Three Year Postdoctoral Position Economics of Higher Education

Below from Brian Lucey:

Along with colleagues in the TCD library and the Long Room Hub, I have been awarded a Irish Research Council grant. Part of the funding is for a postdoc for three years. The project is  called TIONCHAR : The Impact On National Capacity of Higher Education And Research

Salary will be in the region of €40k per annum. This post is available for an immediate start. The postdoc will work with an interdisciplinary team on a series of projects around an economic impact analysis of the efficiency and impact of the higher education system in Ireland.  Candidates should hold a PhD, ideally in economics or policy analysis. They must have some experience of I-O modelling and of multiplier estimation. An understanding of modern higher education systems, bibliometrics and economic growth models is also highly desirable. Applications will be accepted until 31 Jan 2014. Applications should include a covering letter explaining why you feel you fit the post particulars, a CV and details of two referees. Please email applications or queries on the project to either or

Some further particulars are available for download here : TIONCHAR Briefing

67 replies on “Three Year Postdoctoral Position Economics of Higher Education”

Congrats on the funding, sounds like a genuinely useful bit of research. I recommend Michael Hennigan, he’d do it in 3 months never mind 3 years.

Thanks JF. Its a rather sprawling brief but we will get there. If we get a postdoc..

A sprawling brief? It is a sprawling piece of waffle. God help the postdoc trying to make sense of this brief. Only God can save this project! When I read this I realise that one of the problems of academia is that far too often it is necessary to dress things up in the language of academic waffle, otherwise it will be seen straight away that the emperor has no clothes. Best of luck!

hi Robert. Care to expand on your concerns? I mean, as it is one could read your comment as saying we are taking money under false pretences. Thats not what your saying is it…?

Well done on securing funding. That was the ‘easy’ bit.

From the Brief: [from one academic to another – you understand!]

“The aim of this project is to produce a detailed economic impact analysis of the efficiency and impact of the higher education system.”

The Irish HE sector has both traditional universities and wannabbes – the ‘Technological colleges’. Will you be rummaging through the entrails of the latter? I will be most interested in how your dy/dx expert will seek to analyze (and to quantify?) the ‘efficiency’ of learning. Its been tried. Results are … … Lets skip that. Tad inconvenient.

” … but broadly based and addressing the issues of academic output, cultural and societal impact, intellectual property, economic policy objectives …”

That’s attempting to eat your elephant in one bite – except maybe its a pygmy one that’s on the menu. It may come as something of a nasty shock – though you being an academic should be aware, that any level of education has no singular set of economic objectives – its simply not possible. And thoroughly undesirable. Though one can wish. You do get folks with certs, diplomas and degrees – but do you get sentient folk? Or programmic robots? I may know how to dy/dx – but do I understand what I am doing? And please try not to attempt to get adult humans to understand the unpleasant economic outcomes of exponential functions. Causes cognitive stasis!

Sometime back, you and I had a small disputation about Negative Marking? Have you resolved that? If not, may I respectfully suggest that you approach the ‘efficiency of learning in a HE setting’ with an excessive degree of caution. It may be amusing from where I sit. But its actually not funny at all.

“By using these techniques a more complete understanding of the Irish higher education system will be obtained and a more critical set of key performance indicators based upon verifiable evidence can be formulated.”

Really? I do wish you the best of luck on this.

“The project will start with an analysis of the economic impact of higher education, using both standard macroeconomic and IO approaches to the calculation of multipliers.”

Oh dear! Would it be rude of me to recommend the following reading – its short, and quite amusing, if you like that sort of stuff. ‘I Think, Therefore I Laugh’. John Allen Paulos (Chapts: 3 + 4). Now if you really want to delve into the serious academic stuff try* …. On second thought, skip it – none of these have any econ in them.

* I’ll e-mail you the list if you fancy at least 6 months solid reading!

Apolgies for the negativity. But I’ve been there Cormac (at least twice) – and Angola was a doddle!

I think it is very worthwhile research area that could lead to a better insight on what areas of further education and research benefit this country best, and to try to direct both individuals and funding towards those areas.

The requirement of experience with ‘multiplier estimation’ could prove a stumbling block to some politically minded European candidates!

