No nose for Irish industry?

In a world where statements about higher education are often less than fully informed, it is important that the dialogue between universities and the relevant regulatory body – in Ireland’s case the Higher Education Authority – is conducted with a degree of sensitivity and mutual respect. Mostly that has been the case, even where there are disagreements. Therefore I found it somewhat startling when the new chair of the HEA, John Hennessy, was recently reported by the Irish Independent as saying that some academics in the arts and humanities ‘”hold their nose” at the idea of working with industry’. He went on, apparently, to suggest that ‘the humanities have a problem in communicating their contribution to the wider society – a problem the sciences do not have.’

It may of course be that the HEA chair had some specific evidence for these assertions that the newspaper did not include in the report. It may also be that he had more detailed proposals as to how and where the arts and humanities should be engaging with industry where currently they are not or where their communication with society falls down. But if so, it would be helpful to see some of this evidence and assess the proposals. As it is, my fear is that the comments, which he made on the occasion of a public lecture, reinforce the tendency to make unsubstantiated judgements about academic work and use these as a basis for new regulatory restrictions and controls.

It cannot be a matter of surprise that the arts and humanities have less interaction (but hardly none) with industry than is the case with science or engineering. However, in my experience they often work closely with the performing arts, with educational bodies, with voluntary organisations, with cultural and tourism bodies, and so forth. Accusing the arts of not working with industry is in some ways like accusing biochemists of not working with the Abbey Theatre.

John Hennessy’s appointment has been welcomed by many, and it is hoped that he will oversee a well judged and effective cooperation with the academic community in Ireland. But it might be better if the patterns of this cooperation were established a little better before he moves to launch public criticism of some sections of higher education without much visible evidence to back it up. I suspect that the arts and humanities can always usefully review their interaction with the wider society, including industry, but it is better to stimulate such a review in a somewhat more sensitive and less caricatured way. I hope that a constructive dialogue will be more typical of what is to come.

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4 Comments on “No nose for Irish industry?”

  1. […] “As it is, my fear is that the comments, which he made on the occasion of a public lecture, reinforce the tendency to make unsubstantiated judgements about academic work and use these as a basis for new regulatory restrictions and controls …” (more) […]

  2. Vincent Says:

    I’m sorry, but I hold that this attitude is part and parcel of an unthought stance of corporatism. It’s not so much that Arts have such a dismissive stuck-up beliefs of themselves but that the system holds a degree of utilitarianism towards the Arts that’s not only pointless but outright dangerous.
    The US is the only other State where such rubbish pops up its ugly head. You hear it in the comment about the Micky D’s and what would you hear from an Arts student one year after graduation being ‘would you like fries with that’.
    You don’t get this in the UK. Yes, you will find labs and companies that build bridges and the like where there is a need for incisive experience. But in most cases the actuality of a Degree is the thing.
    What are the results here in Ireland. Narrowness. Both in though and actions. Fearfulness. Of encroaching into the area of others and for the advancement of self.
    And how does this manifest itself. With priests and male religious buggering little babies. With nuns running limited companies with a workforce of slaves. With excessive respect for a shower of shits that were in theory in charge of our banks but in reality couldn’t run a booze-up in a distillery.
    And why have we got this system. We didn’t lick it from the stones. Well it’s simple enough, look to PU Maynooth. Look to the palace in Drumcondra. And look to an abdication of governance by the Dail (parliments) since the foundation of the State.
    Again Sorry.

  3. Jilly Says:

    I’m very glad to see you draw attention to these outrageous remarks by Hennessy. They were clearly an ill-informed rant which it is impossible not to read as a depressing beginning to his new role. Indeed, these comments were so ill-judged and untrue that I would suggest they require a public apology.

  4. Antoin Says:

    Take a look at this interesting NY Times article – The Default Major – on how rigorous and useful Business courses (surely closer to industry than waste of time humanities courses) are in US Universities

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