As Dr. Hugh Brady ends his tenure as president of University College Dublin, advice Ciara Roche looks back at the legacy the controversial Harvard alumni leaves behind.

In 2010, the President of University College Dublin, Dr. Hugh Brady, spoke in front of the Public Accounts Committee after accusations that UCD had overpaid staff for a number of years without the consent of the Higher Education Authority. Brady claimed that the HEA were fully aware of the overpayments, which amounted to almost 6m over a number of years, and had never raised any objections. The HEA denied that they had approved these overpayments accusing UCD of acting “against the law.” In a moment of lost composure, HEA Chief Executive Tom Boland again denied that they had given the university permission for the overpayments, exclaiming “what part of no did UCD not understand?”

For the past ten years the “Brady Revolution” has seen the contentious overhaul of UCD. With a ‘can-do’ attitude attributed to his time in America spent as a Professor in Harvard University’s School of Medicine, Brady promised great change. Exuding ambition and proven excellence, with the most sparkling CV in Ireland’s senior university staff, Brady was welcomed warmly by the heads of state and the Irish media. His hopes to catapult UCD into the Top 30 in the World University Rankings, whilst unlikely, generated passion for a university commonly seen as underachieving in the 1990’s and sitting outside the top 200 in the world rankings. Proclaiming that he was not interested in courting popularity in his first day in office, Brady entered his new position with a determination to achieve his favorite word – change – with speed and success. However, 10 years down the line, change has come at a high cost.

Currently soaking in debt, UCD remains wading outside the top 100 in the university rankings. Enormous management and academic restructuring hit UCD with the haste Brady wanted, but left much of the increasingly demoralised faculty feeling divided. Mounting debt was found to be due to rapidly increasing expenditure. Stand-offs with the state and other universities lost UCD support as Ireland fell from the Celtic Tiger into the belly of the world economic crisis.

In Art Cosgrove’s last year as president of UCD, they managed to budget at a 1m surplus. In 2009, UCD was reported to be in debt to the sum of 20 m. The state grant has decreased in recent years due to the economic crisis and the resulting public services cutbacks. Yet, the registration charge that applies to every student has been constantly rising and has increased from €1,500 to €2,500 in 2 years. Minister for education Ruairi Quinn asserted that fees are also expected to increase to €3,000 by 2015. Hugh Brady has made calls to take third level education out of state hands suggesting that for UCD to compete on the global stage, state funding is not enough.

2011 saw the leaders of seven Irish universities brought in front of the Oireachtas to discuss the rising debt problem amongst the institutions. Cash strapped and still recovering from the overpayments scandal which saw universities costing the state 8.1m in excess payments to senior staff, the meeting was an acceptance that Irish universities, including UCD, were in serious trouble. With UCD riding high from an increase in university rankings and research ambitions becoming fulfilled, the meeting proved their success to be a hollow victory. Previous acquisitions of poaching lecturers and academic talent from other Irish universities became so potent, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern discussed the issue in the Dáil.  Mirroring the banking and business scandals flooding the Irish media, UCD had built themselves up gathering the best talent with money they did not have. Brady’s ambitions had far outweighed the resources of a country that combines the budget of seven universities, at almost half the budget of Brady’s previous workplace, Harvard University

Although contentious, many view the modularisation and semesterisation of the University as a success. Bridging a gap between British and American University models, UCD grants students the choice of a range of modules each year, and they are tested on them at the end of each semester. Brady also introduced the Horizons programme which allowed students to choose one module a semester from courses outside their own. This allowed, as the prospectus boasted, a more ‘rounded’ education. ‘Omnibus’ undergraduate courses were introduced in arts, science and engineering which attracted students with more choice of pathways and less pressure to decide their specific career immediately.

