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Farewell the NUI… January 29, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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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.

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Comments»

1. Jim Monaghan - January 29, 2010

I am for a merger of Trinity, UCD and maybe DCU into a new super University that can rise to the challenges we as a country face.The Dublin University can be the global name with 3 colleges which would specialise. We need universities that can get into the top ranks.
I think we should face the facts that not all degrees are equal. The is a chasm between some or all the ITs and the top universities.

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WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2010

Again, I’m largely agnostic on the notion of a super university. I suspect that – as with the NUI -there would be embedded lobbies hugely antagonistic to such an end. So I doubt it will happen. But, I would say that, having externed in two IT’s at different ends of the state I’d have to say that the standards I saw in terms of approach and outcomes was very high indeed in some areas, particularly at Degree level. MA’s, well it depended.

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LeftAtTheCross - January 29, 2010

Jim,

I’m not sure Ireland has the critical mass for even one world-ranking university, not in terms of student catchment, not even with further opening up to foreign students. Simply not enough of a population to produce sufficient numbers of geniuses to qualify in that respect.

Can only speak for my own area which is the electronics industry, where the universities do a good job in producing some fine graduates, in adequate numbers for the present size of the sector, although somewhat limited by the quality of the raw material over the past decade (i.e. kids preferring to study construction and business, short term gain before vocation etc etc).

Like anything in life, there’s a pyramid of achievement, and the best of the crop will excel regardless of whether the universities combine or remain separate. As for the bulk of the graduates, by definition they will be average achievers (at their level), which is what is required after all, not everyone can be a rocket scientist or a CEO or whatever, there’s a requirement for drones aswell.

As for research, maybe there’s a case for more critical mass in that respect, but from my own experience I’ve seen different universities work together to achieve that critical mass, combining for the purpose of specific research projects, without the need for an umbrella superstructure. Of course there can be rivalries aswell, but that can come into play in any large organisation at an inter-departmental level.

If anything there’s an argument for preserving the separate identities of the 3 Dublin universities, cultural diversity and all of that.

Speaking as a DIT graduate here, so no personal axe to grind one way or the other.

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2. CMK - January 29, 2010

Having been involved (at the periphery) in some of the moves currently underway regarding research alliances between Dublin universities I think we need to thread very carefully on the subject of creating one ‘Super-university’. We already have a top ranked uni: TCD. Trying to match Harvard and Oxbridge (built as they all are on massives injustices, exclusion and snobbery) would be futile, and contradictory for any Left committed to emancipation and the diffusion of critical thinking skills across society that can inform social activism and social change.

The big problem with the current trend in the university sector is that the humanities and, to a lesser extent, the social sciences are going to be increasingly marginalised. Or, as those in both fields would probably put it, marginalised even further or, perhaps, marginalised to extinction. With the focus on science and technology as the ONLY fields of worthy intellectual endeavour ‘cos of their importance to the, you know, ‘smart economy’ we risk greating a mini-Singapore of technically gifted automatons who couldn’t give a decent argument as to why it’s wrong to imprison independent trade unionists, to take one example of where we may be heading. From personal dealings with many scientists the levels of sociological naiveity they display is truly shocking (class contempt is rampant, for instance). That these individuals are going to be showed with billions of taxpayers money while the few remaining marxists and socialists, or even social democrats, will eventually be hunted out of the academy is a terrifying probability.

The IRCHSS will probably very soon have to account for itself and the results won’t be pretty. One of the virtues of the NUI colleges and universities was they, until recently, sheltered some of the more obscure disciplines which have zero economic worth but without which human life would be (further) impoverished. With the NUI gone and the science heads on the rise, things will get ugly.

CMK (NUI graduate).

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LeftAtTheCross - January 29, 2010

CMK,

You make a good point about the “technically gifted automatons”. It’s somewhat of a contradiction that engineers/scientists were lauded in the “actually existing socialist” states, seen as the engine of progress and all of that. Perhaps it was the combination of the vocational purity and socialist conditioning that separates that model from the likes of what we have here in the west?

You’re right though, the smart economy shite has acquired a dangerous momentum. Those people really believe it of course, their world view is incredibly narrow.

