Archive for the ‘Higher education’ Category

Universities should take to the ‘lifeboats’


Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Common wisdom suggests the state will not be ready to co-fund the IMF-EU deal by mid 2012. Another deal will accompany a slash in payments to the social sectors including Education. Is the third level sector ready for such a crisis?

The Irish State pays a core grant to our third-level institutions for each undergraduate student, and, in an equal amount, funds the majority of research and postgraduate fees (scholarships). The latter is managed by a proliferation of various third level education bodies which we label Quangos. The sector has developed an unnaturally high dependency on the public finances. This dependence is currently anywhere between 65 to 88 per cent in most Higher Education Institutes

The funding of third-level Quangos now represent an unsustainable overhead on the sector, as this form of finance flowing from the State is on the decline. The indirect costs or the administrative structures that have mushroomed during the boom (which distributed State money) are now vestigial and are turning into a major financial headache and constraint on the sector. The HEI’s must replace these funds with international research grants and postgraduate students. The Quangos are largely ill equipped to induce and manage this change.

The Universities, while undertaking many good reforms, made the mistake of allowing indirect costs inside universities to grow to over 50 per cent. Frontline lecturers’ salaries now only account for 25 per cent of the overall cost of the sector, when we include the overheads of Quangos. Academic salaries have collapsed by 25 per cent (net) since 2008. Most academic units have also lost up to 15 per cent of their staff via retirements or voluntary quits. These savings are returned and retained by the State and not by the Universities.  The oversized non-academic and undersized academic units are finding it a challenge to refocus efforts into securing funds from outside of Ireland. Academics need to be empowered to make such change happen.

What is the solution proposed by State and its agencies to cope with the current crisis?

An imposed agreement, under the false premises of Croke Park, to increase productivity levels of declining numbers of frontline lecturing staff is their answer. Not surprisingly, these productivity increases can never pay for what are now largely indirect costs in the sector.  New income streams are needed: higher levels of international students who pay fees, more EU and Global research funding successes, and private sources.

Yet, all hiring and promotions (whether funded by the State or not), that have come under the State’s employment control, are now banned. The most recent instalment of employment control wants to redeploy academics within and across institutions. There are even conditions on the nature of research that is allowed. The focus of such is on the disciplines that will drive the smart economy (see

This is a ludicrous attempt to turn academics into public servants. The agents of the State seem to have no idea how knowledge is created and dispersed. Academics in a global market face competition from serious creators of knowledge and find every international student and grant is a hard battle won.  Publishing in the leading journals and university presses is like winning Olympic medals in terms of a lifetime dedication to the cause. Academic credentials need to be first class, a Ph.D. from a top University and ground breaking publications. Academics need the time and space to perform at these levels.  Imposing constraints on academic freedom and tenure will only give our competitors an advantage over us, deter international students and grants from coming here and could rupture our growing reputation in scholarship internationally. The idea that an academic in UCD that gets a research grant from a major donor should first see if there is someone surplus to requirements inside UCD and then search in other universities, or even State departments, before hiring a post-doc clearly indicates to me that the state has no idea how knowledge is created. Incentives are for academics to leave Ireland rather than refocus efforts.

What do we do?

Universities have to realise the State is broke. Just like the State should have understood the Irish Banks were broke, now the Universities have to drop the State like a hot potato (Taxpayers and the IMF-EU would approve).

Trinity by the nature of its charter and academic ownership of its property can break from State faster than most.

The first move would be to establish income streams from undergraduate fees, increase the number of international students and external research income.

Most Universities like Trinity already have private enterprise on campus in terms of the library shop, rented accommodation, a Foundation office and Campus Companies. These could turn a higher profit to fertilise academic scholarship.

The University of Dublin, and the National University of Ireland, could create new colleges. Let’s call the one alongside Trinity College, “Christchurch College”. Christchurch could hire and promote and pay pensions on a private basis funded by the new income streams.  All existing contracts could be honoured by Trinity College.

The nature of self governance in a third-level institution means that academics rule. They can promote academic scholarship, and while doing so they can control all non-academic units and can easily restructure the internal indirect costs over-time and reduce them to less than 30 per cent, retaining these savings to invest in Education and Research.

The top slicing of finance by education Quangos would be removed and most importantly their ability to constrain academic freedom to create knowledge for use in a global society would come to a deserved end.

Some universities have endowments and assets that could buy the limited time to achieve such academic and financial security.

