You want fees? Earn them by teaching

By | August 22, 2008

Last week’s fake debate over the reintroduction of university fees had me shouting at the radio – always a bad sign. At one point Ciaran Cannon, the leader of the Progressive Democrats, claimed he was not in disagreement with Mary Harney even though he was ruling out bringing back third-level fees while the health minister said she was ruling nothing out. Shouting is the only valid response.

The Labour party, meanwhile, deserves an Olympic gold medal for managing to pirouette their way out of a controversy which exposes their bizarre position as a supposedly left wing party determined to represent the upper middle class. Michael D Higgins screeched about the principle of equality of citizenship having to be respected. The richer the citizen the more respect they need, apparently.
There is no equality anywhere in the Irish education system. Not at 18 years, when the children of millionaires graduate from expensive private schools into free university places; not at 12, when affluent parents work themselves into a frenzy to get their over-achieving darlings into the best private schools; not even at four, when the notion of “free” primary education is at its most farcical.
Equality disappears as early as Day 1. Baby may be born into a home where he’ll be weaned on organic fruits and Montessori methods, or one in which his parents and theirs have no experience of employment let alone university education. For a significant minority, achieving literacy will be their educational high point – not taking a commerce or arts degree in University College Dublin. If a poor but talented student manages to cross every hurdle in her path and make it to university, she’ll be entitled to free tuition anyway under the grant system. All that free third-level fees has done is create a boom for private schools in south Dublin. What poor people need is the nanny state to do some nannying when there is hope of making an impact. Free pre-school would make a difference; free university doesn’t.
Labour’s position is even more curious when you consider that Eamonn Gilmore’s party opposes the automatic award of medical cards to all OAPs. Labour, rightly, reckons it’s unfair that rich OAPs should get free medical care. So why should rich students get a free education?
Fianna Fail argued that means-testing the medical card for OAPs would cost more than universal provision. So it defends giving the medical card to millionaire pensioners but says it’s time to means-test parents on third-level fees. Is any Irish political party capable of holding a consistent position on who should get what for free?
Let me save everyone a lot of time – university fees are not coming back. Why? There are 50,000 reasons, roughly the number of votes Fianna Fail TDs picked up in the last general election in south Dublin, home of the golden circle of private schools. The good news is that the proposal may still amount to more than idle kite-flying by Batt O’Keeffe. There are many who suspect that the education minister’s apparent willingness to put fees back on the agenda at the request of the money-hungry university heads was a ruse. On Monday he kicked off the debate by assuring the college administrators that he’d be happy to talk about giving them what they want – an independent revenue stream. By Wednesday the sweet talk was over. O’Keeffe would talk about fees if the university administrators would talk about their salaries. “I want to make sure that the senior people in our universities who are the most professional, [who] have the greatest experience and who can make a valuable contribution to students, are actually in the classroom from time to time,” he said. Ouch. Did I just hear the sound of backfire?
Universities have been radically transformed in the past ten years, and not for the better. Here’s what happened. Some academics abhor students and dislike arts subjects. They can’t stand teaching or otherwise consorting with the immature undergraduates on whose existence they unfortunately depend. In previous days they could hide out in research and grudgingly fulfil their lecturing obligations. But the 1990s presented them with a new opportunity: they could sit on committees instead. Consultants were sent for, reports drawn up, reviewed and implemented. Honestly, this committee business got totally out of hand and they simply didn’t have time to teach students any longer. What a shame.
So what did these reports say? Well, consultants are business people so it was hardly a surprise when they recommended that the universities should turn themselves into businesses. Though our finest colleges have traditionally fought to preserve their autonomy from governments so that their work could be truly independent, universities now worked furiously to make themselves slaves to the corporations who would fund them. Corporations who donate money for research demand success metrics. Big business has no interest in history, philosophy, geography or languages: the subjects the vast majority of students want to study. Their focus is business and applied sciences. The result is that instead of being islands of independent thought, universities became commercial projects designed to please donors.
Eventually the language of business was co-opted. There was talk of strategic restructuring, change management, league tables and deliverables. Then business titles were awarded. Where once there were Deans and Bursars, now Vice-Presidents and Chief Operating Officers were inserted into an increasingly layered bureaucracy. Finally, the COOs and the VPs argued that it was unfair that they should make do on the stingy salary of academics. They deserved to be paid like business titans, and so they awarded themselves massive pay hikes.
The only problem was that if taxpayers and academics found out how much the administrators were paying themselves, there’d be war. So the ex-academics, now full-time bureaucrats, tried to keep the pay increases secret. Even though it is now a well established principle that people paid from the public purse should have their salaries made public, the Irish Federation of University Teachers had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to find out just how significant campus pay packets actually are.
They discovered that a chosen minority of administrators were given secret pay deals in six out of our seven universities, with one individual getting a package of €400,000 a year. As one academic told me: “They’ve been rumbled.”
Then this highly remunerated cabal of universities chiefs decided they needed a large income stream, but in their demand for a reintroduction of fees, they may have over-reached themselves. They have allowed O’Keeffe onto campus. The government does need to provide adequate funding for third-level education, but it wants the recipients of any extra largesse to get out of the committee room and back into the classroom. Any extra money will have to be spent on “chalk and talk” and not feathering the nests or strengthening the empires of self-perpetuating bureaucrats.
Now that I wouldn’t mind shouting about.

