The Changing Landscape of Development Education

Autumn 2007

Development education and research at third level in Ireland

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Su-ming Khoo, Carol Healy & Kelly Coate


This article opens up debates about development education (DE) within the third level context in Ireland. It focuses on the research landscape, specifically some impacts and contradictions brought about by the recent expansion of research activity and argues that there is a need for more critical debate on the consequences of this expansion.  Su-ming Khoo, Carol Healy and Kelly Coate argue that changes in the research landscape push to the fore the wider debate and struggle over what research and teaching are about and for, and how the two should relate to each other.




Research that relates to development education currently comprises a very minor part of the overall research landscape, with relatively little funded and published research on the area. There has been a recent expansion in research, mainly funded by Irish Aid in pursuit of a strategic development education programme. This article primarily overviews the more general trends in research, recognizing that these trends will have an impact on development education.  At present, the emerging landscape is complex and research about Irish development education is at a very early stage.  Our approach in this paper is to initiate critical debate by documenting some of the challenges facing all educators and researchers, including development educators.

            From a DE perspective, education ‘...has a complex role to play in individual and community development and in the economy, environment, politics and society at national and global levels’ (Faul, 2007:9). This corresponds to a global vision of third-level education as part of ‘...economic, cultural and social development’ and contributing to ‘...shared values and ethics which are the foundation of social cohesion and nation building’ (UNESCO, 2003:12-13). The expansion of research presents new opportunities for third-level educators, as researchers, to explore this complex role and develop new approaches to DE. Yet, our initial impressions of the Irish research landscape suggest that the expansion of research, when coupled with more intensive teaching activities, may lead to tensions and contradictions. There are now more opportunities to conduct research and improve teaching. However, proponents of DE as an emancipatory and humanistic educational project may be concerned at the demands of the new research landscape and the instrumental view of knowledge embedded in the new research programmes.

            Research impacts on DE in different ways. On the positive side, it brings the promise of new, more informed activities and audiences, and may lead to new meanings of DE (Khoo, 2006). However, as research becomes more programmatic and policy focused, new constraints and unintended outcomes are also likely to follow. The current research funding mechanisms favour a narrow, instrumental view of knowledge production, and embed competitive processes that run counter to the more cooperative, egalitarian, ‘sharing’ modes of working that inform development education practice.

            While third-level institutions continue to defend long-standing traditions of scholarship, marketisation is problematic for those who view knowledge as a public good. Economistic and instrumental goals and values have been consistently emphasised and successively re-affirmed in Irish and European education policy, most recently in the Lisbon Agenda and the Irish responses to it (An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, 2005).

            Jenkins and Mackenzie (2007) review a similarly changing landscape in the UK and pose several pertinent questions: How should development educators deal with the ‘marketisation’ of education? In what way does the globalising economy impact on the content of DE? Should DE engage with business as well as trade unions? What is the ‘skills and knowledge balance’ needed for learners to become both social and economic actors on the global scale?  These questions show how aware development educators are of the inherent tension between marketised understandings of education and the need to critique such understandings. The engagement with business and the focus on work and skills show how far the DE goalposts have already moved away from traditional preoccupations with radical and emancipatory critique. We take the debate about marketisation to be crucial and suggest that many other key questions are linked to it.  


The expansion of research


Before 1998, funding for research was comparatively limited and there was relatively little emphasis on it. Irish researchers mainly followed the ‘lone scholar’ model, with little strategic direction or programmatic funding (Forfás 2007:12). A new phase of public investment at the end of the 1990s brought dramatic changes. Two new Research Councils were created to direct and channel research funding - the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) and Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET). In addition, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) became a major research funding agency when it took over the research role of Enterprise Ireland in 2003. Its research budget grew rapidly from €11 million in 2003 to €114 million in 2004. Under the National Development Plan (NDP) 2007-2013, SFI will fund €1.4 billion of scientific research in two targeted areas – biotechnology and information technology.

            The Higher Education Authority (HEA) runs the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI), cross-cutting other dedicated research programmes by funding infrastructural development for research. Between 1998 and 2003 the PRTLI scheme committed three cycles of funding worth €604.5 million. Two-thirds of PRTLI funds were spent on buildings and equipment, the remaining one-third going to recurrent expenditure on research projects (HEA, 2004). 

European research programmes add another layer of complexity. The Seventh Framework Programme 2007-2013 (FP7) will be a substantial contributor to Irish research. Over €50 billion will be available over the seven year period from the European Commission to develop a more integrated European Research Area. Most of the funding will targeted at creating collaborative pan-European research teams, with a broad focus on economic growth, employment, competitiveness and sustainability (Cordis, 2007). 

