2004 Press Releases

16 Sep 2004
Conferring Ceremonies at University College Cork - 16 September 2004

Conferring ceremonies continued today (16 September 2004) at University College Cork with almost 500 undergraduate and postgraduate students conferred from the Faculty of Arts.

The Conferring addresses were given by Professor Enda McDonagh, Chair of UCC?s Governing Body (see below) and Dr Barry McSweeney, Chief Science Advisor to the Irish Government (see below).

Text of address by Professor Enda McDonagh:

The  University  and  its  Contexts
In  the  celebratory   rejoicing  of  today?s graduation  ceremonies  you  remain  no  doubt  aware  of  the  formative  years   spent  at  UCC  as  the  context  in  which  you  arrived  at  this  caterpillar  to  butterfly  transformation.  The  dazzle  of  the  butterfly  wings  and  of  their  flying  colours wipes  out  for  today  and  perhaps  forever   the  dreary  caterpillar  hours  in  lecture  hall,  library  and  home  study.  But  much  remains;  inspiring  teachers,  unexpected  and  exciting  insights  and  experiments,  fresh  pleasures  of  body,  mind  and  soul,  camaraderie  in  victory  and  defeat  and   friendships  beyond  victory  and  defeat.  In  truth  a  range  of   glad  mornings,  or for  pm  people  of  glad  evenings,  when  it  felt  so  good  to  be  alive  and  to  be  students  in    UCC.

Of  course  it  could  have  been  another  university  in  or  out  of  Ireland.  But  it  was  University  College  Cork  which  shares  so  much  with  the  great  universities  around  the  world  but  has  its  own  distinctive  excellences  and,  let  it  be  said,  its own  limitations,  although  they  are  not  the    concern of  the  occasion.   That  university  context  and  its  Cork  incarnation  might  bear  a  little  further  reflection  on  this  day  in  the  presence  of  new  graduates,  their  families  and  friends. 

A   Learning   Person in  a  Learning  Community
As today the  graduate  gown  and  cap  replace  the  undergraduate L-plate  your  membership  of  the  learning  community  of  those  undergraduate  years  moves  into  a  new  phase  but  it  has  not  we  trust  come  to  a  premature  close.  The  sharp  focus  of  undergraduate  learning  offers   a  body  of  knowledge  and  understanding  in  your  particular  disciplines  which  will  continue  to  enrich  your  adult  life.  More  importantly  perhaps  those  years  of  concentrated  study  may  have  instilled  in  you  the  habit  and  skills,  the  attraction  and  joy  of  further  study  and  learning  in  career   and  life-experience  as  well  as  in  more  structured  approaches.  One  legacy  of  a  university  education  should  be  the  capacity  for  and  commitment  to  life-long  learning  in  a  variety  of  formal  and  informal  ways.  That  capacity  and  commitment  should  be  seen  primarily  as  burden  dictated  by  some  aged  and  arid  professor   but  as    rich  and  enjoyable  possibilities,  as  fun  and  not  just  self-  or  society-improvement.  Anyone  who  considers  her  or  his  learning  days  are  over  and  who  beyond  that  sets  up  to  learned  is  likely  to  be  mentally  paralysed  if  not  dead.  Society  and  university  may  have  their  fair  share  of  such  mentally  paralysed.   

A  bit  awkward  that  earlier  phrase  on  self-  and  society-  improvement  but  it  does  underline  two  important  aspects  of  learning  both  in  the  university  context  and  that   of  the  wider  society.  Only   the  individual  student  can  master  the  particular  subject  and  satisfy  the  standard  demanded  at  university  level.  This  fosters  personal  responsibility  in  the  moral  sense  as  well  as  intellectual  freedom  and   maturity.  Yet  learning  is  also  and  always  a  communal  enterprise.  Only  in  community,  in  relationships  do  persons  properly  develop  and  grow  and  this  applies  to  learning  at  university  in  a  particularly  critical  way.  The  competitive  system  of  entry  and  to  a   less   extent  of  graduation  which  reflects  the  strongly  competitive  nature  of  our  society  has  a  valid and  perhaps  irreplaceable  role  in  assessing  certain  intellectual  capacities  and  achievements.   It  carries  its   own  dangers  too  of  locking  students  and    citizens  into  a  highly  individualistic    and  ruthlessly  competitive  way  of  living,  promoting  a  totally  ?me  society?  in  place  of  the  much  healthier,  fairer  and  more joyful  ?we  society?.

