Third-level reform will not wait, says Quinn


Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn yesterday warned university heads he would “not be waiting for the slowest camel to join the train” when it comes to reform in the third-level sector.

However, he said he did not envisage “forced mergers” of any universities.

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 (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, Mr Quinn 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”.

Enhancing role

Protecting and enhancing the role of Institutes of Technology (IOT), he said, was key to reform. Some IOTs on a path to becoming technological universities would find meeting the Higher Education Authority (HEA) criteria to do so “arduous”, he said.

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

Of those that will remain institutes of technology, he said he wanted them to continue to further their links with local and regional businesses.

Mr Quinn expressed his disappointment in submissions already made by the third-level sector on greater collaboration and developing regional clusters. Criticising the submissions of the institutions, he said they reflected “their own perspective and ambition” and not the collective issues that needed to be confronted.

Regional clusters

He said a HEA analysis showed both “a mismatch between the sum of 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.

While he welcomed some of the panel’s insights, he disagreed with some of the solutions.

“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.

As about 50 students from the National College of Ireland protested outside, Mr Quinn reiterated his plans to increase the student service charge to €3,000 by 2015.