The president of Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT ) has encouraged the Class of 2015 to question politicians on their higher education policies in the build-up to the next General Election.
Professor Ciarán Ó Cathain, made his remarks to 2,000 graduates at conferring ceremonies in Athlone. He encouraged the graduates to be active champions for higher education. “As new graduates, you have directly experienced the benefits of higher education, you are aware of the rewards that it can deliver. Equally, you are aware of the stresses upon the higher education system, in particular, the challenges caused by the severe shortfall in funding,” he said.
“State investment in higher education has dropped by 20 per cent between 2010 and 2015. On the capital side, investment in buildings and infrastructure, the decrease is 50 per cent. This is at the same time that student numbers in third level have continually grown.”
He encouraged the Class of 2015 to lobby politicians for assurances towards their party’s commitment to investing in education: “As the country builds towards the General Election, ask the politicians who come knocking on your doors what their policy is on higher education. How important do they believe it is to invest in our young people? What would they do to ensure that Irish higher education institutions are top of the class?
“The decisions that the next Government makes with regard to third level will have consequences for generations to come. We must ensure that those decisions are the right ones.”
Professor Ó Cathain has previously criticised the Government for paying “lip service to the importance of higher education institutions and their roles in the knowledge industry and economy”. In an address to the Royal Irish Academy in September, he accused politicians of caring more about seagulls than the 215,000 students in third level.
In his address, the professor also offered words of encouragement to the new graduates. Referring to Einstein’s comment that “A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it is built for,” he advised them: “Be brave, be bold in your ambitions. Strive to realise nothing less than your dreams and you will honour the talents and abilities which you have worked hard to develop these past number of years. Be proud ambassadors for yourselves, your families, your communities and AIT.”