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
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 levelsGalway-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.
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.
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
Excellent progress (category 3):
Cork Institute of Technology
Dublin City University
Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT)
Limerick Institute of Technology
Mater Dei Institute of Education
Mary Immaculate College
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
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.