Free Education, isn’t…

The Mamas & the Papas

Do you remember that song from the 1965, ‘California Dreamin [on a Winter’s Day]’, by The Mama’s & The Papas? It was a great hit at the time and has shown true resilience over the intervening decades. As a matter of fact I had started to write this entry in a very different fashion and he lyric entered my head and I had to listen to it….and then the entire timbre of the article changed before my eyes! Anyway I digress, but seriously, please take a listen to some great 60’s counter-culture! California Dreamin. I have a link and although tentative, I think its relevant.

As a PhD student (final year, thank the gods!), take it from me; money does not fall from the sky like autumnal leaves. Even as the aforementioned song describes “All the leaves are brown/And the Sky is grey”, one must marvel at the metaphorical sight of all those fivers and tenners slowly spiralling down to form a blanket on the ground. Wouldn’t it be a great thing, if the simple things in life were, if not free, then at least valued and funded appropriately?

www.123rf.com
http://www.123rf.com

As a conference organiser seeking funding, I can tell you money does most definitely not fall in such a fashion! But yet again at CAO time we have a talking head pop up to tell us about this great knowledge economy we have here and how our third level institutions are so well funded, etc, etc. We  as anyone in academia knows, they’re not. I heard from a colleague a few years back that a leading Irish Third Level department had to sell some of their PHOTOCOPIERS to make ends meet after a budgetary shortfall.

The Royal Irish Academy (hat tip for kudos), have come out with a sensible position/advice paper aimed toward central government and perhaps as a broader conversation starter also in the Irish Third Level sector regarding not just the perennially raw topic of funding, but also the more pressing topic of student funding. We all remember the terrible hardship caused in 2012/2013/2014 by the disastrous SUSI website for online grants “processing.” Part-time (and personally I have MASSIVE issues with that misleading and pejorative term) students are being persecuted by the Irish education system and successive administrations for not being good little drones and entering into courses in the desire full-time fashion with other Secondary School graduates.

Professor Daly (to the right of An tUachtarán, Michael D. Higgins). www.ul.ie
Professor Daly (to the right of An tUachtarán, Michael D. Higgins). http://www.ul.ie

Grants are being withheld from people who, lets face it here, are trying to better themselves. Professor Mary Daly succinctly presents the case of the

“…bank official working full-time on €25,000 a year is being charged fees to study in the evenings, while the child of the bank’s CEO is entitled to the free fees scheme to study during the day?”

The Higher Education Authority has reported a significant drop of 9% of students embarking on a PhD and a 2% drop in those engaging with 3rd Level as a Mature Student in recent years. With all the Brouhaha (yes, I dropped the B-Bomb!) in recent years about the need for ‘re-training’ and ‘internships’, it should come as a significant surprise that during the same period Postgraduate students have had their access to maintenance grants significantly undermined by SUSI and the Irish government, the body pushing this great ‘knowledge economy.’

University rankings. Generally speaking, those who excel are those with greater funding. Irish Independent
University rankings. Generally speaking, those who excel are those with greater funding. Irish Independent

Now in ‘post-crisis’ Ireland (another massive bone of contention btw), with everything rising but the dead, students are faced with increased accommodation costs, not only in Dublin, but also throughout the country as a whole. So people will just commute from home or a cheaper place to live? Also on the rise is petrol/diesel, parking, public transportation fares. Fees are also continually and incrementally rising, with increases being used to offset declining central government funding. Those claiming that grants are quite generous are living in cloud cuckoo land; wages rose during the Great War also, but inflation effectively destroyed those paltry increases! Free Education, isn’t, basically.

www.independent.ie
http://www.independent.ie

There’s a massive disconnect between what the government want (and not just this one wither, in case I’m accused of Fine Gael/Labour bashing…though Ruairí Quinn, the former ‘Hypocrite-in-Chief’, did their credibility few favours) and what they’re willing to invest in. Perhaps as the RIA suggests a new model of student support should be entered into? I’m not blind to the needs of universities or IT’s to investment and upgrading of facilities and infrastructure, but something has to give here; many have an aging (and expensive) building stock, which were expanded during the 1960’s and 70’s and need modernising. And its probably going to be parents and students who will have to give in. A model which is used at the national and international level might be worth considering; a bond issue. If colleges were to issue a long term bond, which would accrue with profits generated over a thirty year period, it might provide for some financial stability and guaranteed income. Some profits from these campus based start-ups and spin-offs we hear so much about, could be channelled into this area, etc.

Taking (and breaking) the Pledge
Taking (and breaking) the Pledge

As a conclusion, we as a Third Level community must acknowledge that the system is at present not effective. it is creaking along and certainly not operating at the peak efficiency, which is desired. Unfortunately, one must wait and see are there any in the sector, especially the national parliament, who posses the ability to engineer and herald such dramatic and much needed change.

The Nuts & Bolts

NUI Galway

 

When you’re sitting at a conference, listening to the chair give his or her spiel about who they’d like to thank and why and how the committee was great, you’re probably like me….wishing they’d finish up rapido and let us all get on with the business at hand, namely the sharing of ideas and delivering of papers. Its like at the cinema, the trailers might be interesting, but they’re not the real reason you went there in the first place!

 

However after a few months working with the committee in Galway 2016, I have to admit, the credits have their place in the shake-up too. A competent team behind/beside you will save your bacon and sanity in one fell swoop! A team comprised of solid, dependable, innovative and hard workers might even allow you to enjoy the process! In Galway I would like to think we have that combination well mixed in. Its important to enjoy life, sure even the Big Fella kicked back as well…

Mick & Ché

Now wouldn’t THAT make for an interesting paper!

 

Since we last spoke, the committee and myself have all been hard at work on IHSA 2016. Documents, updates and a seemingly endless supply of pedantic edits (my own pedanticism) have been flying across the net and people have been expressing opinions, choosing menu options, wandering corridors looking at rooms, pricing suppliers and determining which coffee is best! Ask anyone, I’m an awful coffee snob; if I have to drink it on the 19-21 February 2016, then it will at least be decent swill! We’re working on hotels and other accommodation options to try and get the best deal for attendees and to get as much bang for your hard earned bucks as possible!

Eyre Square

I am becoming convinced that it is the nuts and bolts, the unseen spade work, that can make or break a conference. You can have a Nobel Laureate give you keynote, you can have the most amazing dinner and lunches, but if your budget is blown sky-high, if your hot beverages are well, not hot, or if your attendees have no idea what’s going on, then your perfect 10 will be heading in the opposite direction! And despite what anyone tells me (or you too), it does take a full year to do it properly. Now I’m not saying you’ll be at it 24/7, but you will give it a few hours every week in some capacity, even if its writing a blog like this, or emailing caterers, or sorting out a workshop. To approach matters in any other fashion would be to invite a downward spiral which could be hard to pull out of. To quote the late, great George Harrison, ‘It takes time/a whole lot of precious time/it takes patience and time/to do it, to do it right!’

IMG_5702

And with all this behind-the-scenes activity, I feel that it is vitally important to keep in touch with you, the public and potential attendees, to let you know that we’re working away and that if you give us your weekend in February next year, then we’ll give you a truly great, memorable experience with some lasting memories and positive outcomes! This year we hope to have even better outcomes than previously, with greatly expanded media of presentation, legacy plans and greater than ever avenues of participation.

The excellent Charlie Byrne's Bookshop in Galway
The excellent Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway

So keep the faith and we hope to have some great testimonials coming out in the next few weeks or so! As usual if you’ve any questions please feel free to email us on ihsa2016@gmail.com or leave us a comment below.