Colleges 'must consider sustainability'

 

“We will not be waiting for the slowest camel to join the train,” Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn warned the heads of Ireland’s third level institutions today.

Speaking at a special briefing at the Department of Education about their co-operation with reforms, the Minister urged third-level leaders to “take a long hard look at their future sustainability”.

Mr Quinn was speaking about recommendations arising from the National Strategy for Higher Education, or the Hunt Report, which seek to modernise the third-level sector and make it more transparent.

He said the level of change and rationalisation required would not be achieved on the basis of submissions already put forward by the sector.

Outlining his priorities, the Minister said providing a quality university experience to a growing number of students was “not all about funding” but about “the best utilisation of academic staff and resources”.

Protecting and enhancing the role Institutes of Technology was key to reform, he said.

He said some Institutes of Technology on a path to becoming Technological Universities would find meeting the Higher Education Authority criteria to do so “arduous”.

The Minister said the granting of Technical University status would be made on “academic, not political grounds” and said he would introduce statutory provisions to make this happen.

Mr Quinn expressed disappointment at the submissions already made by the third level sector on developing regional clusters.

He said they reflected “their own perspective and ambition” and not the collective issues that needed to be confronted.

He said a HEA analysis showed both “a mismatch between institutional aspirations and what is required”, and the need for “some very serious consideration of the management and governance” needed for successful regional clusters.

The Minister said he disagreed with some of the findings of a report by a panel of international experts, commissioned by the HEA, which recommended the merger of some of Ireland’s universities. It included the merger of UCD and TCD. 

“I do not envisage forced mergers of any of the seven universities,” he said. “We have been there before and it simply does not work”.

Neither did he envisage the merger of universities and institutes of technology, he said. Mr Quinn also called for an end to the “unnecessary duplication of course provision” in universities and institutes of technology.

He said there were 19 providers of teacher training in Ireland while Finland, held up as a model in education, had just eight.