Courses and jobs at risk? And despite that, more and more students?

Here’s what’s coming our way. The Irish Times today reports on a letter sent by the HEA to the universities warning them of further cuts in budgets and staffing expected in the academic year 2010-11. The key issue highlighted by the letter is the likelihood of further staffing cuts, coming at a time when universities have already lost 6 per cent of total staff numbers over two years while admitting additional students. Budget cuts in the meantime are coming at a time when some universities are struggling with having to eliminate accumulated deficits, and all are having to balance budgets with the help of resources that simply don’t cover the costs involved in education programmes. We will be under further pressure to add to the student numbers while losing yet more money and having fewer staff to teach them.

If it’s any consolation (and it isn’t), we are not alone. Over in the UK the University and College Union (UCU) is contemplating a national lecturers’ strike over the growing number of staff redundancies. The UCU has said that redundancies have been imposed in at least five British universities. That is not something we have experienced so far in Ireland, but we have more or less reached the point where it is hard to see how further staffing reductions can be achieved without such steps being taken.

One of our key risks is that we will be defensive and reactive, and that our chief response will be to engage in a lot of firefighting. We may need to face up more directly to the fact that with the reduced resources and staffing we simply cannot run universities on the traditional model, or at least we cannot do so while maintaining acceptable levels of quality. We need to look again at how we are funded, we need to look at ways of generating additional income, and we need to look at teaching and learning methods.

And while I fully understand that there is a serious issue with public finances, and that universities cannot be exempted from cuts, we need to have a better discussion on strategy with the government than we are currently having. Just finding better ways to monitor and control the universities won’t do the trick.

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6 Comments on “Courses and jobs at risk? And despite that, more and more students?”

  1. iainmacl Says:

    It is a desperate picture that’s emerging, however it won’t be solved by shifting the burden to increasing the level of personal debt in the economy by the introduction of fees. The scale of the growth in numbers and the deterioration of some building stock in many institutions, the ECF, along with cutbacks in research and other sources of funding are all coinciding and perhaps, to use the cliche, we’re building up to ‘the perfect storm’. The supposedly ‘strategic’ review is unlikely to bring much positive news either, whenever it finally emerges.

    I agree with you that a more substantive discussion about the future and priorities is essential, particularly one that is led from those within the sector, provided it is not hijacked simply to beat the fees drum yet again in some crude ‘sticking plaster’ approach to only part compensate for declining state subvention.

    The government has clearly shown that its priority is to prop up failed banks and developers whatever the cost to the economy and public services and it seems unlikely that they’ll pay much attention to just one voice amongst many for special treatment.

    • Iain, some good points, but in the end there really is no alternative to fees as part of the solution. The ‘perfect storm’ you describe is not unique to Ireland – and in those countries where governments want to put universities at the heart of economic and social regeneration a framework of funding by public money alone is now falling apart almost everywhere. It’s simply unaffordable. But here we have it worse than most, because of the insistence on funding cuts (which, admittedly, are inevitable) without sufficient student contributions, and overall excessive financial and operational controls.

  2. Vincent Says:

    If as seems to be happening that all the English speaking areas are retrenching how will it matter overall, for given that it was the land grant Universities in the States that caused the brain-drain from the 50s onward and not Harvard ET AL. It is these Institutions that are being hit hardest at the moment for they draw income from the budget of their own State. Therefore the ‘Market’ in academics has fallen some distance across the board.

    • kevin denny Says:

      Land grant universities are a small proportion of US institutions. Public (i.e. state) universities, which are much more common don’t get all their income from the state. The one I am in now, gets about one third of its income from the state I am told. And not all English speaking universities are in America. So while its grim up north (& even down south) in the UK, there is still competition for academics and if other countries emerge from the crisis quicker than us (quite likely) we will notice it.
      But this whole issue is not just, or even primarily about the market for professors. Its about lacking the cash to do the job we’re supposed to be doing and lacking the flexibility to do anything about it.

  3. Maestro Says:

    #IFUT “utter astonishment” at threat of more funding cuts to universities:

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