On Thursday, without warning or any sort of build-up, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) launched an aggressive online campaign to increase funding for the higher education sector. The media jumped on it – and Twitter buzzed as provosts and presidents all rowed in behind the organisation to support this very public push for increased funding.
Jim Miley, the Director General of the IUA, it seems, has been plotting out this new route since January, when he took the helm of the lobbying body. His seemingly adamantine approach to a crisis that has been progressing for years is, to put it lightly, unorthodox. His predecessor Ned Costello did not ruffle any feathers, and seemed content to work in the background. In contrast, Miley is putting serious pressure on the government after years of slow-moving, protracted debate.
Springboarding this campaign is the recent tumble down the rankings of Irish universities, which has caused alarm. The sector has finally reached the end of its tether, Miley’s action suggests, and awareness of its predicament is finally starting to reverberate around the country.
Establishing consensus among the seven Irish universities has always been a challenge, but Miley has brought the debate back to the heart of what most people agree on: universities urgently need more funding to continue to provide quality education. And though the complexity of questions about funding models or the autonomy of universities have often been used to postpone decisions, Miley has put a pin in these issues and is instead focusing on lobbying for an increase in core funding – demanding €130 million extra in the next budget.
Take Back Trinity shone a light on the struggles facing the third-level sector and just how low universities will stoop in a desperate funding situation. Putting the issue of supplemental exam fees on the public’s radar only served to boost the cause and – in the end – won them the battle. Miley’s campaign is, of course, nowhere near as radical, but it’s about time that the lobbying body for Irish universities publicly demanded more from its government. This is an excellent first step.