Teacher's pet: The talk of education

Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 00:00

Who are the winners and losers in the big shakeout at third level? The Higher Education Authority envisages a brave new world in which the number of colleges will be cut from 39 to 24 and, eventually, 15. The big winners are the seven universities, which are largely unaffected by the process. They will continue to be independent fiefdoms, just as their presidents like it. There will be modest changes but nothing fundamental.

Late last year, international experts appointed by the HEA envisaged something more radical. They backed a UCD-TCD merger in order to propel one Irish university into the global elite. Ireland is not represented among the top 100 universities in the world. A strong rearguard action by several university presidents, including Brian MacCraith of DCU and Philip Nolan of NUI Maynooth, has seen off these and other “dangerous ’’ proposals.

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The situation is very different at the institutes of technology, which are facing a renewed period of uncertainty. There are plans for some to be transformed into new technological universities; others will form a regional alliance. But all this is taking place without clear guidance from the Government. The key issue is what will happen in Waterford.

With the firm backing of Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, Waterford and Carlow ITs are pitching for a new technological university (TU). Some in the HEA are deeply sceptical. But HEA boss Tom Boland reassured Waterford last week that a TU has not been ruled out. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn faces a dilemma. He must be seen to maintain “proper” university standards while avoiding a row with his Cabinet colleagues. For their part, the university presidents are sceptical.

Then there is the Cork question. A TU for Waterford could damage Cork IT, widely regarded as one of the best in the State. For some senior figures in education, a Waterford/Cork TU would make a great deal more sense, but this is not even on the agenda. All very problematic.

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12The percentage of employers that have recruited arts and humanities graduates in the past two years

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Why has the take-up been so low for those surveys about school patronage? Just over 20 per cent of parents in some of the pilot areas bothered to vote, and a low turnout is expected in the current poll in 38 other areas. Quinn is accentuating the positive, pointing to the 44 per cent turnout in one area and the clear mandate for change. He deserves credit for attempting to build a model that more truly reflects contemporary Irish society. But, for the average parent in the average Catholic school, the issue of patronage can seem a bit remote. Most parents are happy with their kids’ school – in itself a great tribute to our outstanding primary teachers. They are not thirsting for change. And they don’t see Catholic management of the school as oppressive.

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Back to Waterford IT, where there is a great deal of apprehension about the current Department of Education inquiry into spending at the campus. At Ruairí Quinn’s request, the former Revenue chairman Dermot Quigley is examining a number of on-campus companies at WIT. The report could be very damaging for the college.


Seán Flynn is the Teacher’s Pet

Twitter: @SeanFlynnEd

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