Posted tagged ‘forensic audit of higher education’

Taking pot shots

February 1, 2010

Clearly it’s still the hunting season for universities. After last week’s events at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science, we have now had the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe TD, offering his views on academic staff performance: and he’s not impressed at all, he says.

What is the occasion for his criticism? Well actually, I have no idea what brought it on, but what he said was in a speech he gave to the conference of the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN). According to the Irish Times, he said he had recently been briefed by some ‘high profile academics’ (actually, tempt me just a little and I’ll say who I think they may have been, or maybe readers may want to guess) and he was told by them that lecturers were ‘teaching for only four hours a week’. This, he elaborated on RTE’s Morning Ireland, seemed very little.

The Minister also managed to connect his views about academic workloads with his previously announced (and somewhat insultingly entitled) ‘forensic audit’ of higher education institutions. Once again he has suggested that universities don’t spend their money well and that academics are work-shy. All this gets mixed into the cocktail of accusations levelled at the institutions at the Joint Committee.

When DCU made its submission last year to the steering group working on the national higher education strategy, the first and most basic recommendation we made was that policy on higher education (and for that matter on anything else) should only be made on the back of sound evidence. Right now the politicians are making loud noises about universities in an increasingly breathless manner based often on nothing more than rumours or anecdotes or individual letters sent to them (which often sound as if they were written with a green biro). This does not take on the status of ‘evidence’, even when it gets put about by two ‘high profile’ academics, who may well have an agenda of their own.

The Minister may want to come and have a look, in any of the Irish universities. He will find academics who now quite routinely have a working week well in excess of 50 hours, and sometimes substantially so. He may want to be briefed on the extent to which these academics spend all day on teaching related duties, before settling down to some research at night. No doubt we have occasional examples of people whose working habits are less onerous, but they are certainly the exception. No doubt there are things we can change. But for heaven’s sake – and this plea is directed at all politicians – stop undermining our higher education system by repeating various way out comments from people with an axe to grind. The strategic review of higher education will, we hope, set out an analysis based on better information and more mature reflection. Wait for that, and then let us have evidence-based political actions. Surely that isn’t too much to ask.