education politics

Nation of knockers

No, this isn’t a post about mammary glands. I was listening to the Newstalk repeats last night when coming home with my colleague Stephen Garvey. The replay was Eamonn Keane’s show and most of the conversation centred around the new home of the UL president Professor Don Barry. I’m of the opinion that Eamonn is a windup merchant who makes some good points but isn’t interested in balanced reportage. It’s an opinion piece, like George Hook, Matt Cooper etc. This was no exception.

Why should any of us give a damn that the president of one of our universities is going to live in a state of the art modern home for the duration of his tenure? It’s owned by UL, it will be used by presidents of UL in the future and it was covered by a philanthropic donation. It is common in many of the best universities in Europe and the US that dean’s/presidents and in exceptional circumstances leading academic staff often occupy salubrious university owned accommodation. Such subsidies are a way of attracting and keeping top staff to occupy prestigious positions. UL have planned this for a while. Sure, I’ve had a salary cut that I’m angry about but that doesn’t mean I want everyone in Ireland to dwell on all the perceived injustices rather than getting on with creating world class universities with world class facilities.

To listen to the report you’d swear the UL president had been given a gift of 2 Million quid by the college and that there was something seedy about this rather banal transaction. It was even compared to FAS. This is patent nonsense. The high build costs are justified by the high quality of the construction and it’s planned longevity. The architecture won’t be to everybody’s taste but you can’t do anything good by pleasing everybody. Prof Barry is objectively doing an excellent job. You only have to see the quality of UL’s courses, the campus and the research in well chosen niches to understand it’s an excellent university. The debt of UL is minor and insignificant relative to the banks and the construction industry. Nobody’s kids are going to suffer because Don Barry was either paid a lot or lived in a nice house yet there’s a cult of lazy journalism looking for easy stories that sees such things hyped and dwelt upon. We actually need to spend more on our higher educational sector if we’re to become internationally credible, not less. Our spend on R&D is much smaller than Sweden, Korea or Finland as a % of GDP yet we want to brand ourselves as a knowledge economy. Lofty ambitions. Considering our small population we’re simply not doing enough to compete. We need to be positive and invest for the future. Some of this will involve recruiting academics for large salaries. Deal with it or we can all mope around, complaining the world is unfair and celebrating our mediocrity.

I have no involvement with UL and if I was concerned with sucking up to people in my blog then I’d have published a lot less posts.