Higher Education Research Centre
Professor Brian MacCraith, President, Dublin City University; Professor Patrick Clancy, University College Dublin; Professor Maria Slowey, Dublin City University; Professor Simon Marginson, Melbourne University; Professor Ellen Hazelkorn, Dublin Institute of Technology; Professor Shinichi Yamamoto, Hiroshima University

Questioning the role and future of higher education - Simon Marginson

On February 21st, the Higher Education Research Centre (HERC) at DCU hosted Professor Simon Marginson’s talk entitled “Does higher education create public good(s) and should it be publicly funded?” This was the second event in the seminar series Higher education in challenging times: questioning the unquestioned and saw the series, coordinated by Professor Maria Slowey at HERC, really get into its stride.

The UK government recently elected to withdraw public investment from most higher education teaching- including the whole of the humanities and social sciences- undermining longstanding assumptions about the value of higher education to the individual and to society. Politicians and educators in Ireland and elsewhere must surely watch with interest the consequences of this decision. Professor Marginson put the following series of questions to his audience of higher education policy makers, practitioners and researchers:

“But what are the costs of moving to a fully marketized system of higher education? Is higher education nothing more than a producer of status and earnings benefits for individuals? Should public funding for higher education be withdrawn in tough times? Will that change the nature of higher education? Is the notion of public good(s) and common global benefits empty rhetoric generated by self-serving institutions? Or are there fundamental social qualities at stake in this debate? What are the public good(s) created by higher education, can they be measured, can they be expanded and enhanced, and what is the relationship between public goods and private goods?”

It is vital that these issues are fully and publicly debated in an Ireland in economic crisis. Responding to Professor Marginson’s commanding and historically contextualised talk were expert panellists Professor Patrick Clancy, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UCD, Professor Ellen Hazelkorn, Director of Research and Enterprise at DIT, and Professor Shinichi Yamamoto, Director of the Research Institute for Higher Education, Hiroshima University, Japan. Their contributions were followed by an open Q&A session which gave rise to an engaged debate between panel and audience.