Universities should not chase world league tables - HEA chief

Higher Education Authority head says colleges should focus on their strengths

Michael Horgan, the new chairman of the Higher Education Authority, has said Ireland’s top colleges should not place their strategic focus on trying to rise up international university league tables. File photograph: Getty Images

Michael Horgan, the new chairman of the Higher Education Authority, has said Ireland’s top colleges should not place their strategic focus on trying to rise up international university league tables. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Ireland’s top colleges should not place their strategic focus on trying to rise up international university league tables, the new chairman of the Higher Education Authority has said.

Michael Horgan, a former chief executive of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, said that instead our universities should focus on maximising the potential of existing programmes.

He said research shows that funding alone is the single biggest factor behind universities which perform well in global league tables.

“At the moment we invest about €1.1 billion into third level education - it is the equivalent of a relatively small US college” he told members of the Joint Oireachtas committee on education.

Ireland, he said, could not afford investment on the scale required for individual colleges to perform towards the top of world rankings.

“If we discover oil off the coast of Kerry and we had lots of money coming in, of course we could do that. But we need to get what we have working at its optimum… if rankings improve because of what we do internally, that’s great.”

‘Unsustainable’ funding system

Mr Horgan, who took over the role as chairman of the Higher Education Authority in July, noted that commentators agreed the funding system for third level was “unsustainable” and that student numbers were set to climb by about 25 per cent over the next decade.

“The Cassells report identified possible funding sources - and once political decisions are made, it will be the responsibility of the HEA to implement them,” he said.

The Oireachtas committee also heard from students who attend private third colleges in Ireland who say they should be entitled to grants.

The “Wake up Susi” campaign - a reference to the Student Universal Support Ireland scheme - says it represented about 200 students who would be eligible for grants except for the fact they are attending a private college.

“Our students from low-income and single-parent families want the same State funding as other third-level students who are attending similar QQI [Quality and Qualifications Ireland] approved institutions,” said Alishia Houlihan, a member of the campaign and a second-year journalism student at Griffith College Dublin.

“We are not the so-called rich people that go to private colleges …”

She said it was unfair that students at these colleges were not treated in the same way as other students attending non-State owned institutions like the Royal College of Surgeons and National College of Ireland.

Ms Houlihan said there was also discrimination in the system given that a small number of students in private colleges were entitled to grant support due to a loophole.

“We have discovered that there are some students attending for-profit colleges who are lucky enough to get all their entitlements,” she said.

“These include BIMM, The Sound Training Centre, and Setanta College - all very reputable and excellent institutions - getting their student grants as their degrees are awarded by institutes of technology.

“Our degrees are awarded by QQI - and QQI degrees have the same currency as all degrees awarded in this country.”