Even if the State does not default the case for the third-level institutions to break away from the influence of the State and its agencies is growing with every minute.

The Irish State is a sinking ship and academics need to escape on lifeboats labelled ‘University Charters for use when Academic Scholarship is put at risk from the State, Church or private interests’.  The Founders’ bequest throughout the centuries gives academics an instrument for use when academic scholarship is threatened. Academics need to use it now.

Unintended consequences, academic edition


Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Colm Harmon has a nice little piece on some (possibly) unintended consequences of current government higher education policy here.

Welfare and incentives


Monday, January 24th, 2011

Some of my students today complained – softly – about the workings of the Back to Education Allowance.    Like many such schemes globally it allows for some mechanism to maintain welfare payments whilst returning to full time education at both second and third level.   Laudable enough, although  I haven’t seen this evaluated in terms of impact but then again what is new for Irish policy.


Hunt Report


Friday, January 7th, 2011

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

Assessing business schools and scholars (4)


Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

The working paper is now available. Conclusions are by and large as before (2, 3), but details are different. This is the abstract:

The research performance of business scholars on the island of Ireland is evaluated based on their number of publication, number of citations, h-index and the same divided by the numbers of years since the first publication. Data were taken from Scopus. There is a large variation in both life-time achievement and annual production. Almost half of the 748 scholars have not published in an academic journal. Men perform better than women. More senior people perform better. There are distinct differences between disciplines, with accountancy performing poorly. On average, scholars in Northern Ireland perform better than scholars in the Republic. However, Trinity College Dublin has the top rank among the eleven business schools; Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin share the second place; and NUI Galway and the University of Ulster share the fourth spot. Irish business schools specialize in particular research areas so that mergers would lead to schools that can support a broader range of cutting-edge education.

This is the last opportunity to correct the data. (UPDATE: One name removed because of a legal threat.)

Sex discrimination at Spanish universities


Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Bagues and Zinovyeva have an intriguing piece over at Vox. There’s evidence that all-male promotions committees discriminate against female candidates (in Spain). The solution is sex quotas for committees. As women are underrepresented in higher ranks, this would put a disproportionate burden on the current generation of female senior academics. A neat intergenerational trade-off so.

Bagues and Zinovyeva’s propose to use sex quotas, but small ones. This may satisfy all concerns.

Ireland’s Failings


Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

For obvious reasons, Ireland has been a prominent feature of the Marginal Revolution blog, one of the best and most widely-read economics websites in the world. Tyler Cowen offers the following summary of Chapter 5 of Fintan O’Toole’s new book.

From Marginal Revolution:

“How Rich Was Ireland Really?

Not as rich as they thought. I’ve been reading Fintan O’Toole’s excellent Enough is Enough: How to Build a New Republic. Mostly it is an expose of Ireland’s crony capitalism and bad political institutions. On economic issues, chapter five offers up the following:

1. During the boom years, property accounted for 72 percent of all assets.

2. For infrastructure, Ireland ranked 26 out of 28 OECD countries.

3. Ireland had a higher share of slow fixed internet connections than in any other comparable country.

4. In terms of R&D or patents, Ireland was well below the OECD average in per capita terms.

5. In the OECD “human and income poverty” rankings, Ireland was 23 out of 25 countries, sandwiched between the United States and Mexico.

6. The country’s health care and educational systems are considered subpar.”

The overreliance on property is now something even the government takes as given but it is worth debating whether our health and education systems are really subpar in the sense mentioned and, in general, whether the whole Celtic Tiger was an illusion or not. There are plenty of things wrong with our education system in Ireland but is it really “subpar” in the sense of being worse than comparable countries? In terms of the health system, I will let commentors weigh in with opinions.

It is worth keeping in mind the substantial gains in life expectancy that occurred even during the late Celtic Tiger period. Life expectancy for people over 65 was the same in 1986 as it was at the foundation of the state and increased dramatically through the 90s and 2000s. We do not have precise evidence on what exactly drove these increases but it would be wrong, in my opinion, to say that we did not make health gains during this time. And this is not to excuse political decisions that saw vital vaccines and treatment of people with cystic fibrosis given lower prominence than the breeding of race horses. But it is worth having an open debate about where the country stands from a developmental perspective as well as a fiscal/monetary perspective. I released a paper recently called “From Angela’s Ashes to the Celtic Tiger: Early Life Conditions and Adult Health in Ireland“. Everytime I have presented it, someone says something like “it should be the other way around” or “you should add “and back again””. I find it hard to think of the broad progress in human development in Ireland in the last 50 years and not have some sense of belief in the potential of the country and some degree of pride of where it has come, even in the face of the current mess. If you look at the health of Irish migrants to the UK over the last 50 years you see huge improvements there also with recent migrants performing as well as or, to a large extent, outperforming natives compared to the 1950s and 1960s migrants who, as an average, are in far worse physical and mental health. It is worth beginning to ask whether what we are facing is a large fiscal and monetary blip with a forseeable exit point or a genuine developmental structural break where the real and profound gains in human welfare seen in Ireland are in danger of being reversed.

