Trinity merger with UCD not 'desirable', says Minister


MINISTER FOR Education Ruairí Quinn and three university presidents last night moved to distance themselves from a controversial report recommending a merger of University College Dublin with Trinity College Dublin, and other radical changes. Mr Quinn said such a merger was “neither feasible nor desirable’’, while key elements of the report “would not be acceptable to Government”.

The report, prepared by some of the most distinguished figures in international higher education, has been effectively buried, according to education sources. Questions are being asked in education circles about the decision by the Higher Education Authority to commission the report in the first instance.

Last night one senior university figure said the episode could damage Ireland’s reputation internationally. The authority, he said, deserved credit for commissioning a report that has “helped to focus minds across the sector’’. The report from an international panel chaired by Prof Frans Van Vught of the European Commission proposes that the State’s more than 20 higher education colleges be consolidated into six. Publication of the report has been delayed pending “further clarification and consultation’’.

In a statement, the Department of Education said Mr Quinn “has concerns about some of the recommendations in the report from an international panel which were not in accord with stated Government policies, such as the suggested merger of Trinity College and UCD’’.

The department said while the Van Vught report “contained very useful insights into the challenges facing higher education in Ireland, some of its recommendations were in conflict with . . . agreed policies and would not be acceptable to Government’’.

The department and the HEA are in the process of implementing the 20-year National Strategy for Higher Education – Hunt Report – which proposes more modest changes.

In a joint email yesterday, NUI Maynooth president Dr Philip Nolan and Dublin City University president Brian MacCraith moved to reassure staff that “no merger of DCU with NUI Maynooth is envisaged, nor would it be supported by either of the presidents of the two institutions . . . We have very good reason to believe that no such recommendation will be implemented by Government nor implemented’’.

TCD provost Dr Paddy Prendergast said a UCD-TCD merger “does not accord with Government policy nor does it represent the views of the HEA [Higher Education Authority]”. He also confirmed that no merger discussions had taken place with UCD.

The controversy was considered by the authority board at a meeting yesterday. Mr Quinn said he was anxious to ensure the review adhered to Government policy, which backed implementation of the Hunt report. Any divergence had the potential to significantly derail the process of reform which was already under way, he said.