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Educationalists look to the future
European conference on Education Research UCD.

Prof. Pat Clancy, Dr. Ingrid Gogolin, Mr. Denis Bates, Ms. Mary Hanafin TD, Dr. Philip Nolan, Prof. Sheelagh Drudy and Prof. Brigid Laffan.

Above; Pictured at a State Reception hosted in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, where delegates were welcomed with an address by the Minister for Education and Science, Ms Mary Hanafin T.D. From left to right; Professor Pat Clancy; Dr Ingrid Gogolin, EERA President; Mr Denis Bates, ESAI President; Ms Mary Hanafin T.D., Minister for Education and Science; Dr Philip Nolan, Registrar, UCD, Dublin; Professor Sheelagh Drudy, UCD School of Education and Lifelong Learning, Head; and Professor Brigid Laffan, UCD College of Human Sciences, Principal.

This week UCD is hosting the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) from 7th to 10th September in partnership with the European Educational Research Association and the Educational Studies Association of Ireland. The Conference theme is “Education and Knowledge Economies”.

Speaking at the European Conference on Educational Research, held at UCD, the president, Dr Hugh Brady, told over 1,000 delegates that research into the area of education supports the development of evidence-based policy in Government. “Education across the three levels receives a considerable budget from the State and education research plays an indispensable role in the critical analysis and ongoing assessment of the impact and efficacy of education transformation and of its success – or lack of it – in achieving national and international objectives,” He said.

Dr Brady said that 2005 marks the mid-point in the time-line set down by the EU for the achievement of the ambitious targets of the Lisbon Strategy. “Education and knowledge economies must go hand in glove if we in Europe are to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.”

Leading academic educationalist, Professor Kathleen Lynch, warned of the danger to the public good if universities are privatised or influenced by commercial interests. Speaking at the conference, Professor Lynch said that “if universities lose their independence, their autonomy and impartiality … then they have no clear public utility. If university voices are muted or silent, either because they are already ‘controlled’ by powerful funders (these could be State as well as private institutions), or because they are afraid or unpractised at speaking out in the public interest, then they will quickly become redundant.”

Professor Lynch also pointed to what she believes is a conflict between pursuing a business-oriented or elitist approach to university education and promoting access for disadvantaged students. “Being inclusive means eliminating hidden costs and discriminations that creep in inevitably in the desire to profile the university as a ‘prestige’ institution.” There is also a ‘poor services impact’ when supports such as libraries, crèches, guidance, medical services, restaurants and sports are under resourced, which affects low-income students to a far greater degree than well-off students.

Professor Lynch condemned the rise in university league tables because of their focus on a narrow set of internal market considerations. She was particularly critical of the Shanghai Jiao Tong World Ranking because of the narrow measurement criteria it uses. The Shanghai Ranking focuses on the physical and life sciences and almost completely ignores the Arts, humanities and social sciences. “League tables direct us away from many of the core values that are central to university work, including quality teaching, outreach, inclusion and research which is of worth to humanity.

As Europe has become increasingly dependent on higher education to drive the social, political, cultural and economic infrastructure of society, access to higher education is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for survival.”

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