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Private third level institutions – They’re great because… well… they just are… April 16, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Interesting piece by Ed Walsh in the SBP this weekend. He is banging the drum for private third level institutions like IBAT, Griffith College and so on.

He starts with quotes from various industry worthies as to the need for highly qualified technical graduates and how there are supposedly jobs there for them if only they – the graduates – existed. But he then pivots to a quote from LM Ericsson chairman John Hennessy who argues that ‘the continuing demand for higher education can no longer be fully met by the publicly-funded institutions… and… private colleges are often in a better position to deliver better programmes’.

These are strong words. But what evidence is there for any such assertion being accurate as to better delivery.

Curiously Walsh’s piece is extremely skimpy on detail in that regard. Indeed he offers nothing but the assertion that Hibernia College is ‘now the largest provider of qualified school teachers in Ireland’. It’s hard to quite square that assertion with the fact that there only 22,000 students in total in private colleges whereas there are 120,000 plus students in the general publicly funded colleges. But perhaps more pertinent is the thought that surely qualified teachers aren’t the sort of highly qualified technical graduates that he starts his piece bemoaning the lack of. Indeed the lack of data on outcomes is intriguing.

He also has an odd concept of discriminatory. For him the idea that the state subvents publicly-funded students to the tune of €7,000 a year is discriminatory and anti-competitive, as against the lack of subvention for those in private colleges. What’s odd is that he cannot apparently see that the distinction is in the term ‘private’. If the colleges wish to establish themselves outside the umbrella of the state – as apparently is their constitutional right – then it seems perverse that they should then come seeking the benefits and supports of the public colleges. Indeed even the argument that by doing so the state might improve both sectors seems a bit thin. Surely funding directed towards the areas in its direct control would make more sense.

Not that that prevents Walsh from using just that argument and lacing it with some kind words for ‘experienced’ and ‘dynamic’ Minister for Education Quinn. And it’s all very nebulous stuff too. He argues that ‘more regulation, central control and the kind of legislation mooted will not achieve the goal of ‘more responsive and cost-effective higher education’… whereas ‘exposing public institutions to competition front he private sector, while giving their leaderships discretion to manage is the surer way’. He points to the experience in some of the Scandinavian countries, but again one wonders where the data for outcomes is. And the following is a curious statement in at least two respects:

The recent [!- wbs] success of the Scandinavian countries has arisen from the triumph of pragmatism over ideology – Ireland should learn the lesson.

This supposed retreat from ideology is entertaining given the unvarnished ‘free market’ line he is championing, not least when he then announces he’s keen on cuts too. Which again is remarkable given the previously mentioned point about increasing numbers.

Higher education offers one of the few areas where major cuts in public expenditure could be introduced, while at the same time making the system more cost effective and responsive to the market.

So for him it student fees, the extension of the private sector in education, not forgetting that…

…the pressures of the market place would quickly stimulate the reach for relevance and excellence Quinn desires. Indeed with a ‘level playing field’ private colleges could grow to outrank their public sector counterparts. Already there are niche areas where this is the case.

A remarkable conclusion given systemic private sector failure across the last decade. Still whether he remembers that or not he’s not stopping there…

One should hardly be surprised that the private colleges have the potential to excel, given the fact that of the ten best universities in the world six are private and operate as no-nonsense corporations.

Behold the lack of ideology…


1. LeftAtTheCross - April 16, 2013

“of the ten best universities in the world six are private”

I don’t have the list handy but I’d make a guess that of those 6 a fair few of them are in the US where the demographics and societal wealth place those universities in a pool where there will be statistically a higher number of extremely high-achieving students available, and where the wealth inequalities in that society can guarantee that kids who have been through a hot-housing private education system are steered into those expensive private universities and don’t face any financial constraints of continuing the hot-housing into third-level. Hardly a level playing field.

Well a quick Google just reinforced my preconceived bias:



Michael Carley - April 16, 2013

You will also find that the top American private universities have huge reserves of cash in their endowments, so they are not operating like competitive corporations, which live off their cash flow, but more like trust funds which need to manage the income from their investments.

Also, some of those top American universities (the UC system, for example) are state-established and funded, which might be why he chose six of the top ten, rather than looking at the whole top hundred. There are about forty American universities in the top hundred (if you believe in such things). Some of those are private, but some are not. Most of the rest of the top universities are in countries with public, or publicly-funded, systems, so another way to read the data would be to say that of the top hundred universities in the world, more than half are public institutions.


2. CMK - April 16, 2013

An absolutely astonishingly stupid article by Walsh. Very worrying if this kind of thinking has any resonance within the circles who will be deciding higher education policy in this state over the next few decades. Alas, I think Walshe’s points will be common currency among that group.

One of the spectacularly idiotic points Walshe makes is his attempt to link the shortage of highly qualified, high skilled, technically qualified graduates with the need to address this shortage through expansion of the private higher education system.

