Seven Irish universities launch charter calling for more flexibility and funding

18 Sep 2018

Maynooth University. Image: 1000 Words/Shutterstock

Seven Irish universities have launched a coordinated campaign to make the Irish education system the best in Europe by 2026.

The Republic of Ireland’s seven universities yesterday (17 September) published the Charter for Irish Universities, which includes six key objectives for third-level education in the country.

The first charter of its kind in third-level history, it was facilitated by the Irish Universities Association (IUA). Dublin City University, Maynooth University, National University of Ireland Galway, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork (UCC), University College Dublin and University of Limerick were involved in its development.

Irish universities seeking change

The seven universities want to make the Irish education system the best in Europe by 2026. Prof Patrick O’Shea, president of UCC and chair of the IUA, said that the sector is under immense pressure following a “decade of underinvestment by the State”. He added: “This charter captures our commitment and it is now incumbent on the Government to meet the challenge.”

According to Jim Miley, director general of the IUA, Irish universities must move to the forefront of the global changes in third-level education around the world. He criticised the lack of progress made by the Government when it comes to revamping the overall structure for university funding, despite widespread awareness of the “major funding deficit”. He added: “Meanwhile, the scale of funding deficit continues to grow as more and more students enter our universities. We share the Government’s ambition for education but that ambition needs to be matched with a commitment to provide the structures and funding required to deliver it. It’s time to get real on this.”

The six core commitments

Build on the quality of the student experience in a digital age

The universities want to develop a national programme in digital learning in partnership with the Government, and increase lifelong learning for people aged 25 to 64 from the current 6.5pc to the EU average of 10.7pc by 2030. The charter also called for an increase in international student numbers to 15pc of the student population.

Increase the scale, scope and impact of investment in research and innovation

The charter points out that while public investment in R&D continued throughout the economic downturn, Ireland still lags behind the OECD average of 2.4pc of GDP at just 1.2pc. The universities are committing to expanding engagement and encouraging the transfer of knowledge as well as boosting the output of PhD graduates by at least 30pc over the next two years.

Expand student access and increase engagement with communities and industry

Universities want to increase access numbers by a further 30pc by 2025, building on the success of programmes such as the Disability Access Route to Education and the Higher Education Access Route programme. Deepening industry and civic society links is also a priority.

Support a programme of staff development and increased equality and diversity

The charter is calling for a change to the centralised control on university staffing to allow each institution to be more flexible. The universities want to implement gender equality recommendations and boost professional development options for staff and researchers.

Create more flexible and accountable structures

The universities note that the most successful institutions are given high levels of independence along with strong governance and accountability measures. The charter calls for a more flexible operating structure and better governance structures in line with international standards.

Secure the investment and resources to achieve these ambitions

The charter notes that many policy decisions on revamping the overall structure of third-level systems have been delayed. It called for budget increases over the next few years –“increasing State investment in higher education in each of the next three budgets by €150m, €180m and €230m, respectively”.

Maynooth University. Image: 1000 Words/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects