Irish universities: preparing for the worst
The Trinity College Dublin students newspaper The University Times has published a letter from the TCD Provost, Dr John Hegarty, to College staff alerting them to the very tricky funding environment that TCD – in common of course with the other Irish universities – now faces. The Provost refers to what he regards as the ‘best case budget for the sector’, and in TCD’s case this would result in a 10 per cent cut in the government’s annual grant allocation; the worst case scenario is a 20 per cent cut. This cut of course comes on top of very significant funding reductions over the past two years or so. The Provost’s expressed hope is that the 10 per cent cut will be applied, rather than the more dramatic reductions. But he also acknowledges that ‘the impact of the financial situation on the quality of teaching and the overall student experience is a cause of grave concern.’
Of course we don’t yet know what we are going to face in the context of the government’s four-year plan to be published shortly. We believe that the student registration charge will rise by a substantial amount, quite possibly above the level of the relevant non-tuition costs, and quite possibly ‘balanced’ by a reduction in the recurrent grant and/or fees paid by the government under the ‘free fees’ scheme. We believe that there will be a further planned reduction in higher education faculty and staff under the ’employment control framework’. On the other hand we expect that research funding will not be significantly affected.
The universities will need to undertake urgent discussions to see what kind of education model can be sustained under these conditions. It does not seem likely that the existing teaching and learning methods can still be continued successfully to a satisfactory quality standard, but nobody really knows what might replace them. As the financial parameters are unlikely to improve for several years, it is now vital to look at the effect of the changing financial conditions on learning and pedagogy, and to see how an adapted model can allow Irish universities to offer degree programmes to acceptable international standards.