@ Johnny Foreigner

Thanks and I would say that 3 months would be adequate with most of the loot reserved for the likes of the ESRI who have experience in doing field surveys.

Last weekend I got a alert from the Economist site about a comment on a comment I had made last month. A Setabos, possibly an insider on a gravy train said “constantly negative…do you ever have constructive criticisms?”

Constructive criticisms to please whom?

The challenge of this assignment is the paucity of data and this is why Irish innovation policy is based on faith. It’s a safer ground than reality and what is part of the Government told me last month:

“Minister Bruton and the Department of Jobs are unashamedly ambitious for the potential of scientific research in Ireland to support economic growth and job-creation in Ireland. In recent years we have improved our ratings for basic research to the point where we are now very competitive internationally – the challenge now is to achieve greater returns in terms of commercial outcomes and jobs from this research.”

The Dept also effectively said that collaboration projects with private companies, are not commercially costed and when say 30 companies are involved at little cost, wonder why the window dressing is necessary?

In its response, the Dept ignored the poor patenting record as if citations in papers were more important. Most of the foreign firms do not do research that merits patenting.

The educational system from primary to third level is very important and Trinity wants to open an Innovation Hub. Everyone seems to want to be part of this innovation magic but trying the real thing — entrepreneurship without a safety net — is another story.

Stanford University calls itself a catalyst for the rise of Silicon Valley. Gordon Moore an Intel cofounder doesn’t agree. All first year undergrads have to take an arts course and the institution has of course made a contribution but how could it be measured?

Irish third level licensing fees are insignificant and in the US amount to about 4% of university tech budgets.

Innovation is about ideas that help to commercialise inventions and pioneers are not usually responsible for successful innovation. Intel, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook were not pioneers.

The typical US tech firm founder is not a recent grad but a 39 year old with work experience.

A key issue here is also that innovation is about a lot more that high tech and individuals without STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) degrees can be successful in innovation.

Pat McDonagh, a primary school teacher, who in pre-web days began offering computer-based education courses, has been one of the most successful Irish tech entrepreneurs of recent decades.

According to a recent paper the mastery of one’s own field is not among the very top skills that differentiate the most highly innovative from less innovative professionals. This is not to say that the mastery of a field is not important. “Regardless of their involvement in innovation, the mastery of one’s field is reported as very important by 54% of all professionals — which makes it rank 7. Our point is more that many of the critical skills for innovation can be fostered in all domains, even though it could take a different shape from one subject to the other.”

In a decade about €24bn inflation-adjusted, has been spent on science policy including relevant higher education.

In over a decade, no insider has dissented from official policy; the Oireachtas has not queried the spending; tech journalists have been cheerleaders and a minister could make the ludicrous suggestion that Ireland should strive to create its own Microsoft or Google — without a local market!

Here is an OECD presentation and do not believe the hype that there are 4,500 unfilled IT vacancies in Ireland.


The first hurdle is to at least ask questions about the efficiency and impact of 3rd level in Ireland. You’ve been doing it and fair dues to BL and colleagues for doing so as well. A lot of people think the question should not even be asked, viewing 3rd level spending as an intrinsic good that we can only ever have more of.

Research in this area is a nightmare (my comment re 3 months was a bit facetious) because it is so hard to capture the indirect value of education of any variety. Maybe reading Shakespeare contributes in some small way to the development of a mind that is sharp enough to spot a tech opportunity when it arises? But that is beyond measurement.

But the first step is to at least recognise this and call out all the spoofers who have made claims about the value of investing in this sector – claims that can never be verified.

The main target of criticism should always be the centre because they are supposed to be the grown-ups. Because of the way our civil service has developed they end up being the least capable of spotting the spoofers, many with no 3rd level qualifications at all. Convoluted application processes for enormous capital projects are ‘managed’ by the CS but ultimately the funding agendas are set, and the claims made in grant applications are judged, by other academics as Board members and peer reviewers.

Its actually not all about Innovation. Thats part of it. And not about what you might think its about.

Have a go….let’s see what the outcome is. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

3 years sounds long (a lifetime in the commercial world)…why not Euro 100k for 1 year….that should make the applicant pool much more competitive /sharp.

