Aoife Geary spoke to Luke Field, one of 30 Seanad candidates running in the NUI Constituency, where he emphasised the need to make higher education a priority and mentioned the gender inequality issues when working in third level.
Luke Field is one of 30 Seanad candidates running in the NUI Constituency.
 
If successful, he says that unlike Senators before him, he will make higher education a priority.
 
Field is a UCC graduate and PHD student at UCD who feels that people in higher education have not been adequately represented in the Seanad.
 
“I’ve spent the last seven years in higher education either as a student or a staff member and I’ve identified a number of issues there that I felt could be dealt with or focused on to a much greater depth,” he said.
 
One of these issues is funding. Field says that the cost burden on students in Ireland is among the highest in Europe and too close to the expenses seen in fee paying countries, yet institutions don’t seem to be benefiting.
 
“It’s quite significant for a country that allegedly has a state funded higher education system and at the other side has constant problems with resourcing,” he said.
 
When asked of possible funding solutions he immediately ruled out the student loan scheme saying it could lead to huge levels of student debt, as seen in the US.
 
He believes that although it doesn’t create a large cost burden initially, when the higher education system is financialised, students will suffer.
 
Currently the average student debt in the US is around $35,000, however in 1993 the average debt was around $9,000.
 
“If we see a system like that come into Ireland, it may take a decade or two, but I very much believe you will see that happen here too,” he said.
 
The solution, is for the new government (whoever they may be), to get serious about investment in higher education.
 
“We need to prioritise public investment over tax cuts. This would show a real commitment to the concept of education as a social good,” he said.
 
Other issues highlighted by the candidate are concerned with working in higher education.
 
He believes there has been a “hollowing out” on the employment side with little job security or permanent appointments, especially at entry level.
 
Field also wants to address the gender inequality issues within employment in third level, something he feels particularly qualified for, given his time as Equality Officer in Trinity College Dublin.
 
He says in most organisations, the majority of lower grade administrative roles are held by women and the highest ranking administrative roles are held by men.
 
Similarly, in academic positions, female lecturers are outnumbered by males at the high end of the scale, but hold the majority of positions at the low end of the scale.
 
“When you consider women greatly outnumber men in higher education it’s quite remarkable and is a sign there is a severe deep rooted problem,” he said.
 
Field has acknowledged the need for reform in the Seanad, in particular the voting system which prevents graduates from certain universities participating.
 
If elected he will campaign to offer all Irish voters the chance to vote in the Seanad.
 
“Politics should be about aspiration; creating a vision for people and part of that should be ensuring that everybody has a role to play in that vision. That they see themselves in that vision. That we’re not excluding people,” he said.