59 thoughts on “You want fees? Earn them by teaching

  1. brian t

    I’ve been following this debate with some interest, since I’m about to start my 2nd year at UCD. Before starting, however, I wasn’t really aware of the whole D4 thing, since despite living in D4 (barely) for several years, I’m not from Ireland, not doing “Orts”, and went through a different country’s educational system over two decades ago. I’m one of those dreaded “mature students” that the Abercrombie & Uggs crowd look on askance, to some amusement, usually mine. 8)

    I’m getting “free fees”, but I’ve already had to stump up UCD’s €1,050 “Student Service Fee” for the second time. I’m also living in Dublin, one of the most expensive cities in the world, with no parental support. Because I worked in 2007, and saved for years before starting university, there’s no point in me applying for a maintenance grant: according to the figures on “reckonable income”, I could put myself through the means-testing mill for a grant of under €1,000 p.a. (Have you had a look at the maintenance grant forms, and seen how much intrusive detail they want? Much worse than the Revenue office.)

    The abolition of free fees would not affect the worse off, which is fair: it’s the “middle class” like me who would bear the brunt. What would I have to show for the eight years I worked, before university, and paid Irish taxes? There is already a mechanism for extracting more money from the higher-paid: higher tax rates. Those D4 millionaires who sent their kids to “golden circle” schools have already paid their kids’ “free fees” that way, and then some. If free fees were abolished, would the higher tax rate be lowered to compensate? Yeah, right.

  2. kirghiz

    My cliché-counter nearly exploded reading this article! Can you provide an authoritative figure?

    The problem with the old system was that the means test for university grants reflected the narrowness of the Irish tax-base. The offspring of rich farmers and the canny self-employed famously drove to collect their grant-cheques, where the children of teachers and other PAYE drudges had no such opportunity to massage the figures and experienced hardship putting their kids through college.

    *If* a fair system of assessing wealth could be devised, and *if* fees were confined to the truly affluent, then in principle it is a good idea, but who would be so naive as to think that our government is capable or willing to do either?

  3. Tomaltach

    Kirghiz is right. The old system was chronically unfair. Self employed played the system. The PAYE worker was being screwed – and recall that the PAYE worker was shouldering almost the entire income tax burden at the time. It was a perfect example of the Irish ‘class system/power structure’ in action.

    But the current system is also absurd and doomed to failure. Absurd to have the rich get free fees as you say. I disagree with Brian T – true the wealthy pay higher taxes but for education and indeed health it is in fact those at the bottom who subsidise those at the top. Given that education is one of the key ways to enable social mobility it is all the more important that opportunity be given to those who begin with a disadvantage. Provisions need to be made of course for situations like those of Brian T. Moreover, in an era when the volatile forces of the market and globalisation mean people need to change career perhaps several times, we should be doing far more for life long learning and mature students.

    But fees of some kind need to come back. The current system is doomed to failure for a simple reason: lack of funding. If we are to compete in the so called knowledge economy we need to push our universities up the table – currently they languish at the bottom. I noted that other small nations like Austria got exactly the same number of medals in the olympics as we did. Yet Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden have universities which are in the top 30 in Europe. As well as state funding our universities need to collect fees, and multiply several fold the amount of co-operation between the private sector and science and engineering departments. They also need more autonomy.

    And this is where I think you are wrong Sarah. You mentioned the deans becoming VPs etc. True, we don’t want our universities run by accountants and bureacrats alone, but the university and the idea of a university is under radical change and in the end a diversity of approaches will be needed. Like all spheres, there will be a complex mix of business and government and blend of activities – some more directly related to the needs of industry and the labour market, others with more long term, broader ideals in mind. Even in America, which possesses the most market driven education system, the humanities have not disappeared. In fact, they thrive there. American universities are pioneers in areas from geology to history to anthropology.

    But the present system in Ireland is failing. Despite the influence of business ideas, there is not enough direct partnership and cross promotion between business and learning in Ireland. We mentioned the knowledge economy – yet our science and engineering departments languish, failing to attract students. Where is industry? Basically, sitting back pointing the finger at government.

    No-one has found the perfect model. Even Nordic Universities have reached the limit to how much government can do or pay for. In America the system is way too expensive and elitist. But there must be a mix or an innovative way around this.

    As for funding student loans, a graduate tax, or other mechanisms should be considered.

    The bottom line is our universities need far far more money to do the increasingly complex job they need to in the coming decades. And we are back to the old problem – no one wants to pay – not students, not the tax payer. We prefer to sit back and watch our system languish in the 20th century while more successful countries will power ahead into the 21st.

  4. crocodile

    Universities must be terribly naive if they think that they will be allowed to keep fee income on top of what they already get from the state. Fees will come back, on a more limited basis than before they were abolished, and direct funding of universities will be cut proportionately.

  5. Tomaltach

    Croc, you may be right. That of course would expose the mantra of our knowledge economy as being pure balderdash. But since our recent governments have neither vision nor courage it’s what we’ve come to expect

  6. crocodile

    In the last month, I’ve visited 4 US universities, where annual fees started at $40,000 and were, in one case, $51,000 per annum. The latter college, Drew in New Jersey, was in a pretty rural town within commuting distance of Manhattan, where you could nevertheless buy a fine house for the price of putting one child through college. Hope nobody tells Batt O’Keeffe!

  7. Diane

    If I had had to pay fees there’s no way in hell I could’ve afforded the six year medical school course in Ireland. The capitation fees of over a grand each year plus registration fees of about 600 were enough as it is. Nearly 4 years post grad still haven’t fully paid my student loans back-and that was just for accommodation and crap. Without free third level fees I’d still be a waitress. There were a fair few in my situation in college too-not all med students are Abercrombie and Bitch wearing rich kids by any means. Abolish free fees and the numbers entering med would lower still(and the number getting the fuck out after intern year for countries that pay decently, don’t bully you and treat you like shit and don’t force illegal hours on you would rise)

  8. Ferdinand

    Wowee, Sarah – some of us in the universities must have done something *really* nasty to upset you so! Actually, while there are grains of truth here and there in what you say, much of it is caricature. Academics don’t on the whole become administrators – and when they do (as in university VPs), they do it for short periods only, and what they do then is hugely important. They are (at least here in DCU) chronically under-paid – some of them get no extra salary or allowance *at all*, despite working 80-hour weeks.

    We have been cutting committees steadily for the past 8 years, and our administration in DCU employes fewer people (too few?) than universities in any other country – about half the number that you would find in a similar size UK university. All our key academic staff have full teaching loads and take them very seriously. All students have direct access to everyone (including me – every student has my personal contact details).

    I think you need to come out here and have a look!

    I also disagree with you about what will happen regarding fees. Fees will come back (and I have some background knowledge that makes me say that). However, I do agree with some of the comments here that we cannot be sure about how that will impact on our overall funding.

  9. Niall

    I’m just glad everybody in my family will have got their undergrad before fees are re-introduced. Given that my siblings and I are of similar ages, there’s no way our parents could have afforded the cost of college if they’d had to pay fees. Annoyingly, none of us got a grant, though we were hardly well off, and in spite of the fact that my parents had set up an education plan a couple of decades back, that hardly helped at all.

    I don’t doubt that the current system is unfair, but I’m very skeptical when it comes to the government’s motives. There are gaps in the system where people who could afford to pay didn’t, and people who couldn’t really afford it did, but I get the impression that the government is really only going to focus on one of those groups in its ‘reforms’.

    What is truly ridiculous is the notion that an 18 year old adult’s ability to pay for university is judged on their parents’ income. Surely that’s unconstitutional? Imagine a 40 year old pauper applying for the dole being told that they didn’t qualify because one of their parents was wealthy – it’d be pretty ridiculous. It’s amazing the kind of ageist discrimination people can get away with.

  10. crocodile

    ‘Ferdinand’, eh? Looks like you’ve gone straight to the top in DCU, Sarah. If ‘ferdinand’ says he has insider knowledge that fees are coming back, then I think we can assume they are – and you should be tipping off a colleague on the ST news desk.
    I like Niall’s point,one I haven’t heard made since the seventies: no student can afford university fees, so some kind of loan system, however onerous, would at least have the merit of treating the recipient as an autonomous adult.

  11. Dan Sullivan

    I sent this to the IT a few weeks back. They didn’t publish it. (they did publish my letter about releasing ones inner geek)

    Income tax at the higher right is charged irrespective of whether you are a graduate or not, it is not a graduate tax as some have suggested. Nor is there any linkage between the proportion of income tax generated by graduates and the institution or course they graduated from. There is no incentive for colleges or university departments to expend resources on expensive courses that may well lead to high incomes being earned for the exchequer since any money generated is divided between colleges by the minister. Third level needs more money to ensure the quality is there, and that money should not come at the expense of other areas of spending.

    The removal of fees was a pinnacle of the desire for simplistic solutions to the complex problems – in this instance the participation rates in third level. Participation should be based on merit and ability not economic background. While participation has increased in terms of numbers it has not widened, which was after all the stated intent of the measure. Since it has failed in its aim, it should be reviewed.

    When it comes to financial impediments it is living costs that prevent those from lower income backgrounds attending the third level institution of their choice. In truth, parents should not be expected to pay for their children’s education once they are adults and capable of earning themselves, yet nor should students be required to work while in full-time education in order to finance their education. The solution is deferred charges with tax credits based on income background as part of a range of measures to resolve the dependency culture in third level funding.

    Fees should not be levied while in education but rather chargeable after a number of criteria have been satisfied, such as attaining age 25, a number of years (3-5) after graduation and when a certain income threshold has been achieved. With appropriate safeguards to ensure that people can’t wriggle out of payment as many high earners currently do with paying income tax. Funds so raised must be directed towards the courses and department the graduate attended.

    For the sake of an example, take a family with a combined income of 100K that has one child attending third level, then that student could incur the full cost of their course. For every 8K under 100K in earnings they get a 10% credit from the state for the cost of the course. The 100K threshold would increase by 10K for every further child in full time education. To go with this, the nonsense that is the maintenance grants system should be addressed whereby currently a school leaver who is unemployed receives more to live on per week than someone who is in full time education. And the state must not use fees to replace existing funding levels but instead they should serve as a source of additional income.Colleges can assist in starting this process by publishing the real costs of tuition of each course, for each year, and the portion of state subsidy currently provided for that course and the portion that comes from other areas.

    Those who have benefited most from free fees are those who needs were least. Deferred fees with credits based on income background and tied to courses are a more nuanced solution whose time has come. It is past time for graduates to ask not what our alma maters can do for us, rather what we can do for our alma maters.

  12. Leon

    The mother who sent all her kids to private schools thinks that if you can afford school fees you can afford college fees.

  13. crocodile

    It costs more to fund a creche than a private secondary education. Maybe we should start at that end.
    The real argument is the one at the heart of so many political debates in Ireland, that no mainstream party dares tackle. We spend 4.3% of gdp on education; the OECD average is 7%. While every politician in Ireland has to promise no tax increases before every election, we’ll continue to get the services we vote for.

  14. kirghiz

    crocodile: dead right, and any increase in educational spending is absorbed by salaries, which are now 40% higher than in the UK.

    The universities are badly equipped where it matters: our libraries are laughably small, and most teaching is done by lowly temps, while the professorate enjoy their benchmarked salaries.

    Still, no matter how we juggle the figures, our per capita spending on education is lower than the rest of the OECD (not to mind our more affluent continental neighbours).

  15. Electron

    Dan’s idea of deferred fees or a student loan would appear to be the only way forward – grant systems only create bureaucracy and creative thinking, of the worst kind, in trying to get around the rules. A simple positive system where benefit is partially paid for by the recipient, is by far the most efficient approach. While the proceeds from such a system should go directly to the institution that the individual graduated from, fees should be standardised across all institutions to prevent a self reinforcing spiral occurring, which would be to the determent of the smaller and newer ones. The advantage of levying fees, deferred or otherwise is to bring some measure of fiscal responsibility to both students and institutions – at the end of the day , the tax payer will and should fund the vast majority of the costs, but in turn, an educated society should be capable of generating the necessary wealth to sustain an improving and expanding educational sector. Wealth is the key, everything else is only pie in the sky. – as a small economy, only tradable goods and services will generate the necessary wealth – exports, exports and more exports.
    Sarah, modern business people are not philistines, the humanities are very important, but they should not take priority over our vocational needs.

  16. crocodile

    Kirghiz: I can only half concur.
    The are two things that stand in the way of boosting our education spend and the same two apply to health.
    The first, on which we agree, is the unwillingness to raise the necessary taxes.
    The second, though, is the unwillingness to pay high enough academic salaries to attract the best. Ferdinand is correct when he describes educational professionals as ‘chronically underpaid’. Our teachers may be paid more than those in the UK – but if you’ve any experience of that system you wouldn’t aspire to emulate it. The countries that come top of international lists for literacy and numeracy pay teachers very well indeed – more comparable to doctors and lawyers than to lower middle-management, as in Ireland.

  17. tomcosgrave

    I think education is a right, for all. Apply fees to some, and sooner or later everyone will be paying then. Education should be paid for by the State.

    How about electing a government that knows what it is doing and then increasing our eroded tax base a little? I would be happier paying more tax than I am at present…to fund education, healthcare and transport, for example.

  18. Tomaltach


    I too would prefer if the state invested far more in education. But there is a lot to be said for giving universities more autonomy – while they depend on the state for all their income they are always going to be less innovative and less dynamic in terms of the programs they undertake. It means too that the universities don’t have to vie for talented students and staff. (In the current moribund system there was even an outcry from one Irish university recently because another academic hired on of their staff. The new employer offered better conditions and a more exciting research program. Imagine if Eircom were able to prevent staff from being hired by O2? It’s unthinkable and lets face it, really old style).

    That is not to say a wholly state funded univesity cannot be top class – just that it’s less likely. And here is the crux – you say how about electing a government that can broaden our tax base. But does that option exist? In reality not really. (Unless you think Sinn Féin should be in government).

    The sad fact is that in our political culture there is going to be no courage and vision to exceed OECD spending on a sustained basis. That is a political reality. Accepting that we have to find other ways to fund our universities. One of those must be a contribution from students.

    In the end there is a cultural thing here too. We Irish love to cry for top class service, but don’t want to pay. Students don’t want to pay fees. The electorate at large doesn’t want higher taxes. We don’t have a philanthropic business culture like they have in America were the very rich often put huge sums back into their alma mater. (There are signs that may be beginning here but ought to be encouraged further). But not just the very rich. In the US, the University is seen as a passage to the American dream and those who pass through often feel they should repay this ticket to prosperity after they leave in the form of donations and special endowments.

    I don’t want to say we follow the American model entirely – who wants a situation where fees are 30k per annum? But elements of their model could be used here. There is one other reality: even leaving aside the Ivy League, there are dozens and dozens of American universities in the top 100 no matter what way you look at it. They have to be doing something right.

    It’s time for us to stop kidding ourselves. If we are serious about building and sustaining a top class higher education system, we need to pay for it. Whether its through taxes, more fees, or other, we have to cough up or make do with a second rate system. Sadly, I feel, as in many other spheres, we’ll chose the latter.

  19. Pete

    Sarah, you concentrate on two extreme situations: the children of the rich getting a free university education, and the children of the poor who would qualify for a grant and so not have to pay fees if they were re-introduced.

    In fact, the vast majority of students do not fit either of these categories. They are not poor enough to get a grant, and not rich enough to pay fees. In fact, just the cost of supporting them away from home puts severe financial stress on many of their families. Re-introducing fees might even make it cheaper to send them University in the UK.

    Also, since many people would have to borrow to pay the fees, they would tend to concentrate on courses of study that will lead to higher incomes. This will take students away from arts subjects. In a study in the UK a few years ago, they found that the only courses that reliably produced a worthwhile financial “return on investment” were Medicine, Dentistry and Law. And Law was borderline. In the same study, the avarge time it takes for an arts graduate to repay their student loan is: forever. Most are never paid off.

  20. Dan Sullivan

    tom cosgrave, I’ve got a question about this education is a right for all. Does that mean for one’s entire lifetime? Can people stay in education permanently and never have to work? Cos that is what this education is a right for all without any limits means. And once you accept there are limits then it is a matter of degrees (no pun intended) as to where you place the limit.

    I believe we all should have the right to access education but I don’t believe that everyone should have an automatic unfettered and cost free right. Unless you can convince those doing the teaching to provide it for free then it has to be paid for by some means. Who should pay for it? And why shouldn’t we expect adults (3rd level students are for the most part adults and God knows they insist on being treated like adults often enough) to pay a portion directly towards something that they’ve availed of.

  21. Dan Sullivan

    Pete, if Arts degree graduates can never repay the cost of their course then wouldn’t we all be better off if they entered the workforce straight out of school and pursued their education part time over the course of their lives.

  22. Colman

    As Sarah should know, when free fees were introduced it cost the government about 50p or so: the rich were already funding fees (and more!) through the tax covenant set-up and the moderately poor were already receiving grants. Only a smallish slice of the middle middle class were actually helped by free fees.

    The actual effect, and I was convinced at the time that this was part of the agenda, was to massively increase the amount of power that the government had over the universities.

    Now, the whole system here is fucked anyway, because we expect our universities to provide three different conflicting services: real education, vocational education and research. The Irish mammies, in their middle class aspirational way, wouldn’t accept that their little darlings could receive their vocational training in anything other than a university. The various ITs and so on of the 70s and 80s were designed to train people to work. The universities were designed to offer students an education. Training and education are not the same thing: you can train someone by spoonfeeding them information and experience. You can’t educate someone that way. People suited to research may be suited to offering an education but they’re generally pretty crappy trainers. But that’s all a tangent to say that what we want is not a top-class education and training system but the appearance of one.

    I’m guessing that if fees are reintroduced they will be levied by the government, not the universities, in order to maintain Department of Education control, and that the amount collected will be both small and not end up increasing university funding anyway.

    Most of the comments here seem to focus only on the benefits to the individual student of training or education and not on either the benefits to society – imagine we had no doctors, no engineers – or on the idea that we’re investing in educating people for the return that we as a society get.

    ete, if Arts degree graduates can never repay the cost of their course then wouldn’t we all be better off if they entered the workforce straight out of school and pursued their education part time over the course of their lives.

    If you see what I mean.

  23. Tomaltach

    I think there is a grain of truth in what you say about control but I believe the main reason for removing the fees was that the government at the time felt it would be a huge stroke in terms of electoral support. There was probably a tinge of the naive notion that the measure was egalitarian – it was a Labour minister, Niamh Bhreathnach was it not that finally removed the fees.

    Even so – I don’t think control was a big part – because even with fees the bulk of the money was coming from the government. Fees don’t come anywhere close to the running costs so the colleges were always dependent on the finance minister anyway. (An example is the annual budget for NUIG is just over 200m. There are 15k students. Each student would need to be paying almost 14k in annual fees to cover the costs of running the place. Which is why fees are normally broken down into ‘tuitiion fees’ etc. )

    The funding issue for Higher education is a major issue in all western countries – from Australia to France. And all have been adjusting and sometimes significantly altering their funding strategies in recent years. I think the Australians introduced loans or fees a few years ago. In Britain they have introduced the ‘top up fees’, not payed at point of use but deferred payment of interest free loans as far as I can gather. In the US we mentioned the diversity of funding sources from endowments to pure philanthropy to more business sponsorship etc. The HEA in Ireland have been trying to build up a philanthropy culture here for higher education. I’m not sure how successful it is.

  24. Electron

    I think that Coleman’s idea of education is a through back to a by gone era – separating “education” from training and research is immature in the extreme – a rounded education should encompass both training and research, otherwise you end up with dormant eggheads who can’t progress outside of an academic environment – the classic academic crutch type. Universities are essential to the well-being of a civilised society and , therefore, should be funded by that society, but the relationship should be inter-dependant to the extent that both can benefit from that relationship. The old privilege, responsibility equation should hold true.

  25. Colman

    I think that Coleman’s idea of education is a through back to a by gone era –


  26. Colman

    Tomaltach, I was well enough connected in College at the time to have second hand knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes and the impression I got was that the Department (not necessarily the politicians) were delighted that they would control pretty much all funding of the colleges. It coincided with a push to reform college governance in favour of central government if I’m getting my timing right.

  27. Colman

    As I recall, didn’t the push for university reform largely come from Business and Government anyway?

    Business likes universities to churn out employees with vocational skills as it reduces the amount they have to spend on training: socialise the costs, privatise the profits is our new motto, after all.

    How about we charge businesses fees for taking advantage of the training we’ve given their staff? They’re benefiting after all.

  28. Tomaltach

    About the reform. Probably driven by government and business. But that doesn’t make it wrong. It is important not to forget how stagnant the universities were, how utterly backward in terms of how they were run – say in how staff was hired, how faculties were organised, how departments were run. The role of the university has changed. It was all very well 50 years ago for 5% of the under 25s to attend university – some picked up their entry to the professions, and the remainder basically studied arts and science. But they were essentially a form of elite in society, or lets tame it a bit, and call them the privileged class. But now university is accessed by the masses (though sadly those from the poorer backgrounds are still badly underrepreented). The university has had to move on. Economy and Society are far more complex and multifarious now and that needs to be reflected in the higher education. There is no template now: which is why the Universities need more autonomy and therefore more departmental control would certainly be regressive. Reform yes, but centralisation a definite no.

    There is no question that business gain – and there should be more thought given to how they should contribute. And as mentioned earlier, society gains enormously too. This is why general taxes should still be a big part of the funding. But the individual gains immensely too. Economically – the stats show that on average graduate salaries are significantly higher. But there are other gains of course, from getting a third level education. That is part of the argument why the individual should also pay – through fees. In fact I like the system in Britain (even if more fine tuning is necessary) where you access now, and pay later. The guiding principle should be wide access across economic backgrounds. The fact that you can repay your loans later when your are earning enough money is sound. It is like a slightly higher tax after you graduate – but that’s fair, you have just gained an education.

    And while the role of the University has changed, I don’t think this necessarily means that the universities will become graduate factories for business. We still need people to study history, anthropology, and the classics. While some priorities are being changed, who can argue, despite the celtic tiger and the change in education, that say the debate on Irish history is any less vibrant now than 30 years ago. In fact, the reverse is probably true.

  29. Colman

    Probably driven by government and business. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

    No, but that’s the way to bet.

  30. Tomaltach

    Fair enough, but betting isn’t analysis and studies done by international observers have found that some key aspects of recent higher education stragegy have been a success. The HEA asked an international group of experts to assess the PRTLI (Program for Reasearch at Thirst Level Institutions) after 5 or 6 years. They found it a ‘remarkable success’. The PRTLI is still in existence and is a mechanism for spending about 200m a year on third level research. Also an OECD study in 2006 found some aspects of the Irish Higher education catch up very impressive.

    So I think when you look into these things you need to go beyond slogans and assumptions. In the main – I believe the government strategy is broadly correct – ie. aiming to double PhDs, aiming to reach OSCD levels on R&D spend etc. And there are some institutional elements in place. The question here is about the funding, in particular funding third level. And that I think the government have got wrong and need to change it. Otherwise many of the aims and much of the sensible strategy will never deliver.

  31. Electron

    “There is no question that business gain – and there should be more thought given to how they should contribute”
    It’s a difficult question – if you tax business for that specific purpose, then you’ll have too much interference in the way the institutions are run – the taxation and representation problem. I think that the MNCs, already, have too much influence and if we’re not careful, we’ll become a totally dependant society. Only a free and liberal system can produce the type of person that can break new ground and without that, we’ll always be only followers.

  32. Electron

    I’m very sceptical of R&D spend targets by governments – R&D itself should be the driving force and not a government. It’s always a risky area, even, when well targeted, but pushing it from behind for stats. purposes is a futile exercise, to my mind. I’m a design engineer, trained in England and I know that even cutting edge design work is a dodgy undertaking – it’s R&D of sorts, but not the fundamental type that I assume we’re talking about here. Schedules are almost impossible to tie down and funds get eaten up very easily. It may, however, be timely as America will have to outsource more and more R&D, because now, most asian graduates go back to their own countries.

  33. Diane

    The thing is-if you’re going to be charged say, 100K or something to do for example, a medical degree (and over 6 years this is quite realistic if you factor in fees, accommodation, extra training expenses, books and living costs) then who that wasn’t getting funded by Mammy and Daddy would bother? I certainly wouldn’t get myself indebted to that extent for a job that still, in Ireland, offers no real job security (your contracts end every 6 months to a year as a junior- which means for up to and over 10 years)
    All the smart people would go off and train as electricians-two years, paid while you train and charge more than a doctor per hour. Or plumbers. Many people would not commit to that kind of debt. I know I wouldn’t. Society would lose out hugely as numbers of the more “useful” graduates decreased.

  34. Tomaltach

    Electron, you make a fair point “Only a free and liberal system can produce the type of person that can break new ground and without that, we’ll always be only followers.“. Point taken. But in order to compete internationally – and that’s the only meaningful comparison – we need to be funding to levels round or about the best international levels. In a ‘free and liberal’ system, I presume you mean fully funded by the tax payer. But that would require a substantial increase on funds from the exchequer which are going to come from where? Higher taxes? In Sweden the argument might be possible, not here. Not only in government but in the general public, we have a low tax mentality (even Labour felt it necessary to sell a tax cut during the last election). That isn’t going to change soon, so in the meantime, if higher taxes are not possible what do we do?

    True huge debt burdens are not attractive. But if you take the British system, their loan repayment is not like taking on any other debt – such as a mortgage. First, with mortgages, rates can fluctuate wildly leaving you very exposed. In Britain, basically the loans are interest free, or at least the interest is subsidised by government. More important, if you loose your job when paying back a mortgage you are in trouble. With British student loans you only pay if your salary exceeds a certain level and even then the percentrage of your salary that you are expected to pay is capped at a fairly low level.

    The British system is the ultimate political compromise. Students will pay a chunk of the real value of the tuition, but in fact, owing to the subsidised interest and the fact that if you don’t earn enough or payments are capped, the tax payer ends up paying a chunk. It’s almost like the tax payer is paying a good bit of it anyway. It’s a fudge. But the result is more funding for the universities.

    It’s true that there are increasing contract jobs in the health service as elsewhere, but the fact remains that over their careers doctors will earn a multiple of most other earners, including plumbers. The vast bulk of doctors will not be at the mercy of the economic cycle to the extent of the plumber. Sure, tradespeople made a bomb during the boom. But if the number of houses built drops from 90000 per year to 35000, that is a massive cut in the need for labour. The number of people in the construction area who will not have work, or will not have full time reliable work will be huge and no equivalent is imagineable in medicine.

    Besides – people will chose medicine for other reasons – power, status, and because they are interested in it. The incredible points required for medicine shows there is enormous demand for it. And I don’t think the prospect of having to repay student loands will kill that off. Certainly in Britain, there is no evidence that the introduction of the top up fees has significantly curtailed demand for courses.

  35. Dan Sullivan

    Colman, if as you suggest, and I don’t entirely disgree, that “we’re investing in educating people for the return that we as a society get.” then why is the idea that some might undertake their education over a longer period so awful. Or is it not the education and learning but the “college experience” that you feel they would miss out on by learning while working? Or is life-long learning only for those who learn vocational skills?

  36. Dan Sullivan

    Diane, one thing is that we would be better off if a few more people did train as plumbers and electricians. A goodly portion of the number of those attending 3rd in cheap chalk and talk courses would be more useful to society in those trades than as marketing types.

    as for “if you’re going to be charged say, 100K or something to do for example, a medical degree (and over 6 years this is quite realistic if you factor in fees, accommodation, extra training expenses, books and living costs) then who that wasn’t getting funded by Mammy and Daddy would bother? ”

    As I recall though it may have changed with the EU overtime directives but juniors were working all kinds of hours and paid overtime for a real portion of it. I heard figures 5 years ago of 60/70K in earnings in the first year. There may not be a lot of job security in terms of where you will be for the first 10 years of being a doctor but I don’t know that we have too many unemployed penniless doctors. And again the proposal I made (which is derived pretty much from the Oz model) was about you paying when you were earning over a certain level.

