Posted tagged ‘NUI Galway’

“Public gathering” called on academic freedom

January 20, 2011

The Irish academic news resource website, 9thlevelireland, yesterday carried a letter signed by 160 academics calling for a meeting to discuss threats, as the signatories see it, to academic freedom across Irish higher education. This meeting, which is described as being ‘open to all academics’, is to be held on Saturday, January 22, at 2pm, in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin.

The initiative for this was taken by Paddy Healy, a lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology and a former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland, which inter alia organises staff in the Institutes of Technology. In his blog he has expanded on the reasons for his fears concerning academic freedom. These are based principally on the agreement reached last year between the Irish government and the public sector trade unions (the Croke Park agreement), under which various changes in working practice and in contracts of employment are to be negotiated. In the blog Paddy Healy publishes a document said to have been issued by NUI Galway setting out proposed changes and reforms. As far as I am aware, the university has not made any public comment on this, so I cannot say whether the document represents its position, or what its aims are in any negotiations that may be taking place. But if we take the document at face value, it clearly envisages a very different kind of employment contract and higher levels of staff flexibility.

From what I can gather, the process of initiating the reform processes envisaged under the Croke Park agreement has been left by the Irish Universities Association to individual institutions, and there is no sector-wide position on what changes might be involved. This may be a risky approach, and it would be hard to imagine that very different contractual frameworks or terms of employment could be sustained between the Irish universities and colleges. Not having a common approach also makes it difficult to avoid rumours and fears circulating through the system. I cannot help feeling that a more open, nation-wide discussion process would make more sense.

On the other hand, it would also be a mistake for academics to resist all change, or to allow the impression to emerge that this is their position. There continue to be very good reasons for preserving intellectual autonomy and academic freedom, but academics must also be aware of, and show sensitivity to, the general movement towards greater accountability in society. The risk is always that accountability is seen as meaning bureaucratic control, and to avoid that being the result of current reforms academics, like the universities, need to engage in constructive discussions. As part of this process, resistance to measures such as measuring of full economic costs is hugely counter-productive and damaging to the staff position. A radicalisation of these discussions on either side can easily prompt wider public hostility towards higher education, an outcome that would put the entire system at risk.

All parties involved in this should proceed with some care, and with as much openness as possible. Rumour is the enemy of success.

The web presence

November 23, 2010

These days, most people who have an interest in a university or college, in whatever context, first encounter it on the internet. A university’s home page on the web is, usually, its main opportunity to make a good first impression.

Today I needed to access all Ireland’s university websites to find two pieces of information; one of these would be very relevant to potential student applicants, the other to a potential philanthropist. I have to say most Irish universities do not come out of this well. Typically their home pages are far too busy and contain too much information under too many headings. The main function of the home page, in my view, is to act as a map that will direct a visitor to where they want to go, and that will do so in a reasonably attractive way. Typically this task is best performed if the page gives maybe nine or ten different options, which can then move the visitor closer to the information they need in a user-friendly way. In fact, Irish universities typically provide around 35-40 clicking choices on the home page, often in confusing separate sections on the page, and often offered in very small print with densely written sub-texts. One university gives the visitor 45 choices. Three universities also do not manage to contain all the links and clicks on a single screen, so that the visitor has to scroll down to see all of it, which on a home page is an absolute no-no.

The one Irish university website that pretty much gets it right is NUI Galway, which has a clean, uncluttered and user-friendly home page, with a reasonable and manageable set of links. The next best is my own former bailiwick, DCU. The others are all in varying degrees a nightmare for the first time visitor.

Apart from Galway’s rather excellent effort, a good model of how to do it is the website of US university MIT.

One hint I would give to university web designers is to keep breathless news announcements to a minimum. Visitors to a website are not really likely to be there in order to enjoy the latest propaganda messages. A well designed news site linked from the home page, and kept up to date, is a much better bet.

Seeking to prevent double jobbing

June 4, 2010

Three years ago a case came to light which caused a fair amount of embarrassment in the higher education sector, but which also still threatens to have further repercussions. The case was that of Fergal O’Malley, who it turns out had for over eight years been working simultaneously under two full-time contracts of employment, one with Athlone Institute of Technology and the other with NUI Galway. For a while neither institution was aware of this situation, until NUI Galway started to ask why his research performance was not better. At that point his double jobbing came to light, and he was found to have been earning €146,000 per annum between the two colleges. He then resigned, and since then various contractual consequences, including his pension entitlements, have been the subject of detailed analysis. Most recently the Presidents of the two institutions and the Chief Executive of the HEA have been explaining to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee how this had happened and what steps had been taken to prevent a recurrence.

