Steadying Irish higher education
Over the past few days in Ireland there has been some talk about the possible education – and higher education – reforms that may now be planned by the government. This was prompted by a report in the Irish Independent giving details of a paper submitted last year by the Department of Education to the Department of Finance. The context of the paper was the continuing public funding crisis in Ireland, and therefore the search for savings.
The authors of the paper had suggested that what has previously been known as the ‘student registration charge’ (but which under the last Budget of the Fianna Fail/Greens administration was actually designated the ‘student contribution charge’) might rise to €3,000 per annum. Around the same time, as we have already noted in this blog, the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, indicated the there would not be a proposal for a student loan system to fund tuition fees.
The memorandum reported by the Irish Independent probably cannot be seen as representing government policy, in that it was part of the search for a Budget savings by the last government. Nevertheless, the overall mood music now is that there is a serious funding gap, that the taxpayer cannot afford to fill it, and that student contributions may be unavoidable. While this latter point has not ben confirmed by the government, it has not been denied either.
However, important though a solution to the funding crisis is, there is more to be done. The higher education system in Ireland has been subjected to unprecedented criticism and hostility over recent months; its community is facing low morale, enormous pressures due to the consequences of the employment control framework and its impact on staffing levels, and a lack of self-confidence. This is damaging in part because higher education is the key ingredient of economic recovery, and it needs some nurturing and support.
It is important that the structural and financial changes to be introduced in the Irish higher education system proceed quickly, so that stability and sustainability can return. Doing so is ultimately in the national interest.