The Irish Aid (IA) - HEA Programme of Strategic Cooperation and the Health Research Board's (HRB) Global Health Research Programme, are more specifically relevant to development cooperation. These research funds announced the provision of €12.5 million and €1 million respectively in 2007. Neither are designed for commercial advantage, both aiming to explicitly benefit disadvantaged groups on a global scale. Both programmes are based on Irish Aid policies, outlined in the White Paper on Irish Aid (Irish Aid, 2006). This policy emphasises poverty reduction, gender equality, good governance, and the environment, with special reference to Irish Aid's programme countries (predominantly the poorest African countries). 

A new institutional emphasis on research has developed, permeating the strategic direction and culture of the whole tertiary sector. In order to manage these changes, every university has made senior appointments (Deans or Vice-Presidents of Research). However, the research landscape still appears somewhat uncoordinated, with different funding bodies administering separate academic research schemes, each with its own criteria and deadlines. The number of overlapping research agencies and initiatives in Ireland is problematic because of the small size of the system, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recommended more centralized and strategic research planning. One of their specific recommendations is that SFI’s role should be expanded to cover the IRCHSS and IRCSET (OECD, 2006: 67). While the same report acknowledges the role of universities in promoting the ‘intellectual and artistic life of the nation and…contribution to citizenship and civil society’ (2006:24), the implications are that non-commercial research areas could get subsumed under the priorities of industry-driven science and technology research.  


Marketisation: Academic capitalism?


The growing influence of market rationality on the higher education systems has led some observers to coin the phrase ‘academic capitalism’ (Slaughter & Leslie, 1999). Academic teaching and research are pushed towards the realities of a global knowledge marketplace as institutions compete for fee-paying students and research funding. In national and regional fora, the tertiary sector is understood as a site of production for the growth economy - producing ideas and people to drive economic development and national competitiveness. While academia is still regarded as a site of traditional scholarship, teaching and learning have become somewhat ‘marketised’. There is greater emphasis on graduate teaching and research, and evident bias towards specific areas of science, technology and engineering, as well as pro-market values. In PRTLI, biosciences accounted for half the research grants, while physics and environmental sciences accounted for a further 10% each. Social and information sciences research gained about 5% of research funds, while the least commercial humanities sector accounted for only 2.7% (HEA, 2004). A review of the PRTLI acknowledges that the primary goals for the PRTLI are not strictly market-led, however it openly and uncritically recommends the ultimate goal of ‘embedding an ethos of commercialisation’ (HEA, 2004:3).

            Running somewhat counter to the rather narrow definition of science and technology research, the recent Royal Irish Academy (RIA) Report (2007) defends the traditional importance of non-commercial research in a wide range of subjects for ‘balanced development’.  The RIA promotes a broader interpretation of ‘innovation’ and presents the humanities and social sciences as being ‘...integral to the development of culture, the economy, and society as a whole’ (RIA, 2007:xiii). However, even this report acknowledges the dominant logic of academic capitalism. It justifies humanities research as investment in the knowledge-based economy, highlighting the supporting role played by the arts and humanities to Ireland’s economic growth. The proportion of research funding allocated to the social sciences and humanities shows a divergence between teaching and research priorities. 58% of undergraduates choose humanities and social sciences (HEA, 2007a). One challenge is the limited opportunity for progression to research in the humanities and social sciences subjects due to the small proportion of research funding that these subjects receive.  As we write, a further €230 million of PRTLI funding has been allocated, with greater spending (18.7%) than previously on the humanities and social sciences (HEA 2007b), which may offer better prospects.

            Academic capitalism has led to a market rationality entering an essentially non-market landscape (Skilbeck, 2001). In the UK, this has led to some bitter comments about the negative effects on research quality and academic morale, as researchers and departments are ranked in a crude, materialistic and psychologically destructive way (Harley, 2002 quoted in Sidhu, 2006:121). However, the Irish tertiary sector is not very marketised in the literal sense. It is almost entirely government funded with the state contributing 85-90% of all funding in 2001-02. The sector became less private when the government moved to provide free undergraduate tuition in 1995-6 (OECD, 2004:15). Despite its highly public nature, the market language of the new research agenda seems to pull the sector in contradictory directions. The next three sections explore three areas of tension and contradiction before returning to discuss the prospects for DE. These are the public-private paradox, the demands and risks of research and the tensions between research and teaching.


The public-private paradox  


Cite article as: Khoo, S, Healy, C & Coate, K (2007) 'Development education and research at third level in Ireland', Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, Vol. 5, Autumn, pp. 5-19.