International Educator - May/June 2012 - 62
requalification schemes for the unemployed, which is also hoped to give them new, relevant skills. Thus, the country’s higher education system must do more with less, in both relative and absolute terms. “Ireland’s entire budget for higher education is, at about €2 billion, comparable to that of MIT alone,” says Cecile Hoareau, a fellow at the Maastricht School of Governance, a project leader for an NGO called Empower European Universities, and a research associate in the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley. Not surprisingly, a push for efficiency is a byword of the educational realm.
Already Efficient, Ireland Has Little Fat to Cut
The Irish Higher Education Authority is trying to squeeze savings out wherever possible. To reduce unnecessary duplication of programs, such as a total of 43 teacher training programs in 21 different institutions, it has called for consolidation in many programs. Many wonder what will be lost through larger, if possibly more efficient universities. “There is definite growth in the number of Irish students and there will be pressure to serve more,” says Lawrence Taylor, vice president for international affairs at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUI Maynooth). “There is room for rationalization of specialties. You could also rationalize by having fewer and larger universities. As an academic, however, I’m not sure I agree. We are 9,000 students [at Maynooth]. When I look at the mega-universities in Europe and the United States, I’m not sure they serve their students very well. While they bring together a critical mass of researchers, whether that model works best in teaching is a question.”
Unlike some other European higher education systems seeking cuts, that of Ireland is already efficient. A 2009 European Union report found Ireland’s university sector was the fifth most efficient in the world, after those of Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, and Finland. Thus, there is only so much fat to be cut or so far a euro can be stretched. By some measures impacts may be exacting a toll on the country’s vaunted higher education system. Irish institution rankings, as measured by the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, have fallen, with six of seven universities and the Dublin Institute of Technology dropping dramatically in results released in October. Two, Trinity College and University College Dublin, fell out of the coveted list of top 100 institutions, while others slipped out of the top 300 and 400 ranking cutoffs. Only Taylor’s Maynooth rose in the rankings. Many Irish educators are vocal in their criticisms of the rankings’ methodologies, contending that they better reflect the availability of financial and other resources, and directly reflected budget cuts or subjective views of reputation, rather than the core quality of educational programs and educational results. “While the university rankings slipped, all based on reputation, the hard metrics have stayed the same or improved, but they don’t focus on that,” says Dublin City University’s MacCraith. “The proof of the pudding is the quality of graduates. The message from major multinational employers is that they are very good.” Ellen Hazelkorn, vice president, research and enterprise, at the Dublin Institute of Technology and executive director of its Higher Education Policy Research Unit, says that the government funding cuts have pushed cost forward as a consideration for the nation’s seven universities and 14 institutes of technology: “Our institution is becoming more focused, and we are looking closely at the programs being offered and avoiding duplication of resources. The range of options has been reduced, in terms of subject choice within a degree. They may offer a course you need for your degree only once every year. Many course offerings grew up because someone said, ‘isn’t that a good idea.’ Now we have to ask, ‘can we afford to run it?’ Cost has never been an issue until now with respect to the running of many courses of instruction. That’s true across Europe. In the U.S., institutions would never of operated that way—they were always tied to costs. In the U.S., there is a bigger focus on the bottom line, with all the plusses and minuses.” Many academics worry. “I have colleagues in Ireland who are very worried,” says John McCourt, an associate professor of English in Rome, schooled at University College Dublin. “There has been a 10 percent salary cut, which
InternatIonal educator M AY + J U N E . 12