Academic warns against using third-level only for workforce

The treatment of third-level education just as a way to build the country’s workforce could prove costly in the long run, an Irish-based international academic has warned.

Professor Carl Anders Säfström from Maynooth University Social Science Institute (MUSSI) said attempts to cater higher education in Ireland towards industry’s labour needs have often come at the expense of the humanities, because precedence is given to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

“While science and technology are important, this puts Ireland’s culture of literature and arts at risk — the same literary tradition that has played such an important role in the formation of Irish society,” he said.

As professor of educational research at MUSSI, his work is examining the role of education in justice, equality and democracy issues.

“It should be noted too that the need for well-informed, critical, and free-thinking citizens is as great now as it has ever been in maintaining European democracy. In an unstable world, we need thoughtful scholars as much as we need productive workers,” said Prof Säfström.

The professor has joined the Co Kildare college from the culture and education school at Södertörn University in Stockholm Sweden.

In the first of Maynooth University’s inaugural professorial lecture serious 2018 this evening, he will discuss the role of education in democracy and warn against only treating higher education as a way to build up a nation’s workforce.

“University is a place and space that is best understood as being traditionally free from the obstacles of ordinary life, and has another function beyond the production of work and things,” he said.

“It is a place where the free time to think and question society and ourselves is possible in a world that often seems to be losing the space to do so,” said Prof Säfström.

Last year, he was on a panel at the European Educational Research Association that discussed the changing demands on universities arising from the Bologna process in which European countries have set standards around third-level qualifications and institutions.

“I think that if universities put into practice all those micro-managing systems put forward by the Bologna Process, they would be at high risk of losing that which makes them unique and important to democratic life,” he said.

A similar warning around the dangers of treating education as simply a means of turning out young people to fill jobs was made last week when Professor Anne O’Gara, president of Marino Institute of Education, said that those who do not really know that teachers do may think of education as just being about delivering knowledge and developing skills in pupils to serve the economy and make them employable.


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