However, the process with which Brady changed the entire academic and management structure in UCD has been criticised. Rushing a restructure of UCD into a modular system closely after he had restructured the management and faculty system, caused great upset amongst academics already overloaded with work. UCD was once divided into faculties that ran their own autonomous departments. The departments frequently met with the president to discuss their work and this system was felt to offer the academics great opportunities to progress with the college. UCD was divided into five colleges with 20 schools contained within these colleges. Staff and students demonstrated against these plans. It was suggested that Brady had deliberately held back information about the restructure to avoid discussion and criticism from unions and faculty before presenting the proposal to the government.

A senior staff member, Paul Engel criticised the entire idea as a “stampede into ill-considered moves for short term gain, with a small inner circle of the executive rushing through change without proper time for consideration.” The faculties feared that they would change from the previous system of autonomous departments to a corporate management system that did not grant sufficient consultation. Engels further criticised the idea as harming the intellectual health of the University. The new management style claimed to detract from the collegiate atmosphere of the campus and neglected the idea that “academic staff are the true capital of the University.” Brady rejected these views claiming that it was  “a restructuring plan not driven by savings… primarily driven by our academic needs and by our need to maximise our research and teaching potential.”

A meeting in 2008 appeared to justify staff’s concerns. The town-hall style meeting invited the entire faculty but began with Brady expressing his busy schedule and lack of time to discuss staff grievances. In a move devoid of the usual can-do enthusiasm, Brady failed to discuss the lack of funding from the government and the spiralling debt UCD was becoming notorious for. Attendees were concerned that important positions in the University were being filled by corporate figures instead of stalwart academics, generating an air of business acumen in UCD that was at odds with many peoples’ view of how to correctly run a university.

UCD’s corporate makeover can be charted by the rapid changes to the University’s infrastructural assets. The Sutherland School of Law building and the revamped student centre have been welcomed warmly by students, despite the gym and pool’s peak time shutdown to allows for private members. The O’Brien Centre for Science reflects Brady’s ambitions to push UCD as a major competitor in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths. These subjects, more commonly referred to as STEM, are being promoted not just by UCD, but by the government, education authorities and the private sector. Holding a population well educated in STEM courses is presented as a solution to Ireland’s economic instability, as it is estimated that companies will flock to establish bases in our increasingly skilled country. However, Brady has faced acquisitions that his push on STEM subjects serves to neglect the importance of other deserving courses.

Arts in UCD continues to be the biggest course in the country. Enrolling almost 1,230 students a year, it constantly tops the CAO’s most wanted. However, arts as a college does not draw as much research money as the private sector puts into STEM courses. Brady has faced accusations of chasing research funding and university rankings above quality education. In the restructure of the university, many arts courses went from autonomous departments, to interdisciplinary schools. For example, it has been claimed that the School of Irish, Celtic Studies, Irish Folklore and Linguistics is a mismatched pairing that does not respect each departments individual needs. Arts courses are noticeably underrepresented in career guidance and development. Whilst career and internship fairs are constantly taking place around campus, there is a distinct lack of arts related fairs. As STEM courses grow in prominence across the world, university rankings take progress and success in these areas more seriously than success in arts.

Yet arts in UCD continues to thrive. In the QS University Rankings 2013, UCD was 114th in arts and humanities. In the life science and medicine category, UCD ranks as 145th and 143rd in engineering and technology. As such, according to the international rankings, if one wanted to be educated by the best faculty in UCD, it appears arts beats its scientific counterparts.

In attracting lucrative research money, arts failed to rise to Brady’s ambitions. When Brady arrived, the establishment of UCD as a world-recognised research facility was a number one priority on his agenda. UCD has grown dramatically in this area with an estimated one third of the 2007 wages budget distributed to research candidates. Brady wished to attract the best and the brightest to UCD and consequently developed links within private research and funding. The brightest minds from across the globe would have to be lured to UCD with attractive and competitive wages. UCD’s general lack of capital in relation to their rival universities was a ‘no’ Brady was not willing to accept.

