The Best: Referencing John Herlihy From Google; Third-Level Education In Ireland; Doing What You Love

At the Digital Landscapes conference in Dublin last week, John Herlihy gave the audience a round-up of the corporate culture and attitudes at the company where he works, Google. In amidst the description of personnel and management reviews and how to handle dud projects, he pointed out that in a world with a population of 6.4 billion, good enough isn’t really any good at all. In the video of his remarks, he says in connection with the standards of performance required by individuals in the new economy at 3:07: “It’s not the best by your standards, it’s the best in the world standards. Don’t play League of Ireland football, play Champions League.”

He says it in a matter-of-fact way, but if that isn’t fighting talk then I am not quite sure what is. When it comes to brain power and knowledge capability, Ireland is a gold mine. A gold mine people seem, almost willfully, to ignore. Ireland has many great things going for it and an educated population has to be one of the greatest attributes on what would be a very long list. It has well over 800,000 people who have completed third-level education of some kind. (We’ll leave out the half a million that are coming through the system for the while.)

These are figures from the Central Statistics Office. Adding the third-level graduates together we get a figure of 829,201. Now to compare this to UK statistics. Wolfram/Alpha compares the populations thus.

So in the UK, with a population of just over 14 times the size, one would expect a matching proportion (fourteen or so million) of people having completed third-level education. Not so. From a PDF download at the site of the Department of Children, Schools and Families, 30.9 per cent of all adults aged 19-59F/19-64M have a qualification at level 4 or higher. This equates to 9.1 million people. So by taking these government figures we can make a useful comparison.

  • UK: 9.1/60 million = 15% of the population with third-level education
  • Ireland: 829,201/4.3 million = 19.2% of the population with third-level education.

With proportional adjustment, this means that for every 4 Irish persons with a substantial education history there are three UK citizens. Or if Ireland were the same size as the UK there would be 12 million Irish with third-level education to the UK’s 9 million. There is a greater depth of education in the Irish population by a truly enormous 33%. By any standards that is a phenomenal difference that reflects very well on the potential of the Irish population to make great progress in the future.

But still, being the best seems both a daunting idea and a daunting challenge: being the best means being better than all the folks that are coming out of those fine American universities. Being better than the multitudes graduating from technical academies of India and China. In short, being better than everyone else. So, how do we be the best? The answer, I believe, is in our hearts.

In a recent interview for Social Bits, economist David McWilliams summed it up perfectly. The quote comes at 3:20 in this video: “Do what you love, as only doing what you love, you do what you’re good at.” It’s not what others think you should be doing or what you think you ought to be doing. The way to truly excel is to do what you really love to be doing.

It very probably is that simple.

2 thoughts on “The Best: Referencing John Herlihy From Google; Third-Level Education In Ireland; Doing What You Love

  1. Theres no doubting we have a lot of graduates. We have a larger amount going to college than in the UK because in Ireland the state picks up the tab and students only have to pay nominal registration fees.

    But I think the point John Herlihy is making is that we have a lot of good graduates, but perhaps not as many great graduates. We have nothing that can rival Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics, Cass Business School etc.


  2. True, the remarks by John Herlihy could be read as implying that the need for the best means that Irish graduates are not leading the way yet. But I think it may be more helpful to think of his remarks as a call to arms or as a challenge to folks to raise their game. Since the basic skills and knowledge are already there, all that is required is a change in application and attitude. There is no good reason why Irish graduates have to accept also-ran status in any field.Oxbridge, Stanford, LSE, etc., are all outstanding institutions but I have to refute the idea that an Irish degree is somehow worth less than those granted by other institutions. It isn’t so.Also, free tertiary education is not a prime driver, imho, for the large amounts of graduates in Ireland. A great deal of it is down to visionaries such as Patrick Hillery and the creation of the Regional Technical Colleges in the sixties.….


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