http://www.irishtimes.com/images/v3/generic/irishtimes-logo.gifBy Fiona Gartland. “EQUIVOCATION” AROUND funding for higher education “has done lasting damage” to the institutions and to students, the president of NUI Maynooth has said.
Prof Philip Nolan warned a failure to adequately fund higher education would result in “an inevitable mediocrity to the detriment of generations of students”.
Prof Nolan took up his post as head of the Co Kildare university last August having previously been vice-president for academic affairs at University College Dublin.
In his inaugural speech at NUI Maynooth yesterday, he said funding third-level education was “straightforward”.
“It must be funded publicly, through taxation, or privately, through fees, or both. But it must be funded.
“Equivocation on this issue has done lasting damage to our institutions and our students.”
Prof Nolan said it was critical that academic institutions were free to act autonomously “if they are to prosper”.
“I would go further to say that policy interventions by those with little or no experience of teaching or research can be profoundly damaging.”
He also warned of the dangers of “an exclusive focus on narrow skills in immediate demand”. Higher education institutions, and universities in particular, “must direct themselves towards higher and distant goals in order best to serve society today and tomorrow.”
Learning and scholarship had the power to “change lives and to transform society”. And that potential placed enormous responsibilities on scholars and teachers.
He said graduates should be furnished “not just with knowledge and skills” but with the capacity to “reflect, to analyse, to reason, to articulate and to argue”, and with the “confidence and courage” to act, challenge, contest and “if necessary, to defy”.
Prof Nolan said public accountability was a key challenge for universities. “The truly courageous institution, proud of its work, valuing its autonomy, will move quickly to explain itself, account for its successes and failures, and describe its constant quest for self-improvement.”
Other challenges for institutions like NUI Maynooth included the “opportunities presented by technology” and the broadening away from the traditional campus to include learners and teachers in industry and the community.