CAVE Research Centre for Higher Education

Neill/Hoey Lecture Theatre, Long Room Hub

21 January 2015

Minister, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Long Room Hub for the formal launch of the CAVE research centre in higher education. This is a launch I personally value very much, because I recall when the CAVE research group was first formed in 2008. I was then Vice-Provost and I was absolutely delighted with this development - higher education is a research area which needs to be focused on – not only in Trinity, but in Ireland. And indeed CAVE is today the only research centre - of critical mass – dedicated to higher education in Ireland.

The CAVE group was committed and focused from the outset. I recall the seminar they organised on the Hunt Report in 2012 which brought together national stakeholders – from State agencies and institutions of higher education – to debate the Report’s findings. The seminar received significant coverage, with speakers making the case forcibly that higher education is a public good. It was great to see Trinity taking the lead, nationally, in debating the Report.

At the same time, CAVE aligned its research agenda with a teaching programme. I’m particularly pleased about this because when the CAVE group was first established in 2008, we saw the opportunity and asked its members to work with the School of Education and with our Centre for Academic Practice and eLearning to develop a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education as an instrument of continuing professional development for  staff.

I suggested this in order to keep focus, college-wide, on teaching and learning. In Trinity we have a dual mission in education and research. But while there are concrete metrics to evaluate research, we needed to come up with ways to evaluate, support, and develop teaching. 

The Provost’s Teaching Awards, founded in 2001, is one such way and the postgraduate diploma in higher education is now another. This programme is now in its fifth year and has currently 28 participants, with 29 having already successfully completed the diploma. I’m delighted that our staff are seizing the opportunity to develop as educationalists.

CAVE is also a magnet for postgraduate research, and currently has 17 PhD students. It also has the distinction of being particularly collaborative and inter-institutional. This goes to the heart of Trinity’s mission. Dr Selina McCoy of the Economic and Social Research Institute is an active associate member of CAVE and co-edited, with other CAVE members, the most recent special issue of the journal Irish Educational Studies. Professor Maria Slowey from DCU’s Higher Education Research Centre has also worked closely with CAVE and will co-host next year’s international Workshop in Higher Education Research in Dublin.

CAVE’s achievements are such that in October 2013 it was decided to grant the group the status of College Research Centre. Today we formally launch the Centre, and in so doing we recognise the capabilities of the CAVE members, and we attest to the importance which Trinity places on research into higher education.

Indeed, I can’t emphasize that importance enough. Higher education strongly impacts our society, our economy, our competitiveness, and our graduates’ employment opportunities. It’s absolutely crucial to get higher education right. We’re currently having a serious national debate about how to finance higher education in this country. This is something that everyone has an opinion on. But it’s a debate that needs to be informed with research.    

Look at CAVE’s current research projects: the centre was recently awarded two prestigious European Research awards, totalling almost half a million euro, for research into ‘informal learning and undergraduate student leadership-learning’ and into ‘practices in professional doctorate programmes’. Other current projects include studies into post-doctoral researcher’s lives and into the experiences of mature students.

CAVE’s research has now been synthesized into its first major publication, Higher Education in Ireland: Policies, Practices and Possibilities. This is edited by Andrew Loxley, Aidan Seery and John Walsh – all CAVE members from our School of Education - with contributions by colleagues from across the Irish higher education landscape. It’s a collection of papers providing the first in-depth, interdisciplinary and over-arching review of the current state of Irish higher education.

We’re fortunate, in this ongoing national debate about the direction of higher education, to be able to call upon such concrete research and expertise. It’s a matter of pride to the whole university, and I hope to the whole Irish academic community, that what started as a small committed group has now become a fully-fledged research centre.

I congratulate all involved, particularly the current Head of School, Carmel O’Sullivan, and the former Professor of Education, Michael Grenfell, as well as CAVE’s founder members - Aidan Seery and Andrew Loxley - and subsequent members John Walsh, Stephen Minton and David Limond.

And I thank the Minister, Jan O’Sullivan, T.D., for taking the time to be here today. Your presence, Minister, shows the importance that you accord research into higher education. We thank you for your support.

‘CAVE’ stands for ‘Culture, Academic Values and Education’, which is a good description of what this research centre promotes. But CAVE also has intended resonance with Plato’s allegory of the cave – probably the greatest metaphor we have for the power of education. In the allegory, education is experienced as a blinding light when first encountered, and is often resisted, but ultimately leads to freedom and truth.

CAVE’s mission statement centres on ‘human flourishing, truth and integrity’. It is a powerful unapologetic statement: ‘Truth’, it says ‘remains the dynamic for all educational encounters and endeavours’. Through its adherence to this mission, CAVE reminds us what higher education is, or should be about: it’s about emerging from the cave of ignorance and apathy, to flourish as we seek for truth – both individually and as a society.

In acknowledgement and pursuit of that great mission, I’m delighted to declare this centre officially open!

Thank you.

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