Winter Conferrings 2008
Devere Hall, Áras na Mac Léinn, UCC., 10 Noll 2008
Professor John A Murphy; Emeritus Professor in History, UCC.
Winter Conferrings 2008
10.00am, 12.30pm & 3.30pm Wednesday 10 December 2008
Prof. John A. Murphy, Emeritus Professor of History, UCC
Democracy and Higher Education
Professor John A. Murphy pointed out that the Winter Conferrings were taking place on the centenary of the 1908 Irish Universities Act when the moribund Queen’s College Cork was transformed into University College Cork (UCC) with a new name, a new charter and a fresh era of expansion. For the first time, the College acquired representative government and popular accountability. But, despite the rhetorical catchphrase of the time, it did not become “a poor man’s university” overnight. The old Crown-controlled elite was replaced after 1908 by a preserve of middle-class interests and, in certain professions, of local dynastic privilege.
Access to university education by the plain people was a slow business, not really becoming significant until the final decades of the last century. Education is power, and power yields ground only reluctantly to the inexorable pressures of democracy. Today, some people claim that the distinctive character of UCC has been compromised by the 16,000 students who throng the campus. But this is a snobbish and elitist view. No one has the right to set a boundary to the march of an educational democracy (to adapt Parnell’s famous phrase).
The progress of women at third-level has been a remarkable success story, in the face of the opposition, or at least, the inertia of a male-dominated conservative society. Today, women in UCC account for nearly 60 per cent of the student body, with majorities in most faculties, notably medicine and health.
Equality of educational opportunity in a class-and-privilege ridden society is still not on offer to everybody. Through its UCC Plus and Bridging the Gap programmes, UCC reaches out to relatively under-privileged city schools and encourages their pupils to aspire to third level. But for too many Cork citizens, because of their social class or where they live, UCC still has little relevance. A similar sense of exclusion is felt by Travelers, and some migrants. Fees or no fees, as long as we have social and geographical apartheid, higher education will never be the birthright of all.