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and the government are neglecting the humanities in favor
of science and technology, and are converting universities
into factories to fuel industrial growth—in Ireland, of all
places, where the humanities have such historic cultural value.
“Underlying these changes is an increasingly dominant view
of the university system as a strategic component of the Irish
economy and its development,” complained GeraldMills, vice
president of the Irish
Federation of University
Teachers.
“Ultimately,
the question for all
universities is simple,”
proclaimed a report by
the students’ union and
graduate students’ union
at Trinity—alma mater,
after all, of Samuel
Beckett, Edmund
Burke, Jonathan Swift
and Oscar Wilde.
“Does the university
serve knowledge and
education as an end in
itself—in other words,
constitute an academic institution—or does the university
perceive knowledge as a means to an end, in other words exist
as a market-driven institution?”
Through the endless traffic and across the city, at
University College Dublin, a degree-conferring ceremony
is getting under way for mid-year graduates dressed in their
academic robes and finery—saffron for Celtic studies, scarlet
for health sciences, St. Patrick’s blue for science—in front of
an audience of beaming relatives with flashing cameras. At
the center of the stage stands Hugh Brady, an accomplished
nephrologist who returned to the university from a ten-year
stint at Harvard, and has since become its president.
It is the largest university in Ireland, with 22,000 students,
but one that was widely seen as underachieving. Its own
strategic plan, released in 2004, concluded that UCD
had “significant unrealized potential.” A vast number of
departments (90) and faculties (11), many of them tiny and
often overlapping, led to an evident duplication of academic
effort and discouraged interdisciplinary collaboration.
Promotion procedures were archaic.
The sweeping changes Brady has already made at UCD
symbolize the shift in Irish higher education—and the
tensions it has been causing. He has adopted the American-
style semester system, added a popular menu of electives,
taken administrative responsibilities away from academic
faculty, streamlined the route to promotion, begun a 15-year
modernization of the bland 1960s- and 1970s-style campus,
launched a branding and advertising campaign, and merged
the 11 faculties into five colleges with new graduate divisions,
and the 90 departments into 35 schools with five principals in
place of the former academic chairmen.
In the future, a quarter of UCD’s students will be
postgraduates, up from just under a fifth today. The university
will be “research-led,” Brady has proclaimed, and will rank
among the top 30 universities in Europe—a huge ambition
considering that UCD does not currently make it to the top
300 of the influential Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings of world
universities or the top 200 of the Times Higher Education
Supplement international league tables, where the only Irish
institution that does appear is Trinity. Brady said he intends to
make UCD Ireland’s premier graduate-level institution.
These changes may have gone over well with prospective
students—the number who made UCD their first choice
among Irish universities is up ten percent—but they have
caused a drop in the morale of faculty, many of whomwere
stripped of administrative titles and power and merged into
larger departments. There was no other choice, Brady said;
within the kind of tiny enclaves that existed previously, “you
develop bunkers and silos, and the more entrenched they
become the harder it is to get people to talk to their neighbors.
I think that’s true of universities in general.” Brady’s intention
to make UCD into the top graduate university in Ireland
didn’t do much to win the goodwill of other Irish university
heads, either—especially when he started hiring star faculty
away fromNational University of Ireland, Galway, National
University of Ireland, Maynooth, and University College Cork.
The so-called “poaching” episode grew so heated it ended
up embroiling the prime minister. Education minister
Mary Hanafin scolded that poaching by the universities
would jeopardize the nation’s economic plans. “Rather than
competing on the small stage, we should be winning on
the international stage,” she said. Brady finally signed on in
September to an anti-poaching protocol that calls for open
recruitment of faculty and contracts with senior researchers,
including minimum periods of appointment.
Brady concedes that collaboration is fine, but still insists
competition has its place. “You’ll never get rid of it, nor
should you,” he said over coffee in a conference room after the
conferral ceremony. “Institutions will still compete for the best
academics. That does not obviate the development of trans-
As successful as
Ireland has been
at furnishing
undergraduate
education, it is only
now starting to do
research or produce
postgraduates in
many disciplines.
Education minister Mary Hanafin occasionally must tamp down the competitive fires
of Irish universities, especially in the bidding for new faculty members.