Making higher education count politically

One of the obvious observations one can make regarding higher education in Ireland is that it has not turned heads, politically. The actions of all senior politicians have suggested that they do not fear a political backlash from voters if they are seen to be attacking universities and colleges. This is almost certainly a correct judgement, and it demonstrates that the sector has not been good at making its case to the general public.

However, if we are to stablise the system and make it sustainable, and if we are to succeed in securing a reasonable and predictable framework of funding, then we need to assemble a coherent message that will attract public support. We also need to be willing to make higher education an election issue. In the context it is interesting to observe the very active approach of the UK journal Times Higher Education to the current general election campaign there. In particular the journal has used its presence on Twitter to push higher education issues, and it has sponsored a debate between senior politicians from the main parties.

We need to become politically more active in Ireland. Rather than having to react constantly to the speeches and initiatives of politicians, we need to develop a sector-wide campaign pro-actively to develop higher education, to make the resourcing issues more widely understood to a wider public, to identify issues that require reform and to initiate the process that will produce such reform, and to prompt and lead public debate on research and development. We must stop being victims and start having a political impact.

Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, politics

6 Comments on “Making higher education count politically”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    Eh, Ferdinand… as one of the Magnificent Seven university presidents, whats stopping you? Isn’t it the job of leaders to, well, show some leadership? I don’t mean to personalize this but it seems to me that you guys in the IUA have not been that effective.


    • Kevin, I’d like to think at least that I *have* been doing that, in this blog and elsewhere. However, I agree that the IUA as a whole needs to be more visible in making a strong case in public.

  2. Iainmacl Says:

    Is part of the problem an inability to actually achieve consensus as a group on anything other than basic, obvious issues? With institutions competing against each other and focused on building their own individual reputations, and indeed one might argue that some presidents were appointed to do just that (building the ‘brand’) whilst also appeasing their funders as much as possible. Is it also possible to win public support whilst advocating fees?

  3. Vincent Says:

    @ Iain, I for one believe that the Fees issue has mostly been accepted as long as it does not have some insane Loans dimension for those that cannot otherwise afford it. It is not beyond the ken of people that can dream up the labyrinthine system of finance that exists in ALL Irish Universities to come up with something equitable, fair and reasonable.

    @ Ferdinand, If you do not hang together you will certainly hang individually, de Bello Gallico style. It’s singing from the same sheet that will give you a degree of protection. And it might be little harm to have any spokes person to visit Carr Communications or the ilk. What your brother Maynooth did a few weeks ago was truly sad and in this day and age totally unnecessary.

  4. Jilly Says:

    On a significantly related topic (at least, fees and the politics thereof), I see in today’s Irish Times that 26,000 pupils are currently in schools which have fees of 6000+ euro. It seems to me that this is a highly pertinent point with regard to 3rd level fees, and that more could be made of it by the university sector…

    • iainmacl Says:

      My daughter’s in a state one that is top in the lego robot league (see today’s Irish times, too)…so who needs money for a decent education!!? 😉


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