The Spirit of Ireland 2.0


Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

The Spirit of Ireland is back. A new glossy was distributed widely by email today. More than one-and-a-half year into the project, there is still no detailed plan, at least not in the public domain.

As before, SoI combines wind power with pumped hydro to create a stable supply of electricity. That would work. Unfortunately, wind power cannot compete without subsidies; and pumped hydro would further add to the costs. SoI is still silent on its cost estimates.

The latest plan is different from what we saw before. SoI aims to export most (all?) of the generated power. The idea is that Great Britain and the Continent are heading for a capacity crunch (likely in Great Britain, less likely elsewhere) and that Irish power would fill the gap. British electricity may well be very expensive around 2020, but it is unlikely that that will last very long. Gas-fired power stations can be built in a matter of years, and shale will keep down the price of gas.

I still fail to understand the business plan of SoI. I would be surprised if this is economically viable, but if others want to invest in it, that’s fine by me as long as they keep the taxpayer out of it. But if this is a commercial venture, then why send a glossy brochure to all and sundry? SoI apparently even visits schools. The glossy lists all sorts of social benefits, but no private ones. This strikes me as a plan to get subsidies.

UPDATE: Graham O’Donnell responds:

Hello Richard,

Thank you for your renewed interest in the project. In fairness to you and to others who have commented, the responsibility now rests with Spirit of Ireland to answer the questions you have raised.

Over the last two years, we have worked through every aspect of the project in great detail. While particular site-specific designs have not yet commenced, we have sufficient detailed costings across a number of locations to complete comprehensive business plans and financial projections. These show a robust technical, commercial and business model.

You were right about several things. Energy independence cannot be achieved in five years. It will take 5 to 6 years to build the first Hydro Storage Reservoir. Based on investor appetite, an additional location could commence approximately every two years thereafter. While be examined very many locations, 4 to 5 appear economically feasible. The smaller scale locations simply do not work.

Secondly, you are correct, it would not make economic sense to damage existing capital investments in thermal power stations. These make a valuable contribution to Ireland’s energy mix, security and exports. We need to optimise their use.

Our initial launch over 18 months ago, was a little flamboyant and in some respects very general, but the principles are sound.

First some basic facts about the project as it now:
1. No state subsidies are assumed to be received
2. Ireland’s energy needs are now being met. Any additional energy produced can be exported provided is done so on competitive terms.
3. Spirit of Ireland is not proposing to build wind farms. This was part of the original plan but there are sufficient number of wind farms in planning that a contracted approach is now the preferred route.
4. the cost of the Hydro Storage Reservoir is approximately 700 million Euro
5. another 700 million is required for substations and bulk power transmission
6. around 200 million is allocated to lower voltage networks
7. the business model is a mix of approximately 50% contracted wind and 50% power purchased from the Irish market at times of excess supply
8. unless required for reasons of security, relatively little power will be fed into the Irish system.
9. a separate capital and purchase envelope is being negotiated, to allow Irish wind farm developers to build additional wind resources. These would be owned by the developers.

About a year ago, following an enormous amount of detailed design, technical and financial analysis, the first draft business plan was produced. It was examined by financial groups in Dublin and London. We iterated this based on expert input, re-costed many aspects and built a succession of additional technical models. The results were very surprising indeed. The interaction between intermittent wind and large scale hydro storage is counterintuitive. Our initial technical models resembled the traditional pumped storage approach. By the time we had finished, a whole new methodology for the operation of storage with wind had evolved. This had very surprising and beneficial commercial results.

One significant mistake that some commentators made was that much energy would be wasted, because we pump all of the wind. This is not the case. In many normal circumstances, the wind simply passes the door. Energy is used only to keep the reservoir at levels sufficient to meet contracted demand.

The hydro storage reservoir produces revenue of between 600 and 800 million Euro per year for the average station. Larger ones produce proportionately more. Take away the costs of the purchased contracted wind power and a more than respectable profit is produced.

The financial assumptions do not include for receipt of the Irish Refit subsidy. Capital costs are kept low by building surface rather than tunneled hydro storage facilities. Framework agreements were negotiated with all the major wind turbine providers, such that significant discounts would apply where many turbines were purchased over a 2 to 3 year period. The keys to success are low capital costs, high wind capacity (33% assumed) and the ability to dispatch power at a time which achieves the highest commercial return.

With respect to ownership, our objective is that these assets are owned to the greatest extent possible by Irish people. The balance of investment can come from external sources. We cannot guarantee at this stage that the project will be funded. However, we can confirm that the level of interest internationally from very large sources of funds is extraordinary. Clearly they will only invest if the numbers and project risk work for them.

The greatest risk to the project is now perceived to be planning rather than technical or financial issues. There are no shortcuts to the planning or environmental processes. These have to be done by the book. It is our responsibility to ensure that we give this project the greatest possible chance of success by conducting a highly professional and consultative environmental and planning process. This has already started with able and generous direction and advice from government officials in Dublin and Brussels.

It is correct to say that wind on its own require subsidies. While wind is a free source of energy, it is not immediately dispatchable and therefore not predictably saleable to large buyers such as the UK power utilities. When combined with low cost storage in a symbiotic operation, wind can participate in any market on a predictable contractible – known price basis.

From a commercial perspective, every major UK power operator wants to buy dispatchable carbon free power. They will buy it from Ireland. They are all required by EU law that a minimum proportion of their generation output comes from renewable resources. The Italians and Germans, all face huge power shortages. The EU Energy Commissioner declared in a report of last month that Europe would need to spend up to EUR1 trillion to secure energy supplies. This Commission report is available on the web.

It is also correct to say that nobody knows the future price of gas. Some think it will follow the price of oil upwards, others that that link with oil will be broken. It is this very commercial uncertainty that means that large UK power buyers do not want to place all of their bets in gas power stations. The lights will not go out in the UK or anywhere else, but there is an extraordinary opportunity available to Ireland to export power to the almost unlimited British and EU market.

Our objectives are:
1. everyone recognise that Ireland has extraordinary wealth in terms of natural energy
2. create a coherent technical, commercial, legal and financial framework, which makes rapid large scale development of these resources possible
3. finalise business and investment plans, acceptable to international investors
4. create a structure which allows all current players to participate – private, semi state and community
5. to the greatest extent possible, ensure that the ownership and resulting profits return to the Irish people – in perpetuity

Some information on our website is out of date. It will be amended shortly.

We are in commercial negotiations with many parties and we cannot discuss all of the details of the project. However, within the constraints of time, we will try to answer any reasonable questions that people may have.

Kindest regards,

Graham O’Donnell

Ranking business schools


Sunday, November 21st, 2010

There is a new ranking of business schools by EdUniversal.

Seven Irish institutes make it into the top 1000 (2 in the top 100, 4 in the top 700). The methodology is particularly vague, so I do not know what it means. The ranking is based on a composite of other rankings plus a survey among deans. It seems to be mostly about teaching quality.

Anyway, two Irish universities come out well, so that is good.

Higher Education Policy Conference


Monday, November 15th, 2010

There are a few place open still at tomorrow’s event which focuses on higher education (rather than at university-based research).

Poverty of Irish Academia


Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

I’ve just recovered my composure after reading the following article in today’s Irish Times.  Its entitled “The top 100 best-paid in education” and is available here.

It should not have surprised me that all 100 are essentially full-time administrators.  The salaries of research professors all seem to be subordinate.  This contrasts sharply with UK universities (let alone US institutions)  where serious salaries are paid to top research talent.  Tell me I’m wrong: otherwise I’ll start sending food parcels to my separated brethren in the Republic.

Business schools and scholars (3)


Monday, November 1st, 2010

The third edition is here.

The records of more people have been vetted. Junior and administrative staff have been removed. And Cork has been added. The refined ranking is TCD, (QUB, UCD), (NUIG, UU), (UL, NUIM), DCU, UCC, DIT, NCI.

The main conclusions (here and here) still stand.

I also counted publications in top journals (score 4 according to ABS) by people affiliated to Irish universities. Less than 5% of people have published in these journals (while employed in Ireland); and less than 2% of published papers are in these journals. The scores are as follows: UCD (15), UL (7), NUIG & TCD (6), UCC (5), DCU (4), QUB (3), NUIM (1). Four people published three papers in top journals (while affiliated in Ireland): Patrick Gunnigle (24), Tom Turner (32), Rory O’Shea (74), and William Kingston (109). The number in brackets is their rank on life-time achievement (publication, citations, h-index). While some people want to exclude all but the top journals, I really do not understand that.

I’ll write up the paper now. Comments on the data should be made, by email, within the next two weeks.

McDonald and Cuffe on Metro North


Thursday, October 28th, 2010

On PrimeTime last week, Sean Barrett and Edgar Morgenroth cast severe doubt on the wisdom of Metro North. They are now joined by Frank McDonald.

Cairan Cuffe’s response starts with “[n]ow is the time to invest”. That says it all really. You can read the rest for yourself.

The Green Party is apparently still oblivious to the situation with the economy and the public finances. Cuffe wants to invest billions of euros in a project with a doubtful return. Gormley wants to spend unnecessary hundreds of millions of euros on waste disposal, despite warnings of his own EPA.  Ryan invests ESB’s money in electric cars and continues a subsidy scheme that does not deliver according to his own SEAI.

It is never wise to waste money, but now is a particularly bad time.

Dublin is badly served by public transport at present. Liberation of the bus market is the way forward.

UPDATE: Metro North got planning.

Business schools and scholars (2)


Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I decided to give an interim update of the assessment of business schools and scholars on the island of Ireland, because things have changed. Latest results are here.

The records of 18 people have been double-checked and corrected where appropriate. More significantly, I had overlooked a department in Maynooth which has been added. Another department employs two high performers without listing them on their front page.

As a result, the preliminary ranking has changed: TCD, (UCD, QUB), (NUIG, UU, NUIM), (DCU, UL), DIT, NCI. Brackets indicate institutions whose performance is similar.

Note that Cork is still missing.

I’ve added sex and rank where known. The sex results are not good. The rank results are roughly as they should be: professor > reader > senior lecturer > lecturer > junior lecturer.

There are two exceptions, however: Associate professors perform on par with full professors, and post-docs perform on par with lecturers. I would expect there to be progression from the former to the latter.

While looking at the ranks, I came across all sorts of weird stuff. Full professors without a doctorate. Teaching assistants with a doctorate. Lecturers of French (in a business school!). Senior teaching assistants. And one of the department runs a restaurant — ostensibly for experimental purposes.

Assessing business schools and business scholars


Monday, October 18th, 2010

Recently, Benoit and Marsh assessed the research performance of political scientists in Ireland and Ruane and Tol did the same for economists. It is business’ turn now.

There are 8 business schools in the Republic of Ireland that claim to do academic research (and another 11 that only teach). Early September, the 8 research-oriented business schools employed 543 teaching and research staff. For comparison, Queen’s U Belfast and Ulster U are also included. This makes a total of 761 business scholars.

For that reason, a simple method is used. Data were collected from Scopus only. Four statistics were gathered: year of first publication, number of publications, number of citations, and h-index. People’s name, affiliation, specialization, degree, rank, and sex were also recorded. The results are here (5 people updated).

The data have been cross-checked with CVs when online. Other than that, the data are not validated. If you are a business scholar in Ireland, please check your entries and send me an email when something is amiss.

There are preliminary results that are likely to stand up to vetting of the data.

Some 60% of business scholars in the Republic and 50%  in the North have never published in a journal included in the Scopus database. This is the most comprehensive database available, covering all the main journals and many minor ones (e.g., Economic and Social Review, Knitting International) — but not all (e.g., Irish Journal of Management, Irish Marketing Journal, Irish Marketing Review). University lecturers are partly paid to do academic research and a large number appear not to fulfill this duty — including some who are full professors. The fraction of research-active people varies dramatically between institutions, from 10% to 80%. It also varies between specializations, from 30% (accounting) to 75% (management information systems).

The life-time achievement varies substantially between business scholars. The highest number of publications is 91, the greatest number of citation is 499, and the largest h-index is 13. This indicates that the top business scholars of Ireland perform on par with the top economists and political scientists. Productivity varies too. The largest number of published papers per year is 6, the greatest number of citations is 37 per year, and the highest h-rate is 1 per year.

The top 10 (life-time achievement) consists of Paul Humphreys (UU), Rodney McAdam (UU) , Tony Brabazon (UCD), John Addison (QUB), Ronan McIvor (UU), Tom Begley (UCD), Brian Lucey (TCD), Rob Gilles (QUB), Brian Fynes (UCD) and Frank Barry (TCD). For productivity, the top 10 contains Rodney McAdam (UU), Karan Sonpar (UCD), Paul Humphreys (UU), Tony Brabazon (UCD), Maria Annunziata Liguori (QUB), Ronan McIvor (UU), Frank Figge (QUB), Brian Lucey (TCD), David Collings (UCG) and Regina Connolly (DCU). Recall that individual data still have to be vetted.

The institutions are very different too. The smallest has just 10 faculty, and the largest over 150. If we rank the institutions based on the average number of publications (per head and per active researcher), citation and h-index, and the average number of publication, citations and h-index per year, the following order emerges: TCD, UCD, QUB, UU, UCG, DCU, UL, NUIM, DIT, and NCI.

QUB ranks 19th in the 2008 RAE; UU ranks 49th out of 90 business schools. Although the RAE uses a very different methodology, this suggests that TCD and UCD are on par with the best 20 business schools in the UK, while the other business schools in the Republic are more like the worst 40.

In terms of research, most of the institutions specialize in 2-3 (out of 6) areas; UCD and UL cover 4. If these were businesses rather than business schools, one would recommend that the institutions limit their activities to their core competences. As there are horizontal economies of scale in teaching the various aspects of business, mergers would follow.

Smart, smarter, smartest


Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Another day, another committee. Forfas has established a high-level group to identify research priorities for Ireland. The group’s composition suggests that its recommendations will be demand-driven. Research is no good, however, unless it is top class. Ireland should research those things at which it can beat the world — and import all other knowledge.

Batt O’Keeffe reminds us that economic growth and job creation are driven by technological progress but forgets that this is true in the medium- to long-term. In the short-term, other factors are more important, as reported earlier by John McManus. Ronnie O’Toole adds that it is all good and well to focus on the export sector, but that the domestic sector urgently needs to be smartened up too — through regulatory reform rather than by spending money we don’t have.

Do Academics Only Work 15 Hours a Week?


Friday, September 24th, 2010

This is a touch on the navel-gazing side but, at the same time, since everyone seems to agree that having high-quality universities is an important element in future economic growth, it seems worthwhile explaining how academics actually work.


Exporting Irish Education


Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

The Government has just announced its plan to increase the number of non-Irish students in higher education by 50% between now and 2015, and to increase the “value” of the university sector by one third to 1.2 bln euro. The news bulletin and press release emphasize the targets, but are hazy on the implementation. After some digging, the underlying report can be found too. In this regard at least, education has something to teach to the other departments.

The report has a snappy title and great graphics, but is a bit hazy on the actual plan. It would of course be great if tens of thousands of non-EEA students would flock to Irish universities and pay a hefty fee that would cross-subsidize Irish students. But why would they? Ireland has the advantage that it teaches in English — but so do Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and, indeed, the Netherlands. Parents who wonder where to send little Yuan or precious Sujata may look at one of the university rankings and decide that there are more prestigious universities elsewhere. Ireland could compete on price, but that defies the purpose. Why would the Irish taxpayer subsidize the education of foreigners?

These considerations are not part of the report. In fact, little thought is given to the students or their parents. Two concrete measures are proposed. First, it will be easier to obtain a student visa. Second, there will be a major branding campaign. While branding is largely in your own hands if you sell butter, lager or dance, education is a harder sell. Substance should back up the image. Sending your kid abroad for 3-4 years is a major decision. The potential client is well-informed.

The report has an interesting factlet: Ireland has the highest proportion of students in the EU who study abroad. If our own students have so little confidence in the Irish universities, why would foreign students want to pay for the same?

Comptroller and Auditor General on the Universities


Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The Comptroller and Auditor General released a special report on the resource management and performance of Irish universities.

The report is 161 pages long. One part attracted a lot of attention: pay (here, here, here and here). The solution is rather simple: Introduce a special tax, rated at 100%, for unauthorized payments.

The report is not just about pay, though. The title has “performance” and Appendix C is supposedly all about that, but it is not. It is a qualitative assessment of the procedures in place and planned. All is fine if there is a committee to discuss it and a report going forward. Measuring academic performance is not the core task of the C&AG, but they could have hired a consultant. The report does lament that the universities are so bad at collecting data (about themselves) that any quantitative assessment of value for money would be impossible.

The report also describes resource allocation, which is by and large driven by the number of students. Quantity over quality.

The scale of the system is telling too. There are 27 institutes of higher education in the Republic. Seven universities have a total of 100,000 students. When I joined Hamburg U, we had 40,000 students (and one university president), but we merged with a neighbouring IT to gain economies of scale.

More uni rankings


Thursday, September 16th, 2010

THE and QS are now divorced, so more rankings for all.

The Times Higher Education ranking is out too (the number in brackets is QS):

TCD: 72 (52)

UCD: 94 (114)

Cork: >199 (184)

Numbers 200-399 can only be had with an iPhone.

The THE ranking is of course far superior than the QS ranking because the Vrije U Amsterdam does much better according to THE (139 v 171) and ranks higher than U Amsterdam.

See Indo and Times.

New university rankings


Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

The latest QS university rankings are out. The rules have changed, so comparisons to last year are nonsense.

Ireland has three universities in the Top 200: TCD (52), UCD (114) and UCC (184). The others require a bit of searching: UCG (232), DCU (330), DIT (395), Maynooth (401-450), UL (451-500).

It this good or bad? I counted the number of universities in the top 200. Ireland (4.4 mln people) does better than Austria (8.3 mln), Finland (5.4 mln), Greece (11.3 mln), Portugal (11.3 mln),  Norway (4.9 mln), Singapore (5.0 mln) and Spain (46.0 mln); about as good as Denmark (5.5 mln) and New Zealand (4.4 mln); but worse than Belgium (10.8 mln), Hong Kong (7.0 mln) and Sweden (9.3 mln).

Trends in economic research


Monday, August 30th, 2010

Cardoso and co have another interesting paper. Here’s the abstract:

Given the recent efforts in several countries to reorganize the research institutional setting to improve research productivity, our analysis addresses the following questions: To which extent has the recent awareness over international quality standards in economics around the world been reflected in research performance? How have individual countries fared? Do research quantity and quality indicators tell us the same story? We concentrate on trends taking place since the beginning of the 1990s and rely on a very comprehensive database of scientific journals, to provide a cross-country comparison of the evolution of research in economics. Our findings indicate that Europe is catching up with the US but, in terms of
influential research, the US maintains a dominant position. The main continental European countries, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, experienced some of the largest growth rates in economic scientific output. Other European countries, namely the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, have shown remarkable progress in per capita output. Collaborative research seems to be a key factor explaining the relative success of some European countries, in particular when it comes to publishing in top journals, attained predominantly through international collaborations.

Unfortunately, they did not include Ireland.

Performance of labour PhDs


Monday, August 30th, 2010

Cardoso and colleagues have a new paper in Scientometrics, comparing the performance of PhDs in labour economics graduating from Europe and the USA. They find that European PhDs publish more, but US PhDs publish more in high-quality journals (according to Kalaitzidakis).

UPDATE: Freely accessible working paper version.

Set them free (not)


Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Lucey and Larkin offer some thoughts on higher education reform. I either agree (evaluation, performance-related pay, fees) or do not know enough to have an opinion (curriculum*).

UPDATE: The Irish Times (2) has seen the report of the National Strategy Group for Higher Education. Strikes me as less radical than Lucey and Larkin.

* Clarification: I know a few anecdotes about a few courses at a few Irish universities.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University Rankings 2010


Friday, August 13th, 2010

The 2010 rankings are available here, although the site is very busy.

As a semi-Dane, I am pleased to see two Danish universities in the top 100, along with a Norwegian university and a couple of Swedish ones.

TCD is in the 200-300 group, UCD in the 300-400 group.

OK, so all these rankings are to some extent silly, but at least in our field the ones repec put out are ‘order of magnitude sensible’. And given the government’s stress on the ‘knowledge economy’, and the amount of coverage the Times rankings get in Ireland, it seems worth pointing out that not all rankings show Irish universities in such a favourable light.

The Shanghai rankings have had a major influence in France, where policy makers were very shocked by how poorly French universities fared in the initial years of this index. The result was a major shake-up of the higher education sector there, with universities being given a lot more control of their budgets and hiring procedures.

New bibliometric tool


Friday, August 13th, 2010

Scholarometer is a new tool to rank academics. It uses crowdsourcing to disentangle people with common names, and to attribute people to disciplines and subdisciplines. It has a widget to display your results on your homepage. And it uses the h_f index, which allows for the comparison of people across disciplines. Paul Krugman beats Stephen Jay Gould.

New rules for Times university rankings


Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I think academics all know about this already, but I wonder do the policy makers?

I have no idea if Irish universities are going to do better or worse this autumn, but if they do worse, then people will need to remember that the ranking procedure has changed.

The Lisbon Agenda: An Assessment


Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

The CPB has come a long way since it was founded, as the Central Planning Bureau, by Jan Tinbergen shortly after WW2. Besides giving solicited and unsolicited advice to the Netherlands Government — polite but frank — it is acquiring a similar role in Europe. Their latest publication is bafflingly in Dutch, but relevant to anyone in Europe. It is an assessment of the Lisbon Agenda.

At the beginning of the decade, European politicians promised all sorts of wonderful stuff for 2010. The CPB report wonders what came of that, comparing progress in the period 1990-2000 to the period 2000-2010.

Here’s a summary:

-Income per capita (Geary-Khamis): Economic growth in EU15 was slower after 2000 than before; ditto for Ireland; US and Australia show same pattern, but economic growth accelerated after 2000 in China, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand

-Labour participation (share population 15-65): Increase in EU15 was slower post 2000; ditto for Ireland

-R&D expenditures (share GDP): Increase in EU15 was slower post 2000; ditto for Ireland; US increase before 2000 but decline after 2000; China decline before 2000 but sharp increase after 2000; Japan and South Korea small increase before 2000 and sharp increase after 2000

+Education expenditure (share GDP): Fell in EU15 before 2000, rose after 2000; ditto for Ireland; US and China increase before and after 2000; Japan increase before 2000 but decrease after 2000

+Domestic waste (kg/cap): Rose in EU15 before 2000, fell after 2000; rose in Ireland before 2000, rose very rapidly after 2000

+Particulate matter (load): Rose in EU15 before 2000, fell after 2000; fell in Ireland before and after 2000

-Carbon dioxide (kg/cap): Fell in EU15 before 2000, stationary after 2000; rose in Ireland before 2000, fell after 2000; US, Canada, New Zealand increase before 2000 and decrease after 2000; China decrease before 2000, virtually no change since 2000; Japan increase before and after 2000

-Trust in peope: Fell in EU15 before 2000, stationary after 2000; ditto for Ireland; US, Canada, South Korea fell before 2000, rose afterwards; Japan rose before 2000, fell after 2000

+Corruption: Increased in EU15 before 2000, stationary after 2000; increased in Ireland before and after 2000; increased in US before and after 2000; increased in China before 2000 but fell after 2000; decreased in Japan before 2000 but rose after 2000

-Poverty (share of population under poverty line, before transfers): Fell in EU15 before 2000, rose after 2000; ditto for Ireland

-Poverty (share of population under poverty line, after transfers): Fell in EU15 before 2000, rose after 2000; rose in Ireland before 2000, fell after 2000

-Children in jobless families (share of population 0-17): Fell in EU15 before 2000, fell slightly after 2000; fell in Ireland before 2000, rose after 2000

That’s 8 negatives and 4 positives for EU15, and 8 negatives and 4 positives for Ireland (albeit different positives and negatives).

Kevin Denny: The Effect of Abolishing University Fees


Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Kevin Denny’s working paper on the effect of abolishing university fees in Ireland is available on this link


University tuition fees for undergraduates were abolished in Ireland in 1996. This paper examines the effect of this reform on the socioeconomic gradient (SES) to determine whether the reform was successful in achieving its objective of promoting educational equality. It finds that the reform clearly did not have that effect. It is also shown that the university/SES gradient can be explained by differential performance at second level which also explains the gap between the sexes. Students from white collar backgrounds do significantly better in their final second level exams than the children of blue-collar workers. The results are very similar to recent findings for the UK. I also find that certain demographic characteristics have large negative effects on school performance i.e. having a disabled or deceased parent. The results show that the effect of SES on school performance is generally stronger for those at the lower end of the conditional distribution of academic attainment.

Coleman: Obsession with PhD Economists


Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Marc Coleman continues to fight the good fight against the evil that is economists with PhDs. Coleman seems to be taking his campaign to a new level with his latest claim:

Academia must also change. The obsession with producing only PhDs is the main reason the crisis happened.

I read the last sentence and then started thinking of the number of ways in which it seemed to be wrong. I lost count at about five and then decided to go back to plotting the downfall of the Irish economy along with my other PhD-qualified co-conspirators.