Time for Dublin’s universities to amalgamate

 

A chara, – People have welcomed the prospect of Dublin’s Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) gaining official university status (News, March 5th). Some will be surprised it did not already have it. RCSI has long been drawing multinational students into the city. Its elevation now would extend that role and enrich the college’s academic culture.

This news comes after the arrival of the Technological University Dublin (TUD), the capital’s new technological university, in the Grangegorman campus. It was formed by merging three long-established colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology with both the Blanchardstown and Tallaght institutes of technology. That too will add to what Dublin can offer students. Visitors have already seen there how it has enhanced the wider locality. The better infrastructure will invite densification, forming a virtuous circle.

Educators and politicians warmly welcomed the arrival of the TUD as a fourth university in the capital. RCSI will be greeted likewise. However, I believe we need to look at the wider context. We must secure the economies of scale that third-level education can yield for the country at large. Dublin’s ambition should be looking to keep up with the best international academic venues. However, the QS rankings show a continual decline since 2012.

Ireland Inc needs to cultivate graduates that will compete at the highest level.

Yet, when it comes to national budget time third-level colleges are competing with cash-strapped rivals such as housing and health. The prospect of RCSI now adding a fifth university should make us reflect on the overall planning of third-level education. If we accept that Maynooth lies within the greater Dublin area it would make a half dozen. The current trend is leading to the balkanisation of Dublin’s higher education sector.

We cannot afford multiple look-alike administrations, coupled with duplication of teaching posts and infrastructure. University sports grounds cost a lot of money. So do libraries. I see too many ivory towers.

Education must learn the hard lesson. Scale is important. The Government is raising housing density in order to make optimum use of land resources and local infrastructure. In recent years we have seen administrative reforms in local government (amalgamating local councils), in health (amalgamating dysfunctional small hospitals), and in State bodies (creating Irish Water).

These changes, generally speaking, have brought economies of scale and better provision of services. Why is education the slow learner?

History shows us the Minister for Education must tackle the vested interests that block these reforms. Ireland must compete with larger colleges abroad, draw in more research and attract more foreign fee-paying students.

Fewer and better colleges will give us the clustering of talent that feeds the postgraduate level, and that really makes the difference in our global profile.

Ultimately, we must remember that these colleges receive major financial support from the state. Government intervention is needed and disparate colleges need to be drawn together. This task now falls to the Minister. – Is mise,

DIARMUID Ó GRÁDA,

Clonskeagh,

Dublin 14 .