UCC President: We encourage students to drop out and start up (video)

9 Oct 2015

UCC President Dr Michael Murphy

UCC president Dr Michael Murphy has said the university would actually encourage some students to drop out if they wanted to start up their own businesses.

Dr Murphy said that if students could create products, services and technologies that would benefit society and create jobs then he would encourage them to drop out. He said they can always return to education whenever they wish.

Famous and noteworthy college dropouts who have shaped the digital age include Apple’s co-founder the late Steve Jobs, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Dr Murphy’s opinion is reminiscent of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who made waves when he set up a fellowship to pay promising students US$100,000 to drop out of college and start companies instead.

‘I was always impressed by a line from the movie The Social Network “it is better to create a job than to find one.”’

Dr Murphy explained that as part of the university’s focus on innovation and entrepreneurship it is focusing more and more on turning research into actual products and services and reaching out to its wider graduate population to help them start up.

The university has also formed an alliance with the prestigious Blackstone Launchpad, an entrepreneurship programme that is kicking off on campus.

“It is designed to provide walk-in support to any student or graduate who has an idea and to mentor them and encourage some of them to drop out.”

“Wait,” I almost splutter. “What did you say?”

“I thought you would pick up on that,” Murphy says. “It is the case in my view that young people with very good ideas that have clearly met a need in society should be encouraged to do that at an early stage – because they can always return to education.”

College just isn’t for everybody, says UCC president

I ask him what he thinks his peers in other Irish universities would make of a fellow academic encouraging students to drop out.

“I’m sure some of them would prefer to have said it first,” he said with feeling.

“I take the view that college isn’t for everybody. People differ in their talents and some will exploit them much more successfully uncontaminated by university.”

Dr Murphy recalled an honorary conferring ceremony two years ago with broadcaster Graham Norton and Cork-born BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane, US judge Donald Molloy and Cork businessman and UCC governing body member Dermot O’Mahoney.

“Graham Norton brought it to our attention that, among the four people being conferred, one had been a drop-out, one hadn’t had enough points to matriculate and one had failed his exams and yet there we were honouring all three for major achievements and services to society. So I have no difficulty in making that point. You can always come back to higher education.”

Murphy’s comments come as UCC prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Boole on 2 November.

Boole was the first professor of mathematics at UCC, but he himself never had a formal education.

Boole’s influence on mathematics, logic and probability is such that he has been called the father of the digital age.

Murphy said that UCC has a tradition of independent thinking and it’s no accident that Boole’s famous work is called the Laws of Thought.

“There is a rebellious streak in people from this part of the country and we encourage young people to view things from unusual angles.

“I was always impressed by a line from the movie The Social Network ‘it is better to create a job than to find one’.

“We have tried to shape the most recent generation to create their own jobs and not just look for a job at the end of their time in university.

“That’s another manifestation of us trying to do things differently from the average student,” Dr Murphy said.

Returning to Boole, Dr Murphy concluded: “Boole never had a formal education. He made an observation in later years that perhaps that was a good thing; that if he had gone to Cambridge as some had suggested, he might not have retained the independence of thought that led to his success.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years