Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection
Reform of Third Level Education: Discussion
I welcome the following delegates from the Irish Universities Association: Mr. Ned Costello, chief executive officer; Mr. Lewis Purser, director of academic affairs; and Mr. Michael Casey, director of finance and operations. From Institutes of Technology Ireland I welcome Mr. Jim Murray, chief executive officer; and Dr. Maria Hinfelaar, chairman. I also welcome Professor Paul D. Ryan, emeritus professor of geology at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Finally, I welcome the representatives of the Migrant Rights Centre: Ms Helen Lowry, community work co-ordinator; and Ms Tatiana Bezborodova.
This meeting is the second in our series on third level reform. Copies of the submissions by the Department of Education and Skills and the Higher Education Authority to the first meeting have been circulated to members.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such as way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that where possible they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I ask Mr. Ned Costello to make his presentation. I ask that the presentations be kept to a maximum of four to five minutes each to allow us get through all the presentations and have time for questions.
Mr. Ned Costello:
I will skip over one or two areas in my written statement in the interest of being brief. I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to discuss this important topic with the committee and I hope I can respond to some of the issues in the statement that were raised in the previous session with the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the Department.
I will begin by recapping the overall aims of the strategy which could be summarised as promoting the further development of a higher education system which is world class in both the quality of its education and research and the efficiency with which it operates and which is underpinned by a sustainable funding model. That vision is consistent with the individual and collective strategies of the universities. The seven institutions that comprise the Irish Universities Association, IUA, are all committed to research, research-led teaching, and educating rounded graduates who are imbued with the skills for both lifelong learning and employability.
The operating environment for the universities is highly internationalised. It is reflected in the increasing diversity of the staff and student population and the academic and economic linkages of the institutions. It also reflects the importance of international trade to an economy such as Ireland's.
Turning to the strategy, this year has been one of intensive activity for the universities and the IUA and I will summarise some of the main developments.
Early in the year we were asked by the Minister to bring forward proposals for the reform of governance of the universities and we reported to the Minister in May. A copy of our report is in our submission. At the core of our report are the proposals for streamlining governing authorities and academic councils and in particular bringing a competency based approach to the selection of governing authority members.
In the context of governance I have to note our concerns about heads of a Bill published recently by the Minister relating to specific amendments to the Universities Act but I welcome the recent statement by the Minister in the Clock Tower that these proposals would be taken forward in the context of governance reforms overall. As members will see from our submission, we are strongly committed to reforming the governance structures for universities.
Regarding the first year experience, which is another important part of the strategy, we were asked by the Minister to examine proposals for reform of selection systems and entry to third level. Our interim report is appended to our submission. In that report we stressed the importance of the leaving certificate and selection and admission systems co-evolving and that one should not take place without the other. We made a number of specific recommendations including the development of more common entry routes and the incentivisation of strategically important subjects. We are now taking those and other considerations forward in a task force under the chairmanship of Professor Philip Nolan, President of NUI Maynooth, and my colleague, Mr. Lewis Purser, is the secretary to that group.
In regard to teaching and learning, and this also bears on the first year experience, that is an important aspect of the higher education strategy and we strongly welcome the recent announcement of the establishment of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. The national forum will serve as a national platform for academic-led enhancement of teaching and learning, linking institutional centres of expertise and existing networks. Its focus will be on adding value to a great deal of work which has been undertaken already under the strategic innovation fund, SIF, initiative but which now can usefully be brought together in a more concerted way.
On the important matter of funding and the sustainability of funding, we have also been engaging with the HEA on this and submitted a detailed response in our submission to its funding model consultation paper. From our point of view, we reiterate the importance of an income-contingent student loans system which we have advocated for a number of years. While we understand the perilous state of finances currently, we believe it is very important that the planning for such a system takes place now even though it may take a number of years to implement.
On the specific matter of the trend in funding, we would point to two main trends. The first is a decline in overall funding and the second is a shift from Exchequer to non-Exchequer funding. These trends can be illustrated by examining income per student. Between 2007 and 2008 and 2010 and 2011, income per student declined from approximately €16,000 to just over €14,000, which is a decline of 10.8%. However, Exchequer income declined from €11,889 to €10,013, which is a decline of 15.8%. One can see, therefore, that Exchequer funding is declining faster.
While those trends are of concern they would have been much worse if it had not been for the efforts of the universities to reduce their dependence on the Exchequer. Non-Exchequer income is now a strong feature of all universities and accounts for, on average, about one third of university funding; in some cases it is close to 50% of some of the universities' funding. It is essential that universities have the flexibility and agility to continue to compete for such income, whether it is from externally funded research, alumni philanthropy, postgraduate or non-EU undergraduate student fees.
On the matter of efficiency about which I know the committee is concerned, at the macro level it will be recalled that a 2009 econometric study by the EU Finance Directorate found Ireland to be among a top ranked group of countries for efficiency of its higher education system. Our peers were the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Since that study was published efficiency has improved further, and that is underscored by the fact that between 2008 and 2012 staff numbers in the universities contracted by 10% while student numbers increased by 10%, further boosting efficiency. The study found the system to be efficient because of its relatively low level of State investment which is below the OECD average; high levels of teaching productivity as reflected in student-staff ratios; high levels of research productivity and impact; and high levels of employer satisfaction.
The universities continue to perform strongly across all of these headings and recent survey evidence, which we have seen in draft form and which we will share with the committee as soon as it is published, suggests that that continues to be the case. However, it must be said that a fine balance needs to be struck between raw efficiency and the quality of the system and in that context, the continuing increase in student-staff ratios driven by ECF reductions in staff numbers and the burgeoning student population is of concern because the ratios have risen from 20:1 in 2008 to 24:1 on average in 2011. That is in the context of those 20:1 ratios already being substantially higher than they would be in comparatively ranked universities elsewhere where they would be in the low to mid-teens.
I would like to address some concerns raised by the committee in regard to administrative and operational efficiency. Regarding the academic year and the use of facilities I wish to clarify a number of matters. Universities operate for the full calendar year, and this is specified in the revised academic contract under the Croke Park agreement. In that regard, universities do not close at weekends or during the summer and the summer period in particular is utilised for a range of activities that include short teaching courses, repeat examinations, postgraduate research, all other ongoing research, commercialisation and technology transfer activities, and a range of conferences and summer schools. Many of those activities are very important as part of the non-Exchequer income of the universities.
Regarding the remuneration of academics, I am aware this issue was raised in the committee on the previous occasion and I would like to bring some context to it. It is true that on average pay levels, in the aggregate, are competitive in Ireland; it could be said that they are very competitive. However, our remuneration system is very homogenized which one does not find in other systems internationally. There is evidence that it is not competitive in terms of recruiting the best talent either at the upper end or the bottom end. One must be careful about data in this area because average levels do not reveal what universities actually do in practice internationally because most of them set their own wage rates.
Moving to the higher education landscape and addressing the matter of collaboration, I want to stress the importance of competition and diversity in the system. That is an important part of the strategy. However, diversity does not preclude or militate against collaboration. The members of the IUA and all our working groups collaborate strongly across virtually all aspects of the universities; I have referred already to some of those aspects of collaboration.
Turning lastly to the higher education landscape process, we welcome the clarification recently from the Minister in his speech in response to the various HEA reports.
In particular, we welcome the Minister's emphasis that the overall policy orientation in the Hunt report remains appropriate. In that regard we believe that, with due regard for the maintenance of diversity, the most effective strategy is to promote inter-institutional collaboration reinforced by mission-based and regional clusters. The universities intend to be proactive in taking this process forward.
Dr. Maria Hinfelaar:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to engage in this discussion on the reform of third level education and the Hunt report. I am accompanied by Dr. Jim Murray Institutes of Technology Ireland, IOTI.
IOTI is conscious of the policy directions outlined in the speech delivered by the Minister for Education and Skills at the launch of the National Forum for Teaching and Learning on 22 November 2012. There were also presentations on the higher education reform programme made before this committee by the Department of Education and Skills and the Higher Education Authority, HEA, recently. IOTI views the implementation of the national strategy for higher education as the most significant policy issue in higher education for at least a generation. We recognise the critical role higher education must play in producing the human capital and knowledge that is necessary to support Ireland's economic and social recovery, as well as its future competitiveness and well-being. To this end, we recognise all our institutes need to contribute to the creation of a system in which quality, capacity, flexibility and accessibility are all optimised.
IOTI has played an active and constructive part in the change process before and since the publication of the Hunt report. Regarding the landscape of higher education, in the light of the Minister's recent speech, it appears there are three options open to institutes of technology - to remain as single institutions; to amalgamate with other institutes of technology due to viability issues; or to pursue and complete, as amalgamated institutions, a developmental path towards application for designation as technological universities. It is very challenging for individual institutes to determine their future direction.
For those institutes of technology seeking to amalgamate or apply for technological university designation, there will be significant challenges ahead. The success or otherwise of this process will depend on the level of support, clarity, future policy and even legislation given. The need for clarity and consistency also applies to other processes associated with the reconfiguration of the system such as the collaboration envisaged between all the higher education institutions and other partners in the regional clusters. In that regard, IOTI would welcome further guidance or direction from the HEA and the Minister in the areas of academic programme collaboration and rationalisation. This is not about the retrenchment of programmes but about creating additional capacity needed for future demographic changes. We know in 20 years time, there will be an additional 25% of students coming into third level.
IOTI has actively supported the reform agenda in teaching and welcomes the establishment of the National Forum for Teaching and Learning. As president of Limerick Institute of Technology, I am pleased Professor Sarah Moore, associate dean of academic affairs in the University of Limerick, is chair of this forum. Developing innovations in teaching and learning is important, as well as sharing best practices. This needs to be supported by the state-of-the-art technologies and resources. We will also work on the development and implementation of the new national student survey and sustainable proposals for improving the transition experience of second level students into third level. We are also concerned by the current financial hardship suffered by many students. This matter needs to be resolved as it can impact negatively on the learning experience.
