UCD President Andrew Deeks has told staff that ‘trust in universities has reduced around the world’, following the global economic crisis. He made the statement to staff in his latest Presidential Bulletin, while reflecting on his recent trip to Ghana.

Deeks spent a number of days in Accra, in order to attend a series of events held by the International Association of Universities (IAU), of which Deeks was elected as a Board Member last year. Alongside the IAU’s Board Meeting, he was present for their Meeting of Associations and International Conference.

Deeks stated that, with ‘participants coming from countries around the world, the degree of consistency with respect to increased challenges to university funding, increased desire by government to provide direction to universities despite funding reductions, and a general questioning by government and society more broadly about the value of university education was very marked.’

Deeks noted a key contrast between the approach to higher education funding before and after 2008. Before the 2008 economic crash, ‘universities were generally considered by governments to be a ‘good thing’, and increasing the percentage of the population earning degrees was a common government goal.’ The development of the global university rankings systems also caused governments to invest more in their third level sector, in order to ‘enhance the prestige of the country.’

Crucially, the ‘way this investment was to be used was generally left to the universities, with governments trusting that the university leadership also wished to advance their university and would apply the investment effectively.’

Post 2008, ‘trust in universities has reduced around the world, perhaps as part of a general reduction of trust in institutions.’ Smaller education budgets have ‘led to reduced funding of universities and an increased need for ‘private’ contributions (generally in the form of fees paid by the students).’

Deeks then pointed out other developing issues. The proportion of people obtaining degrees is on the rise, so ‘the questions of over qualification and relevance of qualification have been raised.’ There has also been an ‘increasing desire by politicians to hold universities ‘accountable’ for the public funds they receive, and to want to control how these are used.’

While these issues are all playing out in Ireland at present, Deeks took ‘some comfort from the discussions at the conference in knowing that we are in no way unique in the challenges we face, and indeed that as an institution are dealing with these challenges far better than many other universities.’

Cian Carton – Editor