Posted tagged ‘economic recovery’

Universities in the recession

March 23, 2010

The always interesting website University World News has put together a series of reports on how different countries are treating their higher education sectors during the recession and the resulting scarcity of public money. Taking as their starting point the view expressed by a senior researcher in Berkeley – that in a recession governments should want to protect their university systems as these represent their best bet to achieve recovery – they look at a number of countries to see whether this is borne out in each case. There is no absolute pattern, but from the reports most developed western countries are cutting their higher education budgets, while emerging countries in the east are either protecting the sector or even allowing it to grow. In Europe, the exceptions appear to be Scandinavia and France.

What also emerges from the reports is that in a number of countries the current period is being used to introduce reforms to the system.

What should we conclude from this? One possible conclusion is that the approach by some governments to higher education may serve to exacerbate their economic problems as they will make economic recovery still more difficult. Another is that this is becoming an era of reform, but that the substance of reform is not the same across different countries. Many of those going for quick growth are liberalising their university systems and promoting greater autonomy, while others (perhaps including Ireland) are restricting and bureaucratising theirs.

It is not unlikely that as the dust settles from the recession that the pattern of performance in higher education across the globe will have changed, and will possibly reflect new economic realities. And unless there is a quick change of approach, this will almost certainly not have worked in Europe’s favour. Time will tell.

In pursuit of national regeneration and self-confidence: Your Country, Your Call

February 17, 2010

This afternoon the President of Ireland, Mrs Mary McAleese, is launching a new initiative to generate both ideas and a new national mood of optimism and self-confidence. This comes in the form of a competition called Your Country, Your Call, which will invite submissions from people in Ireland and overseas for game changing ideas that have the potential to create economic activity and prosperity in this country. The two winning entries will receive prizes of €100,000 each, but other entries may also receive support for their implementation by the appropriate state agencies.

The whole project is the brainchild of Dr Martin McAleese, and his energy and enthusiasm ensured that it would become reality. it has gathered a number of supporters who contributed solely on a pro bono basis. I was very privileged to be a member of the steering committee that developed the idea and guided it to its launch today. Other DCU staff, and DCU students, were also involved. It will receive a lot of publicity over the days and weeks ahead.

Further details can be seen on its website.

What next for Ireland? – Education and research

February 9, 2010

Last September, at the ‘Global Economic Forum’ held in Farmleigh, former Intel chief executive and chairman Craig Barrett created something of a stir when he suggested that Ireland was under-performing in both education and research and development, and that these failings needed to be corrected if the country was to pull itself out of recession. I wasn’t at the Forum (hey, I wasn’t invited), but I gather from some who were there that Barrett electrified the proceedings and set the tone for a significant debate.

Yesterday evening I was able, along with a few hundred others, to hear him develop his theme a little more at a public lecture organised by the Royal Irish Academy. It was a fascinating talk given by someone with an external perspective but with significant inside knowledge of Ireland.

In his lecture, he set out what he described as some ‘observations’ on current global conditions, followed by a list of things that Ireland needs to get right, and finally by a list of proposals or recommendations for the country.

His observations were as follows:

• Levels of income in any country are closely connected with the educational attainments of the population.
• Levels of productivity – which are vital for future growth – are closely linked to the successful harnessing of new technology .
• It is possible to identify the significant technologies of the future: nanotechnology, nano- and micro-electronics, photonics, biotechnology, new materials and alternative energy.
• Future economic growth will depend critically on entrepreneurship and successful start-ups.

From this he developed his list of national needs:

• A national education system that compares well with the best in the world and is based on excellence. He pointed out that Ireland’s education system has inadequate public investment and performs poorly in vital subjects such as mathematics and science.
• A system of higher education and research that promotes and values basic research, that encourages spin-outs from that research, and that allows universities to be ‘wealth creation centres’. Currently, he believes, Ireland’s universities lack proper expertise in relation to these goals, and their global standing is not as good as it could be.
• The right environment, particularly as regards taxation, IT infrastructure, and a culture that values risk-taking.

Then he presented 10 recommendations for Ireland:

(1) Our goal should be that Ireland’s education system becomes number 1 globally in all subjects, taking account in particular of our current failings in mathematics and science.
(2) We need to have excellent teachers who are truly experts in the subjects they teach. The teaching profession should be rewarded on the basis of performance, not seniority.
(3) Our education system should emphasise 21st century skills such as problem solving and interdisciplinarity, and should rely less on rote learning.
(4) More students need to study mathematics and science at third level, and we should reform the CAO points system in order to ‘bias the system towards the results we need’.
(5) Ireland’s universities need to focus more on delivering start-ups, following the example of Stanford or MIT.
(6) Ireland needs to implement the Lisbon target of investing 3 per cent of GDP in research and development; right now we are only managing about half of that.
(7) We need to ‘grow the economy from within’, as foreign direct investment is unlikely to go back to previous levels. Future growth must come from indigenous start-ups and from entrepreneurship, and we need to have a framework that encourages and facilitates this.
(8) Ireland needs to focus – we cannot do everything, so we need to prioritise those areas in which we can add value and lead.
(9) We need to achieve a dramatic improvement in our IT infrastructure.
(10) Ireland needs to want to compete with the world and to base its economic and business systems on that ambition.

This, it seems to me, represents a good basis for a new national strategy.

In the newspapers – universities in crisis

July 20, 2008

Today’s Sunday Times carries an article on the situation facing the Irish universities, and on plans by the Irish Universities Association to put some options to the government that might allow them to look again at tuition fees, in a way that would not disadvantage students from less wealthy backgrounds. On the other hand, the Minister for Education is quoted in the article as saying that universities will need to accept a 3 per cent cut. It is to be hoped that this is part of a negotiating position, rather than a considered response.

Irish universities made a key contribution to the Celtic Tiger. To cut their resources now, just as their contribution becomes vital to finding a way out of the economic slowdown, would have catastrophic consequences. The Taoiseach has shown in the past, while he was Minister for Finance, that he understands the significance of higher education and research. I still feel optimistic that his government will take imaginative steps at this time to steer us out of crisis. Certainly the university Presidents will work constructively and positively with him and the government to achieve this.