Third-level education is a ‘confidence trick and scam’, forum told

Prof Mary Gallagher of UCD makes claim at launch of charter against commercialisation of universities

University education has become “a confidence trick and a scam”, a gathering of students and academics at Dublin City University (DCU) heard yesterday at the start of a campaign against financial reforms at third level.

University College Dublin's Prof Mary Gallagher, author of Academic Armageddon: An Irish Requiem for Higher Education, said Ireland was increasingly mimicking the UK and US models whereby students were saddled with higher debts to buy into a "brand".

“What we are selling them fundamentally is a lie. It’s a hoax . . . Higher education is something the student claims for themselves and they can only claim it if they are willing to think critically and in a questioning way.”

While she accepted some students saw education purely as a means to a job, “they would not like to think that their A is actually worth a D; they wouldn’t like to know the State exam papers they are sitting have errors in them; they wouldn’t like to know that the teachers who are teaching them have degrees which are not perhaps what they expect.”


Prof Gallagher was speaking at the Defend the Public University forum organised by staff representatives at DCU. It included the launch of a “charter for action” to resist “under-funding, commercialisation, and privatisation” of third-level education.

Prof Des Freedman of Goldsmiths' College, University of London, and co-editor of The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, said the UK experience was "a fairly stark warning to Ireland" of what happens if there is no resistance.

Academic freedom
Universities deemed uncompetitive were facing collapse, fees have risen sharply and job security had declined affecting academic freedom, he said.

“It just takes us further and further away from the idea of universities as a public good – as an experience that is good for society as a whole and individual self-development.”

Students were made employable not through serving short-term needs of the market place but by “turning them into independent, critically minded, autonomous and confident individuals”, he added.

Dr Brendan Walsh, of DCU education studies, lamented the way in which the commercial mindset has filtered into the student body, recalling that he once had to abandon a class because his mother had fallen critically ill – and a student asked to be refunded for the missed class.

The charter can be read at

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

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