Third-level education and business

 

Sir, – Diarmaid Ferriter portrays efforts to align the work of universities with the needs of the economy as some form of betrayal (“Universities are preoccupied with market growth as if educators were stocks and shares”, Opinion & Analysis, May 29th).

Mass education without direct economic drivers is itself an historical anomaly. Prior to the industrial revolution second-level and third-level education was only available to the rich, and the purpose of university in particular was more to establish relationships between the offspring of wealthy families than for education, although the notion of education for education’s sake was often offered as a hollow justification. Mass state education for the general public only began in the 19th century and was due in large part to lobbying of governments by private companies. As the industrial revolution progressed, it became obvious that industry needed many more people at all levels who could read, write and perform calculations.

Those who think that the primary purpose of a university is to produce third-level academics and researchers have the wrong end of the stick. While we can all agree that education is a good thing in and of itself, some educational professionals need reminding that the primary goal of the vast majority of people who attend university is to get a good job at the end of it.

The best way to ensure jobs for graduates is by having universities in constant dialogue with business to understand what skills they need, to constantly develop new courses and to evolve and refine delivery methods so that students can better acquire those skills to the required level with a lower investment of time and money.

It is also essential to facilitate relationships between business and students so that students can make the transition from education to work as smoothly as possible.

It is true now (as it has always been) that graduates of history, philosophy and many of the humanities have no obvious industries (other than education) to form direct relationships with, and while they are no doubt “independent thinkers”, the courses such graduates have studied are not generally intended to inculcate measurable skills that are of any direct or immediate financial value. It is inevitable that educational professionals in those areas would feel threatened by changes in favours of working with business, or of delivering courses more efficiently or quickly or to increase the use of technology.

That does not, however, mean that such changes are unjustified, or that engineers, scientists or business professionals are unqualified to take a leading role in reshaping third-level education. – Yours, etc,

JOHN THOMPSON, BSc

Phibsboro,

Dublin 7.