Adviser’s qualifications - McSweeney must provide explanation

Fresh questions have been raised as a result of a probe by the Department of Enterprise into the status of the American doctoral degree obtained by the Government’s Chief Science Adviser, Dr Barry McSweeney.

He was appointed to the post, which has an annual remuneration of 120,000, by Tánaiste Mary Harney while she was Enterprise Minister in June 2004.

He has been embroiled in controversy since it was suggested his degree from Pacific Western University is from an unaccredited institution in the US.

There are a number of institutions there calling themselves universities that do not function in the educational sense; they just sell so-called degrees.

Pacific Western University has been branded a “degree mill” that distributes qualifications for a fee, but Dr McSweeney argues it was “a very different body” when he received his PhD.

Current Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin told the Dáil yesterday that the National Qualifications

Authority of Ireland (NQAI), which is responsible for accreditation in this country, informed him that Pacific Western University “did not have accrediting powers within the US”.

Ms Harney defended the McSweeney appointment yesterday, arguing there was no doctoral requirement for the job. She added that Dr McSweeney had vast experience and that he was recommended in a telephone call by the former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock.

One might ask what were Mr Kinnock’s qualifications for recommending a Chief Science Adviser to the Irish Government? It would seem that Mr Kinnock’s advice led to the appointment of Dr McSweeney, without any open competition.

He undoubtedly had a vast amount of experience working in scientific positions in Ireland and later in Europe, where he became director general of the

European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, with a staff more than 2,000 people in a range of scientific and technological areas.

Whatever about his formal academic qualifications for his present post, there can be little doubt that by virtue of his experience he would seem to have been qualified to advise the Government on scientific matters.

This was not an academic post, but one in which practical experience was likely to be much more valuable than formal academic qualifications.

He apparently scaled the ladder of success through his own ability. Maybe there should be no questions about his qualifications for his current position, but unfortunately questions are inevitably posed by his claiming of a doctorate degree from Pacific Western University.

The questions about his qualifications have remained unanswered for too long.

People will inevitably wonder if, for some reason, members of this Government did not feel they were in a position to question any exaggeration of academic experience.

But Dr McSweeney must provide answers.

It is not enough to say that Pacific Western University has changed since he got his degree. We need to know how he actually ‘earned’ that degree.

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