Dublin City University

National University of Ireland, Galway

National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Trinity College Dublin

University College Cork

University College Dublin

University of Limerick

Institutes of Technology

Athlone IT

Cork IT



Galway-Mayo IT

IT Blanchardstown

IT Carlow

IT Sligo

IT Tallaght

IT Tralee

Letterkenny IT

Limerick IT

Waterford IT

The second cycle of strategic dialogue saw HEIs submit a self-evaluation of their performance against the metrics they put forward in the performance compact agreed with the HEA in 2014. These performance reports were reviewed by the HEA Executive with reference to the first set of targets to be achieved by year end 2014.

The purpose of the Cycle 2 review was to:

  • Review institutional compacts and performance at end 2014;
  • Inform detailed feedback to HEIs prior to a formal strategic dialogue meeting;
  • Inform meetings with senior HEI management to discuss HEI performance and issues arising;
  • Issue preliminary outcomes to HEIs setting out views on institutional performance and performance funding implications. A response was invited on same;
  • Issue formal outcomes to HEIs alongside 2016 performance funding implications.


In undertaking the review, and to ensure that it was robust and fair, the HEA included external advisors, with experience in higher education institutional and system performance, to provide an additional layer of scrutiny of performance. The process was also overseen by an independent process auditor.


By early 2016 the HEA Executive had completed each step of the above process. The review found that the majority of HEIs are engaging positively and performing well against their compact objectives. In many cases, where clear evidence is available, the institutions demonstrated that they were high performers in international terms.


The review provided a platform for the future development of the institutions and the sector. The HEA encouraged institutions to continue to critically review their objectives and performance, so as to further enhance their performance nationally and internationally. In a small number of cases, the HEA requested institutions to review their current compact and resubmit in light of specific concerns of HEA. Those concerns include a need for a sharper identification of priorities, demonstrating a greater level of self-reflection and preparing a more realistic set of actions and associated timeframes to deliver on those priorities. In those cases, an element of HEA funding (2%) was withheld pending that return and HEA assessment. The HEA notes that all institutions responded positively to the feedback and have committed to deliver such returns to meet the HEA requirements.


As part of the final assessment of institutional progress, each institution was placed in one of three categories of performance. Drawing on a performance funding consultation paper as circulated in autumn 2014 and with further input from external advisors recruited under cycle 2, the HEA classified individual performance as follows:


  • Category 1 comprises HEIs which, overall, have performed well against their objectives and have demonstrated excellence in some mission-critical domains.
  • Category 2 comprises HEIs whose performance against their objectives is satisfactory overall, with some areas of strong performance. The institution’s attention, however, is drawn to issue(s) that need to be addressed to ensure release of performance funding in future cycles.
  • Category 3 comprises HEIs whose performance is inadequate to justify drawing down of conditional funding and who must submit a revised plan if they are to “win back” the withheld funding.


The outcomes of cycle 2 of strategic dialogue were set out in the second System Performance Report , found that a range of successful outcomes had been delivered by the HE sector:

  • Rising enrolments across the system, which reflects both increased student demand and increased demand from employers for high skilled graduates
  • Ongoing widening of access to higher education from under-represented groups, such as those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and students with disabilities
  • Evidence of ongoing improvement in teaching and learning across the system, with innovations such as the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) and the National Employer Survey being used by institutions to review and improve the quality of the education being provided to students
  • Ongoing improvement in research performance, as measured by citations of Irish research internationally
  • Ongoing increase in the internationalisation of the system, particularly as measured by the intake of international students
  • Far-reaching restructuring of the higher education landscape, with ongoing institutional merger projects designed to enhance the quality and sustainability of the education provided to students attending those institutions. Successful restructuring can be seen particularly in the process for reforming initial teacher education, and in the process for the development of technological universities
  • Improved accountability of the system for public investment, through for example, this strategic dialogue process and the improved governance reviews introduced by the HEA.


However, there is also evidence of increasing risks around the sustainability of this performance. There is an evident decline in the quality of the capital stock arising from a reduction in investment in capital renewal and refurbishment. This, taken together with the decline in public current funding and the increases in student numbers creates risks for a series of policy objectives:

  • Sustaining a high quality student experience and a high quality of the graduates emerging from the sector
  • Broadening access to higher education for those from under-represented groups
  • Enhancing research performance and its contribution to social and economic development
  • Achieving a stable and sustainable financial basis for the higher education system.


Furthermore, if the higher education system were to suffer an adverse shock on foot of any of these risks materialising, it would likely have longer-term and broader reputational effects beyond

Ireland, and thus damage individual institutions, the sector as a whole, and Ireland’s reputation.

This is a matter of acute concern for the HEA.


The HEA has sought to mitigate these risks through close financial supervision of the institutions, particularly those in a financially vulnerable position, and by requiring institutions to improve their capacity for strategic management and effective utilisation of their resources. The HEA has also strengthened the oversight process for governance of higher education institutions.


The self-evaluation reports, HEA evaluation, minutes of strategic dialogue meetings, final reflections on performance and formal outcomes for each institution can all be found here.