Is it the end of the road for the Irish Universities Quality Board?

As I mentioned last week, the Irish Budget and Book of Estimates published on October 14 included, more or less in passing, a commitment by the Government to transfer the functions of the Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB) to a new state agency to be formed from a merger of three existing ones. I confess that I am deeply uneasy about this move, for a number of reasons.

1. There was no consultation or even advance warning that this step was to be taken. Such a step – and as I shall explain in a moment, it is a major step – should not be taken without proper analysis and discussion.

2. The three existing bodies that are to be merged (and then have the IUQB functions added) are the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC), the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC), and the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI). These bodies, while significant, have no formal role in relation to universities, and it is doubtful whether min merged form they are an appropriate entity to supervise quality assurance for the university sector.

3. The IUQB, while it has its imperfections, has performed its role well on the whole, and is aware of what it needs to do to improve further. More importantly, it (and the processes it coordinates) has the confidence of the wider academic community.

4. It may be feared that what is brewing here is a move towards a higher education quality ‘inspectorate’, which would be a very wrong approach to quality assurance and improvement in Ireland.

But the chief concern is that the Government is adopting a heavy-handed approach to the universities, and appears to be eager to demonstrate that it does not trust them and is not prepared to work with them. This, if it is true, is serious, and will need to be corrected, no doubt by an effort on both sides. On the Government side, one step in the right direction would be to stop publishing new decisions and initiatives in the media and press statements which have not been the subject of any prior discussion with the universities.

For the universities, it may be important to recognise that we do not appear to have the confidence of this key stakeholder; we will need to work constructively on a policy of engagement that helps us to overcome that.

Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, university

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