Constantly reiterating the benefits of raising UCD’s profile in terms of research, Brady ignored reservations other faculty members carried. Corporate partnerships and greater business links were welcomed with open arms by Brady whilst others feared UCD was becoming a slave to the private sector. Brady was himself aware of these reservations and spoke of how “there is sensitivity here that we shouldn’t be selling out to the industry.” Recently a Defend the University campaign has begun lobbying against the “profit-making institutions” universities are accused of becoming. Launched by two unions representing lecturers, SIPTU and the Irish Federation of University Teachers, it appears fears of profit and research before teaching have become a national issue. The campaign has launched a 10 point charter that complains of universities becoming a research backup for the private sector.

Brady’s move towards research, left many observers lamenting the true essence of the university – teaching. Whilst research attracts profit for a university through private sector deals, further exploited by UCD’s entrepreneurial organisation UCD Nova and their Trinity partnership, UCD/Trinity Innovation alliance, the quality of teaching received from primary researchers is in doubt. Research funding and talent is valuable for University rankings. A higher rating is given to the amount of funding a university receives and the academic talent they attract. However, a student choosing their university undergraduate degree based on rankings would surely expect high quality teaching in conjunction with profit making research. As the Defend the University campaign is exalting, we should not let universities become research first, educate later.

With his promotion of research, Brady hoped to sell UCD to the global community as a truly international institution that could compete with already established global universities. The semesterisation and modularisation of UCD’s undergraduate programmes was clearly influenced by American universities and Brady’s time as a Professor in Harvard University. Changes such as these were all in Brady’s plan to make the university more global and attract more international students. Rankings attract international interest, and international students pay higher fees than native Irish students. Coming as full-time students, or on erasmus, international students pay higher fees than their Irish or EU counterparts. The incentive of higher fees has been labelled as a shallow profit making device.

“Always thinking worldwide,” is an idea Brady suggested. However, UCD’s international partnerships have proven contentious. The Confucius Institute and UCD’s coalition with Beijing International College and BUO tech, the dairy producer, has been accused of being distinctively entrepreneurial focused, and neglecting the questions of China’s history of human rights.

In 2010, Brady predicted that in the future only half of UCD’s students would be from the CAO. He believed UCD were set to increase their intake of ‘non-traditional’ college goers. Whilst the area of ‘non-traditional’ applicants promotes entry to lower socio-economic applicants and those affected by disability, it also includes international, mature and part-time students who occupy a far higher percentage of entry in UCD and also pay much higher full fees. Under Brady’s plan to “form global minds,” increasing the amount of non-traditional students from 17% to 25% was an important initiative. Graduate students were also hoped to be increased from 26% to 33%. Graduate students also pay full fees. Undergraduates lack of profitability, apart from their government induced fees, which Brady had called to be abolished, has seen them become marginalised and unattractive in UCD’s grand corporate plan.

As Brady finishes his last few weeks in office, it cannot be said that ambitious goals were not achieved. The university has jumped from a position outside the top 400 to 135 in the QS University Rankings. The university has quickly leapt into the reality of third level education in the 21st century. The Student Centre, the Sutherland School of Law and the O’Brien Centre have certainly enhanced Belfield, transforming it into a modern campus. Furthermore, accusations against Hugh Brady’s transformation of UCD can be attributed to the business model that most of the top universities in the world are now indulging in. Many people who enter university now have the primary goal of being trained to enter the job market. Business and science courses are promoted due to their links with the real world economy.  Comedian Stewart Lee has lamented the transformation of universities into “book-balancing business schools or results-driven scientific research centres, treating students as client-customers” and the UCD Brady envisioned appears to be sadly fitting into that category. UCD is now a university developing on a global scale. Brady has certainly done something big, but at what cost to the quality of education and the student and staff morale found in UCD?

At the end of Brady’s tenure it must be decided whether his refusal to understand the word ‘no’ was to the benefit of the university.


ILLUSTRATOR: Robert Mulpeter