Save the Date: September 30 Conference on Higher Education Funding in Maynooth

On Wednesday, September 30, we are holding a one-day conference on ‘Higher Education Funding: Drawing on the International Experience’ in Maynooth.

The context for this conference is the debate on how to fund higher education in Ireland. In 2014, the Minister for Education established an Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education, and the motivation for the conference is to inform the discussion about the choice of funding options available; we have a particular interest in the interaction between funding mechanisms and differential access to higher education along socioeconomic lines.

International speakers include Sara Goldrick-Rab of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has written extensively on the issue of higher education funding in the US; Claire Crawford of Warwick University and the IFS, who has written several detailed analyses of the UK system; and Bruce Chapman of the Australian National University, whose name is particularly associated with income-contingent student loans, both in terms of his academic research and his role as policy advisor to many governments.

Local speakers include Rory O’Donnell of NESC and Delma Byrne of Maynooth University.

The conference will be open to all. I’ll post further details here in the coming weeks.

Update: Full details are now available here.

14 replies on “Save the Date: September 30 Conference on Higher Education Funding in Maynooth”

I think funding needs to be linked to outcomes…and frankly that means to what extent you can improve your student’s human capital in the labor market they enter.

Once you can link to outcomes the business of getting the funding is a lot easier.

. . . because the purpose of higher education is to provide worker drones for industry and nothing more . . .

. . . because money is the measure of all things and one need know no more than that . . .

@Desmond Brennan: On linking funding to outcomes, do you mean funding of institutions of or students – the issues are very different in each case. For institutions the result might be an even greater pressure to inflate grades – A’s for everyone in the audience. For students there are already elements of this: the points system gives access to high prestige courses depending on the outcome of your Leaving Cert. Also so-called “free” tuition is contingent on passing exams,

@Ernie Ball: I know that Higher Education is under pressure from very crass utilitarians who would like to replace real education with “training”. The real problem may be one of quantity: Ireland has a far higher proportion of under 30s with a University degree than places like Germany and some recent ESRI research points to widespread over-qualification of many people for the jobs they hold. We need perhaps a smaller University system and a larger and much higher quality apprenticeship and industrial training system. A pity the Troika didn’t hammer this one home while they were here.

Recent data on 3rd level participation rates show that for all types of higher ed the participation rate in Dublin 6 is 99%. How far down the ability distribution is this?

Anyhow, well done to the organisers. Great to see Bruce Chapman back: he is fondly remembered by some old UCD hands.


I agree that student numbers are a problem.

Here is the logic that led some saxophonists in the 40s and 50s to take heroin:

1) Charlie Parker is a great saxophonist.
2) Charlie Parker is a heroin addict.
3) If I take heroin, I will be a great saxophonist.

Similarly, the government here (and not just here) uses the following “logic” to justify universal third-level education:

1) People with third-level degrees are (more) employable.
2) If everyone gets a third-level degree, everyone will be more employable.

At present, in my field, about 15% of the cohort can do university-level work. The rest tend to be made up of: 1) rote learners who think that memory is the only faculty that they need to worry about exercising (I’d say these make up about 50% of the students); 2) those who have no business in a university at all and who see the goal as passing while doing the absolute minimum–little or no attendance, plagiarising every assignment they can, etc. (35% of any given cohort).

In addition, thanks to absolute dominance of neoliberal ways of thinking according to which everything is a business and students are customers, poor students have become extremely demanding. They are paying (something) for their education and they aren’t paying me (in their minds) to move them out of their comfort zone or to do anything other than provide the “satisfaction” that is measured on student surveys.

So you can imagine the dilemma my colleagues and I face: do we dumb it all down to the level of the herd? Or do we stick to standards only a small rump can still meet?

The ideology that led us here would seem to dictate that grade inflation isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. After all, aren’t students with firsts more employable than those with second-class or lower degrees?

The vast majority of graduates will not continue into academia.

Thus what they study in college and the marks they get end up being determinants of where they they enter the labour market

I think it is sensible to offer even very bright students a more vocational aspect to their learning

Overall funding for their chosen education needs to be linked to the value they can get out of it

@John Sheehan
Need to move towards a student loan model…and different courses of the same duration. ..costing different amounts of money

@Desmond Brennan:
If you have a student loan scheme which takes into account the different cost and duration of programmes that is funding linked to inputs, not outcomes.

While it might be a good idea, the politicians and media would not wear it. It would be too “neoliberal” (awful word) not only for Ernie Ball but for about 99% of the political establishment.

@ DB: “Need to move towards a student loan model …”

??? As in the US of Amnesia? Like a hole in the head we do!

Make every undergrad – with a few very exceptional exceptions, pay the full economic rent for their education. Paying customers tend to be a tad nitpicky. Maybe this would be very non-PC. But demanding that taxpayers fund third-level education is (and will eventuate to be) a non-sustainable economic and fiscal activity.

@ Brian Woods Snr:
You say make every taxpayer with very few exceptions pay the full cost of their education. Well for a start, bang would go the chances of the child of anyone who is unemployed, an unskilled minimum-wage worker, and many more of modest means.

OK, the relatively poor would not be funding through their taxes the college education of the relatively well-off, but their children would have very poor educational prospects.

Income-contingent loans are one way of tackling this dilemma. Having said that, there are big practical problems with implementation.

Brian Woods: I don’t think you are familiar with this topic. The loan model in the US, a mortgage type loan, is not what is being increasingly used. Instead, countries are looking to income contingent loans with long terms and debt forgiveness after a point. This is a sensible system.
A lot of what you hear about the US system is myth or based on atypical cases. Very few US graduates (with 4 year degrees) leave with large debts: 69% leave with debts of $10k or less. Only 2% leave with debts of > $50k.
Moreover problems of defaulting on debt is much more common among those with small debts (< $5k). That is because they are college drop-outs who can't get a job.
As for your solution: clearly undergrads won't be able to pay for their education at the time unless they have well off parents. Is that what you have in mind? Loans, especially income contingent one's solve this problem. However there will still be a problem for those from low income backgrounds, probably because of debt aversion. So some means tested grant system would also be needed.
I don't know of any Western country that doesn't require some taxpayer contribution & I can't see why there should be.

Thanks Aedin. I did have a problem with my mobile broadband connection – was dropping in and out.


John, thanks for the two posts. I am well aware of the interconnected problems with third-level funding. The current structure is not sustainable – no matter how you organize it. Its effectively a significant income subsidy for one set of taxpayers at the expense of others. And student loans of whatever stripe fall into the non-sustainable category. It simply off-loads (time-shift?) the payments. That means that graduates have to be able to access incomes which will be sufficient to re-pay any (and all) borrowings. And that scenario is not looking good anytime now. So, prospecting the future seems like betting on the gee-gees up at Leopardstown. Exciting stuff, but not very smart. So what to do? Exactly!

“Pass the plastic and carpe diem!”

Comments are closed.