Date: 04 Jul 2012
For Dean of Irish Business Schools, the Road Ahead Is an Uneasy One
By MELISSA KORN, Wall Street Journal
Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh insists he isn't trying to take over Ireland's business schools. But as dean of University College Dublin's well-regarded business schools, he feels a responsibility to promote collaboration and even consolidation for a shot at making Ireland a global competitor in business education. Grappling with funding cuts and reputational fallout from the financial crisis, the former accounting professor doesn't have an easy road ahead. Prof. Ó hÓgartaigh, 45 years old, took the helm of UCD's undergraduate and graduate business programs—Quinn and the Smurfit School—last August. He joined the school's faculty in 2008.
He spoke with The Wall Street Journal about lessons learned from Ireland's economic struggles—it slid into recession in 2008, the first euro-zone country to do so; the effect of Europe's crisis on students' job prospects; and why applications at his schools are on the rise.
WSJ: While it's taken a back burner to Athens and Madrid recently, Dublin's had some financial troubles of its own. Did your schools have any responsibility for Ireland's economic collapse? How are you helping going forward?
Prof. Ó hÓgartaigh: Some of the [models being taught] were narrow, but to a great extent we were describing market reaction as opposed to creating it. I don't think you could say that business schools were necessarily responsible. Ultimately, people are responsible for their own actions.
It would be a pity if in five years we haven't learned from what happened. Part of our role is to reflect on that, [with] case studies on what went right and what went wrong or what we could have done better. We've revamped our undergraduate program to include the role of business in society, the contribution of business to society. Likewise [for] the M.B.A.
WSJ: What impact has the European financial crisis had on prospective-student interest and job opportunities?
Prof. Ó hÓgartaigh: Our applications are up this year by close to 20% for [graduate students], mainly pre-experience master's. Students are graduating [from undergrad], not getting jobs, coming to Smurfit] and then getting a job after they leave. [Applications to our] undergraduate programs are also up. Our international commerce program has increased by about a third this year.
The potential for employment is still there. We have a very strong cluster of industry in Dublin, in things like social media—Google and Facebook and so on. The food industry and pharma are doing well. The international banks are doing well. What that means is our students are doing well. For example in the M.Sc. finance class of 2011, nearly 90% were employed three months after they graduated. For M.B.A.s, 100%.
WSJ: Given your financial constraints and tough competition from other schools world-wide, are you able to attract faculty?
Prof. Ó hÓgartaigh: We have very strong [nongovernment] revenues, but we are constrained. I'm paid the same as dean as I was as a professor, and there are newly minted Ph.D.s coming out of North American schools who are paid more than I am. [But] it's not all about the salary. We made something like 15 [faculty] offers, and have 12 people coming in. Eight are international.
WSJ: You've said you would like to see some consolidation among the Irish business schools. How?
Prof. Ó hÓgartaigh: We need to compete more internationally than with each other.
There's a scale issue in Ireland. [Smurfit has] 40% of the market share of M.B.A.s in Ireland [by revenue]. The other 60% is quite fragmented. Every business school [has tax lecturers], but probably only one or two. If we wanted to develop an international tax program it would make sense to push all of that tax faculty together. We have spoken to other schools about it, and there's an interest in collaborating, but to what extent has yet to be fleshed out. In the long term, we've been asking if there [could be] one graduate [business] school in Ireland. In some ways the current climate is the wrong time [for consolidation] because it would be seen as budgetary, as opposed to strategic. I see this as strategic, not necessarily financial.
WSJ: What would entice someone from overseas to study business in Ireland?
Prof. Ó hÓgartaigh: We're the only English-speaking country in the euro zone. That's an important part of our identity. We're a very globalized, internationally focused country as a consequence. Retail, construction, [the] public sector are suffering, but the export economy is doing really, really well. The intangible piece, which is more difficult to sell, is about the mood of the place. We're known for our culture, we're known for theater, the arts, music. But the brand has suffered. We were the poster boys of prosperity, and we're now the poster boys, in some ways, of austerity. [At least] we have managed to keep out of the same sentence as Greece and Spain.