O’Driscoll calls for rethink on education

25 Feb 2005

On the day the Government endorsed many of the provisions of last year’s Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) report, its author has called for a radical overhaul of the Irish third-level education system including a selective re-introduction of fees.

Speaking at the annual American Chamber of Commerce lunch yesterday, Eoin O’Driscoll, president of AmCham and former chairman of the ESG, argued that Ireland had fallen behind nations such as China in terms of the quality of its universities and educational investment.

“15 years ago the government invested heavily in developing our third-level institutions. One of Ireland’s bigger attractions was a ready supply of skilled workers, including scientists, engineers and business-school graduates. Since then we have seen other countries rapidly increase their investment in education, significantly raising the bar

“Good enough is not good enough any longer. We must now reform governance structures and increase funding in third level. The governing bodies of our third-level institutions need to properly reflect the views of enterprise. Therefore we need more industry and business representatives on the governing bodies of our universities.”

Not only that, Ireland was missing the boat on lifelong learning, he argued. “We need to change our perception of education as being confined to the formal education system. 80pc of the current workforce will still be in employment in 2015. That is a startling statistic that reveals the importance of adopting a lifelong approach to education and training. In the knowledge economy it is all about people. When our multinational colleagues are looking at investing in an economy, people and skills are key considerations. The reality is that if we do not take action, the educated workforce that was a backbone of the success of the Celtic tiger will no longer be available to us,” he warned.

O’Driscoll also urged a review of the funding of the Irish education system. “We need to look at funding of our education system. It will require substantial investment to bring our universities up to world class. We need to consider reintroducing fees for third-level education for those who can afford it. We now have a culture where parents are willing to pay for private second-level schooling for their children. There is no reason why those with the ability to do so should not also pay for the education of their children at third level,” he said.

By Brian Skelly