It’s that time of year again when well-meaning people I know will say something like this to me: ‘ I expect you are now getting busy again.’ I usually nod politely and bite my lip. Well yes, we are busy, but frankly we’ve been pretty busy throughout the summer, and I expect this is true all over the Irish university system. In university life as in other professions there are times and seasons, but really no period (except for the week between Christmas and New Year, and perhaps the first week of August) when nothing much is happening in academic life. When the students return next month it will change the nature of people’s busyness somewhat (though not necessarily mine), but it will not be an awakening from slumber.

Nevertheless, slipping out of defensive mode, the return of continuing students and the arrival of new students is always a major moment in the life cycle of colleges. It is a time when you can almost touch and smell the sense of intellectual adventure the accompanies the start of term, before, at least for some, this is worn down by the pressures of daily life.

But while as a nation we are aware of the renewal that takes place at the beginning of the academic year, it is not quite the same national experience that can be found, for example, in France. I confess that I am not a particular fan of the French education system, and their universities in particular are surprisingly uninteresting and unimaginative. But I do like the concept of ‘La Rentrée‘, the annual phenomenon that takes over French national consciousness about this time. It means ‘the return’, and it is a reference to the opening of the educational year. But it is more than that: it involves a sense of national celebration of education, a movement rather than an event.

In Ireland the event that attracts the most attention in education is the period when students sit the Leaving Certificate examinations. But in a way, the interest in ‘the Leaving’ is concerned with performance and results, not with educational or pedagogical principle. It is not a time for anticipation and reflection, in the way that La Rentrée can be.

So as we prepare to see the return of the old students, and the arrival of new students, we could perhaps spend a moment thinking about what education means to us individually and as a country, and what we could be doing to enhance standards and meet society’s needs and expectations.

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4 Comments on “Returning”

  1. Dimitri Says:

    I really like the idea of a reflection on what education means, but I am not sure that this would resemble “la rentrée”.

    I lived in France for the first 22 years of my life, (a period which involved a fair amount of rentrées, obviously), and never felt September was a celebration of education.
    There is a limited aspect of reflection, but usually more in terms of cost for families.

    I think there is a much stronger sense of anticipation in June, for the Baccalauréat (French leaving cert’). The first day in particular, traditionally dedicated to the Philosophy exam, the exam questions trust the headlines, and politicians and/or writers are often asked to give their thoughts on these.
    For typical coverage, see e.g.

    It may also be true that, living it from the inside, I could have missed something which would appear more obvious to a foreign eye.

  2. […] on his always-interesting blog, Diary of a University President. In his full post on ‘Returning‘, he talks about the ups and downs of the start of a ‘new’ academic year. Of […]

  3. Perry Share Says:

    it is notable that the ‘rentree’ in Ireland is becoming ever-earlier. Whereas many students used to be able to amble back some time in mid-October, that date is getting closer to 1 Sept, or even earlier, as the demands of semesterisation and the complexities of the exam process put pressure on available time. This has contributed significantly to the increased productivity of the third level sector over the last few years, but has been largely unremarked outside the system.

  4. […] van zijn opmerkingen wel vinden. Op 27 augustus schreef hij over het fenomeen van wat hij noemt a major moment in the life cycle of  colleges. Daarmee verwijst hij naar het opnieuw aankomen van wat in Ierland continuying students wordt […]

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