Cog Notes: The boss of the HEA slugs it out with academics

In his address, Tom Boland of the Higher Education Institute questioned academics on Irish universities’ commitment to Englightenment ideals

Higher Education Authority boss Tom Boland stepped into the ring of JM Synge Theatre in Trinity College Dublin recently for a bout with academics on the subject "Are Irish Universities Committed to Enlightenment Ideals?"

Starting off with a few well-timed jabs, he said: “Beware the academic who, for narrow self-interest, equates academic freedom with the right to do what he pleases, with the ‘right’ to be accountable to nobody but herself . . . Overwrought appeals that academic freedom is being ‘trespassed on’ run the same risks as did the child in the fairy tale who cried wolf.”

Not pointing any fingers, but he was followed by UCC professor Steve Hedley and Senator Sean Barrett, who composed their own scare before bedtime. The former warned assembled dons that a proposal to merge UCD and TCD was "likely to resurface again", while the latter said people should tell politicians visiting their doorsteps to "sweep aside" the bureaucracy affecting lecturers such as himself.

Barrett claimed a new focus on targets was inhibiting critical thinking, and pointed to the need for more Morgan Kellys. “I used to teach Morgan in this very room,” he added helpfully. In his address, he also noted that he taught both Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe and Michael O’Leary, modestly recalling the Ryanair boss had “said he was inspired by two lecturers; one was me”.


Barrett was indignant that the HEA expert group that floated the idea of a UCD-TCD merger three years ago had been chaired by the head of the “13th ranked institution in Belgium”. In fact, Frans van Vught is former rector of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, which was ranked ahead of UCD by Times Higher Education this year.

The issue of gender equality was also discussed, and Prof Hedley argued that the problem was not a lack of laws but “lack of official action”, and if there was one area justifying greater Government involvement, it was this.

Boland got the last dig in when he asked why this assertion had gone unchallenged by the audience of academics. What was being suggested, he said, was the Government should “stay out of your affairs”, except in this instance because “you can’t actually manage gender equality”.

An Irish maths textbook travels to the Seychelles

Ireland and Seychelles don’t have much in common, although we do both feature on a list of the world’s top 28 tax havens. Now, in an unrelated development, our children will be studying from the same mathematics textbook. The ministry for education in the Seychelles has adopted Gill & Macmillan’s core primary maths programme, Cracking Maths, for schools in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Another Irish company celebrating overseas expansion is Alison, the Galway-based free online learning platform. It has joined up with US government-backed agency USAid/Foras, Silatech, and Cihan University in Iraq to launch the first online training course in Kurdish. The free online courses are designed to assist the development of modern workplace skills in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The benefits of reading aloud

The benefits of reading aloud were highlighted by the Literacy Association of Ireland at its launch at Dublin's Mansion House. The practice aids comprehension, allows the reader and the listener to build a visual image from the words and is a great way of recognising and appreciating the pleasure of reading, the association said. Formerly known as the Reading Association of Ireland, it has undergone a rebranding in this, its 40th year, "to reflect the more holistic approach that was required to develop literacy in Ireland". @LiteracyIRL

An artistic awakening

The fruits of a year-long artistic collaboration between Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne in Co Kerry and Carlow artist Maree Hensey went on display in the Gallarus Oratory on the Dingle peninsula last week. Video conference technology was used to host weekly “virtual classes”, allowing Hensey to communicate with second-year students from her studio. The project was backed by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column