Education nation

Increasing funds available for Irish education is essential for the growth of our society, even if it means reintroducing third-level fees, writes Amy Bracken The Irish Times made an interesting point last Friday, January 14th, in which it stated that the timing of the National Strategy for Higher Education, or Hunt Report, publication was conveniently six months after it was completed and in the aftermath of the December budget, which increased the student registration fee for third-level education.The Hunt Report echoed this move, which can be viewed as coincidental. However, the report does appear to have the best interests of students and education at heart – a fact that is being pushed aside just because it supports an increase in student contribution to education.It has finally been acknowledged that the Leaving Cert does not adequately prepare students for third-level education and there appears to be more modernisation on the horizon. While the report denies the need for any more traditional universities, it appears that Dublin could be on the verge of adding a technological university to its vicinity.The word ‘student’ is prevalent throughout the Hunt Report – an indication that it is not basing its recommendations on an economic overhaul of the system and instead aims to modernise and improve it for the benefits of those to whom it is aimed.I am going to focus on the three most striking points of the report. For a long time, the Leaving Cert has been outdated and could hardly be viewed as the equivalent of A-levels or most other European or school-leaving examination systems. I will not go into specifics here, but the three basics of rote learning, compulsory subjects and a high quantity of courses are far from sufficient for the transition from second to third-level education.While there have been calls to overhaul the Leaving Cert for a number of years now, there has been very little discussion as to why it needs to be overhauled. The Hunt Report has shed light on this topic, but immediate responses to the report appear to have overlooked these criticisms, in favour of negative press on the issue of reintroducing third-level fees.Another important aspect of the report is that it recommends that no more traditional universities be established in the state, yet talks are currently in place between four Dublin third-level institutes to create a new technological university – the first of its kind (although Dublin City University borders on the proposed university). The institutions involved state that they aim to modernise education and offer courses that involve preparation for the workforce, as opposed to having a more academic focus – echoing a recommendation in the Hunt Report that education should be geared more towards skills and workplace development.Both changes to the Leaving Cert and the creation of more technological education, as well as the creation of a new university, require funding. As a result of these projected costs, coverage of the report has focused solely on the idea that students and graduates will face debt if third-level fees are heightened and/or if a graduate tax is introduced.It seems that people are refusing to accept the practical and progressive benefits suggested in the Hunt Report on account of the age-old issue of funding. Last Wednesday January 12th, the Irish Independent reported that students could be forced to part with €25,000 if the proposed “study now, pay later” loan schemes for third-level education are introduced. €25,000 is naturally a ridiculous price to pay after graduation, but the point is that coverage of the report is paying far too much attention to the financial aspect and fails to point out the benefits suggested in the report.For example, the calls for the overhaul of the Leaving Cert were made by the public a number of years ago. It is only now that it has been acknowledged that the examination does not prepare students adequately for the third-level education, yet people are refusing to hand over any more money for the overhaul they requested. The public is contradicting itself, in a way.Of course, changes and progress do not happen overnight, but the National Strategy for Education to 2030 is rather realistic and should be a sufficient timeframe to update the system into a fully functioning, efficient and modern system. That can be achieved provided people allay their qualms with the prospective costs of such an operation and accept that this is for the benefit of our economy and ultimately for the benefit of our children.The reintroduction of third-level fees is an undoubtedly necessary move if the system is to be modernised, yet that appears to have been overlooked by the majority of students and student bodies over the past two years when reintroduction debate began.