Which problem are we fixing by introducing this extra bureaucracy? The answer is none.
Having worked on the fringe and, in recent years, directly in the academic medical and academic scientific sectors for the past 19 years, I have a certain perspective on this matter. It is that we have not supported the sector well and that any deficiencies that exist within the sector cry out for reform of the way we organise, fund and support them. They do not cry out for increased bureaucratisation, which the proposed legislation will do. It will bring an additional bureaucratic oversight into organisations that are struggling badly for their resources.
The historically strong record of our universities and the unparalleled record our medical, science and other graduates have when they go abroad and rapidly develop fine international reputations that reflect well on our organisations are not reflected in the objective metrics of the international league tables. One must ask why that is. Are we getting an inferior product matriculating in? Clearly, we are not. Do people come out at the other side with degrees that are not internationally recognised? This is absolutely not the case. With Irish qualifications, one can have a huge level of respect and recognition and a high chance of advancement. The metrics used by league tables reflect resourcing in the institutions, principally factors such as staff to student and staff to faculty ratios, which are dismal in Ireland. They are way off the bottom of the scale.
I can give an example from an area where I speak most authoritatively. My colleagues here are bored by my repetition of this point. In our small republic, we have six medical schools. I am not saying that is bad, good or wrong, but if we are to have six medical schools, they need to be appropriately resourced. These six medical schools churn out a calibre of graduate that has no problem walking into North America, Australia or the European Union with an Irish qualification and being recognised and getting good employment. The total number of consultant level full-time faculty across those six institutions is 60, which is ten per school. We have checked it. Harvard Medical School has 1,500. That is a salient fact. When we reflect on the fact that all the Irish universities have dropped out of their higher rankings and out of the top 100 in the university pecking order, we must ask the hard question about resourcing and the freedom to get things done.
Which problem are we fixing by introducing this extra bureaucracy? The answer is none. We are going to create more problems. People who are already doing, by international standards, two, three, four or ten people’s jobs will now be answering to an additional bureaucracy. The track record of bureaucracies in this country is that they tend to be comprised of inexpert people and rapidly become self-interested. I do not mean self-interested in any corrupt sense, but that the body itself develops a corporatist mentality to which its members assume primary loyalty. This will not be good for the rugged academic independence we should be fostering in our universities.
When one looks at the service delivery non-academic part of the medical system, one sees a system that has the lowest number of doctors, specialists and general practitioners, the longest waiting lists, and so on, but the response of the bureaucracy that runs our health system – the permanent government of the Civil Service and the various health quangos – is always that what we need is another bureaucracy. As a result we get HIQA, the special delivery unit or various other multi-alphabetised, acronymic organisations. If we are short of paediatric surgeons, if we have one third the number Scotland has, and God knows Scotland is not great by international standards, if we have fewer in the Republic than they have in the North and if our children are waiting a year or two years for operations, there is a certain element of joining the dots about what needs to happen.
The same thing applies in the non-medical and non-scientific academic structures. We need a critical appraisal of the resourcing and funding mechanisms we have put in place. There may be an argument for reassessing, at some stage in the future, the way we grant degree and diploma recognition, although it is not obvious to me that there is. One of the few things that seem to be working in the Irish academic structure at present is that people come out with diplomas, degrees, doctorates, masters, baccalaureates and so on that have high degrees of international recognition. What is the problem that is being fixed? What resources are going to be redirected into this that could be directed into the core deficiencies of the academic system.
I strongly support Senator Barrett’s amendment. I know there are now smart people in Government looking at educational issues and I hope they will see this in a non-partisan fashion and reflect on the wisdom of proceeding with this aspect of what I believe will be an degree of over-regulation.