2004 Press Releases

13 Sep 2004
Conferring Ceremonies at University College Cork - 13 September 2004

Over 500 students graduated today (13 September 2004) from the Faculties of Science and Commerce on the first day of UCC?s week-long Conferring Ceremonies.

The Conferring addresses were given by Professor James Browne, Registrar and Deputy President, National University of Galway (NUIG) and Dr Ed Walsh, founding President of the University of Limerick (UL). 

In his speech (see below) Professor James Browne spoke of the investment by the Irish Government in Research and Development (R&D) with major investments in Research, Technology & Development (RTD) and Innovation.

Dr Walsh in his speech (see below) dealt with Ireland?s future competitive prospects, the key role of the universities and the need not only for adequate funding but for reform of governance.

Text of address by Professor James Browne:

Dia Dhíobh go léir agus fáilte róimh gach uile duine go dtí bronnadh na gcéimeanna agus na n-iarhchéimeanna anseo i Choláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh.  Is ócáid tábhachtach é seo, agus i ndairire ócáid spesialta daoibh go léir, idir na céimithe, bhur mhuintir agus muintir na hOllscoile.  Tréaslaím leis na ceimithe go leir as uacht na ngradam áta tuilte go maith agaibh.  Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh taithneamh as an gceilureadh agus an lá ar fad.  Mar a dúirt mé tá sé tuilte go maith agaibh.

Good morning and welcome to this conferring ceremony of degrees in the Faculty of Science at University College Cork.  I am pleased, and indeed honoured, to have been invited by President Wrixon to deliver this address and I thank him for the kind invitation.

I want firstly to congratulate you the graduates on your fine achievement.  The degrees you have been confirmed with today are degrees of the National University of Ireland.  As such they are recognised world wide as meeting the highest international standards of scholarship.  You need have no fear of presenting yourself as a graduate of University College Cork to any employer or indeed any other university worldwide.  Of course it is also worth remembering that this great day would not have been possible without the help and support of many people.  I am sure that for all of you the enormous support of parents, family and partners was critical to you over the years.  We should also recognise the contribution of the academic staff of the University, your teachers, whose contribution to your education and graduation I am sure you appreciate and will appreciate more and more as the years go by.

You are fortunate: fortunate firstly in gaining a place in an Irish University, in a situation where competition for places is keen as only one in four Leaving Certificate candidates has the opportunity to study at University.  Fortunate also in that the degrees you have taken prepare you well for the knowledge intensive society we all live in.

It was Charles Handy in his book ?The Empty Raincoat? who pointed out it is at the height of ones success that one needs to be most vigilant.  Often time the process and the approach, which delivers success, are not necessarily those that will sustain it.  The Irish economy has experienced unprecedented success in recent years.  The standard of living of our people has risen remarkably, unemployment has been virtually eliminated and the economy has performed and delivered prosperity to a degree unimaginable to earlier generations.  This success has been built on a very high level of inward investment, membership of the European Union, the implementation of an enlightened industrial policy by successive governments, and, dare I say it, a very fine educational system at all three levels.  However, it is clear that the policies, good as they were that have brought us to this happy state, will not guarantee its continuity.

As the recent report of the Enterprise Strategy Group has made clear Ireland needs to make a strategic change of direction.  The good news for you - graduates of Science - is that you are well positioned to participate in and indeed contribute to the strategic change that is now well underway.  The knowledge and the skills acquired in this fine University have equipped you well for the challenges now facing Irish society.

Our country?s success to date has been based largely on our ability to attract mobile investment from overseas and to sustain high performance in manufacturing operations.  Our enterprises have developed skill sets that are concentrated in the manufacturing and operations area and are perhaps less well developed in other areas.

The recent Enterprise Strategy Group Report makes it clear that if we are to meet the challenges it has articulated, we must complement existing production and operational strengths with new capabilities in areas such as:

" ? Developing expertise in international markets to promote sales growth.
   ? Building technologies and applied research and development (R&D)
       capability, to support the development of high value products and

The second of these is clearly of great interest to scientists, science educators and researchers and indeed to Universities. Our ongoing success as a country depends on developing and refining new skills in pre-manufacturing (R&D, product development for example) and post manufacturing (marketing, customer service etc.) 

The Irish government has recognised the importance of increasing expenditure on R&D and recent years have seen major investments in RTD (Research, Technology & Development) and Innovation.  The state investment in R&D was of the order of ?0.8 billion in the period 1994 to 1999 and is projected to increase to ?2.8 billion over the period of the National Development Plan (2000 ? 2006).  R&D activity in the business and higher education sectors increased significantly in the late 1990s, although at approximately 1.4% of GNP it remains relatively low by international standards.  By contrast, Finland, with a similar size economy, spends nearly double this.

The recognition of the need to grow R and D activity underlies the thinking behind the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), a development that has had, and continues to have, a profound effect on the R&D landscape of Ireland.  By early 2003, SFI had committed to projects involving expenditure of over ?200 million and is expected to spend a total of circa ?600 million over the five year period 2002 ? 2007.

