the higher level manager roles, these remained unfilled for a significant amount of time. It brought alot of discussion out. They were literally trawling all staff on other companies wondering if it might be possible to attract any one from another company. Perhaps unscrupulous, but they were not even able to find anyone to place. There was an upper level staff person from Dublin on staff, but she had been working in the US for years. She had no interest in coming back to live in Ireland. Her main concern was for her children who had many more cultural and educational opportunities in the US.

    This comes full circle. Amongst the staff people who were imported from the US was one unrepentant geek I know through a mutual friend. He would have been programming from a young age and would have had access to a range of resources to build on his passions and skills. Bill Gates’s own story starts when he was very young and given access to university resources. See Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more stories which demonstrate we have do start young. Why is it so easy to understand the need to start young when talk about sport… But not with technology?

    So looking at the workforce in Ireland at the time Amazon was hiring made the knowledge economy promise of the government look hollow. We need big picture thinking to connect the dots. A culture and environment which can fight ‘brain drain’ and opportunities for children to excel and delve deep, these two areas are crucial for a so called smart economy which fosters innovation and competitiveness. The problem is, they are the long view with a turn around time that doesn’t suit our quick-fix needs.


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