The System Performance Framework 2023-2028 sets out parameters under which designated institutions of higher education identify their contribution to the achievement of institutional and national strategy, as appropriate to their mission, scale, location, and strategic plan.
The HEA Act 2022 sets out the role of the Framework and associated Performance Agreements with institutions in assessing and strengthening the performance and accountability of the higher education system. The creation of performance agreements with institutions, and the monitoring of same, underpins this process by providing a robust evidence base to enable the HEA to understand institutional and system health and to manage system-level opportunities and risks.
The development of the framework was a multi-phased, iterative process over the course of 2022 and 2023. The initial drafting process saw input collated from the HEA Executive, and HEA Board and Committees. Valuable insights were gathered via the final cycle of reporting under the current Strategy and Performance Dialogue process, where an outline of the draft framework was presented to institutions. In November 2022, the HEA opened a written consultation process inviting HEIs and interested parties to submit responses to a draft system performance framework consultation paper. Feedback gathered via the written consultation and further consultation with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science informed contributed to the final framework.
The framework is founded on the following principles:
- Flexibility, ensuring institutions with a diverse set of missions can highlight their unique contribution to the system.
- Responsive, evolving to national priorities, institutional strategies, and progress towards individual objectives.
- Strategic, providing a mechanism to assess institutional performance against strategic objectives and creating opportunities for reflection, learning, and recalibration of approach as needed.
- Evidence-based, identifying targets that are tailored, measurable, and impact focused to support institutional effectiveness and efficiency.
The framework matrix comprises four key pillars representing the key domains of institutional activity – Teaching & Learning, Research & Innovation, Access & Participation, and Engagement. These intersect with a number of transversal areas of impact that reflect national system level priorities for the higher education and research system. Together, the pillars and transversals of the framework matrix present institutions with a flexible mechanism to identify performance objectives that are aligned to institutional strategy.
Designated institutions of higher education set out their contribution to the achievement of institutional and national strategy in performance agreements with the HEA. Performance Agreements will be developed through engagement and dialogue between the HEI and HEA. Performance Agreements will be published on the HEA website to promote the transparency of the System Performance Framework process and ensure accountability across the system.
Performance Agreements will take effect from September 2024 and span four academic years. Designated institutions will report annually against their performance agreements in the form of self-evaluation reports, and these will be reviewed and discussed in a process of strategy and performance dialogue between the HEA and institutions.
System Performance Dashboard
The System Performance Dashboard captures key system and institution level performance indicators aligned to the pillars of the framework in an accessible, interactive visualisation. The indicators presented in the dashboard align with the pillars of the system performance framework and therefore complement the individualised Performance Agreements developed by institutions. The HEA’s understanding of an institution’s strategic performance against its performance agreement is enhanced by the system-level data presented in the dashboard.
The System Performance Framework engages with the HEA’s Governance Oversight Framework for the higher education system. Institutional governance is reviewed via the Governance Oversight Framework and good institutional governance is a prerequisite for eligibility for performance funding.
The annual strategy and performance dialogue process will include submission of an impact assessment case study. Impact assessment case studies are linked to a positive funding mechanism that supports and recognises excellent performance within the higher education system. Impact assessment case studies provide institutions with an opportunity to demonstrate an exemplary and significant contribution towards national priorities and outcomes. Further information on Performance Funding is available here.
The first System Performance Framework, introduced in response to the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, set out national priorities and key objectives of Government for higher education for 2014-2016. Implementation of the framework was overseen by the HEA through a strategic dialogue process underpinned by performance compacts in which HEIs set out strategic and performance objectives formally agreed with the HEA. An annual system performance report was prepared by the HEA in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and submitted to the Minister for Education and Skills. The framework facilitated a significant change in the HEA’s interaction with HEIs, from a budget driven process to a broader approach encompassing funding but also objectives and outcomes, and through strategic dialogue engaging with HEIs to drive institutional and system performance.
This was followed by the second System Performance Framework 2018-2020. Published in January 2018, this framework marked the second phase of evolution of the changed relationship between the State and HEIs, retaining the purpose for system accountability for performance for the delivery of national priorities while enabling HEIs to identify strategic niches and missions. The second framework encompassed evolving policy developments with regard to skills development, research and innovation, access and internationalisation.
The introduction of the second framework in 2018 also saw the introduction of Performance Funding to support and recognise positive performance in the system. This was introduced in response to recommendations in reports such as the Review of the Allocation Model for Funding Higher Education Institutions. Performance funding awards totalling €5 million were allocated to HEIs in 2019, 2021 and 2022, on the basis of on assessment by an international expert panel of Impact Assessment Case Studies which set out exemplars of a significant contributions made towards national strategic priorities. You can read more about these initiatives here.