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national economic growth or the earnings of graduates,”
Barrett concluded in an article in
Administration
, the quarterly
journal of Ireland’s Institute of Public Administration.
What really angers Barrett is the comparison of such things
as Irish patent applications and research and development
spending with those of countries like Finland. Despite the fact
that Finland greatly outpaces Ireland in both categories, he
points out, it has a 9.1 percent unemployment rate compared
to Ireland’s 3.9 percent, and Irish annual growth rates over a
decade were three and a half times those of Finland.
“Other countries should adopt Irish economic policy
rather than Ireland adopt other countries’ R&D policies,”
Barrett fumed in shotgun bursts. “This is an incredible success
story except in the minds of the heads of universities. I don’t
know what crisis these guys are dealing with other than the
one they’ve contrived.
Did we get here by
being stupid? We were
doing extremely well;
there’s no need to
start dismantling the
university system.”
At Trinity, the
dismantling that
Barrett speaks of has
included merging
his department with
education, law, social
sciences, philosophy,
social work and
psychology into a
new Faculty of Social
and Human Sciences.
But he is not alone in
decrying the apparent
emphasis on science
over the humanities.
“It’s a bit like the
Unionist Party that
used to run Northern
Ireland: minority rule.
The bulk of resources
goes to the smallest
cadre of students who
are in science and
technology instead
of the humanities,”
Barrett said. Because
secondary school graduates have lower leaving certificate
scores in math and science than in the humanities, Barrett
reasons, pushing them into science and technology courses
will bring down the average quality of university students.
“University students in Ireland are university students in the
purest sense, to get an education, not just to get a job,” Barrett
said. University administrators and government officials who
he sees as tailoring Irish education to feed the needs of the
economy “are old-style mercantilist philistines,” he said.
Not true, say the officials. “Our humanities scholars point
out, and they’re right, that all of our Nobel prizes have been
in the humanities,” said
Brady at UCD, whose
graduates have included
James Joyce. “One could
form the impression
from the public debate
of late that the economic
dimension is the
principal preoccupation
of our society,” Hegarty
admitted in an opening
address to the Irish
Universities Association
Conference on the
Humanities and Social Sciences on his campus in October.
But he added that, especially at a time when great changes are
transforming Irish society, “there is now a pressing need to
rearticulate the critical importance of the arts, humanities and
social sciences.”
In the high-ceilinged office of the 1760 provost’s house,
hung with oil paintings of Edmund Burke and John Pentland
Mahaffy (an earlier Trinity provost who was also Oscar
Wilde’s tutor), Hegarty said the humanities are important to
Ireland’s economy, too. “Foreign investment involves people,
and companies are looking at the quality of the society
they’re coming to,” he said. (“He may be saying he values
the humanities,” Barrett countered, “but he’s been doing
everything he can to undermine them.”)
Hanafin, the education secretary, repeated this idea. “Our
universities are more critical than ever in helping us to make
sense of these changes,” she said. “It is absolutely fundamental
that we preserve a balance between the humanities and
science. Failure to do so would be to ignore the essential
responsibility of our institutions of higher learning in a
civilized society.”
u
JonMarcus is a writer based in Boston who covers higher
education in the U.S. for the (UK)
Times Higher Education
magazine.
By concentrating on research and graduate studies,
President Hugh Brady of University College Dublin hopes
to build his campus into one of the top 300 universities in
Europe.
The government
strategy for forcing
universities to focus
on their research
strengths has had
an extraordinarily
quick impact.