LIT lecturer and Fulbright scholar Daragh Naughton believes that the introduction of third level fees is “inevitable” in Ireland.
The Patrickswell man, who holds a PhD from the University of Limerick and an MA in teaching and learning from University College Cork, is so certain of this eventuality that he is using his scholarship to Northeastern University in Boston as a way of comparing the Irish system with that of the American one.
Dr Naughton, 33, an engineering lecturer and researcher in LIT for more than five years, is the first LIT student or academic to be admitted to the Fulbright programme, which is normally the preserve of the university sector, and one of just a handful to ever receive the scholarship from the IT sector.
He has been teaching at Northeastern in recent months and has already drawn the conclusion that American students place a higher value in their education because of paying fees, which can often be upwards of $100,000.
“I am teaching material science to final year students. The students are at a very high level, they are there every day because they are paying for it. It is not that they are better than Irish students, but their attitude is different because they are customers,” he explained.
“It might be controversial, but their attitude is different. If there are 120 students in the class, you will have 115 and five will be sick. Whereas in Ireland, if you have 120 in the class, you might have maybe 70. Their attitude is different because they are paying for it. They treat it differently.”
However, the Fulbright scholar believes there is inequality in the American system.
“There are big changes coming on the Irish education system, they are on the horizon. They (fees) are already in the States. That is not to say what they do there is best practice either, it is very unequal - they measure their success there at university level from the amount of students they turn away, rather than those who graduate,” he said.
“There isn’t a single mature student in the class - I think in LIT we have probably about 35% mature students. They couldn’t possibly get a loan for that amount of money and pay it back in the States. It is very unequal.”
The LIT lecturer used his application to Fulbright - he is one of 37 Irish award winners, including three others from Limerick - to make and illustrate this point about the differences between the education systems in Ireland and the US, partly the reason, he believes, he was accepted to the international programme.
“The arguement I made in the application was, I am an educationalist, I had just graduated from the MA in UCC in teaching and learning and was very interested in that aspect,” he explained.
“The case I was making was that I wanted to investigate how, when fees are introduced here, it is going to affect students.
“Everybody in the States pays for their education and with their fee structure, it wouldn’t be uncommon for students to come out with debts of $100,000. I made the arguement that fees are inevitable in Ireland, I want to see what the students expect of the lecturers and what lecturers expect of students and when this eventually happens in Ireland, I will have some experience of that.”
A keen hurler and trad music player, Daragh has felt at home among the Irish population in Boston, and has been quick to promote both his city and employer.
“Outside of the academic role, you are supposed to act as an ambassador for Ireland, so I have, for example, met the president of research and development from Boston Scientific and let him know that we have these capabilities in Limerick and trying to build up our profile in LIT,” he said.
“I have been trying to meet people involved in the tourist industry as well, not just to represent LIT, but Limerick as well.”