Teachers’ unions open campaign to defend third level bodies in their research
Irish universities are turning into profit-making institutions rather than serving their proper purpose as a public good. The change could destroy the higher education sector, university staff have warned.
A ‘Defend the University’ campaign was launched today by two unions who represent lecturers, the Irish Federation of University Teachers and Siptu. They say they have the initial support of at least 700 lecturers and academics across all seven Irish universities with more moving to support the call.
The campaign also launched a 10-point charter aimed at preventing the universities from becoming a research backup for the private sector.
Their concerns arose because of current Government policy which argues that State investment in research should deliver a return, in the case of university principally from useful products, services and medical treatments.
These in turn can lead to spin-out companies and the creation of jobs, the Department argues.
However the approach runs the risk of turning universities into no more than business entities rather than centres of research, study and learning, according to Mike Jennings of the teachers’ federation and Ronnie Munck of Siptu.
The meeting in Dublin heard from Jens Vraa-Jensen of Denmark who chairs Education International, the European Standing Committee for Higher Education which represents teacher and lecturer unions across Europe.
“It is a very dangerous approach that can risk harming the very heart of the higher education and university sector, critical thinking and coming up with ways to solve societal problems,” he said.
“We need people to think out of the box, to come up with solutions. There will be no products, no innovation left for the companies if you don’t prioritise free thinking and research,” Mr Vraa-Jensen said.
“The pipeline will be empty. A modern society needs an investment in blue skies research. Higher education is not only meant to educate a work force and regain business competitiveness, it is also about research.”
The federation decided with Siptu to launch the campaign because of concerns expressed by academics, Mr Jennings said. It comes as universities face budget cuts that eat into their ability to educate and conduct research.
“I was hearing about it at meetings and the dumbing down of the profession and becoming more administrators than teachers,” Mr Jennings said. Similar campaigns have started forming in other countries.
“We are trying to say that this is not just a money issue. This is a break the silence campaign,” he said. “It is to get it into the open and encourage academics to do what they should do, which is ask questions and raise their voices.”