Higher education: quality vs. quantity?

The chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, Tom Boland, writing in yesterday’s Irish Times, has pointed out that Irish universities and colleges need to address the question of whether a quality education is still possible while we target increasing student numbers resourced by declining funding. The point is not a new one – it has been made in this blog – but it is significant that the head of the government’s funding agency is addressing it.

In the article Tom Boland suggests that the current participation rate in higher education – around 65 per cent – could be declared to be ‘enough for now’, at least in the absence of more money to fund further increases. Increased recruitment could at a time of finite budgets significantly lower the funding per student, with serious quality implications.

A similar if slightly more nuanced approach might be to say that while we have a sufficiently high participation rate, the overall figures hide some distortions, in particular the unacceptably low participation by lower income groups. This might suggest that the only growth should be in recruitment from such groups, perhaps at the expense of places for those who have traditionally dominated the system. We also need to bear in mind that some of the most urgent pressures for growth relate to postgraduate programmes (including the PhD), and while this also raises funding issues, as a country we have not yet recruited enough such students.

At any rate, Tom Boland’s paper is a useful contribution to a debate he rightly suggests needs to become more vocal.

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2 Comments on “Higher education: quality vs. quantity?”

  1. Perry Share Says:

    A useful step would be to get the Hunt report out to the sector, so that a debate can take place. In his article Tom Boland now says the report will be out in early 2010, whenever that is. We had been hearing dates of September, November, December – now it is slipping well into the New Year. I hope that they had a good excuse when they went looking for the extension on their assignment!

    But really, until we know what framework for HE is being suggested by this ‘strategic review group’, it is very difficult for a proper discussion to take place.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Am I allowed to use a mental reservation.


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