Thursday 19 September 2019

Developing by degrees: Why third level education needs urgent funding

Irish universities hold their own on an increasingly competitive global stage, but with more students, pressure on resources and a lack of funding, that position might begin to slip.

Land of scholars?

Long before the Medieval University of Ireland was founded in 1320, Ireland was reputed to be a land of scholarly thinking and academic pursuit. The ‘land of saints and scholars’ was a term used to denote this flourishing era of art, literature and intellectual rigour that, at the time, coincided with the discipline enforced in monastic settlements. And while those ancient times have long since passed and the Medieval University has long since crumbled, Ireland’s scholarly image remains intact. For now, at least.

With a population of just under five million, we are a relatively small country but our contributions in medicine, science, literature, the arts and engineering have made a global impact. Yet, despite the illustrious foundation of Ireland’s academic heritage and our many achievements since, the reputation of our universities is under threat. We are spending too much time looking backwards, luxuriating in the successes of the past and not enough time preparing for the future.

When it comes to third level institutions, a good reputation is only as good as the money behind it. Yes, a good reputation may get students through the door. But money is needed to provide for them, to support the existing framework and to meet the demands of a growing student body. Funding is needed to build new lecture halls and tutorial rooms, to secure tip-top teaching and improve playing fields. We may have been a land of scholars once, but clinging arrogantly to that fact, without taking action, will lead to the downfall of our third-level education.

The role of the Irish Universities Association

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) is an independent body that represents the seven universities, with the intention of advancing their position on a national and global scale. The seven universities in question are Dublin City University, NUI Galway, Maynooth University, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork, University College Dublin and University of Limerick. The IUA is acutely aware of the turbulent times facing each and every one of these universities unless funding is urgently found.

Universities have a reach that extends beyond the students who attend them. They bolster the surrounding areas of commerce – shops, restaurants, cafes. And in many instances, they educate future entrepreneurs who go on to create new jobs for the country.

The IUA believes that universities are the lifeblood of the country’s social, cultural and economic well-being. A strong university sector also acts as a calling card to foreign investors: Look at our research facilities. Look at our third and fourth education projections. Look at our talented, educated workforce.

To this end, the IUA is trying to secure essential funding for Irish Universities through their campaign #SaveOurSpark.

Save our spark

What is that Irish spark? It’s the spark of bright minds and brighter futures. It burns brightest when the country’s universities strive to be places of excellence, affording equal opportunities to all its students.

Ireland is one of the only countries in the world where our students graduate without the weight of student loan debt. But this is only possible through continued state funding. The Government has set an ambitious target for the Irish education system to be the best in Europe by 2026. Achieving this goal means overcoming current under-funding, a growing student population and the demands of an ever-changing society.

With state funding per student halved in the last decade, the gap in third level funding must be bridged. We need to put pressure on the government to bring their target to fruition. A target without the requisite financial backing is just talk. It’s incumbent on the Irish people to insist upon investment in higher education - for our children, for our children’s children and for our place in the world.

What can you do to help?

Since Ireland’s first university (Trinity College Dublin) was founded in 1592, for over 400 years, Irish third-level education has been a force to be reckoned with - eminent, pioneering, and, perhaps most importantly, accessible to all.

If you care about preserving this reputation for academic greatness, then it’s time to make yourself heard. Find out who your local representatives are and tweet, email or call about any concerns you may have. The answer to the issue is funding and the only way to secure funding is to get the government’s attention.

You can sign the online petition on the Save Our Spark website and streamline your efforts with other citizens. Let’s ensure the next chapter of third-level education in Ireland is every bit as impressive as the ones preceding it.

Sponsored by: IUA

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