UCC president calls for peer review for Government

Dr Michael Murphy delivers this year’s Daniel O’Connell lecture in Caherciveen

UCC president Dr Michael Murphy. Photograph: UCC

UCC president Dr Michael Murphy. Photograph: UCC

 

State agencies and Government departments should be subjected to international peer review on a regular basis to ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness, according to the president of University College Cork (UCC), Dr Michael Murphy.

Dr Murphy said one of the most significant developments in the university sector over the past two decades has been the implementation of regular international peer review of third-level institutions and their constituent schools and administrative units to allow them become more effective and efficient.

“There is no reason why regulators, state agencies, even Government departments should not embrace peer review. In a small country with a limited pool of specialised talent, it is particularly important that we subject our practices to adjudication by others with diverse experience.

“I might venture to add that had our Department of Finance or our Financial Regulator engaged in international peer review, we might have avoided the fiscal calamity visited upon us.

“It is my opinion that such regular review should be mandatory,” he said.

Dr Murphy was delivering the Daniel O’Connell lecture at the O’Connell Summer School in Caherciveen, where he noted that O’Connell was opposed to the establishment of Queen’s College Cork and its sister universities in Galway and Belfast in the 1840s.

O’Connell had sided with the Catholic Church in opposing the establishment of the three universities to cater for those excluded from Trinity College Dublin as the UK prime minister of the time, Sir Robert Peel, sought to make all three non-denominational, he noted.

Challenges

Dr Murphy said one of the biggest challenges now facing Irish universities was maintaining their positions in the top 750 universities in the world.

In that regard, it was vital there was an easing in the level of regulation which is currently “complex, not well coordinated and excessive”.

He pointed out that currently the Department of Education has responsibility for governance, infrastructure and direct resources, even though its focus tends to be more on primary and secondary schools, while day to day oversight is devolved to the Higher Education Authority

“Oversight of research, now a very significant element of university life, resides on the other hand in the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, whose priorities are not infrequently at odds with the Department of Education,” said Dr Murphy.

Dr Murphy said that the management toolkit for universities is shaped by the Department of Expenditure and Public Reform and was designed primarily for the Irish Civil Service.

He said that its rules and regulations are not suitable for universities that have to compete internationally for staff, students and resources.

“Improved governance cohesion, fit for purpose by international standards is urgently required and, equally important, less of it.

“There is now widespread recognition that the greater the autonomy of universities, the better their performance,” he said.

Best performers

Addressing the audience of about 190, Dr Murphy pointed out that the European Universities Association had established that the best performers in terms of university management were those in the UK, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, where they are the least heavily regulated.

Ireland was well down the pack and that analysis was conducted before the financial crisis, with the introduction of emergency fiscal legislation and the employment control framework. Fetters must be removed,” he said.

Dr Murphy also called for a reduction in the size of university governing bodies, with too many members elected without the skills required for good governance.

He also called for the rebalancing of the experts selected to participate in policy making and regulatory bodies, as he believed the pendulum had swung too far in the direction of ending the hegemony of professional cartels.

He said that such bodies now often lack competence and capacity.