The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 sets out a vision for a set of institutions of appropriate scale to provide critical mass, with a diversity of institutional missions, clearly articulated and defined, working together in an integrated, coherent, inter-related system of higher education, for the achievement of optimal quality and efficiency.
It should be emphasised that the achievement of a smaller number of institutions is a means to delivering a better and more coherently organised system of higher education providing higher quality academic offerings at a range of levels to the maximum sustainable number of students, of facilitating more effective engagement with the wider community, and generally of delivering on the objectives for the system of higher education that are set out in the National Strategy. It is not an end in itself.
Paragraph 8.5 of the Strategy sets out the rationale as follows:
“Ireland has a large number of higher education institutions, some of which are relatively small. This has facilitated widespread access to higher education. However, over the next twenty years, smaller stand-alone institutions will lack the scale required to deliver the necessary advances in quality and efficiency. A framework should also be put in place to encourage and facilitate institutional mergers.
Alliances or mergers within the institute of technology sector on the one hand and within the university sector on the other will be supported where they can deliver greater institutional quality. However, formal mergers between institutes of technology and universities should not in general be considered: this would be more likely to dilute the diversity of the system. Instead, universities and institutes of technology should work together as distinct and complementary parts of the regional clusters described above. An exception would be the formation of alliances on a cross-border basis. These would be potentially very exciting and creative ways to align the higher education resources of those regions with the needs of students, enterprise and other stakeholders and should be encouraged where possible.
“Smaller publicly funded institutions, that are not institutes of technology or universities, should be encouraged to align with or be incorporated into institutions of sufficient scale to enable overall quality and efficiency objectives to be met.”
National Strategy Page 99
“….the challenges of scale and the rationale for change in the institutes of technology are more immediate. The envisaged changes to the funding model for higher education will create a stronger link between student numbers and funding allocations, and this will have implications for all institutes and particularly for the smaller ones. Significant reforms are needed in the sector in order to position it to meet national strategic objectives relating to participation, access, quality, and research and development. In particular, consolidation should be promoted to create amalgamated institutes of technology that:
• Participate in regional clusters with partner universities of a similar scale in order to deliver on a range of national policy outcomes;
• Are capable of engaging responsively with indigenous and multinational enterprises regionally, nationally and internationally;
• Provide sufficient scale and expertise to deliver excellence in teaching and learning with a strong focus on innovative and flexible modes of delivery;
• Take advantage of shared services opportunities;
• Deliver efficiency benefits from programme rationalisation and staff redeployment; and
• Are able to develop strong international profiles.”
National Strategy Page 101
“The system should be strengthened by the development of regional clusters of collaborating institutions (universities, institutes of technology and other providers), and by institutional consolidation that will result in a smaller number of larger institutions. There should be a particular focus on encouraging the emergence of stronger amalgamated institutes of technology. Central to the envisaged regional cluster model will be universities and amalgamated institutes of technology operating as collaborative partners to deliver on jointly agreed strategic objectives. The diversity of mission that has served Ireland well to date should be maintained.
“The development and evolution of institutes of technology into a smaller number of stronger amalgamated institutes should be promoted in order to advance system capacity and performance. Performance criteria for these amalgamated institutes should focus on their distinct mission, and, based on demonstrated strong performance against mission-relevant criteria, it is envisaged that some could apply for re-designation as technological universities. However, there is no case for approval of any new universities within the meaning of the Universities Act 1997. Any such move would reduce the diversity in the overall system and have a negative impact on its ability to respond to the country’s innovation needs and development opportunities. “
National Strategy Page 15