How are our universities and colleges performing?

Most institutions are faring well, but three face penalties for poor performance

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology could face a financial penalty of €475,000. Photograph: Murray O Laoire Architects

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology could face a financial penalty of €475,000. Photograph: Murray O Laoire Architects

 

How are our universities and colleges performing? For the past two years, the Higher Education Authority has been trying to answer that question.

The result is an annual performance evaluation system which can result in State funding being withheld from colleges if they fail to meet agreed targets.

It stems from the the recommendations of the Hunt Report in 2011, a blueprint for higher education which first proposed that funding for third level institutions should hinge – at least in part – on performance.Under this system, the Government sets out what is expected from higher education under key headings including meeting skills needs, equity of access and excellence in research, and knowledge exchange.

Each institution formed an agreement with the HEA in 2014 on which objectives they planned to focus on and which targets they aimed to hit. They did so knowing that some of their funding could be withheld if they performed poorly, but returned to them if they tackled any major deficiencies.

Their performance was assessed first by the colleges themselves; then by the HEA; and also by a panel of international advisers.

They included John Randall, the former chief executive of the UK’s quality assurance agency for higher education; Dr Andrée Sursock, senior adviser at the European University Association; and Dr John Hegarty, former provost of Trinity College Dublin. The first round of reviews was completed last year

First, the good news: a majority have performed very well. All our universities and 10 other colleges and institutes of technology have, in the eyes of the HEA, demonstrated an excellent ability to meet skills needs and benchmark themselves against their peers.

A further six were found to be merely “adequate” in their progress against key objectives. They include Athlone Institute of Technology; Dublin Institute of Technology; IT Tralee; IT Blanchardstown; IT Tallaght; and Letterkenny IT.

This assessment indicates that senior management teams in these institutions were in the process of developing an ability to reflect on the kind of decision-making processes needed to enhance their performance.

Agreed levels

Galway-Mayo Institute of TechnologyDundalk Institute of TechnologyNational College of Art and Design

In the case of the NCAD, officials in the HEA were worried the college had spread itself too thinly by trying to achieve a range of objectives. But they did not explain why it failed to achieve them, or expand on whether it planned to remedy these failures.

Correspondence between GMIT and the HEA indicates the institution provided a relatively bare report on how it had failed to meet agreed targets and gave little or no indication of what it planned to do to change this.

Lacked coherence

The institutions can avoid financial penalties by submitting a revised plan over the coming weeks on how they plan to deal with the shortcomings.

At a time when the our third level system is seen by many to be creaking, these annual performance outcomes are likely to provide a confidence boost to everyone who wants to maximise the potential of our higher education institution.

Only a handful of jurisdictions – including the Netherlands and Hong Kong – have a comparable system of measuring the performance of individual education institutions.

How the institutions performed

Little or no progress reported against objectives (category 1)

Dundalk Institute of Technology

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology

National College of Art and Design

Adequate progress (category 2):

Athlone Institute of Technology

Dublin Institute of Technology

IT Tralee

IT Blanchardstown

IT Tallaght

Letterkenny IT

Excellent progress (category 3):

Cork Institute of Technology

Dublin City University

Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT)

IT Carlow

IT Sligo

Limerick Institute of Technology

Mater Dei Institute of Education

Mary Immaculate College

Maynooth University

NUI Galway

St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra

St Angela’s College of Education, Sligo

Trinity College Dublin

University College Cork

University College Dublin

University of Limerick

Waterford Institute of Technology

Source: Higher Education Authority system performance findings

Judgment categories:

Category 1: Little or no progress made against objectives; little or no understanding of progress among peer institutions; little or no ability by senior management team to reflect on institutional performance.

Category 2: Adequate progress against objectives; adequate understanding of progress against peer institutions; senior management team is developing an ability to reflect on institutional performance.

Category 3: Excellent progress made against objectives; it shows an excellent capacity to benchmark progress through robust self-evaluation report; excellent ability to learn from past successes and failures.

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