Higher Education Research Centre
Professor John Field, Professor Nelson Maculan, Professor Maria Slowey, Dr. Carmel Mulcahy, Dr. Tom Boland, Professor Bahram Bekhradnia

Lively debate at HERC seminar series launch

On 8 December, the Higher Education Research Centre at DCU launched the first in a seminar series entitled Higher education in challenging times: questioning the unquestioned. Coordinated by Professor Maria Slowey, DCU, with support from the Higher Education Authority and an Alliance involving eight higher education institutions in the Dublin area (Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance) this series aims to promote debate with all interested parties on the future of higher education in Ireland. This first event was introduced by Professor Brian MacCraith, President of DCU.

Highlighting the BRIC countries’ rise in global prominence, an overview of the Brazilian higher education system suggested both stark differences and challenging alternatives at a time when UK and Ireland policymakers are considering radical overhauls of established HE systems. Leading educationalist Professor Nelson Maculan described a Brazilian higher education system with more than 3.5 private higher education institutes to every public institute. With entry to public institutions frequently requiring higher grades than the private institutions, approximately 64% of the undergraduate population is educated privately. While this system is opening up access to higher education, Professor Maculan noted that it is also creating significant issues around quality, levels of completion and, importantly, a situation where less well off sections of the population effectively pay twice for HE: once through taxation to support the public institutions where they are underrepresented, and again for fees in private colleges.

A lively discussion followed Professor Maculan’s presentation led by the expert panel. Tom Boland, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Authority, Bahram Bekhradnia, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Oxford, and Professor John Field, Professor of Lifelong Learning at the Stirling Institute of Education were well placed to offer perspectives on the different HE systems in Ireland, the UK as a whole and Scotland in particular. Their discussion took off from the lecture to propose how the panelists’ HE systems might respond to current crises to meet the needs of their societies within the limitations of public funding. Dr. Carmel Mulcahy from the School of Education Studies in DCU concisely described the many challenges faced by practitioners in Irish higher education institutions in this time of upheaval, and argued that education for sustainable development will be central to solutions to these challenges.

The audience, drawn from the policy and practice communities of the Irish HE system, was asked to suggest topics and speakers for upcoming events in this series, ensuring it will respond to the most relevant and timely debates in the HE community.