Third Level System in Danger

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The underfunding of third level education is worse than ever before and in danger of “stressing the system to the point of breaking”, according to the outgoing chairman of the Higher Education Authority.

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Pictured Above: John Hennessy

After completing his 5th year as chair of this organization, John Hennessy has said the rising student numbers,  cuts to funding and falling academic staff posed a threat to the quality of our graduates. Even though student numbers are up nearly 20% since the recession, public funding for third level has still been cut by up to nearly 30% during the same period.

Mr Hennessy has said, “There are some great people in government, but many are ultra-conservative and short-term in their thinking. This [underfunding] is stressing the system to the point of breaking”.

He also said there was a risk that restrictions on the hiring of academic staff were at risk of harming the quality of Irish graduates at a time of a “global war on talent.”

“The Government cannot afford to keep putting these decisions off. It’s urgent, it’s a priority and it’s important. It seems to have been timed to avoid a general election, or maybe I’m being cynical. Every year that passes we are starting from a worse position,” Mr Hennessy said.

Despite underfunding universities, colleges and institutes of technology have responded well to the challenges of recent years.

According to Hennessy there have been many successful efficiency reforms and mergers, while the sector has responded well to meet the skills needs of different parts of industry. Policymakers should now plan for reforms to ensure our higher- education system is fit for purpose for the next 20 or 30 years. The further-education sector should be brought together with higher education under the umbrella of “tertiary education”, Mr Hennessy said.

Mr Hennessy, as a former managing director of Ericsson Ireland, said while there had been a big focus on Stem subjects [science, technology, engineering, maths], a new fusion of these with the arts could give Ireland an edge internationally.

“When you fuse hard science and soft science you get better leadership,” he said. “I’m an engineer. But I got my leadership skills in the arts. And we have a real deficit of leadership.”

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