Friday 23 February 2018

New performance-based college funding scheme threatens State grants

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A new performance funding scheme for third-level colleges could see them losing up to10pc of their State grants if they don’t meet certain targets from next year.

The radical system is being introduced as part of new approach to ensuring that higher education is delivering what students and the country need.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has signed off on agreements with 39 institutions, setting out their targets.

The individual agreements with each college, known as “compacts” are being published on the HEA website.

The compacts identify the strengths and mission of each college, which will be used to measure their future performance.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said that the approach was not intended to be “punitive” and colleges would be supported by the HEA in meeting their objectives.

But ultimately the HEA may withhold 10pc of the annual grant due to a college if it does not measure up –and the money will be diverted to high performers.

The third-level sector in Ireland has never been subject to such a level of transparency and accountability.

The publication of the compacts coincides with the release of the first ever performance report in higher education in Ireland, which shows that it is competing well internationally.

The Higher Education System Performance First Report 2014-16 also shows that graduate employment has bounced back to pre-economic crisis levels.

However, it identifies a range of stresses in the system, including insufficient funding to ensure a quality education for the ever-increasing number of students.

A HEA report now future funding for third-level –including the controversial option of raising student fees – has been prepared, but not published.

Mr Quinn kicked the issue to touch again today and announced that he is setting up a committee to look at the funding issue.

Today’s report shows that, by 2015/16 the State contribution to third-level will have dropped to 51pc of  all income received by the sector,  down from 76pc in 2008/09. In money terms the decline is  from €1.4bn in 2007.08 to €895m in 2014.15 and a projected €860m in 2015/16. while student numbers are surging.

Cutbacks in recent years have increased staff-student ratios to 19:1, compared with 15:1 in other countries, while research has also suffered because academics have been diverted to lecturing.

Another emerging and worrying trend  identified in the report is a dip in employer satisfaction rates about the quality of graduates.

The report also highlights a rise in drop out rates among students on Level 7/6 (ordinary degree/higher certificate) courses.

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

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