Not many academics want to stick their heads over the parapets of their ivory towers and tell prospective students, “Stay out—we’re full.” But in some common rooms, the question is quietly asked, “Are we encouraging too many young people to go to college ?
e are rightly proud that Ireland has one of the highest employment rates in Europe – 55 per cent of our 30-34 year olds have a tertiary education, compared to an EU average of 40.3 per cent. We have a record 246,000 students at state-funded universities and other institutions – 80 percent of them full-time. There are also 27,000 full and part-time students at private universities. And the system keeps growing.
We are regularly reminded of the economic, health, social and other benefits of higher education. But we also agree that we should direct more young people to other forms of further education, training, internships, apprenticeships and internships. So should we limit our higher education to achieve this? In other words, limit access to many, if not all, courses?
Secretary Simon Harris is a strong supporter of continuing education, but enrollment in post-certificate courses has fallen by about 2,000 during his tenure. One reason is the government’s pressured decision to add thousands of additional places to higher education after the school-leaving certificate inflation of the past two years. What mixed messages did this decision send to the training industry?
Rather than keep increasing the number of colleges, it’s time to yell “stop,” according to a very provocative policy paper just released by two experts. It was created by BH Associates, an education consulting firm founded by Tom Boland, former CEO of the Higher Education Authority, and Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn, former vice president of the DIT. It is argued that a cap on the number of entrants could lead to a balanced demand for further and higher education.
This should be combined with a much-improved and well-resourced careers guidance service for second-level students and adults interested in returning to education/training to ensure more informed decisions about tertiary education options and avoid biases in the to overcome society. The phrase “break prejudice” is a polite way of saying that we’re obsessed with college degrees and give lower priority to education and training. The result is often either square pins in round holes or college dropouts.
Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne welcomed the paper, saying we need a debate on the future of further education and higher education, particularly in the context of technology’s impact on jobs and preparing people for alternative employment opportunities. But he couldn’t imagine any political party promising in its election manifesto to limit student numbers.
Regardless of the political support for this idea, another proposal to change the funding model could be even more controversial. Boland and Hazelkorn say public funding should focus on levels five, six and seven of the National Qualifications Framework. So further education, apprenticeship and proper degrees. This would mean that students may have to pay higher tuition fees in the final years of their honors degree. Under their proposed model, lifelong learning vouchers would provide learners with pathways into and out of further and higher education. This could be a way to improve our lifelong learning rates, which are low compared to other advanced economies.
The strategy document, available at www.bhassociates.eu, also proposes year-round use of education and training infrastructure, with greater alternation between full-time and part-time offerings. “If students want and can do that, why can’t they graduate in two full years instead of three or four?” is the question asked. A related issue is the need to reform staff contracts, which should reflect the move towards online and blended teaching and learning.
The paper argues that it is time to recognize the contribution of private universities. Currently, students from these colleges are not eligible for Susi Scholarships and the report says this issue needs to be addressed if private colleges are to play their full role in meeting our higher education and training needs.
Ending the unnecessary duplication of courses in higher education is another of 21 proposals put forward in the document to strengthen the quality, competitiveness and sustainability of Irish higher education and research. It indicates that change is upon us and Ireland is either at the forefront of change or being left behind.
There is an interesting section on the role universities can play in strengthening public debate and democratic values. Institutions should not only be judged for what they are good at, but also for what they are good for. This is very relevant at a time when democratic values are under threat around the world, social media often distorts the truth and politicians with extreme views are elected to national office.
Recent events have shown us the dangers that arise when universities fail to uphold democratic values and refuse to speak out against evil. We only have to look at a country with some of the best universities and one of the highest graduation rates in the world and ask why Russia’s highly educated population has remained largely silent about the devastating invasion of Ukraine.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/new-policy-paper-says-its-time-we-looked-again-at-the-future-of-higher-education-41528091.html It’s time to look again at the future of higher education, new policy paper says