A key strategic focus for SFI is the development of human capital.  As the SFI vision document articulates so clearly "Research and development depend above all else on the talent, ideas and energies of outstanding individuals.  SFI will develop programmes, fund educational initiatives, provide resources, and support infrastructure that enable Ireland to educate, develop, recruit and retain outstanding, internationally competitive scientists and engineers pursuing research in areas compatible with Ireland?s ambitions for leadership in a knowledge-based economy.

The Enterprise Strategy Group summarised the position very succinctly;  "Until now Ireland?s principal enterprise strengths have been in the operational aspects of manufacturing, rather than in markets and product development". Success in product development requires investment in R&D (Basic, Strategy and Applied R&D).  The Tanaiste put the point very well in  2002 when she describes the challenge facing Ireland in the following memorable phrases, and I quote ?For the past 30 years or so we have been the gifted musician playing the tunes composed by others. In the future we will be the composers writing the music?.

You are Ireland?s new composers.  Many of you with your excellent scientific training will develop the new products and processes that will ensure Ireland?s economic success in the years to come.

Of course scientists contribute significantly to the wider society as well as the economy.  Some of you will go on to be teachers. You will take on the critically important task of motivating and encouraging the future generations of second-level students to take up science and indeed will give most of them their first exposure to science.    We all know the importance of committed and enthusiastic teachers, who bring a sense of excitement to their classes and are often the essential spark that ignites the fire of excitement in young pupils and motivates them to pursue a career in Science. Given the declining interest in science at second level, there was never a greater need for such science enthusiasts in second level schools. 

Whatever path you decide to take, whether it be further study, teaching, research or industrial practice I wish you well in all of your future endeavours.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.


Text of address by Dr Edward Walsh:

It is my pleasure, and honour, to participate in this conferring, here at the heart of UCC: my alma mater.  Forty-three years ago I sat as you sit now, grasping with sweaty hands my primary degree parchment. Close by, was one Wrixon, Gerard T. He came first in the Electrical Engineering class of 1961?I came second?and we both went on to pursue academic careers.  In this he distinguished himself internationally and on return to UCC, built, against all the odds, Ireland?s most successful and entrepreneurial research institution: the NMRC. The experience in developing this organisation contributed in no small way to the foundations for the university?s subsequent remarkable blossoming of research activity.
In addition the UCC campus, the most splendidly sited of the Queen?s Colleges, has been remarkably enhanced by the many new buildings; for which the President can take much credit.

While the President, faculty members and staff can be justifiably proud of their accomplishments, academic and otherwise, this formal ceremony, and today?s celebrations, are focussed primarily on you the graduates.

Every society, sophisticated or primitive, sets aside special times in the life cycle to pause and celebrate. This we do today. We have donned strange ceremonial costume and we gather here in this great hall to celebrate and mark the successful completion of one of life?s major building blocks.

Good education is all about a dialog between two generations and the transfer of knowledge and wisdom. It is fitting therefore that parents and loved are also gathered here.  For many these are the heroes and heroines who have provided crucial support and encouraged during the past years.

When I entered UCC in 1957 the student enrolment was less than 1500.  Ireland was poor and underdeveloped then and universities were not seen by government as greatly relevant to the country?s economic wellbeing.

Thirty years later things started to change and today Ireland is the European example of how a once-sick economy (and perhaps society also) can be revitalised through creative planning and governance.  Ireland is the model to which most of the new EU member countries aspire.

But we have no reason to be smug: our success is fragile. Our growth and economic prosperity has depended to a great extent on the success of US multinationals.  Indeed 80 percent of Ireland?s high-tech manufacturing output is produced by these corporations.  Thanks to the good strategies that brought them here Irish society has moved from being poor to being prosperous, from emigration to immigration, from introversion to extroversion. But the strategies that brought this prosperity to Ireland are not necessarily the strategies that will sustain it. The cold reality is that for the most part we have been manufacturing other people?s ideas. It is time that we put ourselves in a position to create our own. Unless we embed our key wealth-creators and grow our own high-tech abilities the Irish success story may dissipate as readily as it formed.

Research know-how and the graduates who can apply research output to the creation of innovative products and services represent the key strategic resources to prevent this dissipation. The knowledge-age is upon us and this age is characterised by an international race for talent.  Ireland?s future well-being will much depend on how we compete in this race and one of the key indicators will be the international standing of our universities.

UCC has been doing all of the right things in contributing to Ireland?s pursuit of international recognition.  Indeed it is listed in the 2003 Academic Ranking of World Universities ahead of all the other Irish universities other than Trinity.  While UCC can take pride in its relative position, questions are raised about the overall standing of Ireland?s university system as a whole: for unlike the case of our competitor countries none of the Irish universities appear amongst the top 200.
Of the top 10 universities in the world eight are in the US (Harvard, Stanford, Caltech, Berkeley, MIT, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia).  The only two European universities listed amongst the top 10 are Britain?s Cambridge and Oxford.

