Oh dear oh dear, here we go again: Irish university merger chatter

So, I leave Ireland, and off they go and start this kind of talk again. So let’s cut to the chase first. There’s been another (as yet unpublished) review of Irish higher education (I know, I know: another? Really?), and guess what it allegedly recommends: Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin should merge. And so should DCU and various others. And why? In order to ensure ‘that institutes will be sufficiently large to be serious players in the global higher education community’. Oh, gee!

Anyway, I must allow for the possibility that the report on this will not turn out to be correct. But it is based on an article in the Irish Times by Sean Flynn, and in my experience his sources are always spot on. So I’m assuming it’s as we’re being told it is. But if that is so, then this is one almighty weird story. Apparently the Higher Education Authority commissioned a group of four eminent international folks to do a report on Irish higher education. So the first question has to be, in the name of all that’s precious, why? We’ve had three reviews of Irish higher education in the space of ten years, and we already know everything that can be known, and every variety of opinion has been canvassed. That somebody should think that another one is needed is extraordinary, indeed zany. But there’s more. The report, we are told, was written ‘without consultation with the colleges themselves’, and ‘the panel worked solely on the basis of a portfolio of information and statistics about Irish higher education’. And fortified with this – well, we can’t call it information – they have recommended that everybody should jolly well get on and merge.

So let’s be frank. First, whatever else the Irish system needs, it is not another review. Truly. And if it did (which it doesn’t), such a review should not be conducted in the absence of inputs from those, I mean all those, working in the system. And even if it should do that (which it shouldn’t), it really needs to avoid focusing on re-structuring as the answer to everything. And even if new structures were the answer (which they aren’t), a TCD/UCD merger should be avoided like the plague, because even a discussion about it will unhinge rational debate about Irish higher education. And even if a TCD/UCD (or any other) merger were the best way forward (which it isn’t), then the reason given should not be that a larger university is more competitive internationally. The top 10 global universities are mostly smaller than UCD. Quality, not size, is what makes you competitive. The whole thing is just bizarre beyond words.

If I were still in Ireland I would now have to lie down in a darkened room. From my current vantage point I can only watch with amazement. There are so many things to do to secure Ireland’s higher education sector and allow it to thrive. This really really isn’t one of them.

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9 Comments on “Oh dear oh dear, here we go again: Irish university merger chatter”

  1. Al Says:

    One could be easily distracted by the TCD/UCD shotgun proposal, but to me the greater question is what, beyond international comparisons and metrics, Irish higher education needs to be at present and into the future…
    We have to decide that!
    By “we” I mean the people on the big money!

  2. As usual, an excellent comment by Ferdinand. Why, I wonder, does a managerial role (at whatever level, and few of us are immune) seem to lead to an obsession with restructuring?

  3. MunchkinMan Says:

    The importance or necessity of a further reveiw of the HE sector should not be dismissed so readily. The HE sector is in a crisis (like most other sectors here). This crisis, apart from our economic funding worries, is in my view,partly the fault of successive Government policies and partly the fault of university presidents and their supprting academic cohorts. A rigorous analysis of the university sector was WAY overdue before the first meaningful review was undertaken some years ago. Even then, senior academics were bleating on about the threats to their independence and their academic freedom. What’s to hide? Except that such reviews will question the role of the academic? In relation to mergers and size issues impacting on the subsequent position achieved in any relevant ;’league table’ – it’s quite simple: show me a university with poor or irrelevant academic programmes, unimaginative research projects, inadequate student and workplace facilities, and lack of vision of senior academics (who, in effect drive the ethos of a university), then quite frankly I ‘ll show you a university that is WAY down the university league tables (and don’t say tables don’t matter – they do if you’re at or near their summits), where staff are demoralised, where money is wasted, where Governments and the general public question their relevance and where many academics are fighting a rear-guard action to defend their once-resepcted positions. Another review from the HEA should be welcomed: while the review’s modus operandi can be questioned (and no better person than an academic to pose such questions) the review’s provenance is unquestionable. Look: academics are quiet willing (and are expected) to make comments on issues of public interest and importance, to write reviews, and organise international conferences on a multitude of issues. But, shine a light on their own dark academic backyards and out they’ll tumble, rubbing their eyes, yelling: LEAVE US ALONE…

  4. kevin denny Says:

    A bit crazy but I suppose one shouldn’t judge a report by one or two headlines. These leaks have th effect of discrediting the report before its published. Which will suit some. A conspiracy theorist might see this report as a veiled threat “Do what we want or else…”
    Personally, and I may be biased, I think merging ucd and TCD is a mad idea.

  5. no-name Says:

    What TD will want to be known as having graduated from a university that no longer exists, much less for having caused its demise?

  6. cormac Says:

    Excellent post, i couldn’t agree more. not that old chestnut again. Another point that is rarely raised; if you’re going to go for size, it would be far simpler to put what used to be four NUI colleges back into one university. I don’t believe in arguments on size (or rankings) but if one does, surely that is the way to do it…UCC and UCD make a formidable combination together

  7. Just the administrative cost of a UCD/TCD merger seems like it would rule it out of the question for the foreseeable future.

  8. Niall Says:

    Why not merge all Irish universities and ITs, giving Ireland one very large institution! More seriously, would a mergers with universities outside Ireland be more advantageous.

  9. OMF Says:

    I personally feel the whole report is a Trojan horse. The UCD/TCD merger was proposed to a) emphasise that universities must be closed/merged and b) to protect TCD and UCD from any such outcomes by precipitating early arguments against their downsizing.

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