International Educator - May/June 2012 - 61
conducted a funeral procession in the Irish capital of Dublin. A bagpiper was followed by a hearse, four pallbearers carrying a casket, and then a crowd of students marching from the Irish Department of Education to Leinster House, the seat of the Irish Parliament.
The deceased? “Higher Education,” represented by a casket and a banner held by students reading “RIP The Death of Education 1922–2011.” The event protested anticipated education cuts in the Irish budget and the prospect of increased student fees at public universities in Ireland. Gary Redmond, president of the Union of Students in Ireland, gave the eulogy to reporters and others assembled: “If we don’t invest in education we are literally saying goodbye to our young people, our talented and our bright young people. People across the country have three choices at the moment. And not only young people, it’s people who have lost their jobs in the unfortunate economic climate that we are in. They either go on to higher education, they upskill, they reskill, and they build a smart knowledge-based economy that we all want to build, we all want to see as a country. [Or, second] they join the 14.4 percent of the people on the Live Register [a registry of those seeking government jobseeker benefits, credits, and allowances], or they join the 110 Irish people who are being forced to emigrate every single day.” Most would agree that reports of Irish higher education’s death are, as Mark Twain termed word of his own, greatly exaggerated. But the march and the eulogy managed to stoke concerns regarding many of the hot button issues in Irish society: unemployment, Irish pride in its higher education system and fears for the same, historic emigration in troubled times, and present economic stagnation.
The Celtic Tiger Lost It’s Roar
Dancing Between the Rain Drops on the Emerald Isle
T WAs A soMBER AFFAiR. In November, students organized by the Union of Students in Ireland
Higher education has been a large part of Ireland’s growth during its Celtic Tiger years, roughly 1995–2007, which included rapid
state-driven economic development that propelled Ireland from one of the continent’s least developed countries to one of its most developed. That expansion included a dynamic increase in the size, scope, and quality of higher education institutions driven in part through lavish state investments in them. The result was the rapid rise of some institutions to the top ranks of academia—Ireland’s research rankings moved from below Bangladesh to among the top 20 in the world in 15 years—and a vastly outsized number of higher education institutions for a country of a mere 4.7 million souls. Education has also been seen as a key to retaining Irish people in the country and stopping a traditional exodus of Irish from the Emerald Isle. With many Irish out of work since the start of a recession driven by a real estate and banking bubble commenced in 2008, that impetus has only increased. Significant cuts have already been made to higher education. The higher education budget declined 24 percent from 2008 through 2012, with a further cumulative 5 percent of cuts anticipated through 2015. Under a national Employment Control Framework operational since 2009, employment in the educational sector was reduced 7 percent through 2010. Further staffing cuts are anticipated through 2014. Wages have also declined, including a 10 percent cut in wages for public employees in 2010. Addressing the funding shortfall by reducing enrollment, however, is not on the table. In fact, the country aims to increase the percentage of the populace with undergraduate degrees from more than 65 percent currently to 72 percent by 2020, Minister of Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn notes. In addition, Ireland plans to foster increased participation in higher education through funding
M AY + J U N E . 12 InternatIonal educator