Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On Irish Academia

Richard alludes to an interesting piece in today’s Irish Times (why is there always something interesting in the times on the days I don’t buy it). Anyway it is about the amount of people in college and whether that is dumbing down standards.

Is it possible for the currently under-financed university sector to initiate and socialise all these newcomers so they can recognise and digest an intellectual argument? Or must the institutions dumb down and give in to the dead weight of numbers by lowering intellectual standards and turning lecturing into a branch of the entertainment industry?

Firstly it is clear that most people who write for the Irish Times come from a arts background as I am sure that anyone from a Science background would ever say that a lecture in Quantum Mechanics or Organic Chemistry is ever entertaining however interesting. Continued

To pretend that genuine advances in intellectual and scientific inquiries can be easily combined with democracy's demand for undergraduate mass intake and teaching is a complete illusion.

To me UCD's Andreas Hess who wrote the article has missed a major change in the world and indeed I think Richard has possibly missed it as well. . In this new knowledge economy the skills that are demand are the ones that require a university training, few jobs anymore require only a leaving cert and the ones that do are quickly drying up.

The place where previously a degree held, that of the advancement of science etc is now no longer that place. The degree is now been required by so many business that to hold it up to the standards of excellent that Andreas Hess believes it should would damage the economy. The degree now is the definition of the standard level of education need to complete a job.

The place where the genuine advances in intellectual and scientific inquiries” is at PhD level. A university degree is the new leaving cert.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Andreas is a computer scientist and lectures in quantum physics can often be entertaining. My most entertaining lecturer/teacher ever taught path-tracing (tracing photons through simulated physical environments to create artificial images = hard).

Very little genuine research happens at PhD level nowadays in universities. Almost all funding is tied to business plans / industrial sponsorship which really means that research must have a maximum 2-3 years to market threshold (which is closer to development than research). The problem at undergraduate level is that many curicula are now defined by the needs of industry - the science programmes at DCU or UL are glorified job-training schemes. The macro-problem is the dominant relationship that business has with third level education which allows them to define fairly narrow parameters on research and skews the focus towards their products (see the recent BMJ macro-study of funding in medical research for the empirical evidence).

Simon said...

Ya I saw that there is a andreas in computer science but there also seemed to be one in sociology. I am guessing it is this one.
http://www.ucd.ie/sociolog/sociologyinfo/html/research-ah.htm

You must be lucky to have entertaining physics lectures. Mine were fairly boring.

Donagh said...

I agree. It seems that Hess' arguement is a bit of a reaction against the large intake in the humanities, especially in NUI colleges. As the previous comment noted science is now tied to industry and with the recent announcement of more money for science that is set to intensify. By the way, Kurt Vonnegut's first novel Player Piano touched on this topic. It concerned a future world where computers controlled everything (engineers had to often fix the huge loops of magnetic tape) and society was split between the 'reeks and wrecks' the now unemployed former labouring and manufacturing class and the managers, all of whom had a PhD and referred to each other as Doctor, even the estate agents. Point being that the PhD was moving more towards a business qualification than anything to do with expanding human understanding.

Anonymous said...

Ya I saw that there is a andreas in computer science but there also seemed to be one in sociology. I am guessing it is this one.

Whoops. Yep, that must be the one - arts academics are much more likely to produce such self-aggrandising pieces in my experience and much less likely to have anything interesting to say. As far as I can see, modern academia in the liberal arts is akin to modern art - an exercise in self-promotion with almost no objective criteria which allows one to sort the rubbish from the insightful, hence the former propsers. I mean the entire basis of post-modernism is basically a headlong rush away from empiricism and a consequent infinite license to bullshit (cf sokal).

You must be lucky to have entertaining physics lectures. Mine were fairly boring.

Oh, that one was a wildly unusual exception. However, some of the quantum physicists are pretty entertaining as the field is open to wildly different explanatory models and you can get good and wacky if you want. Having said that the mathematics are not for the faint-hearted.

Simon said...

ya anon I did physics as well. And have sat through my fair share of Quantum lectures which all though I am not a fan of quantum theory I liked the Maths.