Date Uploaded: 25/01/2017
Business and industry are allowed too much influence on Ireland’s research agenda, University College Cork’s outgoing president claims.
Michael Murphy believes that the sector is over-represented on bodies that award funding and decide what disciplines should be prioritised in higher education research.
However, he also wants to see a greater financial input from employers to third-level education, in the form of ringfenced levies or taxes, and from philanthropy which he believes can be leveraged more to help colleges.
He made his comments in an interview with the Irish Examiner before he hands over the presidency at the end of a 10-year term next week. He will be replaced by UCC graduate Patrick O’Shea, who has spent most of his academic career as a physicist in the US.
Dr Murphy acknowledges that industry should have a say in university governance to make sure they are sufficiently sensitive to the needs of business.
“But we also have to be very careful about the extent to which we permit the business sector to influence the overall agenda. I have a concern at the extent to which the business community has become the dominant voice in the research agenda,” he said.
The problem lies at ministerial level, he believes, as the appointment of directors to Science Foundation Ireland and other funding and advisory bodies is a matter for Government ministers.
But his concerns are not limited to science funding, as he believes research in the humanities and even some sciences like maths are being underfunded because of an unjustified emphasis on industry and job creation.
Dr Murphy defended the decision to name a building in UCC’s health science complex after Nobel laureate James Watson.
The decision was criticised by UCC Students’ Union and some academic staff because of Watson’s past comments which have been labelled as racist and misogynist.
Dr Murphy expressed regret that there was not enough consultation, saying that naming procedures are being revised to take greater account of views on campus.
After shaking hands with 42,000 graduates in a decade of conferring ceremonies, Dr Murphy said his proudest achievements are that student satisfaction rates remain high despite the effects of funding cuts.
However, he is also proud that UCC maintains a higher position in world university rankings than when he took the helm in 2007— although it has begun to slide in recent years because of lower budgets and fewer staff.
UCC last year received its first increase in funding for staff and running costs from the Government in almost a decade.
Between 2008 and 2015, that funding dropped almost 60%, from €84m to €35m. But student numbers have grown from 17,000 in 2008 to nearly 21,000 last year.
Journalist: Niall Murray