Posted tagged ‘NUI’

One last NUI-related issue: the Seanad seats

January 22, 2010

As has been mentioned before in this blog, it is now more than 30 years since the electorate voted in favour of a constitutional amendment allowing the franchise for the university seats in Seanad Eireann (the Senate, or Upper House of Parliament) to be widened beyond just graduates of Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland. Over all that time, nothing whatsoever has been done about it (a kind of contempt of the electorate on the part of all political parties that have been in government in that time).

Now that the NUI is to be abolished, something will presumably have to be done about this issue. The choices are simple enough: (a) compound the contempt of the electorate already shown by restricting the franchise to TCD and graduates of the newly separate former NUI colleges; (b) against all the odds, do nothing, so that only those who will have graduated from TCD and the NUI can vote (i.e. only Trinity graduates in future years, with the remaining NUI graduates still voting but gradually dying out); (c) extend the franchise to graduates of all the universities; (d) extend the franchise to all third level graduates (meaning that these seats will soon have a constituency of about half of the entire population in Ireland and a good many abroad); (e) abolish these seats altogether without any other reforms; or (f) undertake a wholesale reform of the Seanad so that the university Senators (who are generally thought to have been very good) might find other likely constituencies.

Of course there could always be the option of abolishing the Seanad, as Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny suggested in his solo run last year. We haven’t really heard much more about that.

Abolition of the NUI: a postscript

January 22, 2010

It is probably fair to say that in the 24 hours from the Minister’s announcement that he would ‘dissolve’ the National University of Ireland (NUI) some issues have become clear. First, while it probably could be said that the Minister’s actions were decisive, it is a worrying precedent that a decision with major implications for some universities, and some implications for all – never mind the implications for other people’s livelihoods – could be publicly announced without any prior discussion or consultation whatsoever.

It is obviously right that the decision was not a surprise per se: it had been signalled in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes (‘An Bord Snip Nua’ – the McCarthy report), and indeed it had been known for a while that some NUI member institutions would not be unhappy if it were to be wound up. Notwithstanding that, the report of a special committee does not constitute discussion or consultation, nor indeed had there been any real indication that this was a recommendation the government would implement in a hurry. Furthermore, the NUI has a relatively new Chancellor and some senior officials, and one would have expected some consultation with them. This is underscored by the publication on Thursday afternoon of a statement from the Chancellor following a meeting of the NUI Senate, in which several arguments are made against abolition.

For those of us who are not NUI members, there are broader issues about how the strategic direction of the university sector in Ireland is being set, and what level of input there can be from those most affected. In a couple of months we expect a report from the steering group  undertaking the strategic review of higher education. I would expect any recommendations in that report to be implemented only after consultation and an inclusive discussion. That is to say, I would hope that it will work that way, I am not now sure that I expect it.

So farewell then, NUI…

January 21, 2010

It is quite possible, indeed likely, that others will have been given advance notice of the demise of the National University of Ireland (NUI), but I first became aware of it by reading it on the RTE website. Of course DCU (like TCD and UL also) is not a member of the NUI, and to that extent is not directly affected, but clearly there will be some implications for the whole university sector. The complete absence of any prior discussion therefore strikes me as odd.

What actually happened was that yesterday (Wednesday) the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe TD, issued a press release in which he declared that he ‘is to dissolve the National University of Ireland’. That, it would have to be said, is a fairly grand statement. The NUI is a statutory body established under the Irish Universities Act 1908 (enacted by the Westminster Parliament), as amended by the Universities Act 1997. In that sense the Minister cannot ‘dissolve’ the NUI any more than I can, though of course he (unlike me) can introduce legislation with that end in mind. That, presumably, is what his statement is intended to convey, and indeed the suggestion in the press release is that this will be done as part of the legislation that is to establish the new quality assurance agency.

It may be worth reminding ourselves about the origins of the NUI. It emerged from what had initially been the establishment of the three Queen’s Colleges in Belfast, Cork and Galway in 1845, under the umbrella of the Queen’s University of Ireland (which, with some modifications, became the Royal University of Ireland in 1879). In 1908 the NUI was established, with Cork and Galway changing their names to University College Cork and University College Galway, and these were joined by University College Dublin (previously the Catholic University). Queen’s College Belfast became an independent university outside of the NUI. While the constituent colleges were given a fair amount of autonomy, a number of quality and administrative functions were exercised by the NUI, though these became less significant after the enactment of the Universities Act 1997. The NUI also has a single Chancellor for all of the constituent and recognised colleges.

It is clear that the configuration of the Irish university sector is currently undergoing significant change, and within that setting it was always unlikely that the NUI would survive for long, not least because some of its members were forging strategic links with non-NUI institutions. For all that, this announcement by the Minister was rather sudden, and it might have seemed more logical to wait for the report of the strategic review of higher education that he himself commissioned last year and which is due to be issued in March.

I cannot argue very much with the decision as such. But I do wonder about the way it was taken and communicated, and about the absence of any strategic context for it. It is alarming that such steps continue to be taken without a broader discussion and consultation; although I hope that at least those more directly affected were consulted in detail and were aware in advance of the timing of this announcement.