National University of Ireland to be dissolved

 

THE NATIONAL University of Ireland, which awards qualifications in some of the State’s major third-level institutions, is to be dissolved after more than a century in existence.

The decision, based on a recommendation in the McCarthy report on the public service, will yield cost savings of more than €3 million a year, according to the Government. But the NUI itself says the savings will be just over €1 million as many of its functions – such as the payment of external examiners – will have to be paid by any new qualifications body.

The 15 staff members of the NUI were told of the imminent demise of the organisation yesterday morning. They are likely to be redeployed to a planned new agency which will amalgamate the various quality assurance and award agencies in higher and further education.

Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes claimed the decision was taken without consultation with the universities and graduates. Based on “back of the envelope” presumptions, the move also pre-empts the Government’s forthcoming strategy on higher education, he said.

Established in 1908, the NUI approves study programmes and awards qualifications up to PhD level in nine constituent colleges including NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, University College Dublin and University College Cork. The degrees awarded by these colleges are deemed degrees of the NUI.

Its list of distinguished former chancellors include former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald and Dr TK Whitaker.

The Government move comes despite a strong lobby by the NUI led by current chancellor Dr Maurice Manning.

In a briefing document designed to support this lobby the NUI said last month: “It has taken over 100 years of distinguished and highly credible service to build up this unique national brand for Ireland; to dismantle it would be a disaster for Irish education and for the country as a whole. It would dismantle a national institution which has a proud record of support for the language, culture and tradition of Ireland.”

In a confidential e-mail to members of the NUI Senate last night, Dr Manning held out hope that the decision could be reversed if there was a change of Government. He said said the decision “was unlikely to be implemented before mid-2011 at the earliest and much will depend on prevailing political circumstances”.

He said he was first told of the decision at a meeting with Mr O’Keeffe in Leinster House at 11am yesterday.

But the NUI cause has not been helped by criticism from among the universities, notably UCD and UCC.

At times, both UCD president Dr Hugh Brady and former UCC president Dr Gerry Wrixon saw the NUI as a block on their efforts to establish strong “branding’’ for their own universities. There was further tension in 2006 when the NUI refused to allow UCD award its own honorary degree to writer Edna O’Brien.

The decision will be discussed at a full meeting of the NUI Senate today.