A citizens’ assembly should be called to address a national crisis in funding higher education and research here, warned the former head of University College Dublin (UCD).
As Irish universities continue to move out of international rankings, the government is sitting on its hands, ignoring a long string of reports calling for urgent investment in the sector, according to Professor Hugh Brady.
Professor Brady, UCD President from 2004 to 2013, is the current Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol.
“Ireland’s place in higher education and research in Europe has suffered from cuts and lack of investment over the past decade,” said Professor Brady.
In his speech to the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, Professor Brady said the research environment here is now considered “significantly inferior” to that of most of its major competitors.
“It’s just not seen as an attractive destination for top talent or collaboration like it was before the crash. The consequences of these differences in funding education and research are obvious.”
The University of Bristol not only has at least 25% more funding per student, but its government has also made a serious commitment to funding new research and introduced a student loan system in 2012, he said. added.
“Bristol, a university equivalent in size to UCD and Trinity College Dublin, is better off by 100 million euros before my colleagues even apply for their research grants.”
The university has also managed to get more grants from the European Research Council this year alone than all Irish universities put together, he added.
While the government “does not want to grab tuition fees or loans” to fill the void caused by the drastic cuts in state funding, no viable alternatives have been offered, he said. added.
“If it is considered politically too difficult for a single party to make the necessary difficult choices regarding investment in higher education and research, then why not ask the Citizens’ Assembly to consider the matter,” but with an all-party commitment from the start to act on their recommendations? “
The next update of the Cassells Report, an expert report produced in 2015 which found that an additional € 600 million is needed to support Ireland’s third tier sector by 2021, is expected in September 2020.
In 2018, the Ministry of Education requested assistance from the European Commission’s Structural Support Service to examine the report’s findings.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Education Minister Joe McHugh have expressed reluctance to introduce a student loan program or further increase third-tier fees, two of the three recommendations of the Cassells report.
Professor Brady’s comments should alert all Irish politicians to the continuing underinvestment in universities here, according to Jim Miley, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association (IUA).
“Hugh Brady has laid out in very clear terms the comparisons between the level of investment in Irish and UK universities,” Mr Miley said.
“As the UK government invests in its universities amid Brexit uncertainty, I urge the Irish government to follow suit and use next week’s budget as the first opportunity to act. “