Minister O’Keefe dissolves NUI

The Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keefe, has announced plans to dissolve the National Union of Ireland. The NUI incorporates four of the main Irish universities- University College Dublin, University College Cork, NUI Maynooth and NUI Galway. Minister O’Keefe acknowledged the important role the NUI has played in Irish education for more than a century, but said the changing nature of the university infrastructure in the country had drastically reduced its function.
“The central role of the NUI was significantly reduced in the Universities Act, 1997, and the need to have a separate body undertaking what is now a limited set of functions has been outlived. The NUI’s four constituent universities – University College Dublin, University College Cork, NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth – have the same statutory status as the State’s three other universities but a small number of administrative and academic functions are still carried out on their behalf by the NUI.”
‘Work will now be carried out on redistributing the remaining functions of the NUI and it is envisaged that many of them will be undertaken by the constituent universities,’ said Minister O’Keeffe.
In the October 2008 budget, the government announced that the role of the NUI would be reassessed. The McCarthy Report recommended the dissolution of the organization.   A Bill to establish a new qualifications and quality assurance agency for the further and higher education sectors is now being drafted.
The Minister explained that he felt the small number of administrative functions carried out by the umbrella organization were no longer necessary, and could be easily managed between the universities in question.
This move comes despite a strong lobby from the NUI led by current chancellor Dr. Maurice Manning. In a document designed to support this lobby, the NUI said last month: “It has taken over 100 years of distinguished and highly credible service to build up this unique national brand for Ireland; to dismantle it would be a disaster for Irish education and for the country as a whole. It would dismantle a national institution which has a proud record of support for the language, culture and tradition of Ireland.”
The NUI has met with opposition in the past, as UCD president Hugh Brady and former UCC president Gerry Wrixon saw the NUI as a block to establishing a strong ‘brand’ for their own universities. The NUI also blocked UCD’s 2006 decision to award an honorary doctorate to writer Edna O’Brien.
Minister O’Keefe’s announcement has met with attacks from Fine Gael, who claim the decision was taken without proper consultation with universities and graduates. Brian Hayes, the party’s Education Minister, said, ““The decision of Minister O’Keeffe to unilaterally abolish the National University of Ireland has been taken without consultation with the universities concerned and is totally pre-emptive of the Government’s own strategy on higher education which Colin Hunt has been asked to identify.”
“The abolition of the National University of Ireland was proposed in the McCarthy Report. That Report suggested that €3 million could be saved. The truth of the matter is that the NUI does not receive €3 million from the taxpayer and is an important academic alliance for those universities that are members of the NUI.”
He claimed this decision was typical of the government’s piecemeal and incoherent planning for education in Ireland. The decision was also criticised by Conradh na Gaeilge secretary Julian de Spainn, who said that “We would hope that the universities that were under NUI retain the Irish language as an entry requirement.” The possibility of a change in this requirement is one of a number of unknowns in the weake of the NUI’s dissolution.