Reading this analysis I’m in no mood to be kind. So, a few facts are in order. The vast majority of private colleges in this state teach book intensive courses – law, business studies, marketing, education and some arts subjects. All you need is a couple of lecture rooms, seminar rooms, a decent library (I’ll return to that) a couple of full time academics and a small army of part time lecturers and you’re more or less away. Get a validation from some UK university and you’re away: charge 5 k per year for Irish students and 10-12 k per year for non-EU students.

There are NO, repeat NO, private colleges – outside of some medical ones – which offer science, technology or engineering undergraduate degrees. I.e. none that offer courses in the areas where Walshe thinks the private sector can step in. Why? Because to ‘tool up’ to provide these courses would require a phenomenal initial capital investment which, to make an eventual profit on (which is what private higher education providers in the the business of) would require fees in the order of 20-30k per year for Irish students and probably 50k for international students. Why pay that when if you had that level of cash you could go to a very good UK/US university with an established reputation rather than take a gamble on a small newly formed private Irish higher education outfit with no reputation in science, technology, engineering.

Just doesn’t compute. What does make sense would be to invest massively, using public money, in existing public universities in the state, across all subject areas not just STEM subjects. But this is completely against the grain of current policy which seems to be to prioritise STEM subjects and run the rest of the disciplines down. You know, the trivial subjects like history, philosophy, languages etc.

Also, I don’t think many private colleges would stand too much scrutiny when it comes to the standards of their overall administration, from what I hear.

Certainly, my own experience of one our foremost private colleges was that the library was a disgrace compared to a public institution and it was clear that ‘cost-cutting’ was behind the obvious practice of only stocking those texts which related to the subjects been taught there and a very, very narrow range at that.


WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2013

CMK that’s a great overview, thanks a million for it. It fills out a lot of the details that to be honest I just didn’t know and paints his article in an even worse light.


3. Jonathan - April 16, 2013

Presumably, space prevents Walsh from mentioning that running universities as ‘no-nonsense corporations’ will include no-nonsense corporate-size paychecks and perks for those at the top: http://chronicle.com/article/Income-Gap-Widens/129980/


Michael Carley - April 16, 2013

It is worth noting that Irish university heads are not very highly paid compared to their UK equivalents, never mind the US. The head of the university where I work gets about twice what the Provost of Trinity gets. Given that academic pay is also higher in Ireland, it means there is less of a difference in income (and attitude?) between the staff and the senior management.


4. Jim Monaghan - April 16, 2013

The real change is not private versus public but online ones supported by land based ones.
The Open University is in an alliance with various public universities in the UK in a venture called Futurelearn.http://futurelearn.com/
Udacity https://www.udacity.com/ is supported by MIT and Harvard I think
Another is https://www.coursera.org/
And this is quite good

The model is that lectures and everything that can be standardised will be online. The physical ( for lack of another word) will provide extra support by way of tutors, support groups, forums and a certification system.
If you look at the quality of the material you will see it is excellent and uses multimedia to an impressive degree.
It would be stupid to adopt a Luddite attitude to this. With tweaking it is going to be a major player.


WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2013
5. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - April 16, 2013

Ed Walsh, dragged out to promote austerity since 2008. This clown called for Peter Sutherland to be made an unelected government minister. Can’t understand why I still get upset over this fucker.


6. Dr. X - April 16, 2013

I have myself worked in one of these private third level colleges. . . which I do not intend to name. All I can say is that I had some students who used to make me think “why aren’t these kids in a proper university?”, but I also had some real idiots as well.


7. Dr. X - April 16, 2013

By the way there are many private tertiary education institutions in the world that are private but not for profit. There’s a distinct difference between them and those which are really about profit making.

In the United States this combines with the iniquitous student loans system to produce diploma mills (often online) that do not, in fact, provide education, but simply liberate students from their cash.

As for the Kahn academy, I’d class anyone who endorses Pinochet as “fundamentally unsound”.


8. Villan - April 16, 2013

Sadly, I can see much agreement within the SBP’s target audience on Walsh’s point that it’s discriminatory that public college’s receive €7k minimum per student per annum whilst private institutions do without.

After all, our glorious state subvents students in private education at 2nd level, why not at 3rd level as well? That’s the kind of twisted logic which would go down well in ‘Middle Ireland’.


WorldbyStorm - April 16, 2013

It might be interesting, following your thought there, to match the various interests and voices being raised on the issue as to 2nd and 3rd level respectively and see if there’s an overlap.


9. Laim Smullen - April 18, 2013

Laim Smullen

Its worth knowing that that non of our private collages
since they opened in large numbers since the mid 1970’s
autually teach STEM subjects because practical science
costs more to provide teaching materials than it is to make
quick profits. Our private collages teach and specialise
solely in Law, business, Arts and languages
The grind schools on till recently did not do
and science practicals.

Its worth knowing that some “elite “Universities” are offering free
Tuition online.


More evidence negivite effects of the high fee rises





10. The benefits of going to a private college? List them again… | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - August 29, 2013

[…] may remember this piece […]


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