The future of third-level

What needs to be done to get third level back on track? Education figures give their views

QuinnRuairí Quinn TD

Minister for Education and Skills

When we talk about the funding of higher education, the discussion often immediately narrows to the reintroduction of fees or a loan scheme for students. While these issues are worthy of debate, I believe that as a first step our universities and colleges need to look within themselves.

There is too much duplication in higher education institutions. There is also waste. In my opinion, these are the issues that we first need to address. There are now a mind-boggling 1,437 courses on offer through the CAO. It is confusing to students and parents, and costly for the institutions.

We have a plan for regional clusters of third-level colleges. This offers the opportunity for those clusters to examine their courses and see if there is unnecessary duplication of courses in institutions which are in close proximity to each other. Let’s tackle such duplication, as well as other waste. Then we can have a grown-up discussion about the future funding of third level.

Joe OConnerJoe O’Connor

Head of the Union of Students in Ireland

Ireland must commit again as a nation to fairly funding education, or risk turning a poorer, more debt-averse generation away from college. A skilled society is Ireland’s only viable route to stability. USI believes in opportunity for all to build prosperity for everyone – state investment in education is the surest way to bring it.

Mary MeaneyMary Meaney

Director, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown

There should be a balance between individual contributions, taxation and enterprise. Whatever model emerges will have to be closely aligned to government policy, to demographics and to access. Our current concentration on the full-time student will have to change.

Don ThornhillDon Thornhill

Chairman of the National

Competitiveness Council and of Hibernia College

We need an outstanding higher education system. A successful strategy will include the reintroduction of higher education fees in conjunction with more effective grants and loans. Greater efficiency in improving the quality of teaching, learning and research will include much greater use of innovative approaches such as eLearning, and enhanced contributions from innovative private sector institutions in partnership and competition with public institutions.

Ronnie MunckRonnie Munck

Defend the University campaign

There is a clear funding crisis threatening the future of the Irish university, but there is an even more dramatic crisis of perspectives and of leadership. There is a creeping business agenda subverting the ethos of the university, and a reduction of the student search for knowledge and enlightenment to a set of narrow job-related skills. [In relation to funding], the options presented are either “full economic costing” fees for students or increased taxes. But households are drowning in debt and our children should not be denied the chance to go to university. We need to reimagine the Irish university.

Fionn MurtaghProf Fionn Murtagh

Head of school of computer science and informatics, De Montfort University, England

While the two major sustainability requirements of the university system are now research funding income and employability of graduates, there is and always will be a case to be made for scholarship and learning. Governance, within the sector and above the sector, that has a deep understanding of all of these requirements is needed, as opportunity moves from the BRIC countries to the MINT countries, as Africa flowers, and as part-time, block release and distance learning modes of study soar. In Ireland, unfairness of funding and support meted out to many disciplines needs to be rectified.

Pghilip NolanProf Philip Nolan

President, NUI Maynooth

Between 2003 and 2012, public expenditure per student in primary school rose 16 per cent, at second level rose 12 per cent but at third level plummeted. If we do not act now, our third-level education system will be damaged in a way that will take decades to repair. It is fantasy to suggest further efficiencies can be extracted. [Graduates] will have to pay more for [their] education, combined with an effective and equitable grants system.

Jim QuinnJim Quinn

Head of school of business studies, Trinity College Dublin

Mixed-income sources including fee income and private sector income will be important, and if we want standards to be maintained we will also have to look to philanthropy and endowments. But the government can’t move out completely; it’s a question of public good. Unless government plans to raise taxes, fee income needs to be introduced, with scholarships for those who can’t afford fees.