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Only room for one major university, says HEA report

Posted by Francis O' Toole on November 19, 2012

SEÁN FLYNN, Education Editor Irish Times

Ireland does not have the capacity to sustain more than one major university of international standing, according to a group of leading international experts.

In a report commissioned by the Higher Education Authority, the group says Ireland’s goal of establishing an elite, world-class university can only be achieved by a full merger of UCD and TCD. Anything less will mean a “major opportunity’’ will have been lost by Ireland.

The group – chaired by Frans van Vught of the European Commission – is openly sceptical of the Government’s ambition which envisages a “world-class” university sector driving the knowledge economy. The report says: “Ireland’s ambitions to be a player on the world stage in research in the recruitment of international students need to be tempered by . . . realities’’. Key among these they say is the lack of adequate funding.

No Irish university is ranked among the world’s top 100 universities. Most Irish universities have fallen steeply in the rankings in the past four years because of staff cuts and reduced student services.

The report was finalised in July but the Department of Education only gave the HEA clearance to publish it late yesterday. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has already distanced himself from the report. He has said a UCD/TCD merger is “neither feasible nor desirable’’.

The van Vught report is much more radical than last year’s Hunt report. This ruled out major structural changes and rolled out a 20-year strategy for higher education based on closer collaboration between the existing seven universities and the institutes.

The van Vught report forms part of efforts by the HEA to build what it terms a new “landscape ’’ for higher education. As part of this process, all third-level colleges were asked to submit their own reform proposals.

An analysis of these submissions – also published yesterday by the HEA – concludes there is “no desire’’ among the universities to take collaboration further.

It says there is little evidence to suggest the kind of collaboration and rationalisation envisaged by Hunt can be realised without a central authority driving the process, presumably the HEA.

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