Sunday, February 15, 2009

Endowed with generosity

As if oblivious to the crisis gripping US universities' endowment funds, victims of low interest rates, speculative investments and the current global recession, Batt O'Keefe is recommending that his new strategy group look towards encouraging endowments for Irish universities, asking them to seek out some more "Chuck Feeneys". Certainly something for the longer term but in the current climate might be difficult to pull off and financially questionable in terms of revenue generation rather than funding for one-off projects. One could argue that a higher level of taxation for those on high incomes more in keeping with the European norm would greatly assist much of public services in this country, whether universities or the dilapidated school buildings into which our children are herded, but that's a political decision .....

The advent of fees meanwhile seems a certainty, but the constant refrain that it is in keeping with other countries' approaches to funding HE is not correct. There are plenty of other countries which maintain, and indeed some that are reverting to, free higher education. Indeed we only need to travel a short distance from this island's northern shores to see such a neighbour in Scotland, which incidentally has more universities per head of population than Ireland, something else which also seems to be ignored when discussing the sector here. Of course all are struggling in the current situation but the 'Anglosaxon' model is only one option and as we've seen with its hallmark deregulation and financial shenanigans, not necessarily the optimum means of delivering sustainable economics.

It's the dearth of imagination and the clutching at old mantras to somehow save a crisis for which they are responsible that is perhaps the most depressing aspect of the current situation.  But perhaps we should hold off on judgment until we see what emerges in the much vaunted April statement from the Minister.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I must confess that I groan whenever a politician mentions philanthropy as a solution to the resourcing problems of higher education. I remember listening to a Dail debate once about university funding and one speaker after another referred to private donations as the answer - as if there were dozens of wealthy donors just waiting to put their millions into Irish universities and waiting only to get the green light from the government...

As you say, philanthropy is really only a solution (when available at all) for capital projects. No sane donor will ever give money to fund a running deficit.

I'm not so sure about your comment on comparable countries and fees. The Scottish universities, for example, actually fear a catastrophe is imminent for them because they cannot rely on fee income as the English universities do. And it is noticeable that the universities of those European countries that do not charge fees are nowhere in the global rankings.