Universities and colleges should not receive additional state funding, the Galway-based head of one of the world's largest online learning platforms has said.
Alison.com founder Mike Feerick said that the Covid-19 pandemic should act as a wake-up call to Government policy- makers on reorganising education.
"Universities' business model is broken," Mr Feerick (right) told the Irish Independent. "If you look at their balance sheets, they've been investing more in accommodation and tourism than learning in recent years. In many cases, it's a real estate and tourism business."
Mr Feerick said that Alison.com has signed up 600,000 registered learners on his online learning platform, which is free, since the start of the pandemic. He said that the 13-year-old online system now has over 1,500 online courses has 15 million registered members worldwide, with over 2 million graduates.
He said that universities should begin putting courses online at little or no cost, possibly funded by the Irish State, for "everyone" to benefit.
"A basic change in the system has been coming for years," he said.
"There's a trend around the world where all knowledge and skills is trending towards zero, because as soon as the knowledge and skills are out there, they're being disseminated far quicker over the internet anyway."
Asked whether university faculty could be paid the same rates under a more distributed system as currently, Mr Feerick said that it was unlikely.
"They won't. And it's beyond time to be paying them what they're being paid now," he said. "It annoys me when they go on about needing more money, that this extra money is the solution. No. The Government needs to realise that this whole sector needs to be restructured. The university industry is a declining industry in terms of revenue."
Universities and colleges in Ireland have long argued that they are finding it more difficult to compete with international peer institutions because of shortfalls in funding from the State and from enforced caps on collecting fees.
Ireland's highest-ranked university, Trinity College Dublin, has continued to fall further away from the top 100 global universities with each year's rankings.
The Cassells Report, commissioned by the government in 2016, recommended an extra €600m per year for higher level education, to be raised either through substantially more state funding or the introduction of a new student loan system.
However, the report was referred to the EU and is still awaiting action from the Irish Government.