In the public discussion of this case there has been, I think, something of an undercurrent suggesting that if it was possible for the man to do an allegedly full-time job in both institutions, then something must be wrong with academic workloads. However, while he was able to keep up this particular arrangement for a while, it was clear that in NUI Galway at least he was unable to maintain his full range of duties. Furthermore, if this were really something that could be happening on a larger scale, we would know that by now. His case is, I believe, pretty unique. Also both institutions (and others not involved) have tightened their procedures to ensure this will not happen again.

According to newspaper reports HEA Chief Executive Tom Boland, when asked at the Public Accounts Committee whether there could be other such cases, said that some staff might be ‘swinging the lead’ (and I confess I am not sure what that means), but that most worked very hard. I would put it more definitely than that. At this point, with huge pressures affecting third level staff due to budget and staffing cuts, overwhelmingly staff work very long hours, often more than 60 per week, and have workloads that are hugely demanding. One of the reasons why despite the cutbacks we are still able to function as best we can is because we retain a large amount of staff goodwill. If we now impose intrusive monitoring we will lose that also, and with it the ability to provide a reasonable quality of education. There is, as Tom Boland also said, a balance to be struck between academic freedom and what he called ‘a kind of managerialism’.

It has to be admitted that the O’Malley case didn’t do us any good. But we should also bear in mind that it was discovered, and that it has turned out to be pretty unique. An overreaction would not be helpful. On the other hand, universities and institutes do have an obligation to work with staff to ensure that this kind of conduct is not allowed to happen again.

Small is ugly?

February 19, 2010

The announcement of the strategic partnership between NUI Galways and the University of Limerick was made in the presence of the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, and senior government ministers. The following in the report by the Irish Times caught my eye:

‘He [the Taoiseach] said universities working alone were limited by their relatively small size in comparison with competitor institutions. “However, by working together they can begin to have a much bigger impact.”‘

I certainly don’t wish to detract in any way from the significance of this new partnership, but I do wish that politicians would stop talking about size as an important element in the success of a university. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that size on its own is an advantage. Harvard University, which is recognised in the league tables as the number 1 university in the world, has roughly 11,000 students, which makes it smaller than either Limerick or NUI Galway. Princeton University (also in the global top 10) has 7,500 students. And California Institute of Technology (usually know as Caltech, also in the global top 10) has 2,100 students.

On the other end of the spectrum, not one of the 100 biggest universities in the world (by any form of measurement) features in the global top 500.

The significance of this is that we must identify correctly what allows a university to score highly in global comparisons, and it isn’t size. In fact, what allows universities to lead in the rankings is very simple: resources and autonomy. The more money that universities can invest in faculty, in facilities and services, in equipment and in materials, the more likely it is that they will be key global players. And the more they can develop key strategies independently of bureaucratic control, the more effective is their use of those investments. Of course the extent to which they can strategically use their resources to maximum effect, for example by finding partners who can complement their strengths, will also make a difference, and given the extraordinary lack of resources for Irish universities even in the good times we have done very well indeed.

There are strong arguments for supporting the Galway-Limerick alliance, and I believe that their launch statement has some very exciting and entirely workable objectives. Both institutions are also committed to developing and securing collaboration with other institutions also. They have also made a strong case for the benefits they will be able to achieve from linking some of their key teams. But what will not determine their success is the combined numerical strength of their institutions.

Unless politicians understand what allows universities to be successful, they will not be able to support us in securing that aim. And if they do not understand the significance of viable resourcing in an autonomous setting, they do not understand higher education. There is still much ground to cover.

