2004 Press Releases

14 Sep 2004
Conferring Ceremonies at University College Cork - 14 September 2004

Conferring ceremonies continued today (14 September 2004) at University College Cork with almost 500 undergraduate and postgraduate students conferred from the Faculty of Commerce.

The Conferring addresses were given by Aine Hyland, Professor of Education and Vice-President, UCC and Keith Sidwell, Professor of Latin & Greek, Head, Classics Department, UCC.

In her speech (see below) Professor Hyland talked about the role of higher education in society and the importance of investing in higher education.

Text of address by Professor Aine Hyland:

Investment in Education

I would like to congratulate you, the graduands on this important occasion and to welcome you and your guests to this Conferring ceremony.

I would like to talk briefly this morning about the role of higher education in society and the importance of investing in higher education.  Investment in education results in economic and cultural improvement, both for the individual and for society.  Education facilitates the acquisition of new skills and knowledge that increase productivity.  This increase in productivity frees up resources to create new technologies, new businesses, new wealth, eventually resulting in increased economic growth. Education is a public good, in that society as well as the individual benefits from increased investment in education.  There is clear evidence internationally that there is a high correlation between educational attainment and earnings ? the higher the qualification, the greater the earnings.

The amount of education an individual receives, not only affects his/her earnings, but the quality of employment as well.  Educated workers have a number of advantages relative to less well educated workers ? higher wages, greater employment stability and greater upward mobility in income. International research also confirms that there is a high correlation between levels of education and health, crime, dependence on Social Welfare and quality of life generally.
This week is an important week for higher education in Ireland - not just because so many of you are graduating from UCC, but because on Thursday next, the OECD will publish one of the most significant reports on higher education in Ireland for almost half a century.  Over 40 years ago, when launching the first OECD review of Irish education in 1962, the then Minister for Education, Dr. P.J. Hillery, emphasised that education is an important investment of national resources.  He stated that education is a major factor in economic growth and added:  "A country that allows its ?human capital? to lie fallow, will be left behind, culturally as well as economically".  He regarded this as particularly true in a country such as Ireland which in many respects is more fertile in human than in natural resources.  In the 1960s, Irish society and the economy were undergoing a paradigm shift and it was important that the education system ? at all levels ? recognised, responded to and supported that shift.  In that context, a review and refocusing of Irish education was essential.

As a result of that review, successive governments in subsequent decades invested in education and it is widely believed that the success of the Irish economy in the 1990s ? the awakening of the Celtic Tiger ? was largely due to this policy.  To quote from a recent IDA publication: "When education is combined with a strong work ethos and an enthusiasm for getting things done, it represents a compelling competitive advantage for employers".

As we move forward into the 21st century, we are again facing major changes in society and in the economy, nationally and internationally, and our education system has to be responsive to and indeed lead these changes.  Referring to this, the chairman of the HEA, Dr. Don Thornhill has written:

 It is not fanciful to argue that the effects of the globalisation of the world economy, our participation in the EU, the important opportunities offered by the rapid pace of change in information and communications technology, and the decreasing cost of transport, provide us with an opportunity to shake off many of the negative consequences of our economic and geographic peripherality.  The potential rewards of achieving that are breathtaking, but we will not rise to the challenge if we do not invest in an education system which produces outcomes and returns on expenditure which compare with the best among our competitors".

Investment in education is more essential than ever.  Education has been and continues to be a key factor in attracting new knowledge industries to Ireland.  The National Development Plan 2001-2006 describes Ireland as a ?knowledge-based economy where intellect and innovation will determine competitive advantage ? and (where) the accumulation of knowledge capital represents a key contribution".  The recently published report of the Enterprise Strategy Group states that "Ireland?s economic development will depend to a large degree on knowledge and innovation, both of which are essential in making the transition to higher value activities that support economic growth and wealth creation".  But the proportion of GDP at 1.2% which Ireland spends on higher education, is a less than half of that spent by major knowledge-based economies such as the U.S. and Canada.  It is also lower than the proportion spent by Australia, and by Scandinavian countries such as Finland, Denmark and Sweden.

In spite of the fact that various recent reports recognise the importance of investment in education and training, there is a funding crisis in higher education in Ireland which the OECD states is undermining the government?s ambition to create a leading knowledge-based economy. This funding crisis is also highlighted in a report issued last week by the Higher Education Authority "The Financial Position of Irish Universities".  Commenting on this report the chairman of the HEA stated: "? the Irish universities ? are an essential cornerstone of the knowledge society.  They need to be managed and financed in a strategically coherent way which reflects their critical role in national development".

We look forward to the publication of the OECD report and to an acceptance by the government of its recommendations that the higher education funding crisis in Ireland must be addressed.  How the problem of funding will be resolved will no doubt be controversial, but it is essential that in the Estimates for the coming year the serious cutbacks in university funding of the past two years be redressed.  The funding of higher education in Ireland, needs to be restored to a sound financial footing.

With adequate funding, universities can begin to address in a comprehensive way, the other challenges facing them ? the challenge of providing for lifelong learning, including continuing professional development, in all disciplinary and professional areas and the challenge of widening access to those groups which have traditionally been under-represented in higher education ? students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and mature students.

Again I would like to congratulate all of to-day?s graduands and to wish you every success in the future ? whether the immediate future is in employment or in postgraduate education or training.  I would like also to pay tribute to your families and friends, whose support throughout the past few years has been crucial in ensuring that you completed your course and graduated today.

Go n-eiri libh go leir agus go raibh maith agaibh.



University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF