Hunt Report

The full text of the Hunt Report is now available on the Irish Times website linked here.

17 replies on “Hunt Report”

The draft is dated August 8th so it possible that the published version will differ: after all why else wait 5 months?
It is a long report and covers a lot of ground so I haven’t read it all carefully. But from what I can see it is a lot like other such reports, fairly bland and uninspiring. There are many worthy statements that no one is likely to disagree with. That’s a bad sign in my view. Whether it adds much, or differs much, from the OECD’s recent report I don’t know. The committee that produced this report, though containing a range of very able people, looks to be dominated by insiders to the system. That’s also a bad sign in my view.
I confine my views to the issue of access to higher education by low income/low SES groups. This is mentioned in a few places. On page 13 it recommends widening access by such groups “by additional weighting”. What this means does not appear to be specified unless I have missed something.
Section 1.3 discusses “Broadening participation in Irish higher education”. Table 2.1 shows the dramatic differences in access rates by socio-economic background. This is all very well known but worth reminding ourselves of nonetheless. While it comments that pursuit of equality has been a mainstream concern of policy since 1966 it declines to mention that policy in this area has systematically failed, hence Table 2.1. After 40 years of failure, is some readically new thinking not required? This is something of an oversight.
As far as I can the only other place this issue comes up is Section 9.2, page 99 in the section “Maintaining equality of access”. The word “maintaining” should really be “achieving” since you cannot maintain something that has never existed. It comments that “One of the principal barriers for entry to higher education affecting students from lower income groups is their relatively lower levels of school completion and lower levels of attainment in the Leaving Certificate”. Well yes but it would be more precise to say, since this has been demonstrated, that it is THE principal barrier.
What this means, is that the problem with improving access to third level education lies elsewhere, in first and second level education (if not before). It may well have been beyond the remit of the report to recommend changes there but at least it should have noted this.
It comments further that “…students from lower income groups who do achieve the necessary prior levels of attainment, financial constraints… can and do affect participation. These financial barriers, which can be significant…”
No evidence to support this is given. It seems unusual that statements like this are made in an important document but with no reason to take it seriously. I suspect that this is because no such evidence exists & evidence implying the opposite does exist. It has been demonstrated that the abolition of university fees was not associated with a change in the socio-economic gradient in university access which suggests to me that fees are a side-show.

” The Hunt report is based on the view that what Ireland lacks in its higher education system is central planning. This, when you read through the details of the report, is its big idea. It confuses ‘autonomy’ with the devolution of managerial powers, and in the process under-estimates the significance of universities as creative knowledge organisations with the capacity to drive strategy rather than just follow it. The report recognises the importance of Ireland’s higher education system and the significance of coordination, but heads for the default option of bureaucratisation. ”

The key quote from the post referenced above. Central planning is not a new idea, nor is it big (nor clever). Taken to its logical conclusion, we’re talking about an effective merger of the universities into worse bureaucratic messes than they are now, or the abolition of >50% of departments in some universities.

There is no real surprise here from the Hunt Report and is in keeping with the loss of autonomy to central government, after all the government controls the wages/income of universities and last year took over full responsibility of the pensions of university staff. At this point, the government has completely taken over the Irish university sector and has the “right” to pursue their objectives, that of supporting job creation in areas that they (IDA/Forfas) deem to be “winners”.

Undoubtedly, it is going to be difficult to retain and recruit serious and world renowned academics into this new university system, especially in the areas such as Humanities, Classics, Social Science and Business.

I do think that Trinity, in particular, missed the opportunity to resist full takeover by government and go for a solution where it would take itself out of the public system and operate as a private university. This opportunity might not have disappeared but as time goes on and elements of the Hunt report gets implemented then it becomes increasingly more difficult to go private.

I have to say that I agree with the central theme of the report. It identifies the severe funding problems facing higher level education and the need for a student contribution.

I think this would be a very positive development as it would create a more direct customer-provider relationship, whereby students would become more demanding in articulating their expectations of a given course. I think most of the courses are under funded at present, but equally the weakened customer-provider relationship that it the current indirect funding models has allowed many academics to take their eye off the ball and deliver courses that should be far more work place relevant. Equally there is an oversupply of graduates in some courses and an under supply in others. More direct funding would go a long way to correcting these imbalances.

I do agree with the desire to centralize planning and the direction that higher education takes. The drop off in the UK economy in the first part of the last century can be attributed in part to higher level institutions producing an unbalanced mix of graduates. Whereby there wasn’t enough graduates in key disciplines for economic and social development. I think a centralized agency has a greater chance of setting the appropriate direction for higher education.

