Funding and third-level league tables

 

Sir, – League tables demonstrate a consistent blind spot in failing to recognise the value of the work being done every day against great odds by Irish third-level institutions, particularly institutes of technology.

In spite of cutbacks, the institute of technology sector continues to discharge its duties with distinction. In this regard, it remains an absolutely critical part of the country’s regional infrastructure. The mission of the sector is distinct, with a strong focus on both meeting regional needs and ensuring equity of access. And while international recognition is important, national and local recognition is even more so.

Commentators fully admit that these rankings are wholly inappropriate for the context of Irish third-level institutions. Savage cuts in funding have had a devastating effect on higher education in Ireland. In institutes of technology alone, funding fell by €190 million between 2008 and 2015. Over the same time period, student numbers rose by over 21,400 (32 per cent) while 535 (9.5 per cent) lecturing positions were lost.

Meanwhile, the recent OECD “Education at a Glance” indicators confirm that the ratio of students to teaching staff in Irish third-level institutions is 20 to one, significantly above the international average of 17 to one.

While an era of austerity cutbacks has clearly had an effect on the positioning of Irish institutions in international rankings, it has had a worse effect on the working conditions of lecturers and on student experience, with larger class sizes and less access to laboratories, equipment, materials and tutorials.

For the sake of the students of today and tomorrow, urgent and additional State funding is required to tackle the corrosive effects of cutbacks. The corollary of such Government commitment would inevitably be higher positioning by Irish institutions in future rankings. – Yours, etc,

JOANNE IRWIN,

President,

Teachers’ Union

of Ireland,

Orwell Road,

Rathgar, Dublin 6.