Vig as in what do I get? Errr. this is kinda my job so not at all sure what you mean. You really dont get how academia works do you?

Paul W
No, it wouldnt. Postdocs need stability. Else they would go work for KPMG or Indecon. 18-24m minimum effective contract as w 12 they will spend last 6 heading out the door.

“Vigorish, or simply the vig, also known as juice, the cut or the take, is the amount charged by a bookmaker, or bookie, for his services.”

@BL indeed Brian indeed:)

“We need a debate on universities and their role in society. They are not businesses. That is not to say they should not be run professionally with transparent budgeting.”

oh look heres the conclusion…….

‘Before we delve into these, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves of a few issues. First, Ireland has, in fact, an excellent third- and fourth-level system. Second, we have less State involvement than is commonly thought. Of the €1.5 billion per annum, a large part is a subsidy for free fees.”

So, John, not at all following you. What are you saying? That I have preconcieved notions of how universities should be run (efficiently…)? Guilty. your point exactly is what?
Are you suggesting that I or others are getting something under the table/in exchange/nodded and winked? If so, spit it out. Else….

@BL not at i’ve searched high and low cant for the life of me find the total amount awarded/granted,do ya have a link there,nor any annual report for the entity that granted it…..

Whats the metric or ‘success’ measurement here,the size of the report,graphs,effective use of color,implementation ?

If your findings are totally say ignored then what…….

Try my blog John. And if our comments and findings are ignored… they will join the vast amount of same in irish life. We dont do evidence based policy well.

@BL its a bit morbid over there,happy new year Brian and congrats on the funding,hope the person doing the heavy lifting is getting a fair bite:)

This looks like a terrific project – Well done on securing a significant amount of funding in such a competitive environment! The Irish 3rd level system is crying out for a robust analysis of its true efficiency (or rather inefficiency) and impacts. I look forward to seeing the final report – True, three years is a long time to wait for it, but at least it allows time to do a thorough analysis that can withstand peer-review instead of a rushed consultancy style report… Good Luck, BL and team!

What is the problem with evidence-based policy in Ireland? Was it deemed too Protestant in the 1950s ?


Academics don’t get anything for winning grants. The overhead (usually 25%) is devoured by a large (in every sense of the word) secretariat whose function is a mystery. If there is any scandal to be uncovered along the lines of what we are seeing in the health/charity sectors, it will be undeclared consultancy income that is deposited straight into a bank account without ever troubling the taxman. As with the extra Haddington Road hours the systems is policed by sending around an email asking people to grass on themselves. Very effective.

Do people ever cheat on their taxes on Wall St?

This thread has been a lot more sensible than anyone could have expected, given the topic.
Though of course bats**t crazy by any reasonable standard ; )

Just wait till results start to flow….hoo boy…the guano will be kneedeep

Good point – labour is still ridiculously overtaxed in Ireland compared to other sources of wealth. The whole ‘income inequality’ agenda we are promised for 2014 is a great distraction for the wealthy.

@ JG

“wealth is created via taking risks”
or capturing regulators , which isn’t particularly risky

and is it really wealth when the markets are ultra volatile ?

@ brian lucey

No Brian, it is not taking money under “false pretences” but it is taking money under pretences.


Off topic – €3.75bln of 10 year Irish bonds sold at 3.54% today. Huge demand. Looks like there is more than enough demand out there to keep this place afloat a few more years. The end game was supposed to be a lot nastier than this wasn’t it? Also, record service PMI this month – that’s most of the economy in boom territory.

@JF on your first point,when you get really good,say walk on water type,ya get sweat equity,no money down, and free carried interest or back end piece after hurdles are cleared,heads you win tails you win all taxed at astonishing low rates.

Nothing but good news,what could possibly go wrong… Buffett:)

“In a bull market, one must avoid the error of the preening duck that quacks boastfully after a torrential rainstorm, thinking that its paddling skills have caused it to rise in the world. A right-thinking duck would instead compare its position after the downpour to that of the other ducks on the pond.”

@seafoid,cash talks BS walks,whats your point?


The Celtic Duck – I like it. Kevin Gardiner made his reputation on the back of the Celtic Tiger. You could be the guy who coined the Celtic Duck. Copyright it – take a risk, add value, create wealth, Bob’s yer uncle.

