New provisions for third-level education have been set out by the Higher Education Authority, including a promise to better fund STEM courses.
An independent review panel has made a number of recommendations to the Government in a new report. Among them is a call for a significant boost in funding for courses in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
The recommendations are to be implemented from this year onwards, and aim to overcome the fact that many of the STEM courses on offer in Irish universities are considerably more expensive to run than other courses.
The funding will be directed from existing student fees, but the amount put towards STEM courses will subsequently increase.
In addition, third-level institutions will receive additional funding to help bring greater numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds into courses in an effort to narrow the existing class bridge in the Irish education system.
A competitive innovation fund will also be introduced to encourage universities and colleges that are bringing major benefits to the education system as a whole through the aforementioned areas. This could lead to an increase in the amount of funding an institution receives based on their performance.
Another aspect where funding will change is the allocation of funds between universities and institutes of technology, with the 60:40 split to be abolished.
Students looking to enter academia on a lifelong, part-time or flexible basis will be incentivised under the new reform plan.
For the first time, a financial penalty will be a possibility for any institution that breaches the rules, such as providing false financial statements or academic information required by the State.
In discussing its goals, the Department of Education and Skills listed, among others: an increase in students studying on a flexible basis by 25pc, all students being able to obtain a work placement by 2025, the implementation of gender equality proposals as outlined last year, and increasing spin-out companies by 40pc and licences by 20pc.
Speaking of the plan, the Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, TD, said: “These are really important reforms, which provide clarity on the expected outcomes for higher education over the next three years and on how funding will be allocated to our institutions to deliver on those outcomes.
“A high-quality, responsive higher-education system is crucial to delivering on our ambition to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.”