This situation does not come as a great surprise to Irish university presidents.  For years they have being pointing out that the funding levels for teaching and research and the investment in laboratories and facilities has lagged far behind those of our competitors. If there is any surprise it is that the Irish universities have managed to achieve so much, and to respond with such commitment to the needs of the international high tech and services sector during the past 30 years.

But now the crunch is coming. We must compensate for the underinvestment in the Irish university system, and in particularly revitalise a research capability that has been starved of resources since the foundation of the State.  UCC has given a fine lead, but the constraints unnecessarily inhibit its operations. These must be addressed if we are to catch up on our competitors and aspire to have all the Irish universities ranked, at least, within the top 100.

Clearly if this ambition is to be achieved significant increased investment is called for.  But, as in the health system, more investment alone will not do the trick.  In addition to competitive funding levels there is an equally important matter: reform of university governance and management systems that will stimulate the creation of performance-driven organisations where talent is fostered and excellence rewarded. Since WWII the best of Europe?s universities (which then were the best in the world) have been loosing ground to their US counterparts.  Funding has been an important factor, but not the only one.  European universities have in effect been nationalised and the creative drive that seeks out excellence suppressed by the weight of state intrusion.

The cumbersome and archaic governance and management systems imposed by the state and inherited as part of academic tradition constrains European universities and holds them back, makes them less responsive to the students and to the market, makes them less efficient than they might be, and in short makes them less competitive than they must be if Europe is to compete in the knowledge age.

Ireland, with some radical restructuring of university governance and management, could, as it has done in the past, steal a march on its European competitors if it has the determination, not only to increase investment in higher education, but also to give university leadership the scope to lead, to innovate and to excel.

The managerial and governance constraints imposed on Irish university Presidents would not be countenanced by their US counterparts.

The leading US universities are no-nonsense performance-driven organisations, run by boards predominantly composed of hard-nosed enterprise and community leaders, who give the President the support needed in putting in place systems that encourage the pursuit of excellence throughout the university and the displacement of those whose performance is poor.  Such Boards consider their prime task is to hire the President, support the President and if necessary fire the President. They tend not to meddle in the day-to-day detail: they focus on the big picture and the broad strategies that are likely to strengthen the university.

In Ireland many businesspeople find it curious that the chief executive of any organisation should report to a board composed predominantly of employees, and wonder how such an organisation can be managed effectively. They wonder why the governance of a highly complex and costly organisation such as a university should have on its board significant numbers of junior faculty and staff who have little or no experience in governance and sometimes not much else outside their academic or administrative discipline.

The current unhealthy reality is of course that many, if not most, of the Presidents of Irish universities have a very difficult job indeed,  and have to divert a great deal of their time and effort in attempting to secure the right outcome through the governance structure. They have on occasion to deal with the frustration of not bringing forward major proposals for change that they know would improve the university, simply because there would be little hope of delivering a good outcome.

Their counterparts in the great US universities have problems and challenges of course, but not these. The environment they work in is demanding and taxing and the consequences of personal failure to meet demanding performance expectations can be high.  The important thing is that they can confidently expect Board approval for change ? provided that the measures proposed will improve the university, even though there may be serious opposition to such change amongst the faculty and staff.  They have clear authority from their boards to take executive action in rewarding excellence and weeding out mediocrity. They do not have to grapple with the silly time-consuming skirmishes involving the cliques that often emerge within Irish governing structures. Instead they deal with hard-nosed, experienced people who, as acclaimed national leaders, are giving their time and guidance to the university, knowing how vital it is to the future wellbeing of their community.  They deal with people who focus on the major strategic issues related to the pursuit of excellence and who subject their proposals to demanding scrutiny. They deal with people whom they also know will take decisive action if they are dissatisfied that strategic university goals are not achieved.

Reforming the composition and functions of the governing authorities of Irish universities and of the HEA itself, does not require additional public funding (indeed it should generate savings),  but it does require determination on the part of government to take on vested interests in order to provide Irish universities with the kind of governance required. The kind that will provide the support and encouragement a President needs in bringing about change, creating performance driven organisations, facing down mediocrity and nurturing and cherishing those of ability and endeavour.

Much greater funding levels are required if the Irish universities are to rebuild and compensate for 80 years of relative neglect and catch up with their leading international counterparts. While the funding issue is quite crucial it would be prudent to address the governance issue at the outset so that there is the appropriate empowerment and motivation at the top of each Irish university to deliver change, catch up and pursue excellence.

You are fortunate that you graduate today from one of Ireland?s outstanding universities and you leave well-equipped to make Ireland a better place.

I wish you success in all you do, the energy to turn every waking-moment into something good, and the conviction and courage to confront the residues of social hypocrisy, public-sector nonsense and the unnecessary intrusions of the state that linger from my generation and still in various ways inhibit yours.



University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF