Thursday 17 October 2019

Business focus 'threatens universities'

Picture posed. Thinkstock
Picture posed. Thinkstock

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

IRISH universities are in danger of being destroyed by an increasing focus on running them as a back-up for business rather than centres of learning, academics have said.

The trend is bad for students, society and even the economy, according to a new campaign.

More than 700 lecturers and academics across the seven Irish universities are giving their backing to the pressure group, whose central message is that universities must work for the good of society, not just business.

'Defend the University' was launched in Dublin by the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) and SIPTU, which represent academic staff in Irish universities. It mirrors a similar campaign internationally.

IFUT general secretary Mike Jennings and Ronnie Munck of SIPTU said there was widespread consensus that the Irish university was in a deep crisis.

Mr Jennings said the problem was often diagnosed as one of finances alone, and while the continuous bleeding of funding for education was a most serious cause of concern, there was an even deeper crisis.

He said there was a failure of the imagination and a rush toward marketisation and managerialism.

"This will destroy Irish higher education as a source of new ideas and understanding of our society if not reversed," he said.

Mr Munck said the basic question was whether the university was run according to the business logic of a profit-making enterprise, or maintained and developed as a public service with a social accountability.

He said while university research was largely paid for by the public purse, universities were increasingly becoming a research back-up for the private sector, in non-transparent partnerships where the private/public divide was blurred. "The consequences for our students, society and, indeed, the Irish economy are incalculable," he said.

Launching the campaign, Jens Vraa-Jensen, chairperson of the European Standing Committee for Higher Education, Education International, said that universities must be guaranteed autonomy, funding and freedom to search for deeper truths than just solutions to the latest contemporary crisis.

He said they must not be forced to conform to short-term interests of business or government, which could subsequently be changed for reasons of expediency.

Irish Independent

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