Strategic focus

In a report in the Irish Times on yesterday’s Inauguration ceremony in DCU, Education Editor Sean Flynn notes the following:

‘The forthcoming Hunt report on higher education is expected to back a new strategy where colleges specialise in certain areas instead of offering a wide variety of courses. This, it is expected to say, will help build clusters of excellence. The Hunt report will also advise universities to forge closer links with other colleges to boost expertise and save costs.’

We still do not know for sure when the Hunt report – the report of the Higher Education Strategic Review group – will be published. The original intention had been to submit it to the government late last year, and subsequently it was suggested it would appear in late spring. None of this has happened, and there are reports that the group may be finding it difficult to reach a conclusion on some of the recommendations. However, information is beginning to trickle out suggesting some broad directions in which the group may be going, and the report in the Irish Times draws on that.

So what should we make of this? Is it a good idea to rationalise the university system so that each institution develops a special expert niche for which it would be known and in which it would develop critical mass? Is there too much overlap of provision between the colleges? Should we have a national system in which the government determines priorities and the universities are charged with implementing them? And if all this is to happen, what remaining significance would there be for university autonomy?

If this is indeed to be the drift of the Hunt proposals, then we had better start engaging with this topic and deciding whether it makes sense. Or if we don’t believe it does, then we had better come up with an alternative model. I shall revert to this tomorrow.

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5 Comments on “Strategic focus”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    As far as I am aware this kind of specialization is not the norm internationally. Of course, you get specialization in some countries like the US (Caltech, MIT etc) but the market there is so vast, one can’t compare. Plus nobody forced them to specialize. But one can expect a chorus of “Ah sure its different in Ireland”, Irish solution to Irish problem etc but its really not clear that we are different. So I think the onus is to prove that there would be serious benefits to this sort of consolidation.
    The practical problem of implementing such a “rationalization” are non-trivial. Clearly every university has to get something, so will this mean closing down perfectly good departments & requiring people to move? Shot-gun marriages, on the whole, tend not to be successful.
    The argument for consolidation has to be strongest in technical areas where there are big fixed costs. So medicine would be a good example. Hang on, didn’t the government just give us an additional medical school?

  2. iainmacl Says:

    I agree with Kevin, but so much of this at the moment is speculation since there is no news from the review group themselves and this degree of uncertainty over the sector’s future for so long is not helpful. Also there has been a tendency in those reports and quotes that have been published in the media to constantly talk about the sector as a whole and not to comment on the fact that it is indeed made up of different institutional types with different missions and cultures. What should the distinct role of the IoTs be, for example, vis-a-vis the universities? Is this where the ‘specialisation’ comments are coming from, or is it something altogether stranger in terms of core subjects at undergraduate level being carved up between the institutions?

    Such a pity that there hasn’t in all this time been a clearly articulated alternative vision led by the institutions and the staff and students therein. I understand the need to be diplomatic and responsive to the views of the paymasters but this hiatus presented a possible opportunity for the vacuum to be filled by proposals of substance.

  3. Al Says:

    Any vision or model can set out its aspirations, etc, would also have to deal with funding it.

    Each faction represents its interest, presidents want funds through fees, student unions seeking no costs to students.

    Perhaps that VHI can tap into an educational insurance market, where parents pay insurance from childhood for children who may go to Third level??????????

  4. Vincent Says:

    As far as I’m concerned the sooner that the One university concept gets through the better. And not the National University of Ireland, a title that is un-brandable. And the quicker that they realise they are Irish and not beholding to foreign States whether this be England or the Vatican. Granted not such an issue these days, but it is still there.
    But this concept of mine is not what they are on about at all. Here the reality is about division and conquering. On the cheap.

  5. Mark Dowling Says:

    Ireland “reorganized” the Health Service – look how well that went. Any attempt to “downgrade” colleges (as any specialization will be deemed) will be opposed tooth and nail by both teaching interests and local office-bearers.

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