10 things more important than essay mills

The Irish government, via Minister Bruton, is to “clamp down” on essay mills. That trying, in effect, to outlaw d’internet is doomed to failure is indicative of how little sensible focus is exerted on real challenges facing the higher education sector. Here are ten things that are more deserving than essay mills of  ministerial press releases, actions, legislation, appearances on morning radio. There are at least a dozen more but this is a start.

  1. Despite at least two reports over the last decade showing chronic underfunding of the operating core of the higher education system (Hunt and Cassells)  no decision has been made on any form of answer to this.
  2. Ditto the eroding capital base. Literally billions are needed in te next decade and a half (per Cassels) to bring institutes up to modern standards. There has been no serious discussion of this. It wont come from government, we can infer.
  3. Some institutions face serious dropout rates. This is a waste of resources and a massive blow to students. The roots lie less in the third than the second and first level systems – there is only so low in learning outcomes one can go at third level before it becomes , well, not third – but in so far as it illustrates a failure to prepare for this by additional or better focused resources at all levels, its unaddressed. The same lack of preparedness lies at the heart of the issue of low takeup from more socially excluded areas.
  4. There is a complete lack of joined up thinking in the state about international students. We cannot expect to bring in tens of thousands of students from vastly different cultures without major support structures for all. Nor can we then expect them to faff about with an archaic and suspicious GNIB system.
  5. We have no effective national monitoring of research activity. We dont need a REF, but we do need to acknowledge that there are large numbers of faculty in the higher education system doing little research even if the systems allow.
  6. Dito for teaching. Teaching quality is, to put it mildly and speaking only for myself, spotty!. There is little coherent planning on enhancing teaching and communication skills, and little sense of urgency. There seems to be a perception that teaching and learning quality is invariant to the scale – ten, a hundred, five hundred its all the same so pile em high.
  7. We want universities and IoT’s to be world class. But we tie their hands in terms of staff pay and conditions. Indeed we tie their hands in terms of staff numbers and composition via the Employment Control Framework.
  8. No serious planning seems to have taken place as to how to utilise the descent into xenophobic madness that is Brexit. A large part of the purported “flood” of migrants into the UK is in fact a hugely succesful export industry of international students. These are already feeling the chill and we seem to be disinterested, at a national and sector level, in picking up the pieces. We are going to let Australia and Canada reap the benefits
  9. There is scarce a mention of arts, social sciences and humanities in national dialog, the perception being that STEM is all there is worthy of funding and all that “industry” wants. In fact, we outperform on AHSS over STEM and the skills of AHSS graduates in terms of flexible thinking under tight resource constraints are exetly what we need to deliver
  10. There remains no path to growing new universities. Not technological ones – what, the existing ones are dumb? – but full fledged ones. This is despite strong evidence of the significant impact on economic growth that comes from  full on universities with the broad range of faculties we associate with same

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