Numbers, numbers

Today the Higher Education Authority (HEA) announced the number of students in Irish universities and colleges. We had already known that the figures would show a significant increase over last year, and we now see that over the past two years student numbers have grown by some 14 per cent. This comes against the backdrop of significant cuts in state funding for higher education. Moreover, as the HEA has indicated, we must expect that the numbers will increase further over the next year or two.

The HEA also stated that, since 2000, third level honours student numbers have increased from 20,728 to 31,380 today, an increase of over 51 per cent. This has not been matched in any way by the resources made available.

It is time to ask ourselves some fundamental questions: is the policy of increasing participation levels further to over 70 per cent sustainable, given the lack of resources? Is the current approach to student admissions a responsible one – should we be growing numbers where we know that we will have quality issues as we do so? What does it tell us that while numbers continue to rise, participation by the economically disadvantaged has not materially improved: are we spending our scarce resources inappropriately?

Higher education holds the key to the country’s future. We need to plan it properly. Just piling up the numbers is not planning.

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One Comment on “Numbers, numbers”

  1. k denny Says:

    An even more fundamental question is “Is the policy of increasing participation levels further to over 70 per cent desirable?” And if over 70, why not 100? I don’t know how one deduces the answer to that. Personally I do not believe that 70% are cut-out to be graduates but thats just a gut feeling.
    Quality, of course, is the issue-that-dare-not-speak-its-name. I mean look at all the extra honours students we have produced at such little extra cost! It reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average.

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