Coming Home to Ireland

Introduction

During the last 6 months, Dr. Charles Larkin and I have been working together on a project commissioned by the Irish Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. Essentially, it is a study into the potential for further student recruitment opportunities with the Irish expatriate community in Asia.

It is set within the wider context of internationalisation of higher education. Ireland, together with almost all advanced economies, has been promoting the agenda of internationalisation which involves attracting a large number of international students who can pay a substantial level of fees.

Ireland, in percentage terms, is internationalising rapidly. More practically, the Irish system continues to have relatively small gross number of international students when compared with the UK. In part this is a function of capital assets. The Irish Third Level sector requires approximately €500m in capital investment over the next decade to keep pace with domestic Irish demographics and depreciation.

This figure was based on estimated made prior to the UK Brexit vote, which will undoubtedly direct more international and EU Erasmus students towards Ireland but also many Irish students (approximately 13,000) that currently choose to study in the UK.

The Survey

As part of our research we conducted an online survey distributed by private fee-paying international Asian secondary schools from the beginning of October 2016 to end November 2016. The survey was targeted towards Irish nationals residing abroad with children nearing the traditional age for higher education matriculation.

The population of Irish nationals located in Asia with children was not known with any precision. We would state that this is an accurate picture of behaviour for Irish emigrants with non-adult children in Singapore. The results for other Asian countries, though informative, would require a larger sample size to be robust.

This study is one of the first to directly look at Irish emigrants and can be considered a building block in a larger superstructure of market research.

In the end, a total of 172 complete responses were obtained. Irish citizens constituted 90% of the respondents. Around 61% of the respondents were male, while 39% were female. 95% of the demographic was between 30 and 59 years of age, with the majority between 40 and 49. 68% of the respondents graduates from an Irish university. University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin are the primary institutions with alumni located in Asia with 52% of the respondents as graduates of these two institutions.

Survey Results

Below are some stylised facts about the Irish Asia-located expat with school age children: (1) They tend to have more than one child; (2) Mother and father have high educational attainment levels; (3) The family household income tends to be high, with 54% earning over 180,000 USD per annum (average earnings in Ireland are equal to approximately 39,000 USD); (4) Their children tend to be part of an International Baccalaureate or A-Levels school curriculum; (5) Their children tend to be high performance students with their cohort; (6) A large proportion of potential students and their parents are unsure about what they will study at university; (7) 83% of parents do know that their child will most likely not be attending university in their current country of residence; (8) Parents remain the primary decision maker for which HEI a child will matriculate into.

figure-1-criteria-for-hei-selection
Figure 1

Figure 1 above shows the importance of criteria considered by the respondents. It is obvious that career opportunities, academic programme choices and university rankings all rank as key decision points for parents.

When asked whether or not they intend that their eldest pre-university child study in Ireland, only 42% of the respondents said yes, while 58% said no. Ultimately, Irish emigrants in Asia are not convinced they want their child to come “home”.

02-q17-main-reason-for-studying-in-ireland
Figure 2

For those who indicated they want their children to study in Ireland for higher education, we asked them to specify reasons in an open word entry. Figure 2 shows the histogram of open responses to reasons for studying in Ireland. It is primarily for reasons of family and “home bias” brought about by a personal knowledge of the Irish education system.

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Figure 3

And for those who indicated they do not want their child to study in Ireland for higher education, we asked them to specify where they want their child to study. The UK and the US remain the primary locations for Irish expat parents to send their children. See Figure 3 above for the histogram.

Furthermore, while parents cite a desire to have the option of an “expat discount” (i.e. 90%) they tend not to be overwhelmingly keen on sending their children to Irish HEIs. Only around 42% of non-medical student parents intend on sending their children to Irish HEIs.

Nevertheless, medicine matters. 10% of respondents indicate children intending on studying medicine, but 80% of that cohort of potentially matriculating medical students are considering Ireland.

When asked in an open question as to the reasons why parents will not be sending their children to Ireland they primarily relate to two matters – engagement by official Ireland with the expatriate community and the perceived low and declining quality of Irish HEIs relative to the top US and UK institutions.

Discussions of Findings

The survey results, even with the various caveats, provides some insight into a specific subset of Irish HEI international customers – the children of Irish emigrants. The results highlight that within the Asian region, Irish emigrants are very well educated with undergraduate and postgraduate awards. They work in highly remunerative sectors given the outsized proportion with incomes over 180,000 USD and they tend to have more than one child.

Irish emigrant parents are the primary decision maker for their children with respect to education pathways. They tend to be focused on career prospects and education quality issues and are aware of the many pitfalls of the Irish higher education system and Irish culture. Importantly, parents place a high premium on career prospects.

Given the nature of the Irish labour market and that Ireland regularly experiences near-decade long cycles of net emigration parents would view the education of their children as being the first phase in the process of becoming part of a global labour market, not an Asian, American or Irish market.

In such a context, it is not just the acquisition of academic knowledge that is the priority but the signalling effect of the final degree and the social capital associated with the higher education experience that matters. The global high education brands and the ability to leverage individual graduate human and social capital via an exercise in brand extension has been highlighted repeatedly, especially in the areas of business studies and MBA programmes.

Emigrant parents not only have concerns about the global labour market but also about Ireland. These parents are mostly unsure or confirmed with respect to the prospect of returning to Ireland. Many of the open comments highlight the alienated and frustrated views of parents with respect to Ireland’s position with respect to expatriates. The following comment is indicative of their views:

My child does 3 A levels that can get him into TOP Unis in UK. The Irish point systems are unforgiving and not taking into account the fact that 3 A levels are studied in great depth. To have a shot at entering Irish system you would need at least 4 A levels . At least 3 must be A-A*. I would have loved my boys to have gone to Ireland as they have Irish passports and go home every summer and winter but system does not a lot it plus the fees are horrendous. It’s cheaper for us to send them to the UK and we managed to European home status as well whereas Ireland see us as international. I have a house and all in Ireland. The British accept us based on that but the Irish Unis won’t. So sad as you are missing out on a lot of talented expatriate kids who want to touch base with their roots!!

This feeling of frustration is not unknown to policymakers in Ireland. The Citizens’ Assembly (which convened to look at modifications to the 1937 Constitution) is currently considering ways of extending the vote to the diaspora, initially for electing the President but discussions with respect to the altering the Seanad to provide a voice for the diaspora continues.

Ultimately, from the point of view of the higher education system, quality is the primary problem. Irish HEIs are just not good enough. An average product with premium pricing. Addressing the sliding rankings and perceived quality problems will be difficult for the sector since decisions on resource sustainability rely on actions taken by the political system and will take time to implement.

Conclusions

This survey, the first of its kind, has attempted to look at small subset of the diaspora – expatriates with children in Asia. While the results must be reviewed with an element of caution they provide a worrying picture. Asian expatriates are well educated and wealthy. Cost is not a major issue, value for money is the issue. Parents wish to see higher education as a career springboard and for their children to be receiving an excellent education. Their children can largely benefit from this education since they excel at their schoolwork using objective measures. Expatriates also feel cut off from official Ireland, the imposition of non-EU fees on their children is considered an affront, especially when more flexible arrangements exist in the UK.

In summary, Irish expatriate parents consider Irish universities but do so without illusions. They will not pay high fees for what they see as an inferior product. They see an unengaged and bureaucratic system of education attached to a state they have a limited affinity for in their current stage of life. They view engagement with Irish universities as part of a wider reconnection to their families and cultural heritage. Essentially the willingness to matriculate their children is driven by a weak kinship attachment that shatters under cost-benefit analysis.

(Note: The majority of the post is based on the project report which has mainly been written up by Dr. Charles Larkin, who leads the project.)

From University Rankings to Education System Rankings

University rankings

It seems to have become a predictable outcome for the Irish higher education sector whenever a new set of league tables is released.

No matter it is the QS rankings, or Shanghai Jiaotong rankings, or the Times Higher Education rankings, the performance of Irish universities has been, overall, falling.

In the Times Higher Education rankings which were released late yesterday, no Irish third level institution made into the top 200, the first time since the publication of the rankings.

The most important factor which is considered to have contributed to the decline is the funding cut to the sector throughout almost the last decade.

A few hours before the release (Wednesday evening), everyone at Trinity College Dublin received an email from the University, informing that at this moment, TCD would not be included in the ranking due to some data error.

The email did not specify what the error was, but it did highlight that the data error probably had negatively impacted on the ranking of TCD over the last two years.

Therefore, it is still possible to see, when the data error will be corrected and the rankings will be updated in the way as informed, one Irish university among the top 200. Nevertheless, even this is not guaranteed.

More often now we see a growing sense in Ireland that maybe we should not care about the rankings after all.

