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Education and the Sunday Business Post… October 13, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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The SBP editorial thsi last week is exercised by the recent Times Higher Education Supplement Third Level ranking. It considers this, probably correctly, to be ‘influential’, though whether we should accord it quite as much weight as the SBP and others do is an open question.

And it’s a great chance for the SBP to put forth some of its usual bugbears about third level… reform,’ludicrously extended summer holidays’, and so on. I’m not immune to these arguments. I think, having worked for a decade in third level, that there are serious issues as regards all these and reforms are necessary. Whether it is uniformly as bad as the SBP makes out is a different matter. Oddly, in view of its concentration on the university sector, my own experience which stretches across both that sector and the ITs was of much more structured work patterns in the latter for staff and student and to my eye at least this seemed to garner positive results.

But whether the rhetorical tone of the piece is the way to win hearts and minds is a different matter, and it’s hard to read the following on a different matter with any degree of agreement.

The return of third-level fees, supported by some kind of loan scheme and measures to allow access for the less well-off, may indeed be needed. Third-level education is, as things stand, a transfer from all of society to those who are educated. Askign those who benefit to pay more of the cost is not unreasonable, even if structuring such a system is not straightforward.

Consider the underlying premise. We know, and the Sunday Business Post knows it too, that education, first, second and third level is a beneficiary in economic terms, week after week the SBP argues for a high-technology, highly educated workforce – and because it’s the SBP that’s the area I’m focusing on. Third level is essential to the society, the economy and the culture. It’s not something bolted on afterwards – and usually the SBP acknowledges that. But the way the SBP phrases this in this piece you might be forgiven for thinking that it was a simple transfer to ‘the educated’. Er… yes, but… no. Quite apart from which let’s not even get into definitions of education or the idea that only those who go to third level constitute the ‘educated’.

But here’s the mad thing. Those who go to third level benefit – in general – from their education in relation to higher wages. That’s fairly incontrovertible, although not all, not all. So yes, there’s an argument that those who have benefited should ‘pay more’, and given that wages are the most obvious metric to use in terms of assessing that benefit let’s use it.

And, remarkably – at least in terms of the SBPs apparent innocence of such matters, we do we have a mechanism available to engage with those in such a position. It’s called the income tax system, which as was noted here in the US context, is all but universal and certainly sufficiently flexible to ensure that those who ‘benefit to pay more of the cost’. And it’s a damn sight easier than trying to establish structures which historical precedent demonstrates were simply not fit for purpose and which the SBP itself admits is a process which is not straightforward.

Remarkable too, though, is it not, how indifferent the editorial is to issues of barriers to entry. But then I guess if one believes that there should be ‘measures to allow access for the less well-off’ rather than having it as an implicit and explicit right from the start then that particular issue probably isn’t high on the agenda.

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1. Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Education and the Sunday Business Post … - October 13, 2011

[…] “The SBP editorial this last week is exercised by the recent Times Higher Education Supplement Third Level ranking. It considers this, probably correctly, to be ‘influential’, though whether we should accord it quite as much weight as the SBP and others do is an open question …” (more) […]

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2. CMK - October 13, 2011

Re: financial benefits of higher education and the income tax system: those were my thoughts exactly when reading the the SBP editorial on Sunday. It’s amazing to witness supposedly intelligent people go through all sorts of mental contortions to avoid reaching the most obvious conclusion. In this instance, higher income taxes on the upper middle classes (100% participation in third level) is a more equitable way to raise the money needed to fund third level. However, I strongly suspect we’ll end up with some sort of half-baked loan/deferred payment scheme whose complexity and cost will actually add to the overall cost of third level and deter many from even contemplating college or university.

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3. LeftAtTheCross - October 13, 2011

What they’re really arguing for is a user-pays system which lays the groundwork for a sysyem which then be open to further privatisation. The argument about using taxation to fund third level education only holds for state-funded third-level, whether funded directly via the existing public institutions or via capitation to private institutions. removing the state funding aspect will allow profiteering in an open market. All other arguments are smoke and mirrors.

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Michael Carley - October 13, 2011

The universities already are private institutions, which effectively subcontract to the state. In Britain, we are already seeing this profiteering in the way some universities are chasing non-EU students, since they can be charged whatever the market will bear, similar, I suppose to the way the RCSI behaves.

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grundrissedublin - October 13, 2011

Not just the RCSI by any means – non-EU students are a highly prized cash cow across the sector.

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4. Michael Carley - October 13, 2011

@grundrisse: They are a highly prized cash cow, but Irish universities (bar, maybe, TCD) don’t have the international profile to attract students, and Ireland is usually not thought of by non-EU students who will usually think of the US, UK and Canada and/or Australia, depending on where they are in the world.

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