Irish universities could fall far behind leading international counterparts in the next two years if they rely too heavily on online learning, leading academics have warned.
Speaking on the Mazar webinar on higher education and research, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) chairman and economist Professor Peter Clinch said the infrastructure in Irish universities and institutes of technology were not on the same level as leading US institutions when it came to online and blended learning, which refers to combining traditional in-person teaching with online.
"There is a naivety about what it takes to really do good online or blended learning," he said.
"The current environment relies on individual academics finding ways to keep the show on the road. I notice my colleagues in top US universities and many areas of the public sector have had IT solutions delivered to their home.
"That doesn’t happen in an Irish university setting, academics have to sort out their own technology, find appropriate tools for online teaching, training themselves, all while trying to navigate the bureaucratic treacle of the numerous committees of rules and regulations."
Professor Clinch said that students would look to the US and other countries.
"If we think students are going to look for online or blended learning, they are not going to look for Irish universities, particularly at graduate or international level, because all the good programmes have significant investment in IT support at department level."
Newly-installed Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology president, Dr Orla Flynn, said blended and online learning could also pose societal problems.
"Some students are in remote locations with poor broadband or lack of equipment or struggles in their home environment, and indeed potentially our staff as well," she said.