This is an interesting argument. Partly, it is true that all the rankings are more focused on research performance than on education outcome. The quality of education, for sure, is much more difficult to measure. Let alone to compare it worldwide.

Education system rankings

Instead of ranking individual institutions, the recently released OECD Education at a Glance 2016 report measures the performance of national education systems.

Overall, in this broadly defined and education-focused ranking, Ireland is also among the bottom performers.

In particular, the performance is measured against a total of 10 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for education by 2030, showing countries’ efforts to achieve “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

These 10 targets are:

  1. Percentage of 15-year old students performing at level 2 or higher on the PISA math scale (threshold 80%);
  2. Enrolment rate in pre-primary and primary education at age 5 (threshold 95%);
  3. First-time tertiary entry rates (threshold 60%);
  4. Percentage of adults with a high degree of skills and readiness to use ICT for problem solving (threshold 60%);
  5. PISA inclusion index (threshold 75%);
  6. Percentage of adults with high levels of literacy (threshold 50%);
  7. Percentage of students at level A, B and C in the PISA environmental science performance index (threshold 70%);
  8. Computers for educational purposes per student, mean index (threshold 0.7);
  9. Difference in scholarships and student costs in donor countries between 2012 and 2014, in millions (threshold USD 0); and
  10. Percentage of lower secondary teachers having completed teacher education of training programmes (threshold 95%).

 

Out of these 10 targets, Ireland has available data for 8 of them. As some of the top performers, e.g. Belgium and the Netherlands, have available data for all of the 10 targets, it is more likely that they achieve more targets.

To compare the performance of Ireland with those top performers, it is more reasonable to narrow the focus down to the 8 targets all of the countries have available data.

In particular, I compare Ireland with the following 9 countries which are top performers according to the OECD report: Australia, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Denmark, Japan and Sweden.

Figure 1 below shows GDP Per Capita (PPP) in these 10 countries in 2015. As the World Factbook by the CIA shows, Ireland ($55,500) is ranked at the 3rd place in the 10-country group, following behind only Norway ($68,400) and Australia ($65,400).

Given this context, the overall under-performance of Ireland against these countries, most of which have lower levels of GDP Per Capita (PPP), is even more worrying.

figure-1
Figure 1

In Table 1 below, I show the performance of the 10 countries in the 8 targets where Ireland has available data (indeed, all of the 10 countries have available data in these 8 targets).

Table 1: Countries’ progress towards the education SDG targets

Education SDG targets 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 No. of targets above benchmark
Benchmark 80 95 60 75 50 70 0.7 0 n/a
Australia 80 101 66 77 58 71 1.5 38 8
Canada 86 93 65 83 51 75 0.8 13 7
Netherlands 85 99 73 82 60 70 0.7 -30 7
Denmark 83 98 70 82 50 63 0.8 0 7
New Zealand 77 98 75 78 58 68 1.1 7 6
Belgium 81 98 65 72 53 67 0.7 0 6
Norway 78 98 72 91 58 59 0.8 1 6
Japan 89 96 53 78 72 75 0.6 -1 5
Sweden 73 95 72 87 58 62 0.6 9 5
Ireland 83 100 51 80 45 66 0.6 1 4

Ireland is ranked at the bottom of the group.

In Ireland, the percentage of adults with a high degree of skills and readiness to use ICT for problem solving is 51%, while the threshold for this target is 60%. The percentage of adults with high levels of literacy in Ireland is just 45%, making Ireland the only country under the threshold of 50% in the group.

Challenges

While those who criticise the methodologies of world university rankings might have rightfully pointed out the limits of the ranking systems, it should not become any excuse for the overall under-performance of the Irish education system (including primary, secondary, and high education).

The challenges facing the Irish sector would not be resolved by ignoring the imperfect university rankings altogether. Nor should we.

The Different Consequences of State Funding Cuts to Irish HEIs

During the Celtic Tiger years, state investment in third level institutions in Ireland saw significant growth. This upward trend was maintained even within a short period after the collapse of the property bubble. It was the financial crisis of 2008 that dramatically overturned the pattern, with the national economy sharply declining.

For universities and IoTs, as well as a number of other private HEIs, the main consequence was the reduction of state funding, as part of the government’s measure to address the urgent issue of public debt.

In a few previous blog posts, I have described the extent of funding cuts in Ireland and compared national policies in this matter amongst the EU countries. A less examined topic is the consequence of state funding cuts at the institutional level.

It is reasonable to presume that some institutions could be more badly hit than the others, while the higher education sector was, undoubtedly, having a tough time as a whole. In this blog post, I compare such differences between Irish HEIs, with results presented for the university sector and the IoT sector separately, considering the fact that most IoTs are much smaller than universities in terms of size.

1 The university sector

Figures 1 and 2 below show the changes in the university sector in sources of income between 2005-06 and 2011-12.

In general, income increased in the first 3-year period and then declined in the second 3-year period. The only exception was fees, which increased throughout the whole period, reflecting the shift of policy focus on funding. For the 7 universities, state grants decreased by 35% between 2008-09 and 2011-12, while fees increased by 10%. By the end of 2011-12, fees accounted for 43% of total income, nearly double of the share of state grants.

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2

2. The IoT sector

Figures 3 and 4 below reveal the changes in the IoT sector. While most trends in this sector are similar to those in the university sector, there are still some differences.

For the 14 IoTs, state grants decreased by 27% between 2008-09 and 2011-12, while fees increased by just under 5%. By the end of 2011-12, state grants accounted for 45% of total income, which was higher than the share of fees (37%), and which was also significantly higher than that in the university sector (24%).

Figure 3
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 4

3. The 7 universities

In Figure 5 below, I show the changes in sources of income between 2008-09 and 2011-12 for the 7 universities, measured as percentage points.

The decrease of total income of NUIG – less than 15% – was the smallest in compared to the other 6 universities. DCU and UL were worst hit, with total income shrinking by nearly 35%. Reduction of state grants was most serious in the three largest institutions, namely UCD, UCC and TCD. While fees increased in all of the 7 universities, NUIG, MU and UL were the leaders in terms of receiving bigger amount of money paid by students. Lastly, UL was the only university which was able to secure more research grants in 2011-12 than in 2008-09, while the amount of research grants decreased by more than 20% in both UCD and TCD.

Figure 5
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 8

Figures 6, 7 and 8 above place the 7 universities in scatter plots, in the hope of revealing if there exist any association between the change in total income and each of the other factors.

A series of correlation analyses showed that the share of fees in total income was most significantly related to the change of total income (Correlation Coefficient = 0.78), while the share of state grants in total income was moderately related to the change of total income (Correlation Coefficient = 0.56). The share of research grants in total income was not significantly related to the change of total income (Correlation Coefficient = 0.24).

That research grants only having a limited impact on the overall change of total income was, in part, resulted by the fact that research grants only account for a small percentage of total income in all of the 7 universities.

4. The 14 IoTs

In Figure 9 below, I show the changes in sources of income between 2008-09 and 2011-12 for the 14 IoTs, measured as percentage points. At the sectoral level, IoTs were less badly hit by the state funding cuts than universities. During this period, a few IoTs actually saw their total income increasing, led by Limerick (14.6%), Dundalk (8.2%), Sligo (3.1%), Blanchardstown (2.4%), and, very moderately, Athlone (0.1%). This is a striking contrast to the picture of the university sector, in which all institutions saw their total income shrinking by more than 10% at least. Of course, many other IoTs did not perform as well as the above ones. Among the institutions with sharpest decline of total income were Letterkenny (-17.5%), Dublin (-16.1%), Galway-Mayo (-14.3%), and Tralee (-13.7%).

In terms of state grants, with the exception of Limerick, all the other IoTs saw their funding decreased, in line with what happened in universities.

Significant differences exist though between the IoT sector and the university sector when we examine the case of fees and research grants.

While all universities received more funding through tuition fees over the period, only a handful of IoTs – 5 to be exact – increased their income in this source. Athlone was most impressive, with its tuition fees increasing by nearly 40% during the period. An alarming issue could be that most IoTs were not as capable of universities in attracting fee-paying students, who are more likely to be international students.

While almost all universities – except for UL – saw their research grants decreased, the picture of the IoT sector was reasonably more promising. Research grants received by Limerick nearly doubled, while Dundalk saw its research income increased by more than 50%.

In general, there was much more diversity in the IoT sector than in the university sector.

Figure 9
Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 10
Figure 11
Figure 11
Figure 12
Figure 12

 

Figures 10, 11 and 12 above place the 14 IoTs in scatter plots.

Similarly, a series of correlation analyses showed that the share of state grants in total income was significantly, but negatively, related to the change of total income (-0.51), suggesting that IoTs receiving more funding from state grants were more badly hit in terms of total income. The share of fees in total income was moderately related to the change of total income (0.35), while the share of research grants in total income was almost not related to the change of total income (-0.03).

5. Concluding remarks

It is clearly shown that, during the period of 2008-2011, institutions performed significantly differently in terms of maintaining their income. Some institutions, especially a number of IoTs, showed impressive resilience. Their stories could be very interesting to be examined further.

To do how much more with how much less? A review of the QQI review

Recently, the QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland) published a report entitled ‘Quality in an era of diminishing resources’, which was commissioned to provide a thematic overview of the commentary in institution-led quality review reports on the impact of the reduction in funding to institutions on the quality of learning and teaching in the Irish higher education system over the seven-year period from 2008-2015.

For most, it is no secret that the higher education sector in Ireland has been undergoing serious funding cuts, as part of the Government’s austerity measures to come out of the economic downturn arising from the global crisis in 2008. The report references the speech given by Tom Boland, the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), at a conference in September 2015 on the Future Funding of Higher Education in Ireland organised by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) to summarise the funding context of the Irish higher education sector:

“Over the period 2007/08 to 2014/15: There has been a fall in state grants for higher education of 38%. Overall funding for higher education has fallen by at least 13.5%. The overall number of full-time students has increased by 25%. This has all resulted in an overall decrease in the total funding per student of 22% (from €11,000 to €9,000). At the same time the numbers employed in higher education institutions fell by 13%. In real terms the situation is worse because if we had maintained staffing ratios as they were at the beginning of the crisis we have effectively taken 4,000 staff out of the system.”

The main content of the report is organised into three key themes: 1) The general economic climate and reduced resources; 2) Staffing and the student learning experience; and 3) The learning and teaching environment. Evidence from the report points to “the cumulative effects of reduced funding, reduced staff numbers, increased teaching burdens, the casualisation of staffing and promotion limitations for staff”.

As the report indicates, most institutions have claimed that, like this unit has reported, “staff appear to have coped remarkably well with the additional work pressures that have resulted from the need to expand student numbers at a time of reduced funding”.

This is what is usually called ‘Doing More with Less’. Remaining staff, because of their commitment and ‘sense of duty’ to their roles in order to minimise the effect on the student learning experience, may take on more responsibilities in the face of increasing pressures. One has to ask, even though it seems staff seem to be able to do so, is it preferable or sustainable to keep this way? The same unit has raised its concern by saying, “the [HEI] must recognise that there are practical limits to the requirement to ‘do more with less'”.

Tom Boland at the RIA conference listed two possible scenarios for the Irish higher education system which directly address this ‘do more with less’ problem: “Do we have a system which is now much more efficient, developing the same quality of graduates and delivering the same excellence in research for significantly less resource, or do we have a system now characterised by poor infrastructure, a decline in quality and which is severaly at rish of breakding down unless the trend of underinvestment is reversed?”

It is clear from the QQI report that the second scenario is more likely as it warns, “What is striking is the general impression from some reports that some units have reached a ‘crisis point’ where continued cuts/reductions may have serious and irretrievable implications for their future sustainability.” This echoes the finding of the 2015 Cassells Group discussion paper, which contends that “a continuation of the existing funding level for higher education is not an option if Ireland wishes to ensure quality across all disciplines and activities”.

Although it sounds cheerful when one says we can do more with less, in the long term, it is harmful to staff, students, and the sector, as it simple is not sustainable to ‘overuse’ the human resources, definitely not when the reductions in resources negatively impact teaching, learning and research activities.

(The full QQI report could be downloaded here: http://www.qqi.ie//Pages/Quality-in-an-Era-of-Diminishing-Resources-Report-.aspx)

 

Impact of the Economic Crisis on European Universities

Across Europe, countries have implemented different policies and practices to deal with the economic crisis of 2007. Those policies and practices, in consequence, have different impacts on the higher education sector. Many reports by the European University Association (EUA) have presented such results.

Skrbinjek and Lesjak (2013), largely based on the EUA reports and with a special focus on the case of Slovenia, conducted a categorisation of European countries according to changes in public expenditure on tertiary education between 2008 and 2012 and according to investment in tertiary education in 2007 (as measured in % of GDP).

Table 1 below presents the results and distinguishes a total of 6 groups of countries which show complex and diverse responses to the crisis.

Table 1: Changes in tertiary education funding in European countries in 2008-2012

Changes in public expenditure on tertiary education (2008-2012)

Stable or increase Decrease

Public expenditure on tertiary education in 2007

High

(>1.3% of GDP)

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden Iceland, Netherlands
Medium

(1.0-1.29% of GDP)

France, Germany, Switzerland Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia
Low

(<1.0% of GDP)

Poland, Slovakia Greece, Italy, Latvia, Spain, United Kingdom

Source: Skrbinjek and Lesjak (2013).

As shown in Table 1, 11 countries maintained or managed to increase the level of public expenditure on tertiary education between 2008 and 2012, while another 15 countries decreased the investment in the sector.

With the exception of Iceland, all of Nordic countries provided stable or increased funding for their tertiary sector over the period, and all of these countries have a high level of public expenditure on the sector. France, Germany and Switzerland, with a medium level of public expenditure on the sector, were also able to increase funding for their tertiary education sector. Poland and Slovakia were another two impressive countries.

During the period of 2008-2012, 12 out of 15 countries decreased public funding for tertiary education by more than 10% and the rest 3 countries up to 10%.

At first glance, it is hard to tell what impact does increasing or decreasing public expenditure on tertiary education have on the recovery of the national economy (see Table 1 in the previous blog: https://tionchar.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/recession-and-recovery-in-europe-where-ireland-stands/). Many countries which have reduced public expenditure on tertiary education were also able to make a strong recovery from the economic crisis.

The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange

In a previous blog, which was posted indeed quite a while ago, I presented some preliminary results from a working paper we did on the state of knowledge exchange between academics and their stakeholder in Ireland (see full paper at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2671771). To a large extent, our paper was inspired by an existing study in the UK which was conducted by the CBR at the University of Cambridge in 2008.

One of the main concerns I highlighted in the end of the blog (and the paper) was that most of such studies tend to be one-off, due to the high cost and amount of human resources required by national level surveys. Nevertheless, it is crucial to have some longitudinal evidence to find out how the picture changes over time.

Recently, the CBR team, together with some other organisations, have released a report titled ‘The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange’, in which they basically updated the results of their survey to UK academics with regard to knowledge exchange activities (see the full report here: http://www.ncub.co.uk/reports/national-survey-of-academics.html).

Thus, the 2015 survey allows for some comparisons to be drawn with the results from the 2009 survey. Both surveys collected data on interaction for a three year period prior to the survey date, i.e. 2012-2015 for the 2015 survey round and 2005-2008 for the 2008 survey round.

In this blog, I would like to show some comparisons between the results of their 2008 and 2015 surveys, in particular the extent of external engagement.

A factor analysis (principal component analysis) was carried out by the CBR team to categorise activities into five broad groups:

  • Training – the training of company employees and joint student project-supervision and placements;
  • Meetings, consulting and advice – informal exchanges with external organisations and advisory agreements that do not require original research;
  • Joint research – commissioned research as well as original joint research that can involve research consortia or personnel exchange and can result in joint publications with external partners;
  • Commercial activities and services – patenting and prototyping for external organisations, as well as the creation of new companies and new physical facilities; and
  • Public engagement – engagement through school projects, and public lectures and exhibitions.

Figures 1 to 5 below illustrate the changes over the two periods in the five groups of activities aforementioned. In particular, the significance of difference is included in the parentheses (** significant at the 1% level, * significant at the 5% level using McNemar’s chi-square test).

Fig 1Fig 2Fig 3Fig 4Fig 5

Overall, there is a downward trend of the intensity of activity between the two survey periods. More specific, 15 out of 25 activities saw their intensity decreased, while only 10 activities saw their intensity increased. For 10 of those 15 activities whose intensity declined the difference was significant at least at the 5% level. There are, however, 5 activities whose intensity increased significantly (at least at the 5% level): enterprise education, sitting on advisory boards, joint publications, hosting of personnel, and lectures for the community.

There have been hot debates about the reason for the drop-off among scholars. As reported, Rosa Fernandez, director of research at the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), one of the organisations involved in the research, said that the financial crisis of 2007-08 had been the main reason. Times Higher Education (THE), quoted Tim Hughes, professor of applied marketing at the University of the West of England, “I don’t really but that recession argument.” It seems too convenient to link the decline of activity engagement with the recession, and further investigations are required in this direction. More likely, the recession might have different impacts on different institutions, different subjects, and different activities.

The comparison is important in the way that it provides longitudinal evidence which is currently lacking in the Irish context. It is of interest, and probably of necessity, that the knowledge exchange survey could be carried out again some time in the near future.