Funding third-level education

 

Sir, – For such a short article, the contribution of Brian Hayes MEP to the current education debate manages to be misguided on a remarkably large number of points (“Why this Dáil may actually grasp the nettle of higher education funding”, Online Opinion & Analysis, July 14th).

First, his statement that the higher education system “is close to collapse” is hysterical. The system is creaking, but to suggest that it is collapsing is ludicrous. On this point, credit has to go to higher education staff who, as anyone who bothers to read the Cassells report will realise, have contributed to a huge increase in productivity in the sector since 2008.

Second, his statement that if students were to make a larger financial contribution to their education they would “correctly demand more from their colleges and lecturers given they would be paying for part of it”. This is the old and tiresome student-as-customer argument, and it carries with it an implication that students are not being well served by the current system. Results from the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (studentsurvey.ie) would suggest, however, that third-level students are broadly happy with the quality of the education they receive.

More importantly, what advocates of the consumer approach do not ever seem to get is the fact that education is a partnership between the educators and the students, and to view education as a service is to totally misunderstand the very essence of education.

Third, and most depressingly, Brian Hayes suggests that we need “reforms on course quality and content” and “more student contact hours”. He recommends that we should be “demanding that universities collaborate” and offering “pathways to meet labour force needs in new technologies and emerging business opportunities”. This is the “same old same old” and not only is it without any basis in pedagogy, it could also be argued that what the third-level system really needs to do is to reduce its role as a provider of job-specific skills and focus more on providing education in a broader sense. Furthermore, the last thing we need to do is to waste yet more time and resources enforcing collaborations, clusters and mergers. – Yours, etc,

Dr GREG FOLEY,

School of Biotechnology,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – Universities claim that they are underfunded and present us with a straight choice: either make the students pay more or make the Government pay more. The focus of discussion is thereby shifted to loan schemes to either sugar the pill or postpone the payday. There seems to be little appetite for asking the harder question of what should the colleges themselves do to reduce inefficiencies, eliminate unnecessary duplication and increase productivity. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL ANDERSON,

Balgriffin,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – In the 1960s I paid my way through university, taking part-time jobs during term and working full-time each summer. I found the overall experience entirely positive, as I learned as much about life as I did about academia. At no time did I think that the State owed me this experience, or that I was persecuted by my economic circumstances.

Why should I not wish the same benefits on others? – Yours, etc,

NATHANIEL HEALY

Newcastle,

Co Wicklow.