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.


Mary Hanafin creates another roadblock to the WIT university campaign

Our wonderful Minister for Education Of Everybody Outside the South East, that’s Mary Hanafin, has decided “clear criteria for university designation would have to be established before the WIT application could be addressed in any detail.”. The Irish Times report can be found here
I’m glad she’s decided clear criteria should be put in place, that will waste another year or so as did the Port Report and Professor Farquhar’s report. Funny thing is that when you read the port report it creates some reasonable evaluation criteria of its own and essentially endorses WIT’s claim for University status. Indeed Dr. Port appears apologetic for having to craft a report in the absense of the “clear criteria” that he foresees as a governmental imperative to make the decision. Professional timewasting rather than the amateur kind. Despite the endorsement from Dr. Port that we have the facilities, strategy and administration to be upgraded It’s nice to know that Ministers for Education need to carefully consider anything which may benefit the South East when they can unilaterally upgrade all RTC’s to IT’s without any evaluation criteria clearer than appeasing voters. So long as they’re not in the South East…
Yet out regional need is overlooked and the process is being drawn out unnecessarily. From a time of optimistic prosperity to our current sober economic climate. If the delaying tactics continue much longer the Dept of Education will suggest with some reasonableness they can’t afford it. It’s a question of priorities of course but suffice to say that Mary is one minister I’d like to see reshuffled.