Populism as a political creed has, in recent years, burst onto a truly world stage spanning, to mention the more notorious, Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom, Hungary, the Philippines and Italy. There are common threads – right wing conservatism, nationalism, racism, a fear and loathing of immigrants and indeed anyone who departs from norms the populists set. They also fear and loathe higher education and all who strive in what they see as places of, and for, elites, whereas they represent the “common man”.
Higher education institutions should respond on multiple levels to the populist threat. They should set effective engagement with their communities as a core objective. There is considerable literature on how this can be (most recently a policy paper, “Maximising Universities’ Civic Engagement”) for the Wales Centre for Public Policy, by Prof Goddard and Prof Hazelkorn). There is little evidence that Irish institutions see this as a core part of their mission – too often lip service is paid to it. In failing to engage effectively, they leave the field open to those who would disparage higher education.