Korean steelworks

Korean steelworks

Once again the Irish media are focussing on league tables and proclaiming “Irish academics at bottom of the class” not because such a statement bears much relation to the truth, but rather because it fits with the current antipathy towards academe and, indeed, it might be argued, general animosity towards the public sector. It’s easier to paraphrase a press-release from a rankings company than it might be to delve into details only to reveal that the truth is a little less clear cut and perhaps even points in a very different direction.

I’ll let those colleagues who are usually outraged by these sorts of things handle the detail, as many of them have already done through twitter, blogs and comments. It’s just unfortunate that the need to respond may come across as defensive; a reaction to accusations and challenges; always being caught on the hop as it were. Would that there was a voice (or many voices) that promoted a positive narrative that champions the good work being done, the effort being expended despite the relative low levels of funding of education in this country.

Comparing unlike with unlike; countries with massive industrial investment and hugely profitable home-grown multinational consumer product and industrial equipment manufacturing, such as South Korea, with Ireland is quite frankly, silly. In that country more than half the total funding for the tertiary sector is delivered by private sources and has been since the early 1990s. Indeed an article last year from the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education gives a much richer picture of  Korean Higher Education and explains the challenges being faced there in terms of quality, the range of types of institution and the linkages with industry.

And as to whether the lack of private funding in countries such as Ireland and the UK is a sign of the ‘failure’ of academics, or says something more about the private companies and their attitude to profit vs investment, is of course a question few have raised in the newspapers this morning, despite a parallel story about potential ‘loopholes’ for companies who might be able to claim to be investing in R & D for tax purposes without actually doing so.