So this week we had a ‘Global Irish Regional Forum” – whatever that is meant to mean. Attached to the national event in Dublin, this regional session gave an opportunity for the business sector to berate the public sector and in some cases to argue that we suffered here from not having a university in the top 100 in the World. More of the chatter about ‘underperforming’ and league tables continue in corners of the press. Of course, the fact that we are in fact one of the cheapest/efficient/underfunded (delete according to ideology) education sectors in the developed world and that despite financial cutbacks and significant reductions in staff, five of our seven universities remain in the Times Higher rankings and indeed most of them climbed upwards, seems only like excuses to the macho barons of business and those bitter commentators (that clearly had a bad time when they were students).
It is a shame, however, that once again such ridiculous rankings continue to pollute the thinking of those who should know better. The danger being of course, that chasing the numbers ends up utterly eroding the core values and purpose of educational establishments. That we end up living with a system that considers the publication of a paper in a reasonable journal as having more ‘impact’ than successfully graduating thousands of students every year. The number of students sitting in a lecture hall every week dwarfs, in many cases, the number of people who are going to read those research papers or books. But that doesn’t count. That’s what we should be doing anyway and with inspection, scrutiny, systems-level targets and standardization we’ll soon have that working as a nice steady production line with low-cost, contract employees turning the cogs. Maybe that’s the ‘disruption’ that some of these business ‘thought-leaders’ are on about, even if those in Ireland are only just picking up on battered, thumbed copies of last year’s airport business books. Maybe I’m being unfair, but ‘disruption’ is indeed what we’re enduring with reduced funding and worsening working conditions (for students as well as staff). Blood-letting, though popular in the middle ages, tends not to be a particularly effective approach to medicine.