Kicking the can down the road no longer an option for underfunded third-level institutions
We will soon see the publication of new rankings for Irish and overseas universities. If past trends are anything to go by, the rankings of our universities may well be falling again. I hope this will be a wake-up call to all our politicians that we need action, and urgent action, to address the impact of a sustained period of underinvestment in this sector.
There are many excellent examples of Irish universities being world leaders in research - we are ranked first or second in the world in nanotechnology, immunology and computer sciences. However, the fundamental measurements which drive these rankings have been going in the wrong direction for years. The facts speak for themselves - a 22pc drop in funding while student numbers increased by 18pc between 2007/2008 and 2013/2014. A further 29pc increase in student numbers is predicted up to 2028 over 2013 levels.
The quality of our education and our international rankings have been put at risk by larger third-level class sizes and fewer opportunities for small group teaching and practical work. Our student-staff ratio is 22 to 1 compared to the OECD average of 14 to 1. The universities have been reluctant to publicly cry halt in case they damage their reputation. But that hard-earned reputation will be hit anyway by any further decline in the rankings of Irish universities.