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Posted 06 November 2013

UCD President delivers Menzies Oration on Higher Education at the University of Melbourne

Dr Hugh Brady, the President of UCD has delivered the 2013 Menzies Oration on Higher Education at the University of Melbourne. The Oration honours the late Sir Robert Menzies, former Prime Minister of Australia, who considered that his contribution to the development of universities might prove to be amongst the most lasting of his achievements for Australia.

The theme for the Oration is higher education policy and practice in Australia both in view of its national importance and also because of Sir Robert's attachment to both the extension of higher education and the wise development of it. The intention is for each Oration to be a contribution to intellectual debate in Australia.

In his Oration, Dr Brady highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities a recession poses to a higher education system.

"From the viewpoint of higher education [in Ireland], the past five years have been a time of unprecedented challenge for staff, students and their families and have redefined the relationship between the State and its higher education institutions – not always in a positive manner," he said.

"The response of staff across the university sector has been nothing short of heroic. They have accommodated 10% more students despite 10% fewer staff and 20% less funding per student while absorbing cumulative pay cuts of 15% or higher and, in many cases, enduring significant personal hardship. They have, for the most part, through their ingenuity and hard work, managed to protect the quality of our teaching programmes and maintain their research output."

"With regard to our students, a somewhat unexpected dividend of the recession was that attendance at lectures, tutorials and practicals has risen significantly. Students appear to be working harder, more engaged, more demanding, and more likely to avail of work placements, student mobility opportunities and internships," he continued.

"Of particular note has been a shared interest among staff, students and funding agencies in developing innovation, broadly defined, as the third pillar of academic activity – intertwined with teaching and research. This has manifest in diverse ways: increased appetite for courses in innovation beyond, I should stress, the more conventional business school offerings in innovation and entrepreneurship; a wider acceptance of professional or industry doctorates as a legitimate method of doctoral training; adoption of new technologies for blended and on-line learning and research purposes; more engagement with industry; and, interestingly, some imaginative new programmes at the interface of art and science."

Later in his Oration, President Brady also outlined how the recession has been seen by some "as an opportunity to impose a State-directed command-and-control model of university governance".

"This agenda has manifested itself in a number of ways - most notably: State controls over recruitment, promotions and remuneration; performance compacts with, as yet, unclear performance targets that, if not reached, will result in withholding of up to 10% of already-depleted core funding; and a controversial draft amendment to Ireland's 1997 Universities Act, which, if implemented, will give future Ministers of Education the power to interfere in any aspect of the internal operations of a university in a manner unheard of in other OECD countries," he said.

"While the incentivisation of university-industry research collaboration has the potential to increase Ireland's competitiveness for foreign direct investment in the short-term, it has been restricted to a limited number of applied research priority areas with the relative exclusion of blue skies basic science research and scholarship in the humanities and social sciences."

In his Oration, President Brady also emphasised that "contemporary higher education is a 'deep pockets' game where reputations are important, hard-earned and fragile, and the level of investment is one of the most important determinants of performance on the world stage."

"The large private universities in the US have long-dominated the world rankings and their top public universities are now rising fast through entrepreneurial management and the support of philanthropy. Hot on their heels are the emerging powerhouses in Asia where governments are more than willing to make the hard decisions regarding institutional diversity and funding that Ireland and Australia find so unpalatable. And all of these global players have now positioned internationalization at the heart of their institutional strategies," he said.

In conclusion, President Brady said: "The University of Melbourne and UCD were founded to be bold and have demonstrated throughout their histories, including their very recent histories, that they are not afraid to be different. They will undoubtedly be challenged to do so more often and with even more conviction over the coming decades given the pace at which knowledge, technology, the higher education marketplace, and society is changing."

"In so doing, we can perhaps take even more inspiration and comfort from John Henry Newman who memorably wrote that 'To live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often'."


For more on the Sir Robert Menzies Oration on Higher Education and to read the full version of the Oration by UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady entitled "Lip Service to an Ideal" delivered on the 06 Nov 2013 visit:

The Menzies Foundation was established in 1979 as a non-political, not-for-profit organisation to perpetuate the ideals of Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister, 1939-1941 and 1949-1966.


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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