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WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2010

The interesting thing is that engineering in the West wasn’t seen as reactionary at all previously, not least I suspect because technology, modernism and socialism/social democracy were often seen as interchangeable – indeed even the soft social democracy of the 1960s saw Wilson’s famous phrase about ‘the white heat of the [technological] revolution’, and that wasn’t just rhetoric. NASA et al saw the most defined engineering/tech push by the US state after Los Alamos. I think it’s a terrible pity that tech has been hived off from that tradition. I’m not from an engineering background, but technology and science have always interested me to the point that I subscribe to New Scientist and Scientific American as well as softer stuff like Wired and various computer magazines and to me it’s dismal how the left has become a creature of the humanities rather than other disciplines as well.

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LeftAtTheCross - January 30, 2010

WbS, the tech boom in the 90s probably contributed greatly to the corruption of a generation in engineering/science in the West, putting these “brain workers” in a relatively well rewarded category separate from the bulk of the workforce.

That 1960’s culture of engineering which you mention was still around in the mid 80’s when I graduated and started work with one of the long established British engineering companies. That culture disappeared across the board in the 90s when those traditional companies went through the merger & acquisition madness that churned up the industry and created a plethora of start-ups and management buy-outs that were all focused on short-term asset flipping, big payouts for the inner circles and lots of talking up the potential trickle down effect for the workers in those industries. Add to the mix a shift in corporate ownership to the US as a result of the merger activity, and an influx of aggressive venture capital leading to a shift to US-style corporate culture.

Not a place in which Leftist views abound unfortunately, for now anyhow…

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WorldbyStorm - January 30, 2010

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how financial oriented ‘business’ screwed up huge tranches of other areas? And not just in public policy areas but in other parts of business itself.

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LeftAtTheCross - January 30, 2010

WbS, it’s no accident that “business” screws things up, it’s capitalism at work, it’s a virus, it permeates every aspect of society. As does/did socialism in the actually existing socialist states. Just underlies the centrality of the struggle of one against the other, no part of our lives escape the choices to be made. Maybe the point you raise about “not just in public policy areas” says more about what you were getting at earlier, that the Left is somewhat dominated by public service issues and rooted in humanities/arts and to some extent distanced from what happens out there in industry and some parts of wider society?

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3. WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2010

Actually I just think that on that point, if you look at your Wired’s etc, you see some of that tech/modernist dynamic expressed now in a sort of libertarian utopianism rather than left utopianism of yore. And why not? It’s a perfect fit, people like to feel that what they do has a trancendant aspect to it… (I guess to be gloomy much the same dynamic is evident in business and enterprise when it tries to big itself up)…

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4. dmfod - January 30, 2010

the superuniversity is just something that sounds good to ambitious politicians trying to make a splash by doing something flashy and soundbite friendly.

not so long ago Batt was talking about merging undergraduate teaching so that students could hop on a bus and nip across town to attend lectures at different univerisities – sure why have three lectures about the same thing when you could feck all the students into one big hall and save on heat and light?

to media ears who got a third in arts and still think they were hard done by given how well their mindless platitudinising goes down at work, it sounds like a ‘win-win’ that will enhance productivity while saving on costs, but in reality it would turn into just another round of counterproductive boxticking bullshit with no other purpose than to disrupt work patterns, rationalise a few more jobs out of existence and cut even more corners.

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5. Amanda - January 30, 2010

Confused :(

Last week it was a good & noble thing for some technologists (ATCs) to refuse technology, to get even better rewarded.

This week then its a bad & corrupting thing for other technologists (engineers) to use technology to get well rewarded. Coz they lack purity of vocation and social conditioning.

Too many boffins is also bad thing because that leads to imprisoning of trade unionists.

Sorry, but makes no sense.

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LeftAtTheCross - January 30, 2010

Amanda,

“This week then its a bad & corrupting thing for other technologists (engineers) to use technology to get well rewarded.”

The point wasn’t that technology was the corrupting factor, rather the business models pursued by the corporate entities who were looking to financialise the technology industry (as is par for the course in any capitalist boom). The corrupting side effects of that financialisation on employees in those industries becomes manifest in the drive for ever stronger quarterly results to please the over-heated financial markets, and the reward mechanisms introduced to motivate staff to achieve those goals such as stock option plans. And then when the market is eventually and inevitably disappointed, come the redundancies and the off-shoring and the down-sizing.

These days it’s an industry sector that should be opening up to Left ideas, but the individualised employees aren’t unionised, in fact are anti-union for the most part as per CMK’s point above, and have been brainwashed over the years into believing that the downturn is temporary and the good times will return, and with the upswing they’ll “do ok” again as long as they “remain competitive” and buy into the corporate priorities blah blah.

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CMK - January 30, 2010

LATC and WbS, you’ve both made several insightful comments on this phenomena and it’s certainly a loss for the Left that technological and scientific innovation has been hijacked by the venture capitalists and the libertarian (in a bad sense) entrepreneurial culture that dominates this area.

What’s particularly interesting in the context of the smart economy, and which is a source of tension within the research communities, is the degree to which technological innovations follow dis-interested research. Here the state and business doesn’t seem to have grasped that you need to, for the want of a better term, give the ‘geeks’ and ‘boffins’ lots of time and cash to persue what they regard as interesting research and hope that something worthwhile comes out of it. Instead the state and business in Ireland are funding research on the explicit condition that commercial innovations are the outcome. They have the process, from what I can see, exactly a**eways.

And, interestingly for such self-described anti-collectivist libertarians, there are a strata of what are essentially commisars who are tasked with ensuring there is no deviation from the objectives of the state/business. S/he who wishes to persue his/her ‘blue sky’ research will end up risks internal exile from future research funding.

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LeftAtTheCross - January 30, 2010

CMK,

“business doesn’t seem to have grasped that you need to, for the want of a better term, give the ‘geeks’ and ‘boffins’ lots of time and cash to persue what they regard as interesting research and hope that something worthwhile comes out of it.”

The government and hence the state works with a 5-year horizon due to the electoral system. Business works with a quarterly horizon, or at least publicly quoted hi-tech does at any rate. There is a better chance that the state can take a more long-term view of scientfic/technology collaborative research than will be taken by the industry partners. Business doesn’t do anything that’s not core to it’s survival, nature of the beast.

Certainly for companies involved in development / production the managerial overheads involved in interfacing to universities, even if “facilitated” by government agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, tends to outweigh any advantage that might come from collaborative research. In other words it’s a hassle that can be avoided by self-funding of research within the industrial entity, if the business case justifies the investment. It also avoids the problems of industry and academia pulling in different directions even when lashed together for a specific purpose. Not sure dialectics work very well in that context.

BTW, in no way am I attempting to justify the position of business in the above regard. But it’s an area that has dropped off the radar maybe for the Left, the whole economic sphere…

This thread has strayed a long way from its starting point…

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6. Jim Monaghan - January 30, 2010

“the corruption of a generation in engineering/science in the West,”
Sorry. I am from the 60s in UCD. Engineering students wanted to make money..I would not compare the so-called idealism of “actually existing socialism” to it. It the East paranoia meant that discoveries in the Space program and the military complex had little effect on the rest of industry.
The challenge in say a socialist Ireland would be making say the ESB genuinely innovative. Eg why is say wind energy nearly all driven by private enterprise.The leadership of state bodies is mainly mediocrities who never did naything that could cause trouble.
While it would be difficulkt to gat a real synergy of talent in a super University it would be a start if if tried to get something going.
And I am not just about science and engineering, I would prefer one good romance languages in the country rather than 6 mickey mouse ones.A world class medicine faculty with state of the art stuff rather than a few mediocre ones where if one prof. of talent leaves the standard could drop.
Most of the resistence is from vested interests. More top positions if there are more bodies. That and localism, a so-called university in every hamlet, getting it’s charter not because of quality but because of lobbying.
I would also ike to add grade inflation to the mix. It is a real scandel. And the outside world of employers both state and private know it. “Well your degree is from xxx, how very nice. ” The pressure from admin. in some places to reduce standards to make the stats look good is enormous.
My objection to the original UCD, Trinity one would have been on secular grounds. Trinity was more open to free thinkers.The philosophy dept in UCD was run by mad monks.
Aside from our traditional enemny do not forget the vested bureaucratic elites and their cousins in the so-called professions who have the country in a body lock.”wrestling term?”.Damn all sacrifice by teh senior Civil Servants.
Remember capitalist ot socialist we have to make our living by selling goods and services on the international market. A high skilled workforce producing everything at a high quality and high value added, thus justifying high wages and spending on everything else such as social services and culture.
Let us stop clapping ourselves on the back vis a vis our education system, it is not that great.
On students hopping on buses to attend lectures. Surely the lectures could be on DVD. Griffith College does this. Then the lecturers coiuld give tutorials where a real interaction could occur. With a simple device the lecturer could be in Stanford with a real engagement with students in Leixlip.I do not say technology replaces everything but it has a role. And don’t tell me UCD first years have a relationship with their lecturers.
If and when we emerge from recession/depression, the world will have ratcheted on, we need to move to stay still never mind get ahead.

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7. WorldbyStorm - January 30, 2010

A couple of thoughts. You’re absolutely right, we shouldn’t clap ourselves on the back, but nor should we be beating ourselves up… our education system isn’t that awful either. Secondly, I think the situation vis engineering might have been different outside of Ireland, not hugely so, but perhaps to a greater degree than Ireland. The nature of the class structure here seems to me to have skewed everything in the society. I’m uncertain about grade inflation. I’ve been at the hard end of that in both colleges and DITS in terms of assessing it in graduate and MA/PhD levels for theses. I don’t see it as such a huge issue and I think that realistically whatever level of ‘excellence’ is approached then that will be recognised by students, institutions and potential and actual employers. As a lecturer I’m absolutely in agreement that lectures aren’t everything, but in larger institutions I think it’s unlikely that we can have the one to one tutorial system that would mitigate the effects of a DVD presented lecture. Griffith College is different precisely because it’s different. It has much smaller groups etc… Numbers alone would make that almost impossible for one to one to be sufficiently in depth across semesters. Indeed the only way in larger units such as UCD to do so would be to make them smaller ones which surely problematic in the context of the super university idea. And I like the idea of smaller group sizes, I think, as you do, that one to one is central to a good education (although so are lectures in terms of cohesiveness of student groups).

So yes, lots of food for thought in this discussion.

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8. Bartholomew - January 31, 2010

There’s something very elitist about this ‘world-class university’ stuff.
It’s the same principle that’s involved in the state’s approach to sport – fund a few potential world-beaters but don’t put much money into public facilities for everybody else. Same with music – there was a lot of talk a few years ago about founding a ‘world-class conservatoire’ run by the pianist John O’Conor, but music education in schools is barely funded at all.

So I wouldn’t deride ‘mickey mouse’ departments in smaller universities. A few years ago I happened to look at the feeder school tables in the Irish Times, and happened to notice the numbers for St. Flannan’s in Ennis (I have no connection with the place, just idle curiosity. I have no children in secondary school either!). Its students all went to Limerick or Galway. More than that, the proportions were directly related to distance – about two-thirds went to Limerick and one third to Galway, and Galway is twice as far away. Accessibility seems to be crucial, and going to a university nearby is cheaper and gives you better personal support structures (ie you can go home easily for the weekend and get fed, meet your friends and family etc.).

So I’m not sure that having fewer (but ‘world-class’) universities will help diffuse critical thinking throughout society (to borrow CMK’s phrase above).

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9. Jim Monaghan - February 1, 2010

Bartholomew
A modern University for a start cannot provide the full range off study options. Therfore there is a need for specialisms. Eg As far as I know only 3/4 universities provide a medical school. I would grant that a super University would probably be at the Fourth level (post grad). The question of costs is a good one but it is another question. Funding must be found if we are to compete at the highest level. Opposing general music education (which is a good thing) to O’Conor’s thing is a false opposite.
Feeder schools. I keep telling people that if you want to send your kids to the best schools (taking the feeder tables) then move to Cork and send them to non fee paying schools.
I know it upsets people but we need to pay our way in the world by providing goods and services that people want. If we are to do this at a high level we need first class education which can raise the quality of our workforce.
Oh, I never said fewer, I think we must continue to educate an increasing % to the highest level possible. If I have a criticism it would be that our system priviledges “academic:” over practical.I see a huge need for the German master craftsperson.
Analogy. When I did the Inter(now junior) I could have joined the Civil Service, Just about). Then you would need the Leaving, now it is poobably a degree or more.The goalposts for success both for the individual and for the nation move with time. The Chinese are competing not with unskilled labour but by producing highly educated people at very level and every discipline and best of luck to them. But we need to do likewise and not rest on our laurels.
Oh, we agree on sport, I am for sprot for all. I am no sue at it anyway. This is why I laud the GAA, the money is ploughed back into the kids and sport for them.

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