This week, the provost election campaign kicked off in earnest. Candidates laid out their visions at two separate debates and in a set of interviews with this newspaper.
A number of commonalities emerged in their respective visions, with each candidate citing issues with bureaucracy and administration as top priorities. Additionally, questions of commercialisation, student-staff ratios, rankings and philanthropy – predictably – came up.
However, what might be considered the very source of many of these woes – an unabated funding crisis – noticeably managed to evaded the centrality it deserves.
It is no secret that in recent years the government has repeatedly ignored calls from lobby groups and university presidents alike to meet funding demands in order to rescue the sector from disaster and decline.
Yet, Prof Jane Ohlmeyer and Prof Linda Doyle demonstrated surprising optimism about the new Department of Higher Education. Perhaps back in June, when the department was first established, candidates would have been forgiven for such optimism. But seven months on, with a far from ideal budget outcome and little to show for the supposed “direct” attention the sector was expected to receive, it is notably misplaced.
Of the three candidates, Linda Hogan was the most vocal about the need to lobby the government for funding, suggesting that alumni would need to be recruited as “ambassadors” and also showed a more sceptical viewpoint on the department. But even Hogan failed to recognise that at the root of almost every issue discussed at the debates – rankings, commercialisation, student-staff ratios – is the government’s failings over the past decade.
Provostial candidates have a responsibility to recognise and underline the fact that over the past 10 years, the government has neglected the third-level sector, depriving it of much-needed funding and accelerating the plummet into its current state of crisis.
Grandstanding and naive optimism towards the new department is a short-sighted attempt to curry favour with a government that has a history of deprioritising or ignoring the demands of higher education.
In a previous editorial, this Editorial Board noted that the next Provost will likely shape the future not only of Trinity but of higher education on a national level. Candidates are doing themselves and the electorate a disservice by skirting over the very source of the issues that they are campaigning on, and must now be forthright in their criticism of the government.