At the recent DCU Students’ Union Class Rep Council, I proposed an emergency motion to endorse the ‘Defend the University’ Charter, which was passed unanimously by Class Rep Council. This charter created by DCU academics and trade union activists advocates against the further commercialization of our higher education system. In a time of political and economic crises this debate is most welcome.
There has been a shift, more noticeable since the onslaught of the great recession, that over the past decade or so, Irish universities have moved closer and closer towards the business industry and have become more reliant on their funding. There is no question that universities should be allowed to utilise such fundraising opportunities. However, this represents a fundamental shift in the dynamic of a university.
What is most worrying is this shift has happened without the rigorous discussion and debate that it deserves. There are a number of possibilities that could occur if we continue to shift towards a business/privately funded model for our university.
In this world there would be no places named ‘The Street’ or ‘The Hub’ or ‘The Henry Grattan’, all of these buildings would be sponsored by various companies and these companies would want their sponsorship recognised by imprinting their crass branding onto it. In this world, university authorities could come to the conclusion that they are tired of the restrictions (and accountability) that come with being state funded, and decide they want to move to the private model (as Trinity Provost Patrick Prendergast suggested recently), which would mean an inevitable reintroduction of a high rate fees system.
In this world, you would no longer be a student, but a consumer. This is probably the most dangerous of all as the relationship between lecturer and student would be fundamentally changed. In this world the customer is always right and that means the lecturer is no longer an authority figure allowed to challenge students on their beliefs or thought processes.
In this world university would no longer be a place of critical thinking or original thought, or a place where world views are challenged. It would be a factory, a machine that slaps each student with a university degree, with no consideration for actually fostering true education and learning.
This issue is an important one; fundamentally it is about the ethos of the university. The importance of an ‘ethos’ is often undervalued and the impact it can have is underestimated.
It is vital that students contribute to this debate and ensure that they influence its final outcome. This debate will define the makeup of the higher education system in Ireland for generations to come. This is not an issue that we should watch from the sidelines. Our voice must be heard and our influence much be felt in this debate.
Sean Cassidy is the Opinions Editor of The College View and is a former activist within the DCU Students’ Union and DCU Societies.