University  life  in  lecture-hall,  laboratory  and  library,  in  club  and  pub  and  the  myriad  student  societies  is  life  of  persons-in-community  and  of  a  community-of-persons.  The  interaction  of  students  and  staff, academic,  administrative  and  domestic,  at  its  best  transforms  the  simply  competitive  into  the  complexly  cooperative  and  not  just  between  contemporaries  but  between  present,  past  and  future.  The  cooperation  of  past  figures  and  achievements  in  this  and  other  universities  applies  not  just  to  the  study  history  or  ancient  classics  but  to  the  most  advanced  scientific  knowledge  in  nano  technology  for  example  with  current  practitioners  standing  as  the  saying  goes  on  the  shoulders  of  former  scientific  and  technological  giants.  As   these  past  giants  and  achievements  in  all  disciplines  are  alive  for    the  benefit  of  today?s  scholars  so  the  work  of  the  present  generation  of  graduates  and  staff  will    shape  directly  or  indirectly,  in  their  scholarship,  professional  work,  family  inspiration  and  civic  engagement  the  university  of  the  future.  It  is  not  just  that  the  UCC  of  the  past  and  future  has shaped  you,  you  are  shaping   the  UCC  of  the  future.  That  future  we  hope  will  build  on  the  traditions,  values  and  achievements  you  have  inherited,  shared  and  developed  in  your  student  years.  In  its  personal  dedication  and  communal  celebration,  in  its  competitive-cooperative  search   for  excellence  the  university  ethos  should  remain   an integral  part  of  your  personal,  professional  and  social  lives.  In  a  society  where  most  major  institutions  in  religion,  politics,  finance  and  justice  have  betrayed  their  trusts  the  virtues  and  values  of  a  true  university  may  stimulate  significant  social  renewal.

The  University  in  Context
As  major  public  institutions  enjoying  major  public  funding  universities  are  continuously  and  rightly  scrutinized  on  their  performance  as  educators  of     the  new  generations  and  contributors  to  the  public  good.  Some  of  this  scrutiny  results  in  gratifying   appreciation  of  its  educational  achievements  and  its  services   to  society  as  a  whole. This  appreciation  is  enhanced  when  it  is  accompanied  by  acknowledgment  of  the  poverty  of  resources  with  which  universities  often  have  to  work  and  not  just  financial  resources  but  the  kind  of  human  resources  which  a  much  wider  access  programme  for  students  at  present  excluded  for  reasons  of  poverty,  age  or  other  disability  would  have  to  offer.  The  huge  growth  in  university  numbers  in  recent  decades  must  not  obscure  the   impoverishment  which  these  exclusions  entail.  Indeed  the  recent  growth  based  on  the  radical  extension  of  second-level  education  since  the  f  sixties  and  the   positive  impact  this  has  had  on  Irish  economic development  confirms  the  case  for  further  extension  at  third  level.  This  case  may  be  made  more  forcefully  and  acutely  by  the  imminent  OECD  Report  on  Higher  Education  in  Ireland.

In  the  context  of  what  is  sometimes  called  the  knowledge  economy  and  more  attractively  the  knowledge  society  such  development  at  university  level  given  the  appropriate  funding  and  management     to  ensure  academic  excellence  will  no  doubt  command  widespread  public  and  so  government  support.

Yet  it  would  be  foolish   to  ignore  the  dangers  of  a  university  system  dominantly  in  service     of  a  knowledge  economy  or  even  a  knowledge  society  where  that  knowledge  was  dominantly  scientific  and  technical  and  only  marginally  humane  and  compassionate,  where  in  fact ruthless  economic  competitiveness  overrode  social  cooperation  and  solidarity.  The  values  of  the  good,  the  true  and  the  beautiful  remain  central   to  a  university?s  vocation  and  are  betrayed  not only  at  great  cost  to itseld  but  to  the  society  it  would  serve.  A  symbol  of  such  university  values  is  being  completed  on  this  campus  just  as  you  have  completed  your  studies.  The  Lou  Glucksmann  Art  Gallery  will  be  a  fresh  and  visible  reminder  of   the  great  humanist  values  of  this  and  other  universities  in  a  society  where  more  shallow  and  trivial  success  is  on  the  increase.  Perhaps  graduates  and  their  co-celebrants  might  take  this  opportunity  to  view  the  new  building  which  could  be  a  rallying  point  for  all  UCC  graduates  from  the  past  and  present  as  well  as  from  the  2004  cohort.

