PIGS, PIIGS, the Euro and Funding of Irish Universities
Today’s emergency meeting in Brussels to consider the threat to the Euro posed by the burgeoning debt of the PIGS countries – Portugual, Italy, Greece and Spain – may have some relevance to the current crisis in funding of Irish Universities, and the associated scepticism by some Irish commentators about the value of research investment in Ireland. Ireland shares with the PIGS one key feature – a history of chronic under-investment in its universities and research and development. That the group is PIGS rather than PIIGS is only down to to the recent drastic action taken by the Irish government. Both Ireland and Spain have in very recent times significantly increased their investment in research from negligible levels, but you cannot build good universities in a decade – these are resources which, like the railway system, require major investment and a lot of maintenance and upkeep. Germany, France, Netherlands and most other non-PIIGS countries have maintained a very strong (if in some cases patchy) higher education system and much higher levels of research investment than even the highest recent levels of Ireland and Spain. Is it a coincidence that it is these non-PIIGS who will be bailing out the PIIGS and saving the euro? I don’t think so: strong economies grow out of high quality, research-oriented, higher education and research institutes. Unless Ireland really gets serious about building properly competitive international-level universities – and introducing student fees is the ONLY way to do this given the government’s financial position – then we really will be running about among the PIIGS in coming years.