Farewell the NUI… January 29, 2010Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
From McCarthy Report Volume 2…
D. 10 Abolition of National University of Ireland
Progress is being made towards the amalgamation of Higher Education & Training Awards Council (HETAC), Further Education & Training Awards Council (FETAC) and the National
Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) into one body. It is likely that the qualifications functions of the NUI in relation to its constituent universities and recognised colleges will also be amalgamated into the new qualifications body. Once these functions are removed from the NUI, its remaining functions would consist of the following:
• Printing parchment for the making of awards itself and for the making of NUI awards by the constituent universities;
• Bestowing prizes and bursaries across the constituent universities of the recognised colleges;
• Maintaining a register of NUI graduates and undertaking the elections for the NUI seats on Seanad Éireann; and
• Supporting Convocation of the NUI.
It is not considered that the remaining functions of the NUI would sustain the existence of the body.
It is recommended accordingly that the NUI be abolished and its remaining functions transferred to another existing body as necessary. This should result in savings of the order of €3m a year.
Anyone see the basic problem with abolition of the NUI today given the recommendation?
And one would wonder at the reality as distinct from the optics of ‘savings of €3m’ given that as noted in the Irish Times when the news broke that the current chancellor, Maurice Manning considers that implementing it would take at least a year and a half and that:
…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.
More broadly this seems to fit into a pattern, that we’ve seen now with the Irish Council for Bioethics and aspects of the approach to CDP’s, whereby an entity is disbanded or ‘reformed’ with no negotiation, and with no clear successor in situ.
Not clever. And the response to this has been entirely predictable. The upshot? The impression is not of a decisive government courageously taking each issue and dealing with it with determination, but instead of an absolute lack of coherency, of doing things which will later be reversed or modified. And I think it’s fair to say that that’s a statement that can be made by anyone who analyses this situation whether in favour of these measures or not.
And this was touched on in the Seanad last week… because, as noted in a gnomic posting by Colm McCarthy on The Irish Economy, abolishing the NUI has immediate ramifications for one branch of our democracy. Something which has not been addressed at all in the statements from the Government.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: The other topic I wish to raise which is more relevant to some Senators than others is the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Education and Science of the abolition of the NUI. A number of Senators, and Senator Alex White in particular, have called for a proper discussion on the McCarthy report in this House and the need for the Government to outline the way it is approaching the recommendations in that report. It did not do it in the budget and now we have piecemeal decision making. As we await a report on higher education, the decision has been taken in advance to abolish the National University of Ireland. That is another example of how not to do business. It should be planned. There should be rational decision making regarding the McCarthy report. It should be transparent and open and should arise out of discussion in these Houses, with all involved getting an opportunity to put their point of view on the McCarthy report. I ask the Leader to have a debate on the McCarthy report in this House.
And although his math isn’t necessarily quite there Joe O’Toole makes some pertinent points:
Senator Joe O’Toole: Taking up the last point made by Senator Fitzgerald, I want to be careful not to give the predictable response. The Government made a rash, uninformed and overly quick decision on the NUI. It was done without sufficient consultation and in the course of a review of third level education, but I will wait to see what the Minister has to add to it.
In the meantime, there are a number of supposed facts which are incorrect. As I always say, there is a difference between the facts and the truth. The McCarthy report claimed that the dissolution of the NUI would save €5 million. The NUI did the sums on this for me some months back and it says the figure is less than €1 million. I discussed that yesterday with the Minister for Education and Science and he agrees with me and with the NUI that it is only a saving of €1 million but he said that is not his motivation. I put it to him that it was important that the NUI brand, what it has done and the route the graduates have come from should be protected. The Minister appears to be creating some kind of over-arching body to examine the whole area of qualification at third level, etc. What I have asked him to do, which is important, is to protect the NUI brand within that without any constraints on anybody else or on it. In other words, it is a sub-body within a larger body rather than what it currently is, namely, a large body. I asked that that be done. I will come back to that but I believe it is crucial that it be done on a statutory basis.
And now the Irish Times weighs in…
In a way this must be a source of a degree of cognitive dissonance for their leader writers. Not least since it forces them to negotiate a path between their championing of the McCarthy Report and the implications of that Report’s suggestions when put into action.
THE GOVERNMENT’S sudden decision to terminate the National University of Ireland leaves many questions unanswered about how its existing coordination and future quality assurance functions for higher education will now be organised. Given the paltry financial savings involved and the conviction expressed by Ministers that such tasks continue to be necessary, this is quite unsatisfactory — doubly so, given the worries expressed by NUI graduates that the prestige and symbolism of their degrees may be devalued.
Fascinating to read about ‘paltry financial savings involved’…
The NUI is deeply embedded in Ireland’s political, cultural and educational history. Set up in 1908 by the British administration as a federal university comprising a reconstituted University College Dublin, University College Cork and University College Galway, the Act also established Queen’s University Belfast and left Trinity College Dublin/University of Dublin intact. Shortly afterwards Maynooth College became the first of a number of recognised colleges. This resolved the thorny universities question which dogged much of Ireland’s 19th century politics. The structures put in place lasted well into independent Ireland and were only amended by the Universities Act 1997.
Well yes, although one could also argue, abolition aside, that that was then and this is now.
It gave the NUI responsibility for determining basic matriculation requirements, reviewing the content and teaching of courses, appointing external examiners, and awarding degrees. Its graduates have a Senate vote.
They do indeed. See above.
By then higher education had expanded rapidly to meet the needs of a much more developed society and economy. The University of Limerick and Dublin City University were constituted in 1989, outside the NUI structures, just as Trinity remained. UCD’s successful move to Belfield came to full maturity, creating demands for more autonomy, while other colleges and institutes meeting various regional and professional needs grew within, and some outside, the NUI. These developments have undoubtedly created anomalies.
But the Times reserves it’s ire for the final paragraph.
By choosing to tackle the issue in such a brutally insensitive fashion, the Government has alienated a key player without assuring others it has a credible alternative framework to offer. The NUI senate points out there are 250,000 graduates and 7,000 current international students who give it valuable recognition nationally and internationally. The Government should heed its call for an early meeting to discuss the NUI’s position on quality assurance, institutional coherence and the preservation of a resource which is of continuing value to the universities and to Ireland in general.
Again, whether one thinks this is a good, bad or indifferent idea – and personally I’m largely agnostic on the matter, it is hard to disagree with the conclusion that it has been handled poorly. But note the language used, ‘unsatisfactory’, ‘brutal insensitivity’? Really? I think the reworking of the CDPs – foreshadowed in the McCarthy Report, and more on that anon – hits a much more vulnerable group of people much more brutally and with far greater insensitivity. But, as of yet I have seen no evidence that the Irish Times editorial page has even noted this matter.
And of IT columnists only Vincent Brown has made any comment, a couple of days before Christmas when he said:
Given all that, the political correspondents must have put it to the beleaguered Taoiseach, why, instead of closing off at least some of the tax breaks, did [Brian Cowen and his government]:
- Cut 30 community development projects entirely, projects that provided childcare, counselling, and community supports in disadvantaged areas, on the grounds that they were “non-viable”, and undermined community development projects in 150 other areas by merging them with Local Development Social Inclusion Partnership companies, effectively ending community-led initiatives? (I imagine the correspondents were particularly exercised by that one, given their intimate knowledge of disadvantaged areas acquired in their regular visits to such areas.)
It’s all about the ‘tough’ decisions. The really tough ones. The brutal and insensitive ones, y’know.