The points made about the need for closer links between research teams and industry/public sector is badly needed. All too often Higher Level Institutions use external finance just to bring in money to their Institution without regard to whether the research carried is effective or useful. They’re likes the banks where bonuses were given for giving out loans rather having loans repaid. For many research heads in higher level institutions there is an obsession with bringing in funding as opposed to producing useful research. I think a greater collaboration with private sector/public sector institutions would address a lot of the largely irrelevant and poor quality research being carried out at present.

I think its important for Institutions to integrate better with communities as the global economy has become so dynamic life long learning and retraining/educating will become increasingly the norm for people. The aloof academic mentality where they don’t engage with the community is very damaging. It is also I feel a major impediment to people not from a higher education background to cross over into the world.

It is difficult to draw encouragement from one of the most useless bureaucracies in the developed world taking increasing control of a university sector that, despite obvious room for improvement, has performed decently by international standards.

Academics may not be aloof, but there is very little reward for engaging with the community. The “more funding is good”, whatever use is made of it, and the “there are only 4 real journals in the world” models dominate.

Lots of useful stuff.

However, some questions are not asked, like why does a country of 4.5 mln people have 7 universities and 18 institutes for technology?

The report does not focus on research, but it does ask for more money. How can this be justified when it is not clear that the current research money is well spend?

Richard: fair points. It does recommend consolidation in the IoT sector ‘though without going into specifics.
The draft report’s use of evidence is rather eccentric, in some cases citing research to back a point while in other cases ignoring research in simply making ex cathedra statements.

@ RT: “However, some questions are not asked, like why does a country of 4.5 mln people have 7 universities and 18 institutes for technology?”

We do not Richard. But no politician will risk their parlimentary seat by even discussing this dilemma. I doubt it will appear in any of the forthcoming Election Manifestos either. Would you carelessly handle ‘sweaty gelly’?

The idea that it is possible to somehow or other justify or explain ‘research’ using cost-benefit analysis, is just plain dopey. Some researchers are indeed lucky and do come up with a marketable product – but majority do not. Research seems more related to gaining a post-graduate degree or perhaps tenure and promotion.

Teaching on the other hand is by far the greater professional activity and it is possible to monitor and ‘measure’ its effectivness – albeit with some considerable difficulty. Teaching is one area where additional resources could indeed be justified – but not on an accountancy-based cost-benefit basis.

It should be possible to ‘pool’ resources over all the third-level colleges on the island. This should achieve some savings. It might also be possible to provide (via Broadband) modules or parts of modules if this would avoid duplications. Lots of things are possible. Its the absence of political will and the desire to preserve Status Quo that are the real impediments. regretabbly we are likely – in the current financial environment, to get destructive construction rather that creative destruction!


Expect announcements on IOT collaborations: marriages- monogamous and polygamous, shotgun marriages, etc in the near future

It’s a shame that the authors have published a Report which cites the OECD Education At A Glance 2009 as the latest offering. Just one month after the date of this draft report EAAG 2010 was published in September 2009.

The accompanying press release highlights the main theme of the report, titled ‘Governments should expand teritary studies to boost jobs and tax revenues’. Put another way: investment, not cuts.,3746,en_2649_39263238_45925620_1_1_1_1,00.html

But even the 2009 version highlights not just the individual benefit from investment in third level education which we hear so much of, but also the boon to government coffers. The public cost of higher education in this economy is equivalent to US$18,520, the government return for a male student is $92,738, a fivefold return (2005 data).

Women fare worse primarily because their pay is lower. Understood correctly, government has a huge fiscal as well as moral incentive to enforce equal pay. But there is still a huge return, just under fourfold.

The returns arise from higher income taxes and social contributions, as well as a lower likelihood of unemployment and associated costs to the public purse. They could be higher still, with changes to the tax regime, and in any event the OECD does not take account of higher taxation revenues from the likely higher consumption funded by those higher incomes.

A search for three “value” and “international” topics gives meagre responses:

Philosophy – “This student-centred philosophy lies at the heart of the National Framework of Qualifications”.

Language – “The Irish-language, culture and creative arts are primary sources of our distinctiveness and we should deepen our understanding of these and capitalise on their inherent cultural value … ”
“Links between higher education institutions and their local communities include … support for Irish-language development activities”

History – “We have a long history of international engagement ..”

Does engagement not require an ability to communications, knowledge and understanding of context and thought?

Gan trácht ar an Ghaeilge mar mheán!

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