College heads must hold nerve


TEACHER'S PET:There were long faces and some bad tempers after last week's meeting between Batt O'Keeffe and the university presidents.

The meeting was a tetchy affair. Several college heads, notably John Hegarty of Trinity and John Hughes of Maynooth, came away convinced that the Minister was not in listening mode - especially on their proposed student-loan system.

The presidents - led by current chair Hugh Brady of UCD - talked about the big picture, a vision for higher education into the future.

But for Batt, it was all about brass tacks - generating more cash for higher education and getting better value for money.

Batt said he had receives a mountain of correspondence from academics, all complaining of waste and undue bureaucracy in their colleges. Hugh Brady interjected to say the same people had been in contact with him. But there were few other light moments.

Meanwhile, another storm is brewing over the the scope of the new national strategy for higher education. The presidents want a big-picture approach. The Department, they say, favours a minimalist approach.

So the mood is black among some college heads. But is there a need for some perspective here?

Ok, Batt did not embrace the student loans plan. But he is the first minister since Noel Dempsey with the courage to put college fees and funding on the agenda. Only months ago, Mary Hanafin was saying fees were off the agenda for the foreseeable future.

College heads have played their hand well to date, thanks to the tactical acumen of such figures as Brady, UCC boss Michael Murphy and Ned Costello, the chief executive of the Irish Universities Association.

Last week's meeting was not an unqualified success. But this is a long game. And they are still winning.

• Our recent piece about Crofton Training, the Bray company providing translation services for Liverpool FC drew a strong response from readers and from RTÉ's Gerry Ryan.

Many readers pointed out how Irish soccer manager Giovanni Trapattoni might benefit from some expert coaching given his still faltering English.

Before you ask, yes, Crofton have been on to the FAI.

But they have still to hear anything positive from Abbotstown.

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