The results of a survey of 340 senior academics from institutes of higher education have highlighted scepticism over the Government’s plan to build the best education system in Europe over the next decade, as well as a lack of confidence in the governance and management of higher education institutions.
Factors such as restrictive immigration policy, failure to attract world-class academics and poor policy support were all cited as factors which were creating scepticism.
The survey was carried out by Prospectus and commissioned BH Associates, an education consultancy firm.
Many of those surveyed agreed that the sector is both overregulated and underfunded, and almost half felt that Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority (HEA) operate a system of regulation and accountability which is ‘not appropriate’.
A small majority say that they have not experienced institutional autonomy for their college.
Last summer, the Minister of Education drafted legislation to reform the power, structure and function of the HEA, however according to the Irish Times, some university sources fear it will further erode the autonomy of higher education institutions.
A large proportion also agree that some bodies, including the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, exercise an amount of public oversight which is not appropriate.
The vast majority believe that public sector restrictions like pay caps and limits on staff numbers negatively impact the performance of institutions.
A large majority of respondents believe that there are high risks involved for Irish institutions looking to greatly increase their international student numbers in order to bring in more revenue. Respondents believed it to be a risky strategy because Ireland is subject to the policies and practices over which it has no control.
The survey also showed a very strong support for private third level institutions, with 85% of those surveyed agreeing that the private sector has an important contribution to make to higher education in Ireland. Approximately 15% of third level students are enrolled in private institutions.
Commenting on the survey, BH Associates said that the survey should act as a “loud wake up call” to institutions about their development strategies and personnel management. It added that the survey showed high opposition to the “overly rigid regulation by the Department of Education and HEA and the highly politicised approach to public accountability of the Committee of Public Accounts.”
BH Associates noted that from this survey it can be concluded that institutions are “open to reform of the governance, management and accountability” of the sector, but that they want increased autonomy, and enhanced capability for governing bodies and institutional management.