Academics fear that values are under threat

Posted on: 22 February 2006

Many university academics fear that the fundamental values of their institutions are under threat, according to the former Chairman of the Higher Education Authority, Dr Don Thornhill. Speaking at Trinity College on Wednesday 22 February, he stated, “Universities and other higher education institutions in Ireland and internationally are faced with an apparent contradiction. The importance of universities in society and to the economy has never been greater. Yet universities and university communities are concerned and disturbed. Responding to change, financial stress, accountability and external scrutiny and the threat to enduring and vital values are the explanation for this sense of disquiet.

“Positive engagement between universities and society is essential to ensure the future of Irish universities. Steps the universities could take to enhance their influence and ability to strengthen the important values of academic freedom and institutional autonomy include greater involvement of non- university people in governance including membership of governing bodies; greater attention to the need for efficient and effective leadership and management in university affairs; and convincing government and society of the values and necessity of academic freedom and institutional autonomy.”

Dr Thornhill, a former Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science, was participating in the debate ‘The Future of the University: Challenges and Possibilities’, hosted by TCD’s School of Education as part of its centenary celebrations.

University education is big business, stated Prof Colm Kearney, Chair in International Business and Senior Lecturer, TCD at the debate.  “With over 80m third level students worldwide and 3.5m academics to teach them – a global student staff ratio of just over 21 – the industry is worth €300 billion, or 1% of world GDP.”