  37. Diane

    Paying people for overtime does not excuse being forced to work 100 hour weeks? ? we don’t get a choice you know. A normal job working 40 hours a week, earning about 40K would sound reasonable. Why, then, does working 100 hours a week not lead to getting 100K? And if it did, what is wrong with that? At 100 hours a week in the chaotic and hostile environment of a typical Irish hospital, quality of life, health and sleep suffer greatly.
    As do your decision making abilites.
    And the overtime is not that good-the first 15 hours overtime is time and a QUARTER-no other employee group who has agreed overtime payment gets that-the standard is time and a half.
    The thing is, if you aren’t going to have any job security until you’re about forty or so, like doctors, then it’s quite hard to get on the property ladder and generally get your life started. Many people I know who were in college the same time as me, but did primary teaching etc, have bought houses etc, and many docs can’t. You see we get moved around the whole country by no choice of our own for all those junior years, and hence have to pay rent which, if you have a mortgage as well, is too much for most.
    Most juniors don’t really get 60-70K either. Some on really onerous rotas may gross that, but it’s lower for the rest of us.
    I see what you’re saying about the system in Oz-but bottom line-if the working conditions and pay in Ireland were similar to Oz for doctors, then I would be a lot more in favour of the loan system coming in. Being trapped in the horrendous mess that is Irish medicine by debt for years and years would be unthinkable. I would not allow my kids to get into that situation.

  38. Diane

    Tomaltach-there is no power associated with being a doctor. That is an outdated concept from the 1950s that for some reason still is perpetuated in Ireland. You are essentially a very very accountable and very very regulated public servant that is at the complete mercy of the employer and the public. The media does not portray an accurate reflection of this as stories such as “Doctor earning 200K kills 90-walks free” etc sell a lot more papers than “Doctor on 45K jumps through more and more illogically designed and useless hoops in effort to just stay registered as increasing regulation requirements take him away from work”.

    Status-that is a very subjective thing. Certainly the status associated with being an investment banker or barrister would be vastly more substantial than the “status” of a doctor these days. At least in Ireland. Status isn’t really something 17 and 18 year olds doing the Leaving really understand or think about anyway, so this dubious attraction may only really apply to the mature student cohort.

    With respect to the decrease in jobs in downturning economic times not affecting doctors. this is also inaccurate. Many established posts for NCHDs all over the country have been cut this year, and the solution? The HSE told the NCHDs that were left that they were to cover the duties of the cut posts in addition to their own duties. For no extra pay.
    One hospital cut several surgical SHO posts and told the surgical registrars that they were now obliged to cover the SHO work as well as their own during their on-call (ie. their compulsory 36 hour shifts with no scheduled sleep breaks). This was in clear breach of contract and the surgical registrars refused. So the HSE said they would view their perfectly legitimate refusal as INDUSTRIAL ACTION.
    Nowhere else in the developed western world have I heard of this type of carry on in hospitals. In the name of patient safety alone this is dangerous let alone the breach of contract and unrealistic work requirements expected of these doctors.
    There are doctor posts being cut left right and centre at the moment while the HSE invests more and more into their private hospitals. Socialise the costs, privatise the profits seems to be their motto these days.
    Sorry, I do appear to have hijacked the thread a little bit! :(

  39. Tomaltach

    I take your point about the modern Doctor being regulated and accountable to managers etc. But about power. Look at the introduction of the new contract for consultants. That has taken forever despite what was widely considered to be a generous offer. Basically, the Docs pulled the plug on new recruitment of consultants until they got their way. Look the money they initially refused, and forced the government to back down several times. That’s power.

    About status – thankfully the old concept that you talk about has died away. Where ordinary people were in awe of the doctor (and the priest). My granny would be more worried about getting out the new table cloth if either were coming. Still, status is still there, although you correctly point out that some of the new higher earning professions are now up there. But if you listen long enough to discussions between upper middle class parents about their children, you will soon detect a diffent tone being used when describing the son that wants to be a plumber and the son that who is in first med. Actually, you will likely not hear about a son who wants to be a plumber. That brings me to the point about leaving certs thinking of status. No they don’t but I think it would be widely accepted that parents play a big role in shaping children’s expectations and their direction.

    About the downturn. I have sympathy for all the workers in the health service who now bear the brunt of badly managed finances. That is true in teaching as well (See Breda O’Brien in today’s times). You say doctors are being cut left right and centre. Perhaps. But I would like to see what percentage of all medical doctors are affected. (The bulk of trained doctors I assume are GPs who cannot be fired and will hardly suffer the downtturn in the same catastrophic way as construction workers).

  40. Leon

    You went into this with your eyes open. I have no sympathy for overpaid and lazy doctors.

    I think you should quit. Heartless breadheads like you are just what we don’t need.

    A Neary in the making?

  41. Diane

    Are you being sarcastic, Leon? 100 hours a week. regular 36-56 hour shifts with NO SLEEP and no break as part of a 100 hour week? LAZY????

    Um, because I don’t want young hardworking doctors who could have a future and families and lives in any other profession to be henceforth crippled with debt and trapped in the antiquated mess that is the Irish junior medical experience, that makes me a “Neary in the making”?

    That would be laughable if it were not so incredibly stupid that it was alarming.

