McAleese to chair EU education group

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

FORMER PRESIDENT Mary McAleese has been appointed by the EU Commission to chair a three-year review of higher education with seven leading academic and business figures.

The appointment is Mrs McAleese’s first public assignment since her term of office ended last year and she said in Brussels yesterday it was likely to be the only one.

She is also studying in Rome for a doctorate in canon law.

The review group reports to education commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and its aim is to develop proposals to modernise Europe’s higher education system.

“The group, I think, as a group would probably never have come together if we didn’t feel we could have some impact and hope to have an impact,” Mrs McAleese said.

“I don’t think any of our group ever intended, and I don’t think the commissioner ever intended, that our group of eight would have some kind of superpowers that would be capable of either forcing governments to do what they didn’t entirely want to do or transform into people who would do our bidding.

“We would hope by virtue of showing what works best elsewhere to be able to simply use the power of persuasion.”

In its first year, the group will examine what needs to be done to achieve excellence in teaching. The next year it will examine learning in the digital age. Its work in the third year has not been decided.

“It’s obvious to us from such research as exists that teaching has a lower priority and quality in teaching has a lower priority than it might have and should have,” Mrs McAleese said.

Ms Vassliou said excellence in teaching was a precondition for innovation, jobs and growth.

“Everybody remembers a teacher who inspired or motivated them,” the commissioner said.

“I want to ensure that every student, regardless of where they live or study in Europe, will benefit from excellent teaching.”

Asked about university fees, Mrs McAleese said the question would be examined but added that it would be wrong to have a predetermined view at the outset of the initiative.

The group may look at creativity and entrepreneurship in its third year, she said.

This might include an examination of whether graduates emerge from the education system seeking “good safe jobs where they don’t really have to think for themselves” or whether they emerge as people who are “creative, self-starters, innovative, entrepreneurial”.