‘Fundamental mistake’ to restrict study

Ireland“The head of one of the world’s top universities has warned against narrowing research to areas needed for economic recovery.

“Dr John Hennessy, president of Stanford University in the US, was a guest of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) at a dinner in the US Ambassador’s residence in Dublin yesterday.

“His message came as applications are finalised for €300 million of third-level research funding, with emphasis likely to be placed on science, engineering and technology disciplines central to the Innovation Alliance announced by Trinity College and University College Dublin last week.

“’I want to caution against a narrowing of the domain of research to those areas that appear to offer the highest opportunity for immediate industrial impact. This is a fundamental mistake,’ said Dr Hennessy, who has ancestral roots in Cork. ‘Basic research informs and helps lay a foundation for more applied research; similarly, more applied work helps define the landscape in such a way that the basic, fundamental problems can be more clearly assessed and attacked.’

“Dr Hennessy also stressed the growing role of universities as sources of innovation. Stanford is number two in two world university ranking systems and was the base for start-up firms that created global giants such as Google, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems and Cisco.

“His address came as university lecturers expressed opposition to any job losses as part of plans to rationalise the sector. The HEA is in discussions with universities and institutes of technology about a possible reduction in numbers of colleges offering specialist subjects, with certain engineering and arts departments likely to be under the spotlight.

“Irish Federation of University Teachers general secretary Mike Jennings said rationalisation was welcome as long as it was aimed at improving the system. ‘Any programme of rationalisation which is only a flag of convenience for cost cutting will generate only conflict and acrimony. It would only work if it emerged from a sincere and constructive engagement with all stakeholders, particularly university staff we represent.’

“Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe has sought a major review of the effectiveness of the annual €2 billion higher education budget, which is co-ordinated by the Higher Education Authority.”

[Niall Murray, Irish Examiner, 17 March]

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