President Michael D. Higgins opens the Economy & Society Summer school


Over 30 PhD business and humanities scholars from around the world gathered in Blackwater Castle in Cork today where the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins delivered an address to open officially the 2015 Economy and Society Summer school organised by Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in conjuntion with University College Cork (UCC).

Throughout the week long summer school, the Irish and International scholars from economics, sociology and beyond will explore contemporary issues and ethical values that are necessary to create a flourishing economy and just society.

At the opening, Prof Willie Donnelly, President of WIT said that “Education is a liberating force in society. It’s important that we learn the lessons of the tiger economy years. As the economy recovers we need to focus on balancing the social, economic and cultural evolution of society. Broadening investment in education from Science Technology Engineering Maths (STEM) to incorporate Humanities and Business is crucial to creating that balance. European Framework programme H2020 places humanities and social science at the heart of European Innovation.

“Two of the largest schools in WIT are Humanities and Business. The institute has a strong PhD education programme in these disciplines and it’s very encouraging to see the Institute taking the lead and to see such quality researchers from across Ireland, the US, Canada, Europe and the middle east travelling to Ireland to be part of it.”

The summer school, which is organised by the Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society run jointly by WIT and UCC, was set up under the auspices of “the President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative”.

Speaking about President Higgins’ contribution, Dr Tom Boland, Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Humanities at WIT said, “The President’s ethics initiative has been very inspirational for all of us. Rather than political finger-pointing, his focus is on the underlying values and assumptions that underpin the modern economy, such as individualism, competitiveness, the intensification of work and the unbridled profit motive. These can’t be fixed by the ‘silver-bullet’ of regulation, but require widespread social change.”

“Furthermore, the summer school is a chance to overcome the disconnection between economy and society and the academic disconnection between social policy and economics” Dr Boland continued. “Rather than condemning all business as unethical, we have to consider how to make it ethical. Social science needs to get beyond being revolutionary and utopian on the one hand, and providing ‘sticking plaster’ solutions for social problems on the other. We need to suggest viable alternative social policies which will create better outcomes, and publicise them, so that politicians and policy makers have to take note.”

According to Dr Ray Griffin Lecturer in Strategy in the School of Business at WIT, the school addresses a core problem of modern PhD education where students increasingly work in ever more narrow and isolated fields, often on funded projects and this reduces the space for cross-disciplinary interaction. He said, “The school challenges this trend by creating a space for PhD scholars to explain their work to others, and perhaps most importantly, to take ownership and responsibility of the ethical importance of their work.”

“The school is great fun and once the formalities are over, the school becomes like a retreat - we have no wi-fi, limited mobile phone coverage, lots of bright, engaging people, a little wine to grease the larynx and a huge amount of chat….. At times PhD work can be quite lonely but these are the weeks in which people talk endlessly about their work. That is my version of fun.”

The summer school runs from May 11th to 15th and reports of plenary papers will be posted on the website on a daily basis.

The Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society is an ongoing collaboration between UCC and WIT. Key personnel are Prof. Arpad Szakolczai, Prof. Colin Sumner, Dr. Kieran Keohane (all UCC), and Dr. Tom Boland, Dr. Ray Griffin and Dr. John O’Brien (all WIT). 

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