Call for colleges to be 'unshackled'

 

THE CHAIRMAN of the Higher Education Authority, John Hennessy, has criticised the “very restrictive” public service working practices across the third-level sector.

In an address yesterday he also envisaged a greater role for private colleges in the provision of higher education courses in Ireland.

On work practices, he said: “We need to find a way to unshackle our publicly funded universities and colleges, allow them to employ appropriate modern human resource practices, while being respectful of the rights of those employed in our institutions.”

These comments are certain to draw a hostile response from trade unionists and others working within higher education.

They come after a controversial Irish Times article in which Paul Mooney, the former president of the National College of Ireland, questioned the workload of some academic staff across higher education.

On work practices, Mr Hennessy said: “There are very restrictive HR practices imposed on our higher education institutions by the fact that they are regarded as part of the public service, not much different from a government department or a local authority.”

Mr Hennessy, former head of Ericsson in Ireland, has been pushing a strong pro-business agenda for higher education since his appointment two years ago.

In his address he said private institutions could often respond more quickly to emerging demands of society and the economy than the public sector because of more modern work practices. The continuing growing demand for higher education in Ireland could no longer be fully met by the publicly funded institutions, especially at a time of cutbacks.

Private colleges were often in a better position to deliver programmes in certain cases because of their close links to industry, he said.

“The private sector has the potential to add significantly to the overall capacity of the higher education system in meeting growing demand, particularly in the context of increased requirements for non-traditional modes of provision and learning.”

He pointed out that under the Springboard initiative, a programme managed by the authority to provide educational opportunities for the unemployed, private institutions made up 33 per cent of higher education course providers, 20 per cent more than the university sector.

Private education at third level in Ireland remains underdeveloped compared to other OECD states – although colleges such as the Dublin Business School and Griffith College have gained in popularity. At present more than 90 per cent of students attend publicly funded third-level colleges.

In his address Mr Hennessy also admitted that Ireland’s performance in attracting international students compared poorly in comparison with other English-speaking countries.

“Greater collaboration and alignment between institutions on internationalising Irish education is essential.”