The institutes of technology have been building their research capacity over the past decade to deliver a suite of strategically oriented, industry-driven research, development and innovation services. This has been funded through a whole range of funding streams, be it Enterprise Ireland, the programme for research in third level institutions, PRTLI, and EU funding. Some institutes have been successful at accessing EU funding. For example, Limerick Institute of Technology's Marie Curie fellow has had his bioscience experiment, one of only eight from around the world, selected to be tested on the International Space Station. There is a pressing need for a sustainable funding base for postgraduate education to meet the needs of the knowledge economy, both at the regional and national levels.
The institutes of technology sector is very strong in its engagement with industry. All its degrees are modelled to work towards employability. In that regard, many of our degrees are highly specialised and there will be a continuing need for that type of architecture of our academic programmes. All institutes have enterprise incubation centres. The majority of the companies in these centres are spin-in and we work with them in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, chambers of commerce and so forth. The enterprise centre at Limerick Institute of Technology has created up to 400 jobs through new companies.
The Hunt report identifies the development of the international dimension of higher education as a key area. The institutes of technology are endeavouring to increase the number of international students studying in their institutes, as well as the establishment of a range of partnerships with international higher education institutions for outwards and inward mobility. We are also active in international trade missions such as the recent one to India.
There is a considerable range of initiative and activities already under way associated with the particular pressing issue of funding, staffing and productivity. We have seen significant budget and staffing cuts over the past four years. We have responded not by retrenching but creating additional capacity.
In the period 2008 to 2012 the total recurring budget has been reduced by 26%, while our core staffing levels have decreased by 8%, even as the overall number of enrolments has increased by 28%. In cost per student terms, therefore, savings and additional productivity are in the region of 43%. In staffing terms, the change in the student-staffing ratio has been approximately 35% in a negative direction. I share the concerns expressed by the previous speakers that we can only go so far in this direction. These figures should give pause for thought to all stakeholders who want to realise the ambitious vision we share for the national education strategy.
Whether individual institutes of technology see their future as amalgamated institutions or technological universities, Institutes of Technology Ireland intends to remain strong and play its part in delivering a higher education vision and strategy.
Professor Paul D. Ryan:
My task is to briefly review the international context of higher education reform. In Europe the reform process is known as the Bologna process. The Bologna process is not a treaty but an arrangement of European states which was aimed at creating a European higher education area by 2010, in which students could choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from the smooth recognition procedures required for free movement of labour. Initially the three priorities of the process were to establish a standardised degree system for the familiar bachelor degree, masters and the doctorate which was not generally in use throughout Europe; to introduce quality assurance; and to develop the recognition of qualifications and periods of study. The Bologna declaration of 1999 was designed to make European students more mobile and to attract students and scholars from other continents. The higher education sector had been partially commercialised in other parts of the world such as in the USA which made profits or had a positive trade figure of $7 billion in 1996, whereas European higher education institutes were seen as serving national needs. For this reason, higher education was not initially included in the Treaty of Rome.
The process is managed by education Ministers who previously met every second year and now meet every three years. There are 47 signatory members - 45 countries and 47 Ministers of education - and although the process was to have been completed by 2010, it has now been extended to 2020. It was too ambitious to complete in the space of ten years, which is slightly longer than one degree cycle for a student from starting a bachelor degree to completing doctorate. Ministerial commitment to the process was restated in the Budapest-Vienna declaration. The Bologna process initially worked through the administrative structures at ministerial level and, in the Irish context, HEA level to develop higher education systems to meet the obligations imposed by the Lisbon recognition convention which states qualifications recognised in one member state shall be accepted fairly and without bias in others. It became obvious, however, that changes would also be needed at the level of institutes of higher education and in classrooms in terms of the interaction between academics and students. In response to this need, in Europe the Tuning project was started, with which I have been involved for 12 years. This project is offering advice on every major continent on the reform of higher education. The process that started with the aim of making Europe more competitive is now seen by our competitors as something to study. Simply put, the world is watching us.
Ireland has led the rest of Europe in the adoption of the Bologna reforms at all levels. We have every reason to be proud of our achievements in this regard. The recent establishment of Quality and Qualifications Ireland consolidates our statutory response to the process. In 2009 Ireland was ranked as one of only six of 47 members that had complied with the ten fundamental requirements of the Bologna process at excellent or very good level. Our national qualifications framework and system of quality assurance are accepted globally as examples of best practice. Of the seven people sent by Europe to advise Russia on the reform of its higher education system, two were Irish.
Similar, although less well publicised, changes are taking place at academic level. Our institutes and individual academics have not received good press on this, although perhaps it could be argued that is their fault. All of the universities and institutes of technology have established centres for excellence in teaching, learning and assessment. Degree programmes are routinely described in terms of student acquired competences, or the abilities developed by the student; staff assessed outcomes, or what a student demonstrates he or she has achieved; workloads defined in a systematic way; and a European credit transfer and accumulation system which relates internationally recognised credits to a defined body of work. These changes all conform to the Bologna process.
It is reasonable to ask why world rankings do not reflect our success in this process. However, as the European Universities Association notes, while the world rankings are meant to represent university quality, "it is difficult, if not impossible, to measure and quantify quality itself, and therefore rankings use various proxies – some of which are rather distant from the actual quality of teaching or research". For example, Shanghai University benefits from the bonus points awarded according to the number of Nobel laureates in the faculty. Europe recognises this problem and is developing a new multi-rank system, a prototype of which should become available next year. One's ranking gets depends on the questions one asks. The OECD is so concerned about the problem that it is developing an assessment of higher education learning outcomes, AHELO, which has been designed to determine how well an institute of higher education meets its stated aims. These are completely different measures of quality and excellence and I firmly believe Ireland should support them.
My experience with systems elsewhere in the world indicates that Ireland is in an excellent position to benefit from its progress on the Bologna process reforms not just in improving the mobility of graduates but also in making our training relevant to the needs of a rapidly changing knowledge based society and positioning us to make strategic international alliances in higher education.
Ms Helen Lowry:
The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, MRCI, and the migrant education access campaign welcome the opportunity to address the committee. The migrant education access campaign is an initiative of the MRCI to work with young people on the issue of equality of access to third level education. It is of particular relevance to the review of the national access plan for 2013 and the reform process at the heart of the higher education strategy.
MRCI is a national organisation which for the last ten years has worked with migrants and their families. We operate a busy resource centre in Dublin city and have become aware of this issue through our work in it. As the submission we supplied to the committee on Monday deals more thoroughly with the issues arising, I will focus on the key points.
The context of our discussion is that the Ireland of today is young and diverse.
Two weeks ago, the HEA spoke here about our large, expanding and diverse pool of young people at third level as one of our biggest strategic assets. We agree with that.
Ireland has experienced a sustained period of inward migration over the past ten years that has resulted in a very diverse and multicultural country. Thousands of migrant families have made Ireland their permanent home. For example, 17% of our population was born outside of Ireland and one in seven of our children comes from a migrant background. A growing part of our diversity comes from the youth population. The result is we have very diverse national schools, a very diverse student body at secondary school and at university. Many of the young people to whom we have been talking and with whom we work came here to join their parents under the family reunification programme, which is an inevitable and humane reality of global migration throughout the world.
In terms of understanding access issues that arise for young immigrants, we are talking about young people who have lived here for a minimum of three years. Many of those who have made Ireland their home over the past ten years have completed their primary school education and their entire secondary school education in this country. In essence however, the problem boils down to the fact we have an immigration system that never really considered their arrival in the country and a third level education system that is significantly inaccessible for many of them.
I will mention the immigration dimension to this issue briefly as it is quite important. While I understand this is an education committee, there is an important overlap between it and immigration. There is a significant immigration dimension to the problem that is worth outlining. The situation is complex and we believe a response will necessitate interdepartmental co-operation between the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Education and Skills. We see the Department of Education and Skills as having a key role and responsibility in terms of alleviating the inequity of access issue.
In the absence of a fully transparent and comprehensive immigration framework over the past decade of inward migration to Ireland, the window of opportunity for young non-EU migrants to secure citizenship has remained very narrow. If children of non-EU migrants have not obtained citizenship - which is often outside of their control - prior to entering a third level institution, they face three scenarios. Many committee members will be familiar with these scenarios in the context of people they have met through their constituency offices.
First, they will not qualify for the free fees initiative, because they will inevitably fail the nationality condition, despite having completed their second level education in the State and despite meeting the three out of five years requirement for residency. Second, they will often not qualify for the higher education grants. Third - the issue most pertinent to this committee's deliberations - they will not be able to reverse their fee status upon securing Irish citizenship during their third level education. Therefore, they will be forced to continue to pay excessively high tuition fees and will be unable to enjoy the privileges of their newly acquired Irish citizenship status. Ms Bazborodova will discuss that in a moment.
Over the past ten years, young people joined their parents here and set up their homes at a time when there was an absence of comprehensive immigration legislation. We welcome the significant immigration reform that is taking place currently, but unfortunately it has not happened fast enough for these young people - the children of the first generation of immigrants - to be able to access their citizenship. We acknowledge that interim measures in place now are important. From an immigration perspective, young people are being facilitated to try to acquire citizenship, even if their residence stamps are not applicable. We welcome this, but it is an interim measure in the absence of an immigration, residency and protection Bill which we will not see the heads of until 2013. We know it will take some time to see the trickle down effect of that in terms of citizenship. From that perspective, we would highlight the current leaving certificate cycle. We estimate approximately 730 of these young people a year will have difficulties accessing citizenship under the interim measure.
