Are we neglecting the humanities?

As the various reports about and proposals for universities in Ireland have emerged in recent years, one of the regular points of concern expressed by those  commenting on them has been that all our higher education strategy seems to be focused on science and engineering. Certainly the funding for the national research agenda has been particularly generous to those fields that are covered by Science Foundation Ireland.

In fact, the funding of research in science, engineering and ICT is of vital significance as Ireland seeks to stay out of recession and move towards renewed economic growth. And in fairness, there are increasing opportunities for researchers in the humanities and social sciences to make contributions to the major science research programmes.

But equally it has to be said the a higher education sector in which the arts, humanities and social sciences appear to be second class citizens will not be able to support and sustain a cultured, equitable and literate society, which is also significant in maintaining a successful and stable economy, as well as being vital in its own right.

It is therefore to be welcomes that, at the current time, there is to be a Foresight in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Exercise, conducted jointly by the Higher Education Authority and the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences – the terms of reference can be seen here.

Over recent years there has been the development of a clear strategy for science and engineering, which has well understood policy goals and significant funding. It is now vital to achieve the same for the humanities and social sciences. This is both right from an intellectual point of view and important for practical reasons: issues such as the management of migration, the development of a properly understood framework of ethics, the development of proper linguistic skills, the drawing up of a proper framework for the performing arts have a major national significance and require strong and confident teams working in the humanities.

It is to be hoped that the Foresight exercise will be conducted speedily and will have visible results – the country will benefit strongly if that is the case.

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2 Comments on “Are we neglecting the humanities?”

  1. Kelly Says:

    There might be a contradiction between your last post and this one. The best way to rise up the league tables (particularly the Shanghai Jaio Tong) is to concentrate funding on the sciences. There does not seem to be a league table produced yet that considers in any signifcant way a strong contribution to the humanities and social sciences. The types of resarch output that seem to count most these days do not often do justice to the range of sometimes rather intangible outputs from the humanities and social science fields. After all, how do you ‘measure’ something that is, as you say, ‘vital in its own right’?

  2. Eoin O'Dell Says:

    “Are we neglecting the humanities?” Yes, we are. We have at least since the Culliton report recommended putting Irish education on an enterprise footing to support industry, and especially in the sciences etc. Historic underfuding across the board at third level was exacerbated in the case of the Arts & Humanities by directing policy-oriented funding at science in this way. I don’t begrudge the sciences any of this largesse; but it was unequally conceived, and I decry that inequality. If the “Foresight … Exercise” can reverse this double whammy of historic underfunding and inequitable policy, all well and good. But I won’t hold my breath.


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