Ireland  in  Context
Despite  last  Sunday?s  All  Ireland  Final  and  Cork?s  magnificent  victory neither  Cork nor  Cork  form  the  total  context  of  this  university  or  of   today?s  graduates.   We  all  live  as  the  clichés  have  it  in  a  globalising  world.  That  global  context  has  all  the  ambiguities  of  the  smaller  national  and  regional  contexts,  of  the  university  context  itself  with  their  mixture   of  good  and  bad,  of  creativity  and  destructiveness.  For  today  it  might  be  proper  to  celebrate the  potentially  good  and  creative  of  this  globalising  movement  although realistically  it  is  well  to  remember  that for  many  of  you  your undergraduate  studies  were  bracketed  the  Twin  Towers  catastrophe  in  September  2001  and  the  massacre  of  the  school  children  their  teachers  and  parents  at  Belsam in  Russia  earlier  this  September  2004.  The  tragic  dimension  is  never  far  away  even  if  in  the  hope-laden  phrase  of  poet  Patrick  Kavanagh  tragedy  is  only  unfinished  comedy.  The  potentially  good  and  creative  which  still  invite  us  despite  the  tragedies  will  depend   to  a  great  extent  on  what  given  our  gifts  and  skills  we  are  prepared  to  contribute  to  the  humanization  of  the  globalisation  process.  We  belong    to  one  of  the  wealthier  nations  of  the  world.  As  university  graduates  we  are  still  a  relatively  privileged  group  in  our  own  country  but  in  a  world  of  illiteracy  and  poverty,  of  famine,  civil  war  and  HIV-AIDS  we  are unbelievably  privileged.  With  that  privilege  comes  responsibility.  On  the  silver  jubilee  of  this  graduation  will  you  just  have  enjoyed  the  privileges  and  ignored  the  responsibilities?  Definitely  not  a  fair  question  to  ask  you  to ponder  on  graduation  day.  But  there  will  be  other  times  when  it  may  be  appropriately  recalled.  For  today  rejoicing  shall  prevail  over  reflection,  comedy  in its  original  meaning  over  tragedy  and  congratulations  on  a  task  well  done  as  prelude  to  the  life-tasks   that  will  we  trust  be  equally  well  completed.  Beir  bua  agus  beannacht. 

Short version of address by Dr Barry McSweeney:

President, Graduates, Members of Staff,

I am delighted to speak at the Conferring Ceremony today, as a UCC Graduate and one who very much enjoyed my studies and other activities at UCC.  It is also a great pleasure to return to Cork.  Indeed for me it is a return to Ireland as for the past 10 years I have been working in Brussels and in Ispra, Italy.

The Ireland I left ten years ago has been transformed.  Research is now thriving most noticeably in Universities.  UCC is now at the forefront in this regard and can be witnessed by the world class research underway and the splendid new buildings on this campus.

The Government has made a serious commitment to investment in Science and Research and Ireland is rapidly recovering from years of underinvestment.  However we must invest more particularly in Research Infrastructure both in terms of people and new buildings.  The present momentum must be maintained if we are to make progress in really achieving the vision of Ireland as a knowledge economy.  Science is a powerful driving force but the benefits of such development must benefit society by a general improvement in our wealth and quality of life.

Recently I have taken up the position of Chief Science Adviser to the Irish Government, the first person to be appointed to this position.

I am pleased that a Scientist has been asked to address today?s Conferring Ceremony.  There are many connections between the Arts and Sciences which often go unnoticed.  Let?s face it, the Arts have been around a lot longer than the Sciences and Philosophers and artists of the Renaissance periods could rightly also be considered men of science.  De Vinci, Copernicus and Galileo are good examples.

When I am asked to comment on Science and Education, topical today in the context of the OECD review of the Irish Education System, I point out the relevance of Geography and Mathematics are key core subjects vital to so many areas.

Remote sensing by satellite coupled with mathematical algorithms have been vital in my role over the past 5 years as I was developing one of the biggest European security Research Centres in Ispra, Italy.

Another good example is Art and Human Anatomy and Art and Chemistry.  The study of human anatomy and the extraction of natural colours from plants and animals were key activities in the busy studios of the Masters.  Also knowledge and understanding of languages is vital to the careers of scientists in their constant travels to seek out the best sites of knowledge generation.

Time and time again I interact with Philosophers, Social Scientists, Lawyers and other ?non-scientists? when I construct my advice to Government on topical and often sensitive science topics.  Science and Society issues are vital if we are going to succeed in raising the importance of Science to Society, as a whole.  That is why it is important that early stakeholder consultation takes place in order to ensure an inclusive rather than an exclusive science agenda.

Finally for those of you who will shortly move on to other parts and maybe other seats of learning your time spent gaining your first degree will always be very special.

I hope you think back with great fondness at your time in UCC, I know I do.

Thank you and I would like to wish you the very best in your future careers.



University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF