Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Conference paper, 2013.


The 2008 global financial crisis (GFC) has cast a long shadow over Ireland and Irish higher education. In 2009, the IMF (2009) said Ireland was experiencing an “unprecedented economic correction…that exceeds that being faced currently by any other advanced economy”, while Ireland’s National Economic and Social Development Office (NESC 2009) said Ireland was beset by five different crises: a banking crisis, a fiscal crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis and a reputational crisis. These circumstances provide the best explanation for the policy choices now confronting the government and higher education as they struggle to sustain the publicly-funded mass higher education and university-based research system, and reposition the country as a globally competitive knowledge society attractive to mobile capital and skilled labour. Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely that public funding for higher education will ever return to the levels enjoyed during the previous “golden age”. This paper examines the background and policy challenges confronting the government and higher education. After providing an overview of the economic and policy context, the chapter summarises four key policy challenges: i) creating a coherent higher education “system”; ii) sustainability; iii) research excellence; and iv) quality and performance. The conclusion discusses the challenges in terms of policy-trade offs and considers the implications.