Many of you probably read yesterday that the government are trying to resolve the ever gaping hole in third level funding. But what is the Minister for Education (Richard Bruton) going to do to resolve the funding deficit? The system is presently under review with the current mechanism entirely unsustainable.
According to yesterdays Irish Times journalist Carl O’Brien - The sector is likely to need an extra €100 million a year over the next decade or more simple to cope with population growth which will see student numbers at third level climb by almost a third. Read the full article here.
And there is growing speculation that on the the heals of a Brexit more potential students may come to Ireland to seek out their education.
With this immense pressure on the sector a robust plan is needed to solve the problem. Three funding options are being touted as possible saviours following closely to models that countries such as The Netherlands, UK & Australia have employ.
A. a state funded option
B. Increased State Funding and
C. a Student loan scheme.
The latter being dismissed by all political parties.
The recommendations come from the policy report on Investing in National Ambition - A Strategy for Funding Higher Education recently released examining the potential benefits and barriers to the above methods of funding. The report recognizes the value the Higher Education sector plays in the development of our economy, calling Higher Education a 'game-changer’ for individuals and society, and that excellent teaching contributes to a high quality student experience.
In describing what this national ambition is the following excerpt sums it up.
"The system of funding must be sufficient to allow higher education to support the national ambition: high quality student experiences across all disciplines and qualifications and learning outcomes equal to those in the advanced countries that Ireland compares itself with, a stronger role in a dynamic open innovation system, a greater focus on life-long learning to meet the needs of employers in the private, public and social sectors and wide access and participation. This implies that the new funding system must be capable not only of restoring the reduction of resources experienced since the onset of the crisis, but must create mechanisms that are capable of taking Irish higher education to a new level."
Mr. Bruton has always championed widening participation from the disadvantaged communities into Higher Education. An ambitious statement given that many middle income families are finding it hard to afford access to their children to a 3rd level education.
But these inequalities are only one side of the coin. Through the crash teachers pay has been cut significantly. According to the report reductions in core operational funding have lead to a reduction in staffing. The consequences being a reduced student experience with classes student:staff ratio swelling to 20. Less 1-2-1 time and attention mean that students have less direct contact and support from teaching staff. And as you can see we are far ahead of the OECD standard for this ratio.
The issue of funding and how the students gains access to third level remains that primary focus of the reports however the student experience and the ability for the student to become a self-sufficient leaner who can obtain specific outcomes and competencies relies heavily on the ability of staff to perform their role. Where else does this experience come from? The issue of funding is something that needs to resolved with urgency and the cuts from 2009 need to be addressed in order to have a health and thriving third level culture in Ireland.