Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, made a speech on October 23, which promised the increased autonomy of universities going forward.
The speech was given at the Irish Universities Association’s (IUA) Future of Ireland webinar on Friday and touched on a variety of visions for the future of higher education in Ireland.
Harris was appointed minister of this new department in June 2020, which was created after current Taoiseach Micheál Martin urged a new agenda for higher education just under a year ago.
In his speech, the minister spoke on the adjustments to the higher education sector that he sees as “necessary” for the future. Among these was his call for the increased flexibility and freedom of universities in their decision making.
He began by commending universities and further education institutions for their adaptability to the restrictions and difficulties brought about by Covid-19, particularly in their recent work in delivering “certified qualifications in short courses in flexible formats”.
He urged the continuation of such initiative, with the aim to “extract and adapt high demand modules from existing programmes, and develop tailored courses, to suit the needs of enterprise and lifelong learning”.
Harris’ speech indicated that his department hopes that the future of further and higher education will see to the changes in both the economy and society as a whole, that Ireland will inevitably face amid Covid-19.
He asserted that “the dynamism demonstrated by higher education is a lesson we must not unlearn”.
The minister assured, however, that with this increased freedom will come necessary governance and a “strategic policy framework” that would oversee these changes. As well as this, he affirmed that necessary funding would be implemented to support such a scheme.
Under this framework, Harris envisions an increased cooperation between universities and higher education institutions so that a range of educational opportunities are provided for the “different types and levels of qualifications which we will need for the future”.