Students4Change criticises “corporate model” of education as FOI data reveals disparities in school funding

Figures reflect a gap in funding for “blue skies” research as 2,500 sign an open letter calling for a “balanced and progressive research ecosystem”

Students4Change (S4C) has obtained access to per-school funding amounts for the 24 schools in College following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The figures, seen by Trinity News, reflect a gap in funding between schools that predominantly engage in “blue skies” research, in which real-world applications are not immediately apparent, as opposed to schools which engage in applied research, which seeks to solve a specific problem or create a product.

In 2022, funding for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHSS) schools ranged from €2,011,529 for the School of Creative Arts to €19,064,757 for the School of Business, with a mean average of €5,594,200 across the faculty’s 12 schools.

Funding for Engineering, Mathematics, and Science (EMS) ranged from €3,122,276 for the School of Mathematics to €11,780,806 for the School of Engineering, with a mean average of €6,782,493 across eight EMS schools.

The Faculty of Health Sciences, the smallest faculty by number of schools, had the largest average amount of funding per School, at a mean average of €12,750,557. This ranged from €30,857,364 for the School of Medicine to €4,593,556 for the School of Dental Sciences.

S4C noted that the Schools of Business and Mathematics were outliers in their faculties. The more than €19m in funding for the School of Business was considerably larger than the median funding for AHSS schools, which was almost €4m, while the funding for mathematics was well below the median funding of over €5m for sciences, highlighting the difference in funding between blue skies and applied research.

While they noted that there were additional costs associated with certain schools, such as laboratories, equipment, and technology, S4C criticised the current funding model for ignoring the need for “permanent, secure and well-paid contracts” for academic staff, and highlighted that approximately 50% of teaching staff are on casual contracts in College.

S4C also criticised the Baseline Budgeting Model (BBM) used by College to help allocate funding to Schools. 80% of the BBM is calculated by teaching activity, measured by student numbers and hitting agreed student number targets, and 20% of the BBM is calculated by research activity.

László Molnárfi, Chairperson of S4C, said: “The question is not merely whether research is being conducted, but what type of research, in what working conditions and what the funding trends are, and what invisible economic factors are influencing outcomes. It is evident that capital attempts to rework our third-level institutions in its own image.”

“The state, through sidelining blue skies research while promoting marketable research in grant funding and underfunding our institutions, creates the conditions for the decline of blue skies research in favour of research that can be integrated into the labour market.”

College spokesperson Catherine O’Mahoney, said: “Trinity does not direct the kind of work that researchers do as this would impinge on the principle of academic freedom – they are free to pursue research in whatever direction it takes them. But there has been a tendency, given the paucity of funding, for researchers to look into non-traditional funding sources.”

“A balanced research landscape is essential for researchers in all fields of enquiry. It is important to note that the cost of doing research varies enormously across disciplines and often within disciplines. Trinity has always championed AHSS research and will continue to do so as we advocate for a rebalancing of the research-funding ecosystem in Ireland to fully support excellent research across all disciplines.”

The future of research in Ireland is currently a subject of debate, as government prepares to introduce the The Research and Innovation Bill 2023 to the Dáil. The bill proposes a merger of Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council to create a new Research and Innovation funding agency.

Over 2,500 people have signed an open letter calling for a “balanced and progressive research ecosystem”. The letter included demands for the bill to include a “meaningful definition” of research “that is inclusive of every sector of knowledge and career stage and where there is balance between STEM and AHSS”.

S4C had to appeal to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) for access to the data after their FOI request was denied by College. College’s initial decision was annulled by the OIC on the basis that it did not comply with the terms of the FOI Act 2014, and it was ordered to conduct a fresh review of the request.

Additional reporting by David Wolfe.