It is time for Irish business to give something back to the State and to society
A debate is required now on universities and their role in society
In 2010, this amounted to €225 million, nearly a quarter of the total State budget for third level. Revenue audits now suggest a high level of suspected abuse. And yet, not content with this generous tax break, we find Irish business among the least likely to engage with third level.
A survey in the Times Higher Education on Monday suggested that Irish business invests only $8,300 per annum per scholar in third level on research and innovation. This is less than one-tenth the amount spent by Korean or Singaporean businesses, one-ninth the amount by Dutch business and one-eighth the amount by south African businesses. This is startling. Of course, there are a number of potential flaws with the indicator. It is based on the Times Higher Education university rankings which themselves are selective. It also draws from a subset of ranked universities and may spotlight a mix which conforms to a profile. It may miss hidden business involvement such as student numbers on courses.
It is hard to not conclude from the two issues, business involvement and the R&D tax issue, that Irish business is all too often happy to take from the State and society and not keen to give back.
Universities need to engage more with them but it is a two-way street. Engagement is not simply giving a few PCs or the odd bit of a chat to researchers, it is about business proactively funding PhD and postdoctoral students, about endowing centres and developing long-term research agendas, not chasing after rapid commercialisation of the latest whizzbang nor about accelerating the undergraduate cycle to two years to produce inputs to industry.
Debate on universities
A more educated society is a better one in all respects – that is why the State provides public funds, for the public goods coproduced by third level along with industrial and commercial-fitted students. We need a debate on universities and their role in society. They are not businesses. That is not to say they should not be run professionally with transparent budgeting. Universities exist to provide educated, engaged members of society.
They do not exist simply to train people for industry. Industry has been good at outsourcing its basic skills training and some core R&D to the State, in effect free riding. Perhaps its time to think about giving something back?
Brian Lucey is professor of finance in the school of business at Trinity College Dublin. A longer version of this article is posted on his blog, brianmlucey.wordpress.com