Skilbeck report on universities gets general welcome


The Skilbeck Report, which recommends that Irish universities must re-create themselves to meet changing needs, has been broadly welcomed.

Dr Art Cosgrove, the president of UCD and chairman of the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities (CHIU), hoped the report would help to stimulate public debate on the role of colleges.

Among other things the report by Prof Malcolm Skilbeck recommended closer links between the universities and both industry and the wider community. It also wants to broaden access to mature students and poorer students. The report was commissioned by the CHIU and the Higher Education Authority.

Prof Skilbeck said ". . . the universities need to work more closely together, in various partnerships, yet with more entrepreneurial flair".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Cosgrove said there was no question of the colleges turning away from scholarship. Rather, universities must respond to changing needs. They should be allowed to "take risks" in order to generate income from non-traditional sources and to help broaden access by developing more flexibility in the delivery of courses.

Commenting on the report, Dr Don Thornhill, HEA chairman said : "The days of the old certainties in our universities of a largely homogenous student body and delivery systems are gone. It is essential that the new challenges now facing the system are addressed. We cannot insulate ourselves from change. The only realistic, if at times uncomfortable, option is to meet these challenges with enthusiasm."

He said Irish universities and other higher education institutions have enormous talents and resources at their disposal. "They have the knowledge and ideas that can signpost us to the future. They must blend these talents with leadership and vision and a willingness to accept that new strategies are inevitable if we are to remain competitive and relevant to the Ireland of the 21st Century."

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) welcomed the report, particularly its demand for broader access for mature, disadvantaged and postgraduate students. Its education officer, Mr Colm Jordan, cautioned that the report was not the first to point the way towards a more equitable university system. What was required was firm action by the Department to achieve that.