With regard to the response of the educational system, over the past ten years universities have been unclear about how to respond to young people resident in Ireland long term, but not in possession of citizenship. We have had very good consultations with access officers and fees officers in universities around the country on this. Initially, these young people were deemed to be in the same category as international students, which was highly problematic. However, over the past ten years, universities have applied an EU fees category as an interim measure. This results, however, in tuition fees that are three times the rate applied to Irish born peers. On average this comes to €8,000 per year and over a four-year degree the accumulating difference is approximately €40,000, without buying a book, getting a bus or having lunch in the canteen.
The final aspect we want to highlight concerns young people securing citizenship while in college. Perhaps they just turned 18 at the time their parents got citizenship, but unfortunately had already started their degree course. Even if they get citizenship in the first year of a four-year degree, they are told, more often than not, they are unable to reverse their fee status and must continue to pay the higher rate fees for the remainder of their course. We have noticed that universities are responding to this issue on an ad hoccase by case base. Often a solution is brought about only through the goodwill of the university or of those involved, but more often than not no solution is found.
Ms Bazborodva will now outline her situation. It is important to hear from young people affected by the issue.
Ms Tatiana Bazborodova:
Dia dhaoibh go léir. Tatiana Bazborodova is ainm dom agus is ainm fíor Gaelach é i mo thuairim. Is as an Rúis mé. I do not speak Irish in Russia, but as a person who moved to Ireland when I was seven and who went through the whole school system, finishing with an honour in higher level Irish for leaving certificate, I picked up a word or two along the way.
I am currently in third year in Trinity College, studying medicinal chemistry and have been paying fees of well over €7,000 a year, despite the fact I got Irish citizenship and my passport this year. It was an amazing day for me when I finally became an Irish citizen in a country that has been my home for the past 12 years. Unfortunately, my joy was shortlived because I was told I was still not recognised as an Irish citizen by my college. I am a citizen, but obviously I am not Irish enough and still had to pay fees of over €7,000 this year. Again, this has been another year of financial struggle for my family. There is no question but that my fees are a massive burden on them. The past few years have been extremely difficult for us, yet we are some of the lucky ones. Both of my parents work. My mum is an accountant and my dad works in the green energy sector in the wind farm area. They both pay taxes, but we do not get any of the benefits from the system to which they contribute.
There are hundreds of people in a situation similar to mine. We are studying in areas important for the economy, the science, medical and IT areas. We will contribute to the economy in the future. We will pay taxes and we will be voters. We are the future. I urge Deputies and Senators to open their eyes to the future.
Ms Helen Lowry:
I would like to come in there. Our recommendations are in the report, but we ask for the committee to raise the issue of access with the Minister and the Department and would like the Minister to respond in that regard, particularly with regard to citizenship and the situation as outlined by Ms Bazborodova. We would like the Department of Education and Skills to seek a meeting with the Department of Justice and Equality and relevant officials to monitor interim measures for naturalisation of children on non-EU migrants. This is the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality, but it has a direct implication for equality of access to third level for immigrants. We hope this issue could be resolved through a meeting.
We also urge the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection to take a lead to ensure effective and immediate action is taken to address the situation of young people who have secured Irish citizenship but are unable to reverse their fee status. We got word back from the European Commission in regard to Article 18 of the treaty on the function of the European Union, that any discrimination on the grounds of nationality is prohibited. Ms Bazborodova has outlined very well the cost and benefit in that regard but we have also included in the submission the benefit that comes from young people who have graduated from third level, in terms of their contribution to the economy.
I join the Chair in welcoming our guests and in thanking them for their contribution to the committee's efforts to assess the future reform of the third level sector and the challenges that need to be met in the immediate future in order to ensure we have a strong and sustainable third level sector. All four groups have provided comprehensive presentations outlining the issues as they see them and those presentations will be very useful to us.
I would like to develop further some of the points made. The Irish Universities Association representatives mentioned amendments proposed for the Universities Act and concerns within the university sector at the implication the Minister will have more control in terms of staff level and setting staff income. Will the delegation elaborate further on how the universities see this operating?
The delegates have said the level of funding per student has dropped by 11% in the last four years. They have indicated that staff numbers have decreased significantly over the same period, leading to an increase in the student-staff ratio. Obviously, these changes have been presented as efficiencies. Some of them would have resulted from unmanaged retirements in various departments. As in the rest of the Civil Service, people in this sector are leaving the system as they reach retirement age. It is not the case that there has been a strategic intervention at global institutional level to ensure efficiencies are made, operations become leaner and quality is maintained and improved. Will the delegates comment on how they have managed the reduction in staff levels in a way that has brought about efficiencies, as well as cost reductions? How have they been able to protect quality at the same time?
I would like to ask those involved with the universities and the institutes of technology about the potential for developing online and distance learning. What is their assessment of the potential value of such forms of education not only as a means of educating but also as a revenue stream? What assessment has been conducted in this regard? What are the views of the educational institutions on the potential of this activity?
The representatives of the universities and the institutes of technology have outlined that their funding has been cut in recent times. The institute of technology sector has lost €140 million in funding at a time when student numbers have increased from 51,000 to 64,000. Similarly, the funding received by universities has decreased to less than €11,000 per student. As part of last week's budget, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, is seeking to generate more revenue from students by increasing the student registration fee by €250. At the same time, he has identified €25 million in cash reserves that can be used to make savings. Overall, this will mean students will pay more into the third level sector and the State will contribute less to it. It is obvious that this money will be used to offset the expenses and funding needs in other parts of the education system. What is the extent of the cash reserves in the institute of technology and university sectors? The Minister has identified a figure of €25 million this year. I am surprised to hear there are cash reserves after five budgets in which serious adjustments have been made. Are the cash reserves in the institute of technology and university sectors sufficient to allow for the €25 million being sought in the year's budget to be absorbed?
According to the report, Towards a Future Higher Education Landscape, institutes of technology should have an opportunity to come together and apply for technological university status. Do the delegates have concerns about those institutes of technology that will not become part of technological universities? What is their view? Are we looking at another tier of institutes of technology? How do we ensure the quality and status of the existing institutes of technology are maintained? I would like the delegates to comment on that issue.
I thank Professor Ryan for the update he gave us on the Bologna process. It strikes me from his report that we seem to be performing reasonably well as we try to match the targets set. He suggested the 2010 deadline was "too ambitious" and that "it has now been extended to 2020." He has said a small number of countries are considered to have seriously grasped the challenges put before them. Is it the case that many European countries have not given this matter the attention or priority it needs? Has anything changed in this regard to suggest that by 2020 we will have achieved the platform envisaged when the project was embarked upon?
I thank the representatives of the Migrant Rights Centre for their attendance. I compliment Ms Lowry and Ms Bezborodova on their composed presentation about how this gap in the system has affected them. I suggest the joint committee take up this immediate issue. Perhaps, with the agreement of members, the clerk to the committee might write to the Minister to inform him of the presentation we have received today and ask for a response on the issues outlined in it which are affecting many students unfairly. I refer to people working in this country and students who will join the workforce when they complete their studies. This stark barrier to engagement in third level and continuing education is exceptionally unfair. We need to try to find an immediate and short-term solution to it.
We can do that. I should clarify that we have no powers in this issue. However, we can raise it with the Minister. We are very much at the policy end. However, we can highlight it with the Minister, as suggested.
I welcome those in attendance. As I have to be in the Chamber at 2.30 p.m., I apologise in advance for having to leave. My colleague, Deputy Sandra McLellan, will pass on the answers to my questions.
Mr. Costello spoke about selection and admission. I have read the reform document which goes into some detail on issues such as the expansion of bonus points. Would the delegates like to comment on the system implemented this year? I come from the north side of Cork city and the number from my community who go to UCC, an excellent university, can be measured in single digits. Many of those who have one of the best universities in the State on their doorstep face huge barriers to entry, not all of which can be addressed by the university. We have heard about other issues such as accessibility for the children of non-EU migrants. Will the delegates give the committee details of the programmes or supports that may be available to try to encourage people from disadvantaged areas to access universities and institutes of technology?
Deputy Charlie McConalogue spoke about the €25 million cut in funding announced recently in the budget. I am surprised to learn that all of the universities and institutes of technology have significant reserves. Can we be given an idea of the impact this level of once-off budget cut will have? It was mentioned that the pupil-teacher ratio had increased from 20:1 in 2008 to 24:1 last year. That must have an impact on the quality of education. Will the delegates point to some of the tangible ways by which the effects this has had can be identified? I presume a tipping point is reached in all classrooms at primary, post-primary and third level. Have we reached that point in the pupil-teacher ratio?
I would welcome the witnesses' view on whether we are approaching those ratios or have passed that stage.
On pay, people are often vexed when they hear of the large salaries being paid in university circles. It was stated earlier that the evidence indicates that current pay scales here, when compared with European standards, are not competitive in terms of securing the best talent. Perhaps the witnesses would point us to where we can get that evidence so that we can examine it. As I understand it, pay in this area in the UK is 30% lower.
In terms of the amalgamation of the institutes of technology, it was stated that there are three options facing the institutes. It was also stated that institutes seeking to amalgamate will face significant challenges. Perhaps the witnesses would briefly outline some of those challenges and indicate what supports will be needed for institutes opting to go down the path of amalgamation or seeking technological university status. I presume the supports needed will be not only financial. I would welcome information on what other types of supports need to be put in place to allow the institutes to achieve that status. Also, if some institutes opt to remain as they are, could this result in the creation of a tiered system? In other words, could we end up with amalgamated institutes, institutes with TU status and stand-alone institutes? What systems or protections can be put in place to ensure this does not happen?
