In April 2012, following a request from the Minister for Education and Skills, an International Review Panel was established to advise on the structure of initial teacher education (ITE) provision in the State.
The purpose of the review was to consider the structure of ITE provision in Ireland and to identify possible new structures based on a reconfiguration of existing programmes in order to strengthen the quality of teacher education. This review of the structure of initial teacher education provision takes place in the context of a broader review of higher education in Ireland in order to assist the HEA in advising the Minister for Education and Skills on the implementation of the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030. The final report was published in July 2012.
The second system performance report noted that:
There has been significant progress in addressing the recommendations made in the Sahlberg report of 2012. A series of engagements have taken place with the institutions concerned, both as part of the new process of strategic dialogue between the HEA and the HEIs, and through more focused meetings. The institutions concerned have taken a positive and constructive approach to what are, by any standards, major reforms to the current structure of initial teacher education. There is a strong sense from the institutions that the reform offers opportunities to enhance the teaching and research currently carried out as well as opportunities for other activities such as internationalisation, continuing teacher education and professional development. The HEA has also dedicated an amount of core funding to provide assistance with the costs involved. However, it is important to note that there is considerable work yet to be done to deliver on the objectives of the Salhberg report, and the HEA will continue to engage with institutions to monitor progress.
Froebel and Maynooth University
This initiative commenced before the completion of the Salhlberg report, and was warmly welcomed by the Sahlberg group. On foot of significant work by both Froebel College of Education and Maynooth University and with support from the HEA and the Department, the merger between the two institutions has now been completed. The merger has had a very immediate impact – as illustrated by the increase in student demand for entry to the Froebel Department of Early Childhood and Primary Education at Maynooth.
DCU, St Patricks College, Mater Dei Institute of Education and Church of Ireland College of Education
Significant progress has been made on the proposed merger of these four institutions, and by September 2015 all first-year students were enrolled into a new and expanded DCU rather than into the individual institutions. The full incorporation was competed on October 1st 2016.
Key features of the project include:
- The innovative way in which the institutions plan to provide for denominational education in a secular university – this will be achieved through the creation of specific centres for denominational education which will provide the particular education and training required for those denominations
- The opportunities arising to enhance the quality of initial teacher education – for example, the creation of new professorial posts (such as in special education) with a whole of education focus.
NUI Galway and St Angela’s College
Significant progress has been made in respect of the incorporation of St Angela’s College into NUIG – with a target completion date by September 2017. The institutions have had a long tradition of shared academic linkages, which has provided a stable foundation for this further integration. The incorporation has required consideration of a much wider range of issues, including finance, industrial relations, and equipment/infrastructure. These issues have been addressed by both institutions over the last two years. Significant progress has been achieved and work is continuing on outstanding issues.
TCD, UCD, Marino Institute of Education and NCAD
The proposal relating to these four institutions focuses on the provision of a virtual centre that will draw on the resources of each to enhance the quality of their teacher education and research.
The institutions have made it clear that, as partners, they are committed to a new centre for teacher education; and building on a tradition of inter-institutional collaborations, they have envisaged a process of change that covers governance, review of programmes, and review of research and related areas.
Given that this is not a merger, the milestones by which progress can be measured are less clearly defined. Considerable work has, however, been undertaken by the relevant academics, particularly around the review of existing research activity with a view to better coordination and investigation of the development of shared academic programmes for initial teacher education.
University of Limerick, Mary Immaculate College and Limerick Institute of Technology
These three institutions have agreed to form a new National Institute of Studies in Education (NISE). This would include a collaborative approach to improve the quality of teacher education, one that takes into account continuing professional development (CPD), postgraduate research, internationalisation and action on shared services. Common approaches to the provision of underpinning subject areas that span both primary and post-primary education can also be developed.
Finally, the full integration and accreditation (by UL) of the Art and Design Education programme provided at LIT into the NISE structures is now complete.
In addition to these major changes, further consolidation has also taken place in other areas, including deeper collaborations between NUIG and GMIT, and UCC and CIT respectively in their specific niche areas of teacher preparation. The successful integration of Shannon College of Hotel Management into the College of Business, Public Policy and Law in NUI Galway was also completed during 2015.
Funding and risk
All consolidation projects have involved a significant extra cost and significant risk for the institutions concerned. International experience of institutional mergers shows that major risks can arise in terms of uncompleted mergers, which absorb time and resources for no result, and even in the case of successful mergers, of the costs of senior management time and focus on the merger processes.
Of course, institutions do incur direct costs relating to the legal and financial preparations for merger. In a context where the overall funding of higher education has reduced significantly, the HEA has allocated funding specifically to support the merger projects (€2.8 million up to December 2015), and this has been complemented by €3.5 million allocated by the institutions themselves.