Friday 24 May 2019

Irish universities must be 'freed from the grinding levers of State control' if they are to compete with the best in Europe - IUA Chief

IUA chief Jim Miley
IUA chief Jim Miley
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Irish universities say they must be “freed from the grinding levers of State control” if they are to compete with the best in Europe.

The call has come as the country’s seven universities launched a joint Charter, their first ever, in which they commit to transforming capability and performance across the sector.

But, they say want a matching commitment from the Government to tackle higher education funding issue and to give them more autonomy over running their day-to-day business.

The Irish Universities Association (IUA), Ireland’s Future Talent  -  A Charter for Irish Universities, identifies six objectives – covering a spectrum from funding and governance to research and enrolling more students with disabilities - commits to delivering “a fit for purpose university system for the evolving demands of society”

According to the IUA, its target is to enable the system to become the best in Europe by 2026, thereby achieving the Government’s ambitions for the national education sector,

It includes  calls for “a definitive decision on a sustainable funding model for higher education to prevent risks to our economic competitiveness”.

Calling on the  Government to “get real” on the funding issue, IUA director Jim Miley claimed “too many politicians  were “hiding behind the fig leaf of the option they don’t  like” .

The seven universities are also seeking greater independence to run their own affairs, in areas such as staffing levels and pay, a flexibility they say is essential  if they are to compete with the best in Europe.

Mr Miley said they required “a transformation of how university education is controlled including freeing universities from the grinding levers of State to allow them innovate and grow.”

While they wanted a more flexible operating structure and the removal of restrictive measures in relation to employment, that would be matched on the universities’ side by strong governance and accountability,” he said.

According to the Charter, internationally “the most successful universities are those with greatest levels of independence.”

The six-point plan also includes a commitment to digital learning, in partnership with the Government, more engagement with industry on research – backed by more public investment -  and increasing the  output of PhD graduates.

The universities pledge to expand the numbers of students with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds, to do more with communities and to support a programme of staff development.

Mr Miley said universities worldwide were transforming and the IUA Charter was designed to move Irish universities to the forefront of that change by jointly committing to a range of measures that better support students, staff and research and that will deliver in the national interest.

“This is a mission-critical initiative for the combined universities. The political community now needs to step up to the challenge and match the ambition and commitment demonstrated by the universities,” he said.

University College Cork president Professor Patrick O’Shea, who is chair of the IUA, said Ireland had  long extolled the virtue of its indigenous talent, nurtured by the education system, but “a decade of under-investment by the State, the demographic bulge and a dynamic, competitive international education environment forces us all to confront stark realities.”

He said it was incumbent on “the State, on universities and on society to implement initiatives to develop and fully realise our national talent. The time for talking is over. The time for change has come.”           

Prof O’Shea said the importance of the Charter was  that it underpinned a commitment to substantial change.

“It calls out the challenges. It identifies solutions. It puts meat on the bones of the Government’s ambition. As a society, we must commit to and enable this change. This Charter captures our commitment and it is now incumbent on the Government to meet the challenge,” he said

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