When I began my career as a university lecturer, the student body in my institution was overwhelmingly undergraduate. Taught postgraduate courses were quite rare and generally had small numbers, and in Ireland at least there were very few doctoral research students. By the time I left Irish higher education earlier this year to take up my current post in Scotland, the real growth in universities was in postgraduate studies. In addition, it had become government policy – through the promotion of what has become known as the ‘fourth level‘ – to encourage and fund students wanting to pursue a higher degree. This was so not least because of the now common assumption that an increasing number of high value jobs require postgraduate qualifications.
Now, however, the Irish government has apparently decided to discontinue public funding for postgraduate students. While it is understandable that the government must try to find ways of containing the cost of higher education, it is very hard to see how it makes sense to introduce cuts at the level which government policy has consistently prioritized. Or rather, if there is to be a change of policy of such a radical nature, it would seem right to subject that to some discussion and analysis before implementing it. Certainly if Ireland now acquires a reputation of being inhospitable to postgraduate studies and research it will greatly damage standing of the country and compromise foreign direct investment in knowledge-intensive industries. It would not be wise to implement this decision.