    1)You cannot be a doctor and look after others if you do not look after yourself. This includes regular sleep and meal breaks, as well as not being impoverished with debt and stressed about money as a junior when you are doing a job that is physically, mentally and emotionally much more tiring and stressful than any other job in Ireland. It is daft to state otherwise. After getting a needlestick during an illegal 40 hour shift once and waiting for the patient’s HIV status to come back while continuing to work and wondering how I’d manage if I turned out to be HIV positive as I would have to stop work and there was at the time no compensation system in place, I came to the conclusion that conditions need to be improved a little bit if we want to keep people in Irish medicine, otherwise they will do like I and my friends have done- and eff off to Oz.

    2) People do not work for free. People who work harder and longer usually expect to be paid more than others. This is fair. If I study for 6 years and then work 100 hours a week, why should I do this for 40 K if I can make 40 K working a 40 hour per week job that took a 3-4 year degree and see my loved ones and have hobbies and enjoy my life. This is not laziness, greed or anything else. This is common sense. Any normal person would choose 40hours per week and a life if it were for the same money.

    3)Doctors are people too. We have families. We love them. We have friends and enjoy them. We do not owe the public our entire lives and should not be required to sacrifice family, friends and the prospect of having children and a normal life just because we are doctors.
    This is not conducive to doctors doing a good job-you appear to think differently but tired, unhappy, burned out bitter people perform badly and do not make good doctors. Happy, well rested, well rounded people do good work, are more stable and treat others with more respect and do better jobs. This is fact.
    4)Financial motivation is a good thing for any job or profession and keeps standards high in certain jobs among other things. It keeps demand for the profession high and allows the profession to choose the best candidates. This is important in medicine particularly as the consequences of making a mistake are very much worse than in any other job-people can die. Hence it is vital to have the best people that the current system is capable of getting on the case.

    I don’t think that for 100 hours a week, not including study, extreme stress, high burnout and suicide rate, risky job (ie blood borne virus prone procedures, litigation etc) that 60K is by any means an excessive salary. I was on slightly less than that at home, and I still left as the work conditions were so bad there was not enough money in the world could persuade me to keep it up. I am doing the same job now, across the world, for quite a bit less money in fact, but I work maybe 50-55 hours a week, shift work, regular sleep and meal breaks, and no verbal abuse or harrassment in the workplace. I take excellent care of patients here, because I am well rested, no huge financial worries, and because the system for me to do so is in place. I have job security here-which I did not have in Ireland going from contract to contract.
    It’s sad that you think that doctors should be treated like crap, and put up with it, and that if they don’t, they are somehow likely to perform inappropriate operations.
    Because I’ve seen how the Irish system works, and the suffering on both sides of the curtain, and I’ve seen how it works here-with excellent patient care and happy secure doctors, and it’s such a shame that people like you and attitudes like yours are keeping the health system in Ireland from changing for the better.

  42. Guy Bague

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but as Ferdinand Von Prondzynski says above (and also addressed at fees ARE coming back and WILL come back as sure as night follows day.

    And it’s great to shout about the hundreds of thousands that university admins might earn. So what? So do some of the parents of the kids going to university for free. Why don’t you shout about that?

  43. Diane

    Ah good-privatise healthcare AND education, the two most important things. If you’re disadvantaged at all, or even unlucky-no school or pesky hospital care for you.

    The thing that was best about Ireland was that it looked after its citizens as best it could, gave those who showed academic potential a college education, provided its citizens with healthcare at no cost. It’s all disappearing now.
    I shudder to think what Ireland will be like in 20 years.

  44. Guy Bague

    Fees will come back. And here’s the kicker. Irish parents will line up to pay them – just to prove they can to the rest of us. The 08 BMW X5 syndrome.

    Just watch.

  45. Electron

    “The thing that was best about Ireland was that it looked after its citizens as best it could, gave those who showed academic potential a college education, provided its citizens with healthcare at no cost. It’s all disappearing now. I shudder to think what Ireland will be like in 20 years.”
    Yes, you could say that our golden age is over, but down through the ages, other societies have peaked and declined for various reasons and in our case it was the loss of competitive advantage. Education was the key to our ascent, but now that half the world are equally as well educated and are willing to work for far less, all advantage has evaporated and we are now looking at a long and painful decline.

  46. joe

    Ireland does not possess an educated research oriented elite such as exists in the US, UK, France or Sweden. While something like that existed here in the 19th century, it was disposed of in the 20th. I am speaking about sciences in particular; I guess we’ll always be world leaders in Irish history, language or whatever.

    The need to drive the economy beyond bricks and mortar has been obvious to everybody for a long time. The government line was that a “knowledge economy” could be bought with high levels of investment in key areas and expansion of PhD programs. However it is naive and slightly stupid to think you can just buy a scientific and technological culture with loads of money so quickly. It is something that must get nurtured over generations or it does not happen at all.

    Of course with the current economic fiasco, the funding is going to dry up anyway.

    For most Irish people the pinnacle of educational achievement will continue be the status obsessed hospital consultant with all their trappings of wealth and power. Innovation and enquiry will remain things which happen elsewhere.

  47. Pete

    >Pete, if Arts degree graduates can never repay the cost of their course >then wouldn’t we all be better off if they entered the workforce straight >out of school and pursued their education part time over the course of >their lives.

    We (society) would not be better off, but they (the graduates) would be financially better off. Perhaps not better off in other ways.

    I don’t think the British loan system, which effectively amounts to an extra tax on graduates once they earn over a certain amount, would work well here, because it would simply encourage graduates to emigrate to avoid paying back loans. And if we operate a “we’ll get you when you come back” tax system, they simply won’t come back.

    I remember when the British government set up their current loan system, they tried to arrange things so the banks (or other private finance companies) would make the loans directly to the students, without government guarantee. The banks refused – funding degrees just did not make business sense.

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