The minister for Employment and Learning (DEL), Dr. Stephen Farry, will undoubtedly be inundated with feedback for his department’s ‘Higher Education Big Conversation’.
In passing (Oct 15) he refers to different funding systems at play in the university sector.
Leading universities such as Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge appear to benefit from large endowments that provide a return on investment that supports their goals and in good years also a surplus to be reinvested.
For example, Harvard’s endowment is managed by a subsidiary, the Harvard Management Company, which reputedly distributed $1.5 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.
The bond market has also been tapped by universities such as Cambridge, which is reported as raising some £350 million a few years ago.
It could be argued that Northern Ireland’s two universities aren’t quite in that league yet.
However the Northern Ireland (NI) Executive could help nudge them in that direction by endowing both with assets currently under the Executive’s control in return for ending DEL’s annual grant support.
The Executive owns much of the office space that it occupies, which could be gifted to each of the universities and rented back from them, and ownership of the considerable land bank under its control could also be transferred.
Moreover they could divest themselves of some political headaches by including the Maze site in this giveaway, and also the Desertcreat police and fire training college as well.
If the Executive wanted to be daring it could transfer NI Water to the universities, and if it wanted to be especially daring it could simply transfer the entire health service portfolio across and task the two universities with health provision.
After all, the minister also observes that ‘Queen’s University’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology has helped take our cancer survival rates to the top of the UK league table’.
Well, if they’re that good, then task them (and Ulster University) with delivering the same excellent service for the rest of our health provision!
In short, provide both NI universities with a substantial endowment each, but in return task both with delivering specific public services to a high standard.
Bernard J. Mulholland, 78 Malone Road BT9