Comments to be delivered by Mike Jennings (IFUT) and Annette Dolan (TUI) on Saturday 25th April 2015 at joint IFUT/TUI seminar ‘Higher Education as a Public Good’
Mike Jennings, General Secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) said that current economic and even political pressures on universities make it increasingly difficult for our third-level institutions to operate as a ‘public good.’
“Both government and internal governance strategies are imposing an increasing level privatisation on universities, which results in an increasing drift towards social division, individualism and inequality. The problems are being exacerbated at international level, through the current proposals in Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks to enshrine increased rights for privatised education.
“The mission of the university should involve collaboration with the entire society while working to develop a deeper understanding of the world we are all living in. Universities need the autonomy and academics need the academic freedom to challenge the established ‘truths.’
“The education of future generations is not only about the immediate needs of an ever-changing labour market. It must also assist development of critical thinking and promote the ability in graduates to think of new solutions to problems we don’t even know the existence of today.
“In this regard maintaining the connection between teaching and research and giving adequate recognition to the role of our researchers must be made a priority.”
Opening up a broad dialogue - in which the Department of Education, universities administrations and academic and research staff could address promotion of the public good in our universities - would be a first essential step to restoring morale and ensuring that our universities continue to work in the best interests of the overall society,” Mike Jennings said.
Annette Dolan, Deputy General Secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) outlined some of the specific threats to higher education as a public good, including the TTIP proposals and the crisis of casualisation. TUI represents lecturers in Institutes of Technology.
“If the state does not seismically increase its level of funding to higher education, pressure will grow for an increase in corporate funding and the imposition of steep fees. However, increased corporate funding may lead to a greater focus on certain courses, a focus which could have a negative effect on equally valid and important areas such as the humanities.
“Another potential threat relates to the inclusion of education in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade agreement between the EU and the US.
“The inclusion of education in TTIP would undoubtedly intensify the pressures of privatisation and commercialisation and restrict the ability of Ireland and other EU states to promote high quality standards. Under TTIP, rules in relation to market access could restrict the ability of EU member states to limit the entry or regulate the quality of private and for profit schools and institutions. Increased restrictions on domestic regulation could mean, for instance, that measures adopted to promote high quality standards in the licensing and accreditation of educational institutions could potentially be interpreted as a “disguised barrier to trade”.’
“A very different but similarly potent threat to higher education relates to the casualisation of the lecturing profession. As in second level teaching, a situation has developed whereby large numbers of academics struggle to earn a living wage. Many have only part-time hours, mere fragments of jobs with no guarantee of being retained from year to year. These lecturers need full jobs and security, not hours and uncertainty. In the interests of Irish education, this crisis must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”