January 19, 2007

Shall we pay the presidents? - Universities rely on institute intake to keep "elite" status

Dear Louise [Michel],

The privatising vanguard of Irish university heads have used "fostering quality" to justify their abysmal record on human relations, without once defining quality. When challenged on their records of institutional bullying they refer to growth in student numbers, private research income and capital assets to defend themselves - not student-staff ratios, professional accreditation, publication output, student achievement, doctoral awards or other "traditional" educational metrics.

Below is an article from the Irish Times newspaper by Professor Emeritus Dr Edward Walsh founding president of the University of Limerick (as he styles himself) advocating "no-nonsense policies that nurture excellence and ostracise the second-rate" and a pay rise of between 66 and 72 percent for university presidents and vice presidents. (Actually they receive between 185,000 and 205,000 euro, which is cheap by comparison with many other countries, but the manner of the appeal offends me).

Below that article is another printed in the same issue on how universities are increasing elitism by failing to admit disadvanted applicants and mature students who are potentially challenging, preferring the malleable "Powerpoint generation" who return the lecturer's own notes as bullet-points in examination.

Best wishes
, ...
The Irish Times, 16 January 2007 - Shall we pay the presidents? By Ed Walsh

The demand by university presidents for a €300,000 salary is not outlandish.

We must reward those who are committed to change, relevance and the pursuit of excellence. Otherwise, Ireland will fail to sustain the building of the great universities it needs, argues Ed Walsh.

Competition in the knowledge age has become a race for talent: universities have moved to the apex of the competitive system in developed countries. World-class universities give a special competitive edge: they strongly influence foreign direct investment and wealth creation. As a result, governments globally are pressing to ensure that their universities are vibrant and competitive.

Most European governments are agitated by the fact that their universities fare so badly in new international rankings. Prior to the second World War, the world's best universities were in Europe. Now the US wins most of the Nobel prizes in science and European universities make poor showings. Eight of the world's top 10 universities are in the US, and seven of these, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT and Columbia, are run as private corporations with the associated no-nonsense policies that nurture excellence and ostracise the second-rate.

In contrast, many European states have in effect nationalised the universities, turned academics into public servants, locked them on salary scales and created bureaucratic formulas that tolerate mediocrity and often fail to reward excellence. Talent has drifted away and many of Europe's once-great universities have been humbled.

Poor rankings in the international polls have highlighted this reality and many European governments are now moving to revitalise their lacklustre universities. Germany is attempting to create nine elite universities and Britain has given university leadership considerable discretion in fostering and recruiting vital talent.

Recently, under the National Development Plan, Ireland has moved in a most determined and creative way to boost the low research standing of its universities and compensate for 80 years of neglect. Research funding has been dramatically increased from miserly millions to generous billions in a way that has caught the imagination of the multinationals and the international research community. Science Foundation Ireland has been established with panache and is proving a remarkable success. Flexibility has been demonstrated in offering the kind of remuneration packages essential to compete internationally in attracting some of the world's great researchers to Ireland.

The strategy is already paying off: major multinationals have started to make research investments unprecedented in Ireland. Enterprise that invests in research and intellectual talent puts down deep roots that make flitting eastwards before the next minimum wage increase much less likely.

But our universities are still under the maw of the State, governance structures are inappropriate and cumbersome, the executive is constrained and leadership lacks the financial discretion necessary to weave and duck while pursuing and capturing world talent.

The best of the US, UK and Australian universities have the kind of discretion that permits them to "go for broke" in the pursuit of a person who is vital... an academic who is a potential Nobel laureate or a president or vice president with the necessary exceptional abilities. Ireland's development agencies are becoming increasingly aware that Irish universities need similar flexibility and unless a number of our universities make good progress towards the top-100 international rankings Ireland's long-term wealth and job-creation prospects are at some risk.

Moving a university into the top-100 category calls for remarkable commitment at all levels: especially from the president and vice-presidential team. [What happened to academics and the other staff? Do they no come into this?]

Courage and management skill is called for in terminating jaded programmes and transferring resources to more relevant ones, facing down entrenched university groups committed to the status quo - and then selectively allocating resources and reward to those who are committed to change, relevance and the pursuit of excellence. Unless the Irish universities are encouraged to do this, and can compete internationally in attracting and retaining the necessary leadership talent, Ireland will fail to sustain the building of the great universities it needs.

The quality of the university executive leadership team is a key determining factor in building a great university.
[Indeed] Despite the public image created by gown-clad presidents mumbling Latin at conferring ceremonies the leadership and executive challenge at presidential and vice-presidential level are immense. With annual budgets now measured in fractions of a billion, several thousand staff, overseas programmes, international fundraising and a diverse list of campus companies, few are fit to undertake the multidimensional role of university president. Given the nature of the people involved and the complexity of the structures, the challenge in driving forward a university is far more demanding than doing likewise with a business of comparable scale.

Universities intent on achieving excellence compete globally and use international head-hunters to track down talent. When a presidential or vice-presidential vacancy is due to arise, a major global talent hunt is launched. In leading US universities, salary is seldom the constraint: but finding the right person willing to take the job is.

The situation in Ireland is otherwise. University governing authorities are finding that, while they have the discretion to head-hunt, salary constraints dominate the recruitment of senior talent.

The annual salary paid to Irish university presidents ranges from €186,000 to €205,000 and in some cases the president is obliged to live on campus in the president's residence (often considered more of an imposition than a benefit). It might seem that remuneration is high enough already and the proposal to move into the €300,000 range is unjustified. But the reality is vividly evident, to those attempting to recruit leadership at both presidential and vice-presidential levels, that existing remuneration packages are uncompetitive. For example, recently a potential candidate for a vice-presidential position at an Irish university was approached. He was working in a senior position in Ireland and willing to accept the university challenge, but when it emerged that his existing earnings were over €300,000 discussions came to a grinding halt: the university could not compete and the appointment was not made.

With experiences like this it is not surprising that those who recognise the importance of moving our universities towards the top-100 league realise that, if world-class leadership is to be attracted and retained, Ireland must abandon the old constraints that hamper senior executive recruitment. Ireland has made great strides recently in putting flexible remuneration packages in place to attract academic research talent; it must do likewise for university leadership.

Remuneration for university presidents has escalated rapidly elsewhere, as an increasing number of developed countries competes intensely for scarce talent. Ireland is now at a serious competitive disadvantage. In the UK the earnings of many university vice-chancellors breached the ?300,000 mark several years ago, while in the US, 50 university presidents are paid over $500,000 and five over $1 million a year.

In this competitive international context the proposed annual salary for Irish university presidents, in the €300,000 range, does not appear outlandish. Smart organisations committed to excellence don't skimp on their senior executive team.

Dr Edward M Walsh is founding president of the University of Limerick
Universities rely on institute intake to keep "elite" status. By KITTY HOLLAND

By relying on institutes of technology to increase the proportion of students from disadvantaged groups accessing third-level education, universities are maintaining their "elite" status, an expert on the issue has said.

Prof Tom Collins, head of education at NUI Maynooth, speaking yesterday at the publication of the first directory for mature students of Irish third-level institutions, also said the record of higher education in increasing mature students' access was "patchy" and that secondary schools were not preparing young people for "the intellectual challenges of adult life".

The directory gives a guide to the 32 institutions that admit mature students, along with information on everything from what the CAO is to what supports are available in each institution for mature students.

Prof Collins said access for mature students was patchy from institution to institution.

"It will become easier in the future. I think as modularisation and semesterisation models work their way through, colleges will realise these open up opportunities for different ways of being in college that haven't been explored yet."

He said mature students "challenge universities in their pedagogies", while students straight out of secondary school needed everything set out for them.

"They [second-level students] think like Powerpoint. They find it difficult to construct a narrative; they return exam scripts in bullet points. Second-level education is not training them to link their ideas, to tell a story. They come to university singularly unprepared for the intellectual challenges of adult life.

"Universities are still relying too heavily on the institutes of technology to deal with class," he continued, adding that Dundalk IT had four times the proportion of students from the lowest socio-economic groups as had the universities, while those from disadvantaged backgrounds who did get into university were generally not accessing the "high-prestige" courses such as law and medicine.

The directory has a limited print run as funding was limited. It can be viewed at
www.tcd. ie/Trimry_Access/directory_mat urestudents2006.pdf

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What kind of a human being, let alone a manager - or in this case a university leader - would want "no-nonsense policies that nurture excellence and ostracise the second-rate"? I have always strived for excellence and to nurture excellence in all my colleagues, juniors and students. Excellence does not ostracise anyone.