Shape of things to come?

For those who believe, as I do, that university autonomy is a clear prerequisite for excellence in higher education, there is alarming news from Arkansas in the United States. Senator Jimmy Jeffress is pushing for a measure to be put to the voters of Arkansas that would, if passed in a referendum, establish a state governance body for all the state’s universities which would take over from the governing boards of the universities themselves.

Under this proposed measure that state’s Governor would appoint the board, and this in turn would set the strategy and the finances (including tuition fees) of the whole sector. The leadership of individual institutions would then solely be charged with the management of the implementation of these strategies.

For those who might feel that this couldn’t happen here, it is worth pointing out that Senator Jeffress’ initiative came out of a general popular disillusionment with the state’s universities and is clearly intended as a populist measure. His views on why this is necessary might well resonate with some voters over here. Furthermore, from the information leaked so far, the Hunt working group working on Irish higher education strategy may have been flirting with similar ideas, if not quite as far developed.

Universities will need to be careful that they do not lose the initiative on higher education policy.

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10 Comments on “Shape of things to come?”

  1. jfryar Says:

    I agree that this is something university presidents need to keep their eyes on. In recent times we’ve seen the public become angry with the banks on the premise that, since we’ve invested lots of cash to prop them up, we’re not going to allow them to operate independently of our wishes. The same is starting to happen with universities.

    The Irish Independent has been running a campaign for at least two or three years on the issue of academics’ salaries. I suspect this will gain momentum.

    There are rumblings around the country on the issue of research funding and whether our obsession with biotech has been a white elephant. Certainly our ‘job creation’ statistics have been poor – most of the spin-off companies I remember have long since collapsed.

    Plus our graduates are no longer competitive – Ireland lost 200 high-quality IT jobs to Romania. The public are watching this and thinking ‘where’s my money going?’ and it’ll be only a matter of time before they start advocating policies like those of Senator Jeffress.

    • Ronan Says:

      just on that last point of the IT graduates. I hate the simplistic and erroneous assumptions of “our graduates are no longer competitive”. The issue that was raised with the jobs lost to Romania was that we could not supply the quantity of graduates not their quality – this is much more reflective of the fact that the numbers of students wishing to do ICT collapsed. Most other indicators are happy with the quality of our ICT graduates – and presumably our other graduates too.

      So I personally hate these jingoistic statements that are not borne out in fact, though i agree with how these phrases will be taken by the public, repeated and used to beat up the universities.

  2. paddy healy Says:

    Damage to Irish Universities proceeds
    From Paddy Healy, Former President TUI, Lecturer in Physics, Former member of Governing Body and Academic Council of DIT
    Will Third Level Education be irretrievably damaged like the banks before anybody blows the whistle?
    Following conversations with colleagues in various universities, I now have a reasonable idea of the demands on unions being made by the University authorities under the Croke Park Deal. These demands confirm the predictions in my e-mail message to IoT colleagues but go even further. I include these demands below.. Though the discussions are taking place on a university by university basis the management strategy is being orchestrated by the Irish Universities Association. READ Full Discussion
    Demands being Made by University Authorities Under Croke Park Deal
    1. That tenure be brought into Line with corporate industrial relations law. (This means that tenure until pensionable age with the individual university is being abolished and university academic staff can be made compulsorily redundant and/or redeployed to other parts of public service. This will require legislation PH)
    2. Renegotiation of all existing contracts for implementation from September 2011
    3. Contractual restrictions will be placed on Academic Freedom ( The restrictions are not yet clear but if the worst precedents abroad are followed they could include prevention of public criticism of government or the university authorities: they could also include forcing academics to carry out particular research projects or particular research outcomes could be suppressed due to commercial research agreements with private companies eg infamous heliobacter pylori case abroad- PH)

    4. Staff must engage with workload monitoring and measurement.
    5. Academic staff required to be in attendance at the university each day for twelve consecutive calendar months
    6. Holidays to be at the discretion of the University. Staff member must apply and receive approval in advance for holiday leave (The effect of points 5 and 6 taken together is that holiday entitlements are to be set by The Holidays(Employees) ACT which sets minimum holidays for employees to protect them from predatory employers. If this were accepted it would reduce the holiday entitlements of academic staff below those of comparable public service employees and below those of trade unionised employees in the private sector—PH)

