Call for fewer universities (in Ireland) – The Irish Times – Fri, Jan 22, 2010
Former European commissioner Peter Sutherland has called for the number of universities in the State to be reduced in a bid to ensure educational standards.
Mr Sutherland said it was not feasible to have seven universities at world-class research, education and training levels here and added that human resource policies for third level staff needed to be reformed to retain talented, but highly mobile staff.
It’s not clear from the article what he means, as it is not spelled out. Close two or three or four down? Turn them into the Irish equivalent of US four year colleges, that do UG degrees only? Allow one or two go private (i.e. entirely self-financing)? And is anyone seriously suggesting we are trying to have all seven universities among the top 25 or 30 in the World?
This point is surely correct, however:
“Our universities must have the flexibility to differentially reward their best performers, to incentivise those who are willing to take on academic leadership positions and the flexibility to recruit, reward and terminate contracts.” He said this was the norm in the UK and the US.
Walk away from the Civil Servant-linked payscales with automatic annual increments, in other words, and instead adopting a system of increments payable only consequent on performance, and removal of caps on professorial salaries (as in the leading UK and US universities). The non-capped fraction of salary need not be reckonable for pension purposes, to reduce the future costs of this move.
Having two world-class universities (i.e. in the THES 100 best in the world) is a remarkable achievementfor a small country (even if, as has been argued here, that it is not clear what such rankings actually measure). It is notable that Germany has only one – surely a consequence of the decision to separate and devolve much of the traditional research functions of universities to a variety of MPIs and the like. France has a similar problem with the INSERMs and CNRSs. For our universities to succeed (however that is defined) the heavy hand of Government has to come off the tiller. The universities need to be set free to do what they do best, and decisions regarding staffing levels and salaries, institutional mergers and collaborations need to be managed by the individual universities themselves. We need competition within and between the universities, and we need universities to be allowed to compete, succeed and indeed fail. A willingness to manage failure is surely just as vital as a desire to nurture success.
We still have no final settlement regarding the how universities are to be funded. There is clearly a desire to impose fees on the part of some Ministers, but no willingness to allow those fees to vary between institutions, according to what the market will bear (to allow differentiation and specialisation to develop between our university institutions). One possible solution is impose a lifetime graduate tax to pay for the cost of third-level education, but let it banded and tiered according to the variable prices charged for education by the third-level sector. Not a total solution, but perhaps a move in the correct direction? I can see lots of problems with this suggestion, but we do need a solution.
See also the following post: https://irishscience.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/what-is-the-relationship-between-the-research-intensivity-of-a-university-and-its-impact-on-graduate-earnings/ which commented that: ‘The cumulative effect of research intensivity on earnings across the lifespan is remarkable. We also get a good sense that research intensivity has an effect on the type of graduate produced by institutions. research-led teaching may not just be hyperbole – it may have a palpable and enduring impact on graduate quality and graduate earnings. There are caveats – we need to know how the extent to which the researchers generating these high RAE rankings teach – my ‘anecdata’ from being in the UK and from extensive interactions with UK colleagues is that research-only academic appointments (not research fellowships) are rare.’