A university president counting the pennies
There is an interesting report in the US media about the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before I go into the details, let me just say that this is a well-known and highly respected American public university. It has over 40,000 students, and so by our standards on this side of the Atlantic we’d consider it pretty big. In global ranking terms, the Times Higher league table has it at number 33, which places it above any Irish or Scottish university.
So, what is the story? Well, its new president has been telling the media that for the first few months of his tenure he has only had time for one thing, ‘counting the pennies’. Just as he took up his post the state cut funding dramatically, and what is more, it has only managed so far to cough up around 3 per cent of what it had promised in the first place. The university is in crisis, and the president is cutting costs wherever he can and is contemplating a rise in tuition fees.
All that sounds very familiar, confirming again that our problems are not unique and are also being experienced in many different countries. But then again, look at this. The state funding of the University of Illinois only accounts for 17 per cent of its revenues, and yet the sum in question, at $390 million, is more than what any Irish university receives from the state. So what is the university’s total budget? It’s $4.7 billion, that’s what it is. That’s more than twice what the entire Irish university sector spends. I haven’t yet worked out the Scottish figures, but I expect there is also a mighty gap.
The two stories, read from over here, are about the insecurity of state funding during these turbulent times (and that’s the same over here), and the extraordinary resource gap between the universities with whom we want and need to compete and our own institutions. If anyone is serious about having a smart economy, we need to do things very differently indeed. And we don’t have much time.