Ruairi? Quinn's speech was introduced by Mary E. Daly, President of the Royal Irish Academy. Photo: James Brady[/caption]Accommodating young students who are vocationally minded rather than academic in the secondary education has also been a concern for Quinn, who called for reform of the Junior Certificate regularly throughout his time as Minister. Last night he was explicit that the fact that the exam served as "a great rehearsal for the Leaving Certificate" was not a sufficient justification for keeping it in its current shape. "Many young students, particularly working class boys and many others, whose homes and families are not supportive or comfortable with academic learning are either left behind or abandoned by the present system." Speaking of research conducted by ESRI that showed that many students drift away from schooling in their early years, he noted the lack of opportunities available for many who do not pursue an academic path. "The path leads to either traditional apprenticeships, if you are lucky, or dead-end low paid employment and long periods of unemployment. The personal and social consequences for our young citizens who are left to drift in this unproductive route are very damaging for them, but it is toxic for the rest of our society as well."A blunt assessment of the societal effects this youth unemployment can have was offered with a reference to the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and nationalism across Europe. "I think that much of the recent surge of support for UKIP in Britian is fueled by young white British males who have been left behind without the skills to operate within an increasingly globalised world economy... The manifestation of anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, including Ireland, is a cry for re-inclusion to a society which once had a role an education and a place for people who now feel abandoned because they are closed out of the modern workplace." The other side of this, not mentioned by Quinn, is of course the outflow of young Irish students and graduates to foreign shores seeking a living for themselves that they cannot find here. For these, the lack of opportunities mean they must repeat again the emigration that so many generations of Irish have found necessary for a living.This concern for the vocational aspects of higher education was most strongly expressed in defense of Ireland's two-tiered system, with its seven Universities and fourteen Institutes of Technology. To him, the prospect of Institutes of Technology becoming "quasi-universities" would be "a major error", comparable to the UK's rebranding of its Polytechnics as Universities under the Major government.Much of Quinn's other topics for discussion ones that anyone present would have been deeply familiar with. On University rankings, he noted that "We cannot ignore the rankings, but nor should we become obsessed by them. One factor in climbing up the rankings is the need to advance additional finance to meet some of the rankings criteria. However, the level of funding required to deliver a top ten institution in Ireland is simply not available, and never will be."When discussing the needs of students, he called on USI to develop an enterprise or initiative to address the student housing crisis. There was a defense of his government's role in increasing the student contribution charge (which he claimed was not paid by over 50% of undergraduates due to their economic circumstances). " The phased increase of the student charge from €2000 in 2011 to €3000 in 2015, in four annual increments, was a painful but necessary step. It had the benefit of providing clarity so that participants could make provision." His brief mention of possible solutions to the funding crises had all the typical suggestions: a graduate income tax, a student loan system, a unilateral fee increase. There was little new to garner from these discussions, where the Minister's insight was lacking compared to his thoughts on vocational education.To hear the talk as a student was to hear much left unsaid of the typical student's experience. When discussing the choice between a university education and a vocational education, there was nuance lacking. The line between the two are increasingly blurred, with a changing economic base making subjects like computer science and engineering, as well as many research sciences, far more vocationally focused and sustainable than many traditional options. Subjects like architecture (Deputy Quinn's background) were once deemed among the most sensible routes from an employment perspective and are now seen as much riskier choices. As far as the average student is concerned, those binaries are historical and not as clear as might be suggested. All of us are entitled to a holistic education, one that develops our character as well as our skills.All that said, there is much credit due to Quinn for his speech. His eagerness to provide alternative routes to education more suited to the most vulnerable in our society is deeply admirable, and something we can only hope to see taken on by those policy makers in attendance.