UCD President Andrew Deeks recently went public with a call to protect university autonomy. His letter published in the Irish Times was somewhat restrained, possibly after some of his previous comments over education funding landed him in a spot of bother with UCD staff. Back in November, he heavily praised the Chinese government’s willingness to give additional funding to their universities, while letting the universities decide on how to use the money themselves. He made the original comments in his Presidential Bulletin to staff, following his trip to the 7th International Conference on World-Class Universities in Shanghai.

In the Bulletin on the 14th of November, Deeks noted that China unveiled its programme to develop its universities the previous week. Unlike the global trend of reduced government funding for third-level education, alongside increased calls for tighter control over how universities spend the that money, Deeks said that ‘China is a sharp contrast to this general trend.’

45 top Chinese universities are set to receive an additional €13 Billion in additional funding over the next five years under the programme. Deeks explained how he met President Lin at Peking University, and ‘he told me there was no prescription of how this money was to be spent, but that there would be evaluation of the performance of the university and an expectation that performance would increase…. the leadership teams of the universities are expected to decide how to best apply the additional money to increase performance.’

Deeks then stated, ‘If only the Irish government would recognise the wisdom of the Chinese approach!’ This was the particular comment which drew the wrath of staff members in UCD. In his following Bulletin, Deeks noted that ‘I suggested that the Irish government could learn something from the Chinese approach. I subsequently received feedback from a number of colleagues interpreting these comments as my endorsing the overall Chinese approach to universities. Let me be totally clear: I was commenting specifically and solely on the new World-Class Universities programme, and not suggesting that the Irish government should follow other aspects of the Chinese approach to universities.’ One to watch.

Cian Carton – Editor