Diversity of third-level sector is a strength

 

Sir, – Your article “Does Ireland have too many universities?” (Education, March 10th) risks diverting attention from key issues of underfunding and soaring student numbers in higher education.

Ireland has seven conventional “universities” and a new technological university. Denmark, of similar size and population to Ireland, has eight.

It is not useful to compare Ireland with France which has over 100 such institutions. There is no potential, in Dublin or elsewhere, to replicate a project to merge “several” universities “east of Paris”.

Universities and other higher-education institutions here already co-operate significantly in course delivery, research and administration, and this should be encouraged.

But the existing diversity in the number and function of our academic institutions should be celebrated and fostered, not questioned.

Focusing on mergers would inevitably lead to stagnation or pruning of academic staff numbers and a reduction in course options and a more managerial university environment. This would be particularly retrograde in an era where demand for student places here is projected to soar for the next decade.

Such a policy could also have an unintended consequence of promoting development of private universities, where, as highlighted in the Cassells report of 2016, fee levels are generally more than double that pertaining in publicly funded institutions.

Addressing how we best fund and support public education provision should remain the clear focus of current discussion and planning for higher education. – Yours, etc,

JOAN DONEGAN,

General Secretary,

Irish Federation

of University Teachers,

Merrion Square,

Dublin 2.