If possible, I like to get the brain in gear by doing a little bit of early morning number crunching – it’s the engineer in me. So here goes…
The recent paper on the economic impact of higher education by Brian Lucey’s group in Trinity received a lot of intention and it certainly made us all feel a bit better about the value of what we do! But apart from the main point of that work there was some interesting data (2010-2011) presented that are worth looking at in the context of the Technological University debate. Consider the graph below which shows the extent to which the State funds both the universities and the IoTs – the red columns represent the average in each case.
Clearly the universities are better funded (by more than 33% on average) although it is interesting that there is such a variation across the two sectors – compare UL and TCD, for example. (Mind you this graph probably needs decent-sized error bars and different institutions have different needs and obligations.)
It is worth noting also, given current controversies, that IT Carlow is, on the basis of these numbers, the worst funded institution in the state, receiving only about half of the university average on a per student basis.
The data in the graph below shows the extent to which the various institutions rely on state funding.
The IoTs are more significantly more dependent on the State.
So, what does all of this mean for the TU initiative? The most likely outcome is that if and when TUs are established they will be simply told to go forth and source additional, non-exchequer, income streams – it is unlikely that the Government is going to make up the difference in funding per student. But raising money requires money and where will that come from?
Indeed, there are so many unanswered questions about the whole Merger/TU process that it is understandable that many academics in the IoTs are wary of the whole thing. The fundamental problems are (i) nobody seems to know what the effect of mergers on both staff and students will actually be and (ii) nobody seems to be able to say what a change to TU status for these merged institutions would actually mean in terms of their day-tot-day activities. There seems to be universal agreement among politicians, however, that the whole process is going to bring fantastic benefits. Interesting times ahead.