Harvard president to meet Taoiseach

 

THE FIRST woman to serve as president of Harvard will meet Taoiseach Brian Cowen today before addressing the Royal Irish Academy on the challenges facing higher education.

In Dublin yesterday, Dr Drew Faust said her address would examine the increasing pressure on higher education from government to provide a dizzying array of functions.

Governments, she said, were looking to universities to act as a catalyst for economic growth and to help provide answers to a wide range of societal ills. The irony, she said, was that these increasing pressures were bearing down on higher education – at a time when governments are slashing budgets and placing colleges under more financial pressure.

Faced with a sharp decline in endowments, Harvard has in recent years begun a series of cost-cutting measures – including an extensive voluntary retirement programme – to save costs.

That said, Harvard has the largest financial endowment of any university in the world, estimated at $26 billion (€21.3 billion) last year.

To put this in context, total annual funding for the Irish higher education sector – including seven universities and 14 institutes of technology – is just over €1 billion.

Dr Faust said Harvard has less than 30 students from Ireland – a surprisingly low figure as Boston is commonly regarded as the “most Irish” US city. Last night, she met about 300 Harvard graduates living in Ireland.

The university is 374 years old, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. President Obama and his wife Michelle are graduates.

Dr Faust, the author of six books, became president three years ago.

She is also Harvard’s first president since 1672 without a degree from Harvard.