Dr Hugh Brady delivers Annual Menzies Oration

November 13 / 124

Dr Hugh Brady, President and Chief Officer, University College Dublin.
Dr Hugh Brady, President and Chief Officer, University College Dublin.

The 23rd annual Sir Robert Menzies Oration on Higher Education was delivered by Dr Hugh Brady, President and Chief Officer, University College Dublin earlier this month.

Named for Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister and one time University of Melbourne Chancellor, Sir Robert Menzies, the annual Menzies Oration contributes to intellectual debate in Australia through a focus on higher education policy and practice.

The Oration recognises both the national importance of higher education and Sir Robert’s strong personal attachment to its extension and development.

Dr Brady was appointed President of University College Dublin (UCD) in 2004 and is Chairman of the Universitas 21 network. 

He shared his thoughts and observations on higher education with a speech titled Lip Service to an Ideal.

In his address Dr Brady spoke of the close historic connections between Australia and Ireland.

“In Ireland, as you know, we take credit unashamedly for most major developments in Australian history. It is against this background that I was interested to read of the role of Redmond Barry, a judge of the Victorian Supreme Court – of good Anglo-Irish stock – as an influential advocate for the establishment of the new University in Melbourne [in 1853].”

Dr Brady said he would judiciously skip over the fact that Redmond Barry was also the judge who “presided over the trial of one Ned Kelly!”

Dr Brady’s own institution, University College Dublin,also boasts a strong link with one of history’s most famous books about higher education, John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University.

The book was based on lectures delivered by Newman in Dublin in the early 1850s.
Dr Brady said Newman’s ideas, particularly his concept of a university creating “elbow-room for the mind”, have continued to inspire leaders at UCD as they chart a course through the much-changed waters of the 21st century higher education.

Since beginning his tenure as President at UCD, Dr Brady has implemented a multipronged institutional change program which included major curriculum reform at undergraduate and graduate levels, a reorganisation of academic structures, a significant increase in research income and outputs, a major fundraising and capital development program, expansion of UCD’s international footprint and a major jump in UCD’s position in the Times Higher Education Supplement university rankings.

To read the full address, please visit:

Sir Robert Menzies Oration - Dr Hugh Brady

"The Road to Perdition" - an extract

‘”The road to perdition has ever been accompanied by lip service to an ideal” – words uttered by none other than Albert Einstein in 1936 in Albany, New York on the occasion of the celebration of the tercentenary of higher education in America. They place in stark relief the disconnect between the rhetoric and policy statements of so many national governments on the one hand and government actions on the other when it comes to diversity and funding of higher education.

It is a disconnect that has plagued Ireland over the past decade and it should be of great concern not just to all stakeholders in Australian higher education but also to the wider international higher education community that the same disconnect appears to be emerging here.

In Australia’s case, it is a disconnect that threatens the very fabric of one of the world’s most successful university systems, established through decades of enlightened educational policies, astute investment, careful stewardship and an unwavering commitment to academic excellence.

It is a disconnect that is emerging, ironically, at a time when it can be argued that Australia, perhaps more than ever before, needs to hold its nerve and bolster its investment in its research universities to ensure that it can compete with the world’s top knowledge economies and secure the next generation of Australian jobs when its mining boom fades.

To an admirer from afar, it would seem that Ireland and Australia have much in common when it comes to the link between higher education and economic development – and not all of it pretty! Both are relatively small countries whose long-term economic future will be built on their ability to function as successful open knowledge economies competing with and trading with much larger neighbours.

Yet both are now eroding the fiscal foundations of their higher education systems by progressively cutting core funding to their universities; by rendering them over-dependent on the international student market for revenue; by failing to fund the full indirect costs of research; by occasional ill-judged smash-and-grab raids on the higher education budget; and by avoiding the issue of institutional diversity.

The Australian case is of great concern to the global higher education community because Australia has traditionally been admired as a beacon of balance and best practice, and a model for all small and mid-sized nations. The reality is that contemporary higher education is a ‘deep pockets’ game where reputations are important, hard-earned and fragile, and the level of investment is one of the most important determinants of performance on the world stage. The large private universities in the US have long-dominated the world rankings and their top public universities are now rising fast through entrepreneurial management and the support of philanthropy. Hot on their heels are the emerging powerhouses in Asia where governments are more than willing to make the hard decisions regarding institutional diversity and funding that Ireland and Australia find so unpalatable. And all of these global players have now positioned internationalization at the heart of their institutional strategies.

What is particularly puzzling, at least to this observer, is that higher education is one of Australia’s leading export industries – put simply, why would one choose to gamble with such an important pillar of the economy during one of the most unstable and uncertain periods in world economic history.

What is equally puzzling is that the proposed cuts to Australian higher education are being made, at least in part, to fund other elements of the education cycle – ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’. To be the best and to prosper in global terms, an education system needs a continuum of excellence from primary through secondary and onto higher levels of education.

We do not serve the value of education if we try to strengthen one link of the value chain by weakening another. In the history of higher education, governments have rarely, if ever, been single-handedly responsible for the creation of a world-class university system but they certainly have it in their power to inflict serious and long-lasting damage to a system through ill-conceived and hastily implemented policies.

As a fan of so many elements of your higher education system, I sincerely hope that this is one higher education accolade that Australia can avoid.”

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