Funding risk to third level colleges over ‘secrecy’

THE reluctance of third-level academics to open their work activities to scrutiny may put increased public investment at risk, the head of the Higher Education Authority warns.

As public debate about funding difficulties in universities and institutes of technologies gathers pace, with fears of further cuts to the €1.9 billion third-level budget next year, pressure is coming on academics to increase teaching activity and openness to their work.

Last year’s An Bord Snip Nua report proposed a review of hours worked by lecturers. The HEA has committed to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee to supply statistics on the hours spent by academics teaching undergraduates, conducting research, and on other duties.

HEA chief executive, Tom Boland said higher education colleges do not do themselves justice in transmitting what they do to the wider community.

“Questions asked as to the return on past and present investment are met with a response that is all too often lacklustre and wholly unconvincing to any reasonable sceptic,” he said.

Mr Boland said a lack of information is often the main challenge to having debate on higher education, making it more difficult to make the case for an extra share of public resources.

“For instance, there is a clear absence of data on staff activity, resource allocation, outputs and the achievement of targets. There appears to be a near fetishistic fear among many academics of sharing information with government, or even in some cases collecting it at all,” he said at an Ireland-UK joint conference at Dublin City University.

His comments come ahead of a meeting today between Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Harvard University president Dr Drew Faust, who gives a speech to the Royal Irish Academy tonight on the role of the universities. Despite cuts to its €2.9bn funding, she has reduced fees for middle-income students to make the college more accessible.

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