    7. The current position under which the staff member automatically gets an increment unless management objects will be changed. Staff will only receive an increment following a satisfactory Performance Appraisal outcome. Failure to engage with Performance Appraisal System (PAS) will lead to a freezing of the incremental position and denial of access to promotion, sabbatical leave etc. The PAS system will include student evaluation of lecturers. (Performance appraisal will apply to all grades of academic staff including professors-PH)
    8. Extra hour per week of teaching or administration to be implemented immediately
    9. Staff may be redeployed to other Departments/duties within the University
    10. Staff may be redeployed to other posts outside the university but within the wider public service (as set out in Croke Park Deal) with particular regard to HEA Proposals (eg Mergers to be recommended under Hunt Report PH)
    11. Co-operation with Outsourcing (including teaching and research PH) in accordance with Croke Park Deal
    12. New arrangements will apply to rewards for additional internal work and external consultancy work
    My Email Message to TUI Colleagues in IOTs
    Reliable information is circulating in HR Departments of the Institutes in relation to the demands being put to TUI in current talks on Croke Park Deal
    1 extra hour per week teaching or other duties to be in addition to completion of 560 annual hrs teaching.
    Summer Break to be reduced to 6 weeks
    Full Maximum 560(L), 630(AL) hrs to be delivered annually
    All night weighting(1.5) of teaching hours to be abolished
    All hours credit on teaching time-table for course co-ordination to be abolished
    Credit to be allowed for post-graduate supervision as part of annual 560 hrs at a rate to be negotiated
    Post grad supervision to be continuously delivered on a 12month basis
    I believe that all third Level Area reps(executive members) should be present at these talks (this is not the case)
    I believe that attempts to make lecturers redundant and the above demands should be resisted in common
    Any “trade off” would be disastrous for union
    Talks with IFUT in relation to University Staff are being dragged out until Institute Staff have been bludgeoned into submission by the threat of redundancy. Then the assault on conditions of service of university staff including tenure and redeployment will begin.(This will require changes to the Universities Act. The acceptance of the principle of redundancy across the public service in the Croke Park Deal by ICTU led by SIPTU, IMPACT, INTO, PSEU lends support to the elimination of tenure and the required legislative changes. TUI, IFUT and ASTI remain opposed to Croke Park Deal)
    It would be suicide to do a deal with a dying government

    Paddy Healy 086-4183732

  3. Al Says:

    Thanks Paddy.
    Good that this information be public.

  4. Al Says:

    One thing that strikes me from a negotiation aspect!

    All these proposed changes stemming from the Croke Park Agreement are for no compulsory redundancies and no further wage cuts until 2014.

    What happens in 2014?

    One view might have been that things would have been sorted and on the up and the wages would have been safe.

    Another view is that there will be little progress between now and 2014 and there is the risk that the wages will be tapped again, never mind the expected wage shrinkage from tax and other rises!

    With this in mind, is the Croke Park Agreement a lull in fighting that will inevitably have to resume in 2014.

    A further point that some of the positions that Govt have taken show potentially little understanding or academia or academic workmanship.
    Perhaps Ferdinand, you might initiate a post or two in these in the future, if they interest you, time willing and all that.

  5. kevin denny Says:

    “Summer break to be reduced to 6 weeks”? That would at least double if not triple my normal summer break.

    • Al Says:

      While it is what it says on the tin, you’ll find that most people use this time for research, development, etc, all the stuff that cant be done under a heavy lecturing workload.

      • Ronan Says:

        unfortunately we all know people who have stale courses, who take the maximum amount of vacation (talk to most IOT HoDs and you’ll get a true feeling about this). It only takes a visitor to come in summer to see the empty staff offices to get a gut feeling. Equally there are many who are beavering away and take even less than minimum days.

        the problem is that it is hard to defend the worthy with the number of people who figure it is true long vacation.

        i don’t know the percentage in each category but unfortunately there are enough to fuel these accusations. I would challenge your opinion on “most”.

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