NASPA/ACUI/University of Arkansas Study Tour of Ireland
May 14-25, 2002
by Janice Gerda
The study tour allowed the group of 33 student affairs students and professionals to visit 5 Irish universities and learn about the system of higher education (third level education) in Ireland. The two-week trip also afforded bounteous opportunities to see the beauty and power of Ireland and to meet the warm, friendly people who were our hosts. A smaller group continued to England to tour London and visit Harris Manchester College at Oxford.
Overview of Third Level Education (Higher Education) in Ireland
The recurrent theme in our sessions was that recent economic prosperity in Ireland (the so-called Celtic Tiger) has produced dizzyingly rapid change in society and, therefore, third level education. To respond to and maintain economic progress, third level education must continue to prepare students for leadership in technology and other growing fields. Additionally, many of our colleagues spoke about the need to increase access -- for those in lower socio-economic levels, for mature students who missed the window of opportunity to attend third level education at the traditional age, and for the new diversity of students given the historic and new trend of immigration as others are attracted to prosperity. Because Irish third level education is currently structured for a teen student, in order to increase access the system will need to reconsider entry requirements, curricular unitization, academic calendar, transferability, and all the sorts of scheduling and support issues that go with a diverse student body.
In a related theme, many spoke of the challenge of diversity at both the societal and university level. In the past, diversity has focused on issues of Christian denomination, and the current waves of immigration will pose questions of race, ethnicity, language, religion, and other issues of diversity not yet imagined. Third level education will play a vital role in that evolution. Among student issues and student development issues, we heard many themes that were familiar in our own work in the US. Of particular interest were issues of student housing (a shortage, with accompanying cost concerns and landlord concerns); suicide rate, especially among young men; and life planning issues for both women and men as a result of relatively recent legalization of birth control and divorce. I found it interesting to note some parallels between the role of the Welfare Officer in the Student Union (student organization) and that of a Resident Assistant in the US, although the Welfare Officer has a much, much bigger "floor." Barry Kehoe, Director of Student Affairs, Dublin City University, has provided an electronic version of his presentation to us on Student Affairs and Student Issues in Ireland. Also, see the website for the Higher Education Authority of Ireland.
I have a ton of notes, so I would welcome e-mails or calls to discuss more of what we learned.