Allen began the discussion by briefly outlining the historical origins of universities in the East and subsequently their beak away from religious institutions as they developed in the West. He then went on to describe how universities began to include more natural sciences and how he believed this contributed to the change in organisation of universities.
Allen’s main criticism was of the organisational structures within universities and how they favour private interests. He said that “modern intellectual society has an absolute obsession with measurement” and this is ultimately resulting in universities competing for investment from private companies.
He claimed that more funding was being provided for those disciplines benefitting private interests such as science, law and business and expressed concern that students in certain disciplines in the Arts and Humanities are losing out, stating that these students “get less seminars and less material available for learning.” Allen disapproved of the philanthropy funding model exemplified by the Smurfit and Sutherland schools in UCD and said that funding through tax is preferential.
He was highly critical of the concept of intellectual property describing how it “came from judgments of the American Supreme court.” He pointed to biotechnology corporation Genetech as an example of how academics are now more encouraged to turn their research into private property rather than share it.
One particular structural aspect of universities that Allen was critical of is the way in which academics are selected for positions in universities. He claimed that there is too much emphasis on the articles academics publish in journals. Making an example of sociology, Allen said that “no matter how brilliant your research is, you won’t get a job” if you publish in a Bangladeshi journal as opposed to the American Journal of Sociology. He noted that there was “a big shift in the human sciences” as a result of this structural change.
Allen said “I don’t think it’s a deliberate conspiracy,” but encouraged students to think and speak out critically and recognised that this is what they are asked to do as part of an arts degree. He said that when students come to university they “expect to enter a space where ideas are debated freely” and advised that this is exactly what they should do.
This discussion took place as the debate on student loans continues and it was explained at the event that it was scheduled to highlight the affair. When asked what he thought of Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union’s recent decision not to oppose student loans, he put the decision down to “sheer ignorance.”
Photo by Eoin Cambey