Academics push to end economic approach to education

A DCU professor has called for the aim of the university system to be rethought before it becomes tied to economic interests or political positions.

Prof Ronnie Munck addressed staff and students gathered at an open ‘Defend the University’ forum held on campus recently.

The forum was attended by a host of well-known academics and experts calling on the government to back-track on what they see as an increasingly economics-focused approach to education.

The recently-established ‘Defend the University’ campaign’s charter for action was launched at the forum, and contains 10 key principles aimed at resisting the ‘under-funding, commercialisation, and privatisation’ of third-level education.

Some of the points set out in the charter include: ‘The Irish University is a public good, not a private profit-making institution, and corporations or business interests should not dictate teaching or research agendas’, and ‘the third mission of universities is about engaging communities and addressing social disadvantage, and not just about ‘enterprise engagement’.

Speakers at the forum included UCD professor and author of ‘Academic Armageddon: An Irish Requiem for Higher Education’, Mary Gallagher, who stated that third-level education in Ireland had become “a confidence trick and a scam”.

She said: “What we are selling students is fundamentally a lie… Higher education is something the student claims for themselves and they can only claim it if they are willing to think critically and in a questioning way.”

Professor at the University of London and author of ‘The Assualt on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance’, Des Freedman, spoke about the UK system where academic freedom is being curtailed due to rising fees, a lack of competition and reduced job security.

He described the current situation in Britain as “a fairly stark warning to Ireland” if there is no resistance to the cutbacks.

Following the forum’s conclusion, Munck described how “the speeches from the invited speakers but also from participants showed me the real concern out there over the future of the Irish university.

“Students, at the end of the day, are why we have universities. But what role do they play in debating the future of the Irish higher education system?

“There are many more progressive options out there than the narrow business agenda now being pursued. We owe it to ourselves and those coming after us to at least debate the options and bring the great traditions of the Irish university to bear.”

The campaign’s public petition to the government can be signed online.

Darragh McGrath

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