Archbishops laments ‘commodification’ of university education

TCD service for fellows and scholars hears how ‘metrics of commercial world’ have become embedded in colleges

The “commodification” of third level education has been criticised by Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell.

Under “pressure to be relevant, universities sometimes lose sight of what led to their foundation and of what their authentic mission consists,” he said.

Speaking on Monday morning via video link at an ecumenical service of fellows and scholars at Trinity College, Dublin, Archbishop Farrell commented "many of you will have seen first-hand the threat to languages – ancient and modern, to classics and to the academic study of religion in such an environment".

He said: “Of course, marketable skills are essential, but universities also have to provide enduring values – information, knowledge, even wisdom need to find a right relationship to the earth ‘and all its inhabitants,’ as it says in the Psalm (Ps 24:1).


“Without this broader relationship, the insight of Maurice Blondel’s sardonic aphorism is rapidly realised: ‘The one who marries the spirit of the age is soon widowed’.”

‘Enormous change’

The last 50 years had “witnessed enormous change in Irish universities as they tried to respond to the perceived social needs and market demands. Some have dubbed it the commercialisation or commodification of education.

"When I retired as president of Maynooth in 2007 the metrics of the commercial world were already embedded in the linga franca of third level education," he said. The university was "a very long established institution" with its roots in the philosophical and theological schools of the Middle Ages.

“People are much more than potential sources of revenue, or bases for power. Philosophical knowledge as distinct from knowledge of philosophy is important,” Archbishop Farrell said.

Trinity College “exists today because it was dynamic and did not jettison the values associated with disciplines and those associated with practice and vocation or cling rigidly to its past achievements. That same dynamism will be the guarantee of its future,” he said.

Congratulating Prof Linda Doyle, recently elected provost at Trinity, he hoped "that in working for a higher inspiration among the philosophers, scientists, artists and the humanitarians, you will help humanity to advance".

Outgoing provost Dr Patrick Prendergast stood, in line with tradition, on the steps of the Examination Hall in Front Square to read out the names of the scholars and fellows.

Aside from the honour, those named gain practical benefits including free access to the college residence and other services including meals in the college dining hall.

In total, 73 new scholars, 13 new fellows and eight new professorial fellows were announced. In addition, four people were named honorary fellows: Maureen Harding Clark who serves as a judge at the international criminal court on Cambodia; writer Harry Clifton; Heather Hancock who has held senior roles in business and the public sector and scientist Prof Luke Drury.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times