Higher education diversity