Poor infrastructure ‘contributing to slip’ in university rankings

Report says Irish universities losing competitiveness by failing to invest in technology

Irish universities are losing international competitiveness by failing to invest in digital infrastructure, such as faster broadband and online education tools, according to a new study by academics. Photograph: Getty Images

Irish universities are losing international competitiveness by failing to invest in digital infrastructure, such as faster broadband and online education tools, according to a new study by academics. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Irish universities are losing international competitiveness by failing to invest in digital infrastructure, such as faster broadband and online education tools, according to a new study by academics.

The report, which takes the form of an Irish chapter to an international audit of digital learning in higher education, found that Irish universities were unique in identifying technological infrastructure as a key weakness.

Rather than encouraging researchers to build up existing resources, “institutions are narrowing their focus to what they perceive as the minimal subset of enterprise services they can afford to sustain,” it says.

“As a result, educators are often trying to design new, innovative learning models that must be integrated with outdated, pre-existing technology and virtual learning environments.”

In general, “critical institutional infrastructures are under-resourced” in Ireland and this is “cited as one of the major reasons for the decline in university rankings”.

The report is being published at a conference at University of Limerick this week by New Media Consortium, a network of international academic institutions, under its Horizon project.

Contributors to the Irish chapter include the National Institute for Digital Learning at DCU and the Irish Learning Technology Association, which recruited an expert panel from over 20 Irish higher education institutions.

The study argues that Ireland needs to rethink the role of educators in third-level institutions in the digital era, and suggests little will be gained by merely placing lecture notes online.

It also argues that the funding model for higher education needs to change to keep pace with the demand for part-time and online courses. “The current funding model for higher education limits efforts by institutions to scale flexible delivery methods for distance learners,” it says.

Citing a risk-averse culture in Irish institutions, the report says there is a need to “to shift their attitudes and create new mission statements that favour more risk-taking over compliance”.

While Irish students are digitally literate, they are impeded by old-fashioned teaching and learning methods, it continues.

“Compounding this challenge, the expert panellists cited that in many cases, lecturers do not have access to as high-quality and new technologies as their students own.”

The report says there is scope for greater use of Bring Your own Device (BYOD) projects to extend learning opportunities, as well as “flipped classrooms” whereby more time is spent on project-based learning rather than lectures.

Meanwhile, a new OECD study has identified Ireland as having one of the biggest “skills gaps” between young people at work and so-called NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) among member states.

Ireland the fourth lowest score of 22 OECD countries for average numeracy and literacy proficiency among youth aged 16-29 years-old in 2012, the study showed. At the same time, it had a higher than normal graduation rate from tertiary, or post-secondary, education.

This indicated that there was a cohort of students who had “dropped of the radar” of the country’s education, social, and labour market systems.

“Addressing this issue is not only a moral imperative, but also an economic necessity,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the global report in Berlin.

“Too many young people leave education without having acquired the right skills and, even those who do, are prevented from putting them to productive use.”

The report expands on the findings of the first OECD Survey of Adult Skills, published in 2013.