NUI Galway – University of Limerick strategic alliance

February 18, 2010

The full text of the document announcing the strategic alliance between NUI Galway and the University of Limerick can be seen here:

http://www.nuigalway.ie/about-us/documents/nuigalway-ul-strategic-alliance.pdf

This document sets out the areas in which the new partnership will address in a collaborative manner, and it includes teaching, research, knowledge transfer and civic engagement. Particular areas of expertise are highlighted, these being biomedicine and biomedical devices, energy, ICT, and social development and civic engagement. Research teams will collaborate, and students will be given opportunities to take courses in the respective other institution. The two universities also envisage drawing in local institutes of technology and teacher training colleges in due course.

The document suggests that the alliance has been well prepared and that several joint projects will be initiated or developed immediately, with longer terms prospects of additional collaboration.

DCU has research collaborations with both the University of Limerick and NUI Galway, and I wish this new alliance every success.

Limerick – Galway: announcement from Limerick

February 18, 2010

Colleagues

I am delighted to share with you an announcement which will be made public later today. The University of Limerick and NUI Galway have entered into a Strategic Alliance across all key areas of our activity. Our two Universities are committed to working together to deliver a better service to our students, to our business and industry partners, to our region and to our various stakeholders.

Later today, An Taoiseach Mr Brian Cowen T.D. will launch the new Alliance in the company of An Tánaiste and Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment, Ms Mary Coughlan T.D., and the Minister for Education and Science, Mr Batt O?Keeffe T.D. in the RoyalIrishAcademy, Dublin.

This Alliance will make a real difference ? a difference to our students, to our faculty and staff, to our researchers, to our industrial and business partners, and a difference to the Shannon Region and the West of Ireland.

We believe that together we are stronger. In a time of unprecedented economic upheaval, we must look at alternative ways of delivering a quality service to our students. By working with NUI Galway, we will be able to protect and optimise student choices.

The Alliance will extend across all areas of our activity including teaching and learning, research, technology transfer, lifelong learning and service provision. A number of projects are set for immediate launch, including:

Research

We are collaborating with NUI Galway in key areas of research, including:

* Biomedicine and biomedical devices

* Energy research

* ICT, including software development and semantic web research

Technology Transfer

We will promote the services of both Technology Transfer Offices as a single offering, particularly in the areas of our collaborative research.

We are also working with the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US to establish a joint Translational Research Institute. Georgia Tech is a recognised world leader in translational research and we are excited about the prospects of working with them.

Teaching and Learning

There are many collaborative projects planned in the area of teaching and learning, across all Faculties. One new development is the ?Link-to-Learn? student exchange programme which will facilitate students at either university who wish to avail of specialist opportunities at the other institution on a module or even semester basis.

Lifelong Learning

Strong links already exist between UL and NUI Galway in the area of adult and continuing education. These links will be extended as both units work together to provide programmes focused on upskilling the national workforce and meeting the needs of the newly unemployed.

Shared Services

Our two Universities will also collaborate on service provision, through a shared services model. In addition, we will use our combined buying power to collaborate in the joint procurement of goods and services to ensure maximum efficiency in our purchases.

More details of all of these projects can be found on the website from noon today:

http://www.nuigalway.ie/ul-alliance

I want to pay tribute to all at UL who have worked to make today?s announcement possible and I look forward to the benefits this strategic alliance with our colleagues in NUI Galway will bring to both our institutions and the communities we serve.

Don

Professor Don Barry

Uachtarán / President

Oifig an Uachtaráin / Office of the President

Ollscoil Luimnigh / University of Limerick

Galway and Limerick universities form an alliance

February 16, 2010

On Thursday of this week NUI Galway and the University of Limerick will, according to the invitation to the event, launch ‘a major strategic alliance’.  The news of this proposed new partnership was made public yesterday by RTE in a report on its website and in an item on the television news. University presidents from other institutions had been alerted to this development a little while ago, but so far we do not know the exact nature of the alliance. In the RTE report it is said that the two universities want to ‘pool resources’ and develop a ‘combined strategy’ in order to create ‘centres of world class excellence’.

It is highly likely that the Irish higher education system will, over the period ahead, see a ‘clustering’ of institutional partnerships. First of these was the TCD-UCD ‘Innovation Alliance’ last year, and it is known that other inter-institutional talks (also including DCU) are under way. What is perhaps less clear is how the sector as a whole will operate, and the extent to which sector-wide initiatives can be pursued alongside the plans of specific strategic partnerships.

I look forward to hearing more about the NUI Galway/Limerick plan to be launched on Thursday, and I wish them well.