Need to cut costs has mergermania in the air
There are too many colleges, too much duplication (do we really need 30 engineering schools in the country?) and not enough development around selected priorities.
These are among the many key messages expected in the forthcoming national strategy on higher education. Former Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe deserves a pat on the back for appointing the group, headed by Dr Colin Hunt, to prepare the report.
Even before publication, it has prompted a re-think among institutions about where they are going and how they will meet the challenges of catering for an growing and more diverse student intake with limited resources.
The prospect of student numbers leaping from 160,000 to 275,000 by 2030 is daunting and clearly the present model of organisation won't work into the future. Greater flexibility of course provision through the use of ICT, sharing costs of support services and ending unnecessary duplication are now all essential.
Small colleges are feeling the winds of change most, hence the scramble to form alliances and see where efficiencies and economies can be made. The tiny Tipperary Institute, which was created for political purposes, has linked up with the Limerick Institute of Technology.
Mergermania, as it has been dubbed, is in the academic air.
The leaders of the four technological institutions in Dublin are right to look to the future, see where the changing needs of learners are and adapt to meet them. The Dublin exploration is taking place against the backdrop of proposals for a national technological university.
There are limits to what they can do -- it is not feasible to have thousands of students traipsing back and forth across the city daily on routes with poor public transport. But there is room for elimination of some duplication which would allow the growth of centres of excellence.