I am also interested in hearing a response to the issues raised by the Migrant Rights Centre, which are valid issues, in particular those around accessibility, which I accept might best be posed to the Department of Justice and Equality. We will raise those issues with that Department. We will also raise with the Minister for Education and Skills the reversal of that option when people gain their citizenship, if already in education. I hope the other issues raised will be addressed in the immigration Bill when published. That Bill has been published and withdrawn three times so far. However, the current Minister has given a commitment to publishing it during this Dáil session. We are more than happy to raise the issues raised today by the witnesses with the Department of Justice and Equality.
I have one other question. Obviously, there are significant obstacles in terms of funding. We heard earlier from the witnesses about non-Exchequer funding, which in some instances is 33% and in others is 50%. What action is being taken by the universities to increase their funding? For example, are they reviewing the role of the alumni and giving consideration to the development of online courses? Access to online courses generates income. This has been done by universities in other jurisdictions. I am interested in the witnesses' views on this matter.
Mr. Ned Costello:
I will start with Deputy McConalogue's questions and then comment on some of the other points raised, following which my colleagues will respond to some of the specific issues raised.
I will respond to the questions in the order they were asked. On the legislation, as I stated, it is evident from our report on governance that we take the governance issue seriously. We believe that the recommendations in that report in regard to the governing authorities and academic councils will significantly strengthen governance. While I did not mention it in my speech, a revised code of governance is before the governing authorities of all the universities.
I will outline our principle concern about what is contained in the draft heads of the Bill. There is a strong suite of governance provisions in the Universities Act 1997. They are centred around section 20. I am speaking in this regard of where a university misbehaves. Sections 19 and 20 deal with visitation. They provide that where the Minister forms the view that there is prima facie evidence that a university has acted ultra vires, he or she can send in a visitor, who will be a judge or retired judge of the High Court. That is the mechanism currently provided for in the 1997 Act. To our mind, that mechanism has two important aspects to it. First, cause is required in that the Minister must form the view that something is actually wrong. Second, there is a degree of independence in the selection of the visitor. In the heads of Bill as currently drafted, there are no requirements for cause and independence of the individual. Therefore, the Minister is granted sweeping powers. In essence, we believe that any further strengthening of governance - there may be some reasonable case for the strengthening of section 20 - should be addressed in the context of section 20, linked to the provisions we are proposing in relation to governing authorities. The issue is one of appropriate checks and balances. We do not believe the appropriate checks and balances are provided for in the Bill as drafted. We believe the issue can be dealt with in a different and better way. It is to be hoped this will be done.
The point on staffing reductions is a good one. When the employment control frameworks emerged in 2009-2010, we advanced the view that it is far more effective to control the budget and to allow institutions to make decisions, in terms of how they dispose of or configure their resources, in the best interests of students. The employment control framework head count reduction approach means one must achieve a specified level of head count reduction and has limited control in that regard. In the context of the no compulsory redundancies, save in respect of clause 1.6 of the Croke Park agreement, flexibility is further limited. This has caused a certain amount of difficulty. The no compulsory redundancy requirement has affected contract and casual staff. That is one area where a reduction has been achieved. Also, universities have tried to prioritise front-line services, whether non-academic or academic. There has been a concerted effort in this regard.
The other significant aspect is that universities have been actively managing the changed staffing requirement through the introduction of workload allocations systems to better balance workloads and better match staff to academic requirements which they are required to deliver. This is all based around developments in universities in terms of the creation of schools, head of school position and the putting in place of a more effective management structure to allow universities in a modern way to manage their resources. All of these developments, initiated by the universities, have helped in addressing the crisis. However, there are limits on what can be done in terms of quality and sustainability, which is where the concern arises.
I will pass over the issue of online learning, which Mr. Purser will address later, to the question about reserves.
For absolute clarity, these are not cash reserves. In other words, this is not money which has been put away in the bank and is available to do whatever an institution wishes to do with it. Rather, it is the amount of cash on hand in the institutions in a given funding period. If, therefore, one uses the analogy of musical chairs, when the music stops, there will be a person for every chair. What is being done in the Estimates is a technical exercise. As we understand it - this is based on the short briefing we received - cashflow to the institutions will be slowed down and they will, therefore, be obliged to draw on their working capital more extensively. The reality is that at an accounting level they will carry a debtor forward into the next year. Therefore, it will actually show up in the accounts of the universities. It is somewhat technical. I again stress the fact that there is not €25 million in spare cash sloshing around anywhere in universities which can simply be delivered up without this materially affecting operations. I hope that clarifies the position somewhat.
Will this mean that the universities will be placed in debt or is the money actually available? Mr. Costello indicated that an accountant might say that it had showed up in the books. Will universities be placed in the red or will they remain in the black?
Mr. Michael Casey:
It is important to make a distinction between accounting reserves - in respect of which there is some confusion - and cash reserves. To be completely clear, universities operate on a break-even basis. They prepare funding statements and are obliged to break even in any particular year. They do this and then their accounts are laid before the HEA and the Houses of the Oireachtas. They will show that in any given year universities, by and large, break even, with minimal or negligible surpluses or deficits, as the case may be. In general, there are small surpluses.
On cash reserves, I reiterate the point made by Mr. Costello. Effectively, there are cash reserves as a result of timing issues. Institutions generally receive their fees in advance; their current grant is paid in advance, as usually is research funding. At any point in time, therefore, universities will have cash on hand which relates to activities in respect of which expenditure is due to be incurred during the coming months or year, whatever the case may be. Let us be absolutely clear - it is not spare cash; rather, it is cash that is held with a view to being run down over the course of the year.
On the specific question of whether this means that universities will go into the red, it is a technical point, but the answer is probably no. The financial year of the universities is based on the academic year, namely, to 30 September, whereas the funding provided through the Estimates process is for the calendar year. There is a little scope for slowing the timing. What will happen in reality is that universities, at the end of the academic year, will carry a debtor for funds to be received - across the higher education sector, both institutes of technology and universities - to the tune of the €25 million identified. That funding will be made good the following year. It is not necessarily the case that universities will end up operating in the red. It is a technical issue which saves the Exchequer money in a given year. However, it is just a timing issue.
What happens in the following year? If that €25 million is not delivered next year, it will mean they will be down by that amount. No one is seeking to take out a further €25 million. Will the €25 million in question ultimately fall due?
Mr. Michael Casey:
What will happen in reality is that a debtor in the region of €25 million will effectively be held in perpetuity. There will always be, at the end of any year, a debtor of in or around that amount. The amount could become larger, depending on how cashflows are affected. All else being equal, from now on there will be a €25 million debtor at the end of every year in the accounts of the higher education sector.
Mr. Michael Casey:
Whereas this year the institutions may have obtained that €25 million in advance and would be holding it, had it not been incurred, in cash at the end of the year, they will no longer receive it in advance. They will still be able to account for the expenditure it will meet, but they will have €25 million less in cash and have a €25 million debtor instead. It will still balance in terms of the expenditure level.
It is interesting to discover that there is not a pot of cash in a bank somewhere from which the €25 million can be taken. What will probably happen is that there will be pressure exerted on the institutions to find other ways of procuring this money. Last year they looked at the areas in which they had the capacity to locate resources. Such areas could, for example, relate to international students. What happened was that postgraduate fees were increased. Such fees fall outside the free fees scheme and the State no longer covers them. No institution will want to remain in a situation where its finances will be delayed and it will undoubtedly seek other avenues as a result.
Mr. Michael Casey:
Effectively, it can be spent on anything. The money that comes to the institutions, either by way of the core grant, from ordinary fees, international fees or commercial operations, flows into the universities. With the exception of a few specific projects, there is generally no ring-fencing of funding. The income that comes in is available for institutions to spend, as they see fit. They are within their power to do this. Effectively, the money can be spent on anything. It relates to the annual operating costs of a university and it can be spent on whatever one wants.
The 1980s and the early 1990s were not that great; we then had the Celtic tiger era and are now in a recession. Were surpluses built up by the institutions in the Celtic tiger era which they are now being obliged to use?
Mr. Michael Casey:
Not accounting surpluses. Universities have always been obliged to operate on a break-even basis. It may have been the case that the cashflow position improved during the years. I return to the point I made. In the context of accounting reserves, there is no spare money sloshing around. The sector has absorbed a number of cuts during the past four years. Approximately €150 million in Exchequer funding has been removed from the university sector alone. This has been offset to some extent by non-Exchequer income, but universities have still absorbed a real cut of €50 million in the past four years.
Dr. Maria Hinfelaar:
Under the Institutes of Technology Acts, the institutes are obliged not to incur deficits. There is nothing in the legislation which states we must break even or that we cannot build up a service. The legislation clearly states, however, that if a budget is drawn up for the following year and approved by a governing body and it states we will not have enough recurrent income to cover our recurrent costs, we must notify the HEA and the Minister and that we must try to close the gap.
It does not say anything about the outcome if we do better than break even.
The other point that needs to be made is that in publicly funded institutions internationally, a rule of thumb would be to aim for a surplus on operating costs of up to about 5% each year. That money would not be sloshing around in the bank, as was just pointed out, but to provide reserves for investments, such as refurbishing buildings or for new recruitment. We all know that State funding for capital development on our campus has effectively been obliterated. Let me give one clear example. The main campus of Limerick IT has 7 sq. m. per student and that includes circulation and teaching space. The national norm in Ireland is 10 sq. m. per student. The international norm is 15 sq. m. per student. We must desperately find some way of increasing our footprint. We are in the fortunate position of having a little bit of reserve put away but it is earmarked for that development. It is to compensate for the fact that we had been approved under the PPP scheme for a new facility developed as part of the main campus to try to address that deficit, which has been abandoned. We now need a plan B. Our plan B is that our reserves may be earmarked and targeted towards capital development, which is obviously not an annual operating expenditure. It is multi-annual expenditure in order to be able to maintain the quality of the learning environment. We could spend our reserve in that manner.
Speaking for my own organisation and some of the colleagues in the sector, it is not only cash flow but there may be reserves that are restricted to capital development. There is also a restricted reserve from the student services contribution, which is earmarked for keeping student services and the facilities outside the classroom up to standard. It is quite a complicated picture.
In the IOT sector there are some institutions that have no reserves whatsoever and that is not a healthy place to be.
Do we know from where the €25 million is supposed to come? At the outset Mr. Casey outlined the ways of managing cash reserves, compared to reserves being put aside for capital development, as Dr. Hinfelaar said. Do we know from where the money is supposed to come? Does the HEA decide on that? How will the money be spread among the institutions, or is that clear yet?
Mr. Michael Casey:
We do not know exactly but are working from a briefing on budget day. Our understanding is that the detail would be worked out with the HEA, the Department of Education and Skills and the institutions. Our understanding is that it would be on the basis of the cash flow, slowing the cash flow. The detail of how it would be applied across the institutions is still to be worked out. We do not know the answer to the question.
Dr. Maria Hinfelaar:
I confirm what my colleague, Mr. Casey, states, our understanding is that the HEA will slow down the payment of our recurring grant. We normally get the recurring grant at specified dates during the year, but that will be slowed down. We have been formally notified of that. No plan to take the reserves that may have been built up has been communicated to us. In the Limerick Institute of Technology we reckon that the plans we have to address our space deficits for the next couple of years are safe.
Mr. Ned Costello:
We will come back on some of Deputy McConalogue's other questions as I am sure Mr. Lewis Purser and my other colleague will want to talk on them as well.
On the issue of pay, let me revert to what I said in my opening statement. Benchmarking increased average levels of pay and they are now higher. The level of pay increased across the board, and universities did not get to determine those levels. Research is the one area in which pay is not determined centrally. We have been trying to find out by internal research about pay practice as well as pay levels. We have international contacts in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These countries are not picked at random but are our labour market and the countries in which we compete for staff. It is clear from these countries that once one gets to professorial level, the norm is that universities and institutions set their own pay levels. We do not have physical evidence but we know they can pay what they want and pay very high levels, well in excess of what would be paid in Ireland for the very best people.
I have one statistic on entry level pay from the United Kingdom. Prior to the cuts, our entry level pay would have been competitive for two reasons, first, because the entry rate of pay was okay in the first place and, second, there was flexibility on the point of the scale at which one would appoint a new lecturer. Now that we have got the 10% reduction and are restricted to appointing staff to the first point on the scale, because of the level of published information in the UK about pay, we have done a purchasing power parity calculation. The starting salary in Ireland on a purchasing power parity basis would be $40,000, whereas in the UK it is $43,000. It is below but not massively below the UK rate at the entry level. At the upper level, it is virtually impossible to get figures because each individual institution can effectively pay what it wants. We know there are certain other benefit packages that international institutions will offer such as houses, access to laboratories, the building of facilities for star researchers and so on. They can throw these things into the mix in a way that we cannot.
Dr. Maria Hinfelaar:
Deputy McConalogue queried how we achieved the efficiencies and significant savings while maintaining quality and increased productivity. It is fair to say the Croke Park agreement was instrumental in that. In the IOT sector, academic staff are delivering an increase of 15% in contact hours. Contact hours have increased from 16 hours to 18 hours per week or 18 hours per week to 20 hours per week. It is maximising that. That has helped to absorb some of the cuts. There have been very significant and severe pay cuts in the sector which has obviously reduced the cost base. The cost base has decreased, the teaching hours have gone up at the same time and once one starts adding that up, clearly one will have more capacity with the same level of resources. At a very simple level that is how that was done.
I refer to the question asked by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien and another Deputy whether the TUs versus institutes of technology would lead to a third tier. It is a complex question and not confined to our sector alone. I refer to the most recent pronouncements by the Minister who talked about a strong institute of technology sector sitting alongside the successfully amalgamated and redesignated institutions that would become the TUs. There is a great need for that mix of institutions.
In my view and that of my colleagues, this suggests that a strong IOT sector does not mean a stripped-down version of a current institute of technology with a narrower range of disciplines on offer or impoverished offerings of levels of qualifications. That is how we would see the system going. Our hope is that the investment in all our institutions such as incubation centres, applied research, enhancement grants by Enterprise Ireland, specialised equipment for very specialised areas, whether in bio-science or IT, would be maintained. We hope to be able to contribute to our regional economies as well as to international networks, whether our future is as individual or amalgamated institutes of technology or indeed, technological universities. It is important to safeguard the investment in the sector. We will be keeping an eye on this situation and we will try to drive that agenda.
Ms Helen Lowry:
We appreciate and acknowledge both Deputy O'Brien and Deputy McConalogue's comments that this issue requires an immediate response. We welcome the suggestion to ask the Minister to respond to the committee. I am very struck by the conversation today about funding and reform. We live in the real world too and we are not asking for anything extra for these young people. In our view, there is a sufficient number of young people to warrant an immediate response. These are the children of our first generation of immigrants. If they do not go on to third level education, if Tatiana and others are unable to finish their qualifications or even go to third level in the first place, it will have significant repercussions for our society and for our economy. Tatiana is one of many - we are working with a total of 140 families on this issue. Overwhelmingly, the young people we work with are represented in biomedical technology, in information technology, the sciences and medicine. These are knowledge-economy subjects which are very important for our economic recovery. From the perspective of integration and social cohesion, these young people are our future. This has been highlighted in the conversation in the committee about education reform. We are quite concerned about the repercussions at this stage, ten to 12 years after the first wave of immigration. These young people live here and their homes are here. They did not come here to study and work, they came to join their parents, but they want to study and work. Young people now in secondary school are very concerned about this situation. We understand this is a matter within the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality and we intend to raise the issues with that Department. However, the difficulty of obtaining citizenship when aged between 14 and 25, impacts significantly on the young people. Universities have needed to set up interim arrangements for the past ten years. The measure they have decided upon is an EU fees category, which is an anomaly because they are not EU young people. However, they may not have been born in Ireland but they are Irish now. The fees are still treble those paid by Irish students. We are very concerned about the scenario faced by Tatiana. We know of many similar cases where young people cannot reverse their fee status. We need to discuss this with the Higher Education Authority in the context of equality of access.
Our schools are very diverse but this issue does not affect hundreds or even tens of thousands of families. There has been a reform of immigration regulations. Young people are gaining citizenship. If citizenship is granted to a parent then a child under 18 years of age is automatically granted citizenship. The problem is with the timed-out issue, if a young person has just turned 18 years. This is a current problem in society.
Ms Helen Lowry:
Our submission shows the numbers affected. Over 22,000 non-EU young people are in secondary school. That is quite a high number. A parliamentary question to the Minister for Justice and Equality provided the information that more than 2,192 non-EU nationals between the ages of 16 and 18 are currently registered with the Garda National Immigration Bureau. This is the most relevant number. The registration with GNIB means they are still dependent on the immigration status of their parents. If this number is divided between those aged 16, 17 and 18, those in the leaving certificate cycle, this is a total of 730 students a year.
Ms Helen Lowry:
That is a guesstimate, an approximate number. In our experience in the Migrant Rights Centre we believe this is probably the most relevant number. It is the figure that causes concern but it is a figure that is not so overwhelming that nothing can be done.
I thank Tatiana for speaking today because I know it is nerve-wracking to speak here. We are accompanied by young people and parents who are concerned about this issue. This is the first time in Leinster House for many of them.
I thank the delegates for their patience. We have to leave when a vote is called in the House. I congratulate the Chairman for inviting everyone to the meeting. It has been a very impressive presentation. I have questions for each of the speakers.
Our overall goal is a high quality, affordable and accessible third level education system that will serve the student and the nation in particular. This is a time when we need to consider that third level education should be about teaching and learning, research and job creation outcomes.
I have a question for Mr. Costello. Is funding currently linked to an institution's ability to carry out research? Is this just the case with funding from Science Foundation Ireland?
Certainly. Given the needs of the nation, should funding to universities and to institutes of technology be linked to job creation targets? All the institutions here are engaged in research. The universities benefit hugely from funding from Science Foundation Ireland. Over €1 billion has been spent in that space since 2000. The institutes of technology are involved in applied research and they are very close to the market. Yesterday the Western Development Commission was here to showcase businesses from the west of Ireland which have been funded with seed capital from the commission. One of the businesses is linked to NUI Galway and another is linked to GMIT. Both businesses are in the job creation sector and both have created jobs. However, the institutions are given no credit for having created jobs.
The institutes and universities should receive credit in terms of the provision of funding when they create jobs. It is a new target area in respect of which the Minister and the Taoiseach should seek to get the universities and colleges to engage. I direct that question at Mr. Costello and Dr. Hinfelaar.
My second question to Mr. Costello is on the first year experience of students at third level. Does he want to see the leaving certificate being retained as a terminal examination? He will be aware that we are engaged in a huge programme of reform. We have had reform in the junior certificate programme and are now moving to deal with the senior cycle programme. He spoke in favour of collapsing the leaving certificate grade bands and having common entry requirements at third level. What exactly does he mean by this? What is his view and that of Dr. Hinfelaar of the notion that the leaving certificate programme is serving the needs of third level as opposed to those of students at second level? Ms Bezborodova might have a view on this issue also. The colleges and universities should have their own entry requirements, apart from relying on the second level programme. Approximately 62% of students go on to third level.
That is true, it has increased. However, there is still a significant percentage who do not continue to third level. I am asking questions and not being negative about this.
With regard to funding, I note that it is mentioned in Mr. Costello's contribution that the average cost of funding per student is €10,000, yet private colleges are offering what are considered to be high quality degrees, with an average cost per student of €6,000 to €7,000. How can they do it and the universities cannot?
I congratulate the delegates on the ECOFIN report and the notion of mission-based collaboration and centres of excellence. I know the universities and institutes are looking at that aspect in line with the Hunt report.
To move to the question of ratios and the salaries of academics, the delegates said the ratio had increased from 20:1 to 24:1. How is the ratio worked out? In some lecture halls one can see 300 students, while one can have a ratio of 10:1 at some tutorials. That does not matter, however, if that is the basis on which it is worked out. What matters is having a maximum size, for which I have argued at primary and secondary level. Rather than coming up with a crude average figure, we should specify that there should be no more than X number of students in a lecture hall and at a tutorial. What are the delegates views on this point?
With regard to the salaries of academics, one of the delegates has said the average levels here do not reflect those internationally and that we are not accessing the best talent pools, yet many universities across the country attract enormous numbers of international lecturers. Therefore, Ireland has an appeal. It has been mentioned that there is a restriction in terms of the first point on the scale; I presume it is being said credit is given for experience. It would very serious if that was not the case. If the delegate is telling me that if I was a lecturer in the United Kingdom and came to Ireland, regardless of my experience, I would have to start at the first point of the scale, I would concerned be that this requirement would seriously damage the quality of our teaching profession. On average, lecturers here are paid 30% more than their UK counterparts. What is the average weekly teaching load of a lecturer in the institutes and universities? I was previoulsy a lecturer and would have had teaching practice and research duties, but I wish to focus on teaching duties.
Is it time the pay and pensions of staff were examined? Mr. Costello has said the universities have not had a chance to determine the levels which I know are managed under the Croke Park agreement. However, I would like him to deal with this point.
With regard to the IT sector, how many jobs did Dr. Hinfelaar say the institutes had contributed to creating? She has mentioned a figure for the incubation and innovation centres which ties in with my original question. One can access some courses in the institutes of technology with as few as 150 points. How are these students managing? What is the dropout rate among them? What are their outcomes and what supports are specifically provided for them? In view of the cuts made, can the institutes of technology support them now?
I thank Professor Ryan for his presentation. It is great that Ireland has led the way in the Bologna process. He has said its influence is no longer European but global. How many students from abroad have had their qualifications accepted here in the time this process has been up and running? Who makes this assessment?
With the European credits transfer, is it possible, using this methodology within the overarching theme, for the sake of argument, to obtain a masters in the arts or a particular disciple and for a student to achieve six credits in one university and six in others? Is it possible to accumulate credits in this way to obtain a degree as that would be an incredible student experience?
Professor Ryan mentioned strategic international alliances which will ultimately result in a huge benefit in terms of trade. Two weeks ago I brought 26 principals and deputy principals to China and we looked at introducing Mandarin as a subject here. During that visit I met 120 Chinese students who had been to university in Ireland. As a result of that experience, they are committed Ireland to which they have a strong bond. That is the way to build alliances. I see the Bologna process as having merit in that regard. Will Professor Ryan comment on this.
I was struck by the presentations of Ms Lowry and Ms Bezborodova. How many young non-EU migrants currently in university would be disadvantaged? Are they paying the same fees as international students? There would be a serious discrepancy if that was the case. Am I correct in saying they are citizens of another country until they become citizens of Ireland? In a roundabout way would the Bologna process work in their favour? Professor Ryan might comment on this issue also.
Regarding the universities and institutes of technology, there was a considerable expansion in the number of posts of head of department. I am aware that something similar happened at local government level. I know from experience at local government level that this is contracting, that the numbers of such posts are reducing and that there are proposals in that regard which I imagine will lead to a landscape provision. Is there a contraction of the number of such posts?
I will make a political point. On Mr. Costello's point about the need to plan ahead on the issue of loans, that is not Government policy. It is an ideological policy issue. For example, a number of years ago the university heads wanted to reintroduce fees, while the institutes of technology did not. There was, therefore, a difference of opinion. Things may have changed since, but there is no Government policy on a loan scheme. Planning ahead would lead to something being brought in by stealth.
I raised an issue previously to which the answer was "Yes" and I wonder if the position has changed. Do colleges still offer free fees to the children of staff? They did this a few years ago and it was in connection with the registration fee and had to do with employment contracts. When I attended college, the children of staff of the universities did not have to pay fees. I am not sure what the position is in the institutes of technology.
Regarding the CAO points system, I realise there have to be reforms, but I make the point that the points system is a little like a democracy. Winston Churchill said democracy was not perfect, but it is still better than all of the other systems that have been tried. We used to have a system of matriculation, for example, or interviews, but largely they have been abolished. I am aware, however, that there are exceptions in regard to access programmes and so on.
One issue that came up in the report of the commission on the points system in 2000 was that colleges should have to publish the number of places offered through the CAO. We have no transparency in this regard. A number of courses have limited places and the points are high. What is the reasoning behind that? Will the universities agree to this reform, which was recommended by the points commission in 2000?
Approximately half the student population attend IOTs. They have been an important part of our third level sector, as have universities, but that is not articulated well enough in public discourse. I attended both a university and an institute of technology to study and my family have worked in the IOT sector. Its importance lies in the way it has been so good over the years in the context of transfer, access and progress. I worked in DIT Bolton Street and I knew somebody who went from being an apprentice to doing a certificate, a diploma and a degree in engineering before going on to postgraduate level. Access was well provided for at that stage in the early 1990s by the sector.
With regard to the Bologna process, Professor Ryan mentioned that the EU ranking system would be different. While that will be an important move, it is essential that access, transfer and progression should be part of the ranking and it should not just be a league table. The social policy of the EU is important.
Mr. Ned Costello:
Senator Healy Eames raise a large number of interesting issues and I do not know whether I can cover them all. I will ask Mr. Purser to make a specific comment on access in response to the questions from the Chairman and Deputy O'Brien. It is an important issue.
With regard to the linking of funding to job creation targets, the higher education system does not get the credit it should in terms of what the data show, including in Education at a Glance 2012 from the OECD, about the returns to individuals from higher education. We know that the private returns - as in how much a person makes if he or she has a higher education qualification - are high here in an international context. If one has a higher education qualification, one's employment prospects are greater. I have reservations about a direct attempt to create a causal connection between job targets and higher education because that would inevitably lead to short-termism and an instrumentalisation of higher education and the complexities of the labour market are such that it is hard to draw such a direct causal correction. The Government's jobs strategy has targets while the Department of Finance's medium-term forecasts suggest something different. It is difficult to draw a line between a higher education outcome and a job outcome in a strict causal way.
What about the fact that it is happening already where the sector has generated intellectual property having conducted the research and needs to examine ways to move that to commercialisation for the benefit of the country?
Mr. Ned Costello:
There is the technology transfer support initiative, which has well-defined targets. We are about to create the new central technology transfer office in Enterprise Ireland in collaboration with the universities and IOTs. A great deal of work is going on to pin that area down better. That is where we can absolutely draw the connection and we support that.
I will ask Mr. Purser to discuss points, the terminal examination, access and so on.
Mr. Lewis Purser:
A number of committee members have raised the issue of reform of the points system and how the leaving certificate fits into this, etc. As Mr. Costello said, we are doing significant work at the moment on selection and admission to higher education and we are consulting a range of stakeholders such as the NCCA, the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, guidance counsellors and so on. One of the areas under discussion is the development of greater common entry routes into first year. Over the past ten years, there has been a proliferation of first year entry options within all the higher education institutions. Some of this was in response to specific labour market demands, as combinations such as computer science and German or X and Y were wanted. We found with hindsight that while those specific courses worked in certain cases and for certain small cohorts of students, it led in the round to a massive complexity in first year options for ordinary students and significant additional pressure on them because of the small number of places available on many of these courses. By the nature of the small number of places and additional competition, the points soared upwards. In some cases, the universities were guilty of playing that game blatantly and they have recognised that.
The considered move at the moment within each university is to try to reduce the number of first year options for students. For example, in the field of law, all universities have a first year law programme, a general entry into law, but they also have law with French or German or other options. The intention is to bring back first year law without reducing the number of options available for students in second and third year. A leaving certificate student will not use a specific code to apply for the course; it will be an option he or she can take when he or she is on the course. Some universities have gone a significant way down this road and it appears to be working. UCD, for example, gives all students these options clearly in their briefings before they apply and they can express their preferences when they apply. UCD, therefore, knows what they would like to study down the road and can start planing for that in advance. The points no longer creep up every year because of the availability of a small number of places on courses.
This is important for aspiring third level students. Is Mr. Purser saying this is in place in some universities and that, while students may want to study law and French, they will study law initially and make their selection once they are in college? At what point do they take up law with French?
Mr. Lewis Purser:
This has been in place for a number of years but we are going to make it more explicit and broaden the concept in order that it is available for all first year programmes. This will hopefully result in a significant decrease in complexity for people applying to university. We are not particularly worried about those who will apply anyway; we are concerned about widening access for students who may be the first from their family or community to apply. It is bewildering, confusing and complicated. There are too many choices to be made too early in their academic lives and this affects how they study in senior cycle of secondary school and what subjects they take in senior cycle and, in some cases, junior cycle.
That is the problem. For example, arts can be subdivided in one university into several courses with high points. UCD has a broad arts course. Surely something has to be done about universities that are not doing that.
With regard to the centre of excellence idea, UCD might be the best in the field at French and law but NUIG might be the best at German and law. The Hunt report refers to being mission-specific and forming centres of excellence. Will we not just have a proliferation of college offerings, thus resulting in a funding issue?
Mr. Ned Costello:
Can I expand on that important point? It does not work against mission specificity or the concept of being excellent at something. Bearing in mind the point of student specialisation, there will not be a change in regard to a university wanting to be the best at a certain discipline owing to its having the relevant research teams. The point is that this should not be the driver of how the admissions system works.
Mr. Lewis Purser:
On the broader issue of access for disadvantaged communities, the seven universities and the DIT have been working together for a number of years. Since 2010, they have rolled out a national programme called the higher education access route, better known as HEAR, which has been widely publicised in the media and school sector. The programme is mainly targeted at second-level students who have the potential to succeed at third level but who, for all sorts of socioeconomic reasons, have tended not to get even near the university sector.
There is a set of nationally agreed eligibility criteria that we have worked through with the Department of Education and Skills and other national stakeholders. It is based on a multi-indicator model so as to tackle different types of socioeconomic disadvantage. The bottom line since 2010 is that the number of students who have applied under HEAR has increased dramatically. More important, the number of students who have been offered and who have accepted places has increased by over 71% in the past three years alone. I refer to students from very disadvantaged communities, with endemic social problems in many cases. Many of the students' parents never completed second level and, in some cases, primary level.
As Deputy O'Brien stated, sometimes pockets of deprivation are inner-city pockets right beside the main universities. This is an anomaly in 21st-century Ireland. The universities and most higher education institutions do considerable outreach work with schools, particularly DEIS schools, across the country. Examples include mentoring for students and homework clubs to provide the support students in other schools would normally get at home. Campus visits familiarise students with the idea of going to college. Students do tasters, explore the sports facilities and engage in all sorts of summer activities. Thus, by the time they are ready to apply through the CAO system, third level is not a big mystery. Walking through the gates of NUI Galway or Trinity College Dublin is no longer a big mystery.
Dr. Maria Hinfelaar:
Could I just revisit some of the questions that were raised that we have not addressed? A very important question was on the challenges and supports associated with amalgamation processes. I want to touch briefly on this. First, we now have the Croke Park agreement, mark 1, which has a redeployment section. LIT incorporated the Tipperary Institute. We certainly utilised the mechanisms under the Croke Park agreement to redeploy staff who were no longer required to do what they had been doing. For instance, we removed the entire middle management team in the Tipperary school. Some individuals have gone to other institutes of technology and one or two have taken up other positions in the public sector. One or two have taken up teaching roles. There is flexibility. It is essential that the successor to the Croke Park agreement, irrespective of what it is called, have a more sophisticated redeployment mechanism. We actually found the existing mechanism difficult to manage. There are all sorts of restrictions, including in respect of distances beyond which one is not allowed to travel. There is really a need to flesh out the process much better and make it one of the vehicles through which we can successfully amalgamate existing organisations, thereby making staff more mobile and flexible.
Second, legislation is required. Currently, the 13 institutes of technology are listed in one of the Schedules to the legislation. In order to amalgamate, an amendment is required. Simple steps such as this need to be taken.
Dr. Jim Murray:
I have another point on the supports needed. If institutions are amalgamating, one must consider the complexities of merging various institutional cultures and the sequencing of reforms under the broader higher education strategy. I refer to the rationalisation of programmes, for example. This is one of the issues that is being explored in the context of the Hunt report. One must also bear in mind cross-institutional collaboration between the institutes of technology and universities. This must take place within a choreographed sequence such that every outcome is not expected at the same time. If it were, there would be chaos.
Professor Paul D. Ryan:
I will answer Deputy McConalogue's question first. He asked why the process is taking 20 years rather than ten. People completely underestimated the size of the task they were taking on. The Bologna Declaration is slightly over two pages in length and now has 47 jurisdictions reforming the higher education system in a co-ordinated manner. This is a completely unknown experiment in European society and, therefore, we are learning as we go along.
Let me give a specific answer rather than a general one. The areas that have caused most difficulty in terms of the qualifications are the doctorate and the qualifications of regulated professions. The aspects that have caused problems in regard to the management of higher education are quality assurance, recognition of prior learning and the development of national qualifications frameworks. The latter two are inherently linked because if one is to recognise higher learning, one must place it on a framework; otherwise, recognition means nothing. Only approximately one third of the relevant countries in 2009 had those aspects developed. Approximately 60% had quality assurance, but it was extremely varied. We have a system that is internationally validated and that assesses the relevant unit on its fitness of purpose, be it in respect of research, teaching, teaching and research, administration, the library service or some other service.
Other countries have different systems. The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, ENQA, has a charter. It is in our interest to keep ourselves well-informed about this and where other nations fit within the system. It is essential that we try to achieve the best value for money. We want to ensure every other nation is subject to the same strictures in an open market.
I have outlined the organisational aspects. Let me return to the issue of the doctorate. Many countries around Europe had a five-year primary degree. Some took seven years to do five but there was a five-year primary degree. Theoretically, it was relatively easy to split that into a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, be it according to a three-plus-two model or a four-plus-one model.
At the end of five years, the student had his or her master's degree, but there was an exit point in the middle at which he or she obtained a bachelor's degree. The difficulty for these countries was in ensuring the exit point actually met the needs of their society, and this is where a great deal of the difficulty is now arising. In a country where employers are used to hiring people after five years of university, those who have completed only four years will be seen as knowing less. As such, some type of training programme might have to be agreed with the industry to make up the deficit. There is a great deal of work going on in this area and new ground is being broken all the time.
There are two specific issues in regard to doctorates. First is the balance between the two types of doctorate. In the case of the PhD, which is the philosophy doctorate, the criterion, putting it as simply as I can, is whether the research is innovative and publishable. The second qualification is the professional doctorate, which is common, for example, in the medical profession. In this case, students have not spent three years doing a unique piece of research but have otherwise obtained qualifications at that level of expertise. The difficulty arises in reconciling these two types of doctorates through national qualifications frameworks.
The second issue regarding doctorates relates to the employability of PhD graduates. Is a doctorate candidate training to be a blue sky researcher who will go on to work in a university? Is a PhD student training to become an important member of a knowledge-based society? These are the questions one must consider. Throughout Europe and even within Ireland there is a major debate - the Government has part-funded initiatives in this regard - on how we can ensure that every research-based PhD includes within it some element of training for life which will allow the student to move with relative ease from the research environment into, for instance, an industrial environment.
The final issue in all of this relates to the regulated professions, in respect of whom there is a difficulty that remains unresolved. The problem is that to have the competence to be a basic practitioner takes at least five years of academic training before one goes on to obtain whatever work experience is required. I am advising pharmacists on this issue at the moment and have been involved in discussions with representatives of other medical professions in Europe. These professions like the idea of a five-year initial qualification, but that is not compliant with the Bologna system. There is a difficulty in finding the exit point, after three or four years, where one is not qualified to be a pharmacist or a doctor, for example, but where one has obtained a qualification that is of value to society and will enable one to gain employment. The benefit of that type of system is that it gives both students and trainers more flexibility. There are probably always a certain number of people who would be better off exiting after three or four years. These are the main issues, as I see it, and I hope I have answered the Deputy's questions in that regard.
Before responding to the points raised by Senator Healy Eames, I would like to comment briefly on the notion of employability. One of the issues on which we have concentrated as part of the Tuning project is the question of separating the subject-specific competences a student will gain from his or her particular course of study from the generic competences every student should obtain. The idea behind generic competences is that there are skills which allow one to be a useful member of society. An example would be asking students to give a presentation so that they learn how to get the PowerPoint slides in the right order, have the right number of words on the slides, speak clearly and deliver the major points. These types of general competences are sought by employers. As part of the Tuning project, we have asked employers around the world about the generic competences they require - we have used the term transferable skills - in order to determine the abilities they are they looking for in potential employees. We expect to have compiled a data set next year comprising 69,000 responses from employers, which I will make available to the committee as soon as it is available. It may not be the most fabulous statistical survey ever, but 69,000 answers are certainly worth looking at. It will be a unique data set.
Senator Healy Eames asked how many students have had their qualification recognised. That is now routine and is normally done through university admissions offices or independently. I am not sure how it happens in the institute of technology sector, but it is done routinely. We have a national academic recognition information centre which provides guidelines on how to do it, particularly if one is dealing with qualifications in areas with which one might not be familiar. I am helping to write a document on this process for university enrolment officers on a European-wide basis, which will be published next year.
Regarding the Senator's question on the European credit transfer and accumulation system, ECTS, the answer is absolutely "Yes". One can take a properly organised, modularised course under the ECTS where the level of the ECTS credits and the workload is stated-----
Professor Paul D. Ryan:
There are two models within the ECTS, the first of which functions on the basis that there is a base university. For example, a student who is registered at NUI Galway and who opts to study in Germany for a year might come back with 60 ECTS credits and with a workload and mark. Even though different grading systems are in operation in different countries, by simply putting the two histograms together and normalising them, one can see the correlation. If a student is in the top 20% of a German university, for instance, one would assume that his or her mark would be in the top 20% of an Irish university and so on. That correlation is not difficult to do and happens quite routinely. The student then returns to complete his or her studies and is awarded a degree by NUI Galway, but some of his or her credits have come from that trip abroad. In fact, some of a student's credits may be awarded on the basis of experiential learning obtained before commencing a course. For example, a person could come in with experiential learning and be exempted from certain elements of the first-year curriculum. One is effectively being given these ECTS credits in recognition of one's portfolio.
That is the normal or standard model for the operation of the ECTS in this country. The other model is relatively new and exciting for Ireland and relates to joint degrees. I did a survey on Bologna compliance in NUI Galway and this was the only area in which I found a difficulty. A joint degree is very specifically a degree jointly awarded by two or more universities in two or more separate jurisdictions and valid in both jurisdictions. There was some problem about the legal position vis-à-vis the NUI degrees, but that is now resolved. This is an exciting development in Irish third level education which opens up the prospects of colleges here developing joint degrees with Russia or China, for example, if they have an ECTS model that we would accept. The universities are working hard to develop this product.
I apologise for interrupting; I will come back to Professor Ryan presently. Dr. Hinfelaar wanted to come back in and I am anxious that she should comment on a point raised by several members, namely, that of access.
That was largely dealt with earlier. We will have to see how we are doing for time later. Senator Healy Eames also raised the access issue, with particular reference to whether the leaving certificate should be scrapped.
Dr. Jim Murray:
We undertook a major project on flexible learning in recent years, which was funded under one of the strands of the HEA's strategic innovation fund, SIF. The issue is whether online learning will be a replacement for traditional lending or something that will be used as part of a package of learning. New possibilities for running full programmes of online learning are emerging all the time. This amounts to a major ongoing pedagogical revolution, with some of the Ivy League colleges, for instance, providing mass online courses free of charge. The question is whether the types of competences to which Professor Ryan referred can be imparted purely in an online context or whether a blended approach is preferable.
There is academic debate about that and there is not a definitive consensus on it.
As part of the place they will find within the new higher education landscape different institutions will need to make strategic calls on where different specialisms will occur. Some institutions, and this is not entirely predictable, may end up being specialists in online learning. Others will use blended learning techniques where they will have face-to-face learning. This will be part of the broader discussion on missions in which all the different institutions are currently engaging. Regional clusters and different types of collaborations may have strategies on online learning but it is worth recalling that some of the preliminary results that have come out from a national employers' survey is that they are looking for competencies such as team work and so forth, and there is an issue about how much of that can be taught online. One cannot predict it but it is difficult to say that face-to-face learning will disappear but online components are and will become even more a part of the pedagogic and learning environment.
Dr. Maria Hinfelaar:
I will come back to the access question and link that with the issue of some students on low points going onto some courses. If we were to examine the intake of the institutes of technology, and as the Chairman pointed out, about half the students in the higher education sector are studying within the institutes of technology, IOT, sector, one would see a spread between AQA right up to 400 or 500 points across a range of discipline areas. Clearly, these things fluctuate because we all know that in terms of the way the system works it is a supply and demand mechanism in one respect.
We bring in students on low points in some areas. The supports structures within the IOT sector are very strong. For instance, all students would normally be assigned an academic mentor. That academic mentor, who is a member of staff in that particular school but not necessarily on the teaching team for that particular student, would meet the student on a regular basis. If there are issues with the student being able to keep up to speed with the course the mentor will try to direct the student towards the supports we have in our institutions. We have learner support units, teaching and learning units and all the other structures such as counselling and access to try to make sure the students do not end up leaving the system. That is a key strength of the institutes.
In addition to that, through the ladder system a number of students who come in on level 6 programmes will exit with a level 6 award and may come back at a later point in time to complete a level 7 or level 8 course. There is that flexibility where students can dip in and out of the system.
We attract a huge number of mature learners who may have done the leaving certificate and not scored highly in terms of points but through recognition of prior learning, RPL, experience they bring in a wealth of other qualities, and we need to value those and give them the recognition for what they bring. It is not a simple, straightforward issue of low points and therefore there will be a problem. That is not necessarily the case; it is more complex than that.
Dr. Maria Hinfelaar:
There are two parts to that question. First, there is the employability of our graduates. We do graduate destination surveys every year and they are broken down by institution, school, department and course; it is down to that granular level. That information is published on the websites of each of the institutes of technology. It is readily accessible information to ensure we can all see that the employability statistics are down to the individual programme level. That is available.
Regarding job creation through enterprise centres and applied research, we can measure that. It is not always possible to measure the immediate impact of those kinds of investments. I would be hesitant to create a one to one link between funding and output metrics like that. We must track those kind of metrics and over time it will become clearer which investments and financial incentives lead to results. We can then adjust within the system in terms of where we target the funding, which is limited.
Mr. Lewis Purser:
Yes, on Senator Healy Eames's question about the leaving certificate, one of the strands of the selection and admissions work that I alluded to earlier is looking at how to reform the leaving certificate assessment practices. We find students coming into third level, and this is not just a university experience but is felt by all third level colleges, have been conditioned by the leaving certificate experience to learning and being assessed in a certain way. A big challenge for higher education is to de-programme them from that experience to ensure they can learn in a different way in higher education.
The purpose of collapsing the leaving certificate grade bans from, say, a C1, C2 and C3 into a new type of C grade would be to allow for a more innovative and much more sensitive assessment practice at leaving certificate where the assessment would be less predictive and the examinations the students sit would be less predictable.
In higher education in the past ten years we have introduced more outcomes-based modern assessment systems which examine students' competences as opposed to their knowledge. Obviously, they need knowledge but what they can do with that knowledge and how they apply it is important. In many cases that is not particularly successfully measured in the leaving certificate as it currently stands.
We do not want to abolish the leaving certificate because there is a huge advantage in having a well-respected, national end of school examination. As a country that is a benefit to us. Other countries do not have that and they have to put in place alternative systems but we would like to see a modernisation of assessment practices at leaving certificate level.
Mr. Ned Costello:
Yes. I will respond to a few of the other issues raised, one or two of which were raised by the Chairman.
On the staff fees issue, it only exists as a result of a provision that was put into the 1997 Act in terms of the pre-existing rights and benefits but obviously the cohort who benefit from that is a dwindling cohort and it will disappear eventually; there are caps on it in many cases in the institutions.
I will address a few of the issues raised by Senator Healy Eames. On the question as to the reason the cost is X in a university when a private provider can do it for Y, there is a technical difference between the unit of resource per student number in our submission and the full economic cost of a particular subject. To make it clear, the full economic cost of a subject varies by discipline. An arts subject is quite a bit cheaper than a laboratory based subject, for example. An arts subject would be closer to the €6,000 to €7,000 full economic cost.
Mr. Ned Costello:
Yes, but there has to be an element of discipline in it. That brings us back to that general issue about public versus private sector and universal service obligation and public service obligation.
One can use the transport analogy that public higher education institutions have a public service obligation and, therefore, have to provide everything a higher education institution does - engagement, research and collaboration with industry - whereas private-----
Mr. Ned Costello:
Private operators have more commercial flexibility than State regulated institutions, a matter on which I wanted to touch in terms of the pay issue. They have a level of flexibility in terms of remuneration that publicly regulated institutions do not have and possibly should have. To compare like with like, the playing field has to be the same, but the Senator has raised important issues.
Mr. Ned Costello:
Yes, we think institutions in general - this includes remuneration - should be given much more flexibility to manage and that the State should control the overall quantum of input. The State has to guard itself against contingent liabilities for pensions and so on and, therefore, it is not money for nothing. There has to be proper control over the bit the State funds, but we firmly believe management decisions are best made on the ground.
Mr. Lewis Purser:
The numbers are available for many courses and determined by State agencies and quotas in many of the professional areas where there is funding available. Other numbers are not readily available because adjustments are always being made to them up to and following the beginning of term depending, particularly at present, on staff because, as has been pointed out, of the way the employment control framework is hitting contract staff and the ability to replace retiring staff. The availability of places in any given term is not always clear long in advance. In general, that information will be made available informally to students on an historical basis in order that when the universities and other institutions have their open days, information sessions with the CAO and outreach days, they can provide that information orally but committing to it in a prospectus two years in advance is difficult for most of them to do.
Ms Helen Lowry:
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames asked about the number of people in universities affected by citizenship issues. We are able to discern how many are impacted on by this before university level because we can deal with a parliamentary question in terms of the number registered with the GNIB. We estimate that approximately 700 young people coming out of the leaving certificate programme are impacted on by difficulties in accessing citizenship and then facing fees at third level. Anecdotally, in terms of those in university, I can think of ten other people who are affected, but the number of varies, as Ms Bezborodova said. What we have found in induction and introduction meetings with young people and parents in the past few months and on outreach days on this issue is that many people are trying to get on with it, but they are struggling. Many people through word of mouth come to our centre on this issue and we find that they have made decisions such as letting a child go into second year while holding a second child back from doing the leaving certificate examination, placing a debt on a credit card and so on. Families are trying to make ends meet and adopt other arrangements. We do not know the numbers because universities do not necessarily record them.
On the Senator's question about international fees, we found that when this issue first emerged, universities would have looked at a young person with non-EU status and applied international fees. In the early days young people who had grown up here faced international fees, but in the past few years universities have administered a non-EU fees category. However, it still amounts to double or treble the amount Irish people pay. In Ms Bezborodova's case, she now has citizenship and her fees amount to treble what she would pay as an Irish citizen. While people like her do not pay international fees, they are in a non-EU category that still results in huge fees.
Professor Paul D. Ryan:
With regard to the metrics relating to the link between academic training and employability, a project is winding up in Europe that is linked with the United States which is good at trying to develop such metrics. That report should soon be available and I can make it available to the committee because it might give us somewhere to start. If providing access is a declared mission of an education system, it is part of the EU multi-rank assessment which assesses how well people meet their aims and stated objectives.
I agree with the point made about strategic international alliances. If we are to benefit from the changes we have undergone and the improvement in higher education, one of the benefits will be these alliances. The problem is we do not have a structured way of doing this. It all boils down to the individual academics finding enough time between marking papers, giving lectures and undertaking research to write an application, which takes two weeks. Setting up the administrative procedures if one is changing students is complex and multi-layered and, as a nation, we are not oiling these wheels. We have such a fabulous product that we should do this.
Mr. Ned Costello:
I thank colleagues for coming in and we welcome their presentation. As the committee has heard eloquently from them, universities have to try to deal with this issue on the ground. We flagged it as an emerging issue a number of years ago and share their concerns that it should be addressed nationally.
I thank everybody because it has been a long meeting and it is a busy time. We will copy the presentations to the Minister and send a transcript of the meeting to him. We will ask for his response and highlight the issue raised by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, as well as the migrant rights issue. If we receive a response, we will forward it to the delegations. This is an ongoing policy issue for the committee. The meeting has been informative. I also thank everybody present in the Visitors Gallery.