UCC’s outgoing President Dr. Michael Murphy has claimed Businesses and industry have too great an influence on Ireland’s research agenda. Murphy believes that the sector has become over-represented on bodies which award funding, which in-turn decides which disciplines should be prioritised when It comes to higher education research. However, Murphy said he wishes to see greater financial input from employers to third level education in the form of ring fenced taxes or levies, and from philanthropy, which he believes can be used to greater extents to help colleges and universities.
Dr. Murphy however did acknowledge that industry should have a say in University governance to ensure that they are sufficiently aware of the needs of businesses. “We also have to be very careful about the extent to which we permit the business sector to influence the overall agenda. I have a concern at the extent to which the business community has become the dominant voice in the research agenda.” For Murphy the problem lies at a ministerial level, as the appointment of directors to Science foundation Ireland and other funding or advisory bodies is a matter for government ministers to decide. However, his concerns are not confined just to funding for science, as Murphy believes research in the humanities and even some sciences, such as mathematics, are being underfunded due to an unjustified emphasis on industry and job creation.
Dr. Murphy also made some comments on his own record. He defended the decision to name a building in UCC’s health science complex after Nobel laureate James Watson. The decision was criticised by UCC’s Student Union and by some academic staff due to past comments by Watson, which they alleged were racist and misogynist. Dr. Murphy did regret that there was not further consultation in the process, but did say that the naming process was being revised to take greater account of views from the University.
Among his own personal proudest achievements is the fact that student satisfaction rates have remained high despite the effects of funding cuts on the university. He is also proud of UCC’s position in world university rankings, which is higher than when he took office, despite a slide in recent years due to reduced budgets and staff. UCC received its first funding increase for staff and running costs from the government in over a decade. Such funding was cut by almost 60% from €84m to €35m, but student numbers have risen from 17,000 in 2008 to almost 21,000 in 2016.
He made his comments in an interview with the Irish Examiner before he hands over the presidency at the end of a 10-year term next week. He will be replaced by Cork-native and UCC graduate Patrick O’Shea, who has spent most of his academic career as a physicist in the US.