@JF its all yours,who says theres no such thing as a free lunch,i already made my FU money courtesy of Uncle Sam’s not Bob and its low CGT rate but thanks:)

Oh also not in the slightest ‘anti’ academic,in fact a huge fan of Eugene Fama,his track record is simply outstanding,big spread in this weeks barrons on “A Different Dimension”,apols behind paywall but here i hope is a small sample of his insights.Nice little nixer too,hard argue with his value add and wealth creation skill set continues to teach too….keeps his snout out off the public trough!

@ JG

I was talking recently to someone who was offered 20m for a local radio station in 2007. He said he was glad he didn’t bite because he would have invested the money in bank shares.

Cash talks but it depends on what you do with it afterwards, innit.

@seafoid,if you ever get a offer you can’t refuse,take it but yeah keep in mind always who’s financing the buyer.
Oh you can just build a big FU house beside the ocean with it,almost drink and drug yourself to death until finally you c the light and embrace a higher power:)

As previously noted in a previous context, current world CB (particularly Fed of course) approach to money printing is “forcing” the market. Sovereign investor money must work….or individuals working that money get fired! In this context, the 3.5% is an improvement but it’s a relative play (to the other PIGS), plus implied EU /ECJ proxy support. Ireland is the best of a bad bunch…..and is benefitting accordingly.

However, even at 3.5% interest rate, Ireland’s financial situation continues to slip and remains “unstable”. The reason is simple – its interest cost remains (compounding) well above its GDP rate….so debt /GDP continues to deteriorate, and the country continues to borrow and borrow more in absolute terms also…..If the growth rate doesn’t therefore pick up, stabilization gets further away and it will get worse….but over time. The reduced interest rate is good news, therefore, but is not enough to stop the rot…merely slows the rate of rot a bit.

Some may switch to debt /GNP for Ireland which recently would reflect a better picture perhaps that debt /GDP…..arguable, not totally invalid.

Beyond that, and as we have seen re Ireland’s 2013 figures, it’s 2013 performance was underpinned by once off pluses I.e. Non recurring. Recurrent growth /income is needed in 2014 and beyond in the absence of readily available, further once-off “fillers”. That said, the Uk’s recent positive performance is helping……as is the US recovery.

So, the country’s finances continue in the wrong direction is what I conclude (overall), but at a slower pace…….However, approaching very high absolute levels of sovereign indebtedness of course, so the country remains very vulnerable to external shocks in particular. Irish politicians trying to buy the next election can also add to the interest rate spike risk…..etc.

Is that “good news”? I don’t think so. Risks continue to be to the downside.

@ Johnny Foreigner

Irish PMI (purchasing managers’ index) survey data in recent times has diverged from the real world position.

1) In manufacturing, drugs account for about 50% of goods exports and in November for example, official production data showed a monthly plunge of 12% related to the patent cliff, which was not reflected in the PMI survey.

2) On services, the CSO produces a monthly activity index based on a sample of more than 2,000 and the results are more modest than the PMI services data. The CSO data is generally ignored.

The biggest services firms are booking big chunks of their global revenues in Ireland. So when the Dec PMI report says: “New business from abroad continued to rise, with the UK highlighted as the main source of new export orders,” most of that could be tax-related transactions with eg Google UK.

3) Industrial property take-up in 2013 was back to 2007 levels. That is good news but keep in mind that there was no industry bubble in 2007.

4) …and finally, on Tuesday, the Italian bond yield spread with the 10-year German bund was down to 1.99%. What has Italy done to deserve that? 😕 The Spanish yield spread was at 1.92%.

If the services PMI is so divorced from the real economy why did it ever go below 50?

@ Johnny Foreigner

In 2009, there were falls in almost every services export sector. ‘Computer services’ was flat while business services was the only category that showed a rise.

The PMI rose above 50 in early 2010 when the economy was still shedding jobs.

In Dec 2012, the New Export Business indicator had been in positive territory for 17 months, with Dec’s reading the highest recorded since September 2006.

As the PMI measures the rate of change of activity, the pace of change in computer services has surged in recent times: a 37% jump in Microsoft’s Irish booked revenues in 2011/2012, Google rising by 25% and Facebook’s Irish booked revenues accelerating.

The CSO’s services index rose 4% from end 2009 to Oct 2013.
@ Paul W

David McWilliams asks:

“Has anyone told them that they are on the hook to pay for a lifestyle that the Irish, Spanish and others want but can’t afford?”

This is an issue that contemporary politicians will not address but I’ll repeat what should be a self-evident truth: the pre-2008 ancien regime world is not going to be restored.

Janan Ganesh wrote in The Financial Times Tuesday on the postwar baby-boomer experience:

“But that lifestyle was actually a historical aberration, the product of almost miraculously benign circumstances that are not going to repeat themselves. During the cold war, Britain was in economic competition with North America, western Europe, bits of east Asia and not much else. China, India, Russia, eastern Europe and much of Latin America were locked out by their own communism or national protectionism. It is no trick to deliver steadily rising wages to the average British worker when the world’s most populous nations are not part of the global labour supply.”

Demand for food increased throughout the 20th century, but thanks to higher yields, prices fell (in real terms). Yet they have risen by almost 120% since 2000 as yield improvements slowed, demand for feed went up, and agriculture endured droughts, floods, and variable temperatures.

McKinsey Global Institute says that with the notable exception of the 1970s, oil and gas prices (in real terms) were flat or fell throughout the 20th century. Yet energy prices have soared by an average of 260% since 2000 as a result of a combination of strong demand (notably from China) and rising supply costs.

China could falter but increasingly, emerging market companies will compete with their OECD rivals.

In 1793, the Chinese emperor rejected the request of a British delegation led by George Macartney (1737-1806), an Irishman, to open diplomatic relations with the British.

Emperor Qianlong in a letter to King George III said: “we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and I have no use for your country’s manufactures.”

In a decade, China’s R&D spending will match the US. China may not be the world’s biggest economy by then but still, in the West, the evidence of the old certainties eroding is there for those that wish to see.

@Robert Browne
“No Brian, it is not taking money under “false pretences” but it is taking money under pretences.”
What, pray, are those? Come on man, spit it out…

“In 1793, the Chinese emperor rejected the request of a British delegation led by George Macartney (1737-1806), an Irishman, to open diplomatic relations with the British.”
And then in 1840 China was utterly defeated in a war, which started around trade access, it having suffered a massive internal rebellion. within ten years it suffered two more defeats and a worse rebellion which cost in excess of 20m lives.
Modern china is in essence the ultimate successor state of the Mongol Yuan state. It has been a unitary state for a long time now, but the history of china is one of the struggle between centrifugal and centripetal forces. The overwhelming power of the PLA to suppress the regions is now exactly that. But then in December 755 the Tang dynasty was probably , relatively speaking, the most powerful unitary state that China has ever seen and (adjusting for technology) perhaps the most powerful ever in the world. And then it all fell apart within 7 years with the bits and pieces falling for another 100.
History moves in rhythms and cycles and echos. Lets hope its not January 755…

PAul W
David seems to have missed the close to primary balance we have. We are no longer borrowing for a lifestyle we cant afford – we are in large part borrowing to pay for the lifestyle we had, to continue the analogy.

@ JG

I was surprised that so many people believed in the banks. I personally know 4 of the previous generation who all had serious money wiped out in UBS/AIB/BoI/RBS. I wonder what that experience on the wider population scale will translate to in terms of overall confidence in markets over the longer term.

Debt is debt and interest is interest…..the OBS obligations of the country need to be factored in. Just because NAMA, etc are it ogg balance sheet, or write-downs of capital in banks are deferred doesn’t get over the fact that Irieland’s financial position is overall deteriorating. Another couple of years maybe (length of time is something everyone has misjudged in a world of instant demands and replays), but there is more reckoning ahead…..I think that his prediction of European market bond disruption is worthy of note, albeit the credit pricing explanation in his piece is only one part of a complex situation of course.

What’s your take on the once off “fixers” /non-recurrent income in the 2013 analysis? How will the resultant gaps in 2014 and beyond be filled (beyond more sales of the silverware eg Bord Gais (or whatever it’s called these days)?

Could you please supply the latest primary surplus gap info and trend info again, just to keep us plebs up to date.

Ps. if you think the potential for primary surplus is strong and will stabilize Ireland’s Fiances (make up for GDP growth shortfall? In the debt servicing context for instance), perhaps you could explain….? You have referred to this “holy grail” a number of times now…perhaps it needs a thread of its own.

Unemployment down again! “The unemployment rate fell again in December, dropping back to 12.4 per cent from 12.5 per cent the previous month, as 3,300 fewer people signed on the Live Register. The rate is now at its lowest since May 2009, and,following 18 consecutive monthly decreases, has significantly improved from a peak of 15.1 per cent reached in February 2012.”

@ JF + jg: A key statistic you need to see is the proportion (or percentage) of the adult working-age population [AWAP] (ie. 18-66 year olds) who are in full-time employments. If this is below 60% (in a western developed economy) – watch out! If it falls below 55% – then there is a serious problem. At that level you are effectively in a situation of long-term structural un-employment – which is fearfully difficult to reverse out of.

I asked MH about this some time back – the figures he provided me showed that we were at 53%. The US is, I believe, at 58%. You would need to carefully check these estimates. I cannot confirm how reliable they are.

The AWAP will vary up and down, so will full-time employments [FTE]. Hence the ratio of FTE/AWAP should be a more valid economic estimate. There are several other labour participation metrics that you need: median salary/wages (by sector, if possible) and estimates of part-time employments.

The un-employment rate, absent the above estimates, should be considered an unreliable statistical estimate. But you won’t hear that being admitted.

re: Unemployment rate:

Good News, again.

Yet I wonder how many of those ‘signing off’ are doing do as a result of changes to the State Pension rules that became effective in April 2012, and also in Sept 2012.

Some people, who would have qualified for a State pension through a combination of signing on and ‘working’ for just 10 years, will not qualify under the new, post April 2012, rules.

The changes introduced will affect many people and this certainly includes retired PS personnel (eg Gardai etc) , who may have previously qualified for an additional State pension based on 10 years ‘stamps’ and would have been ‘signing on’ or working towards that objective.
The new rules will now disbar such entitlements either fully or to some degree.

Equally, emigrants that returned to Ireland from certain countries during the 1990s, are in for a shock when it comes to claiming what they thought would be the full old age pension.

It seem logical that the live register would be affect by this policy change.


the US % employed is very low and it makes a mockery of the Fed’s use of the % unemployed as a trigger for bond purchase write down. It seems an awful lot of people have given up.
Johnny F must be a troll.

Would a 3 year postdoc research post to investigate why Ireland does not do evidence based policy not add greatly to the sum of national insight (which is well below 50 if compared to the PMI) ?

I see Baldy has been nominated by the Banker magazine as Finance Min. of the year. How depressing. Virtually no reform where it counts. The bond yields are down and that is all that matters.

The next breakdown is going to hit Ireland really hard given that nothing has changed.l

“The next breakdown is going to hit Ireland really hard…”

It’s always next year with you guys isn’t it? Are you a Liverpool supporter by any chance?

Mario Draghi should be the Irish banker of the decade, without him interest rates in Ireland would be more than double what they are now.
Noonan just happened to be in office at the right time. But then being there amounts to 90% of it.

@ MH: “You’ve made my day!”

And yes, being situated in the appropriate location at an opportune moment – aka: just plain luck! Mind you, having some sycophantic twits(-ters) to assist you must count also.

@Paul W

Thanks for the link. After all the fluff of recent weeks finally reading some that stacks up against reality.

His statement re Ireland that there is little room for error is very true. Most if not all safety buffers have been depleted at very least, something John McH has previously alluded to.

Having chosen the path it did, Ireland a needs to maintain fiscal and financial discipline. Speaking to PWC and KPMG Dublin recently, it is worrying that the general view there is that the crisis is contained and there is room for some let up (presumably meaning tax cuts and the like, as now being espoused by the Govt).


Nice of the ECB to keep all those gilts at the CBI so the savings can go on pre-election tax cuts – especially given current Irish bond yields.

Good job those German physicists don’t understand this stuff!


Quite sure the CBI nowadays understands liquidity versus solvency……However, Govt ministers see liquidity as an excuse to “have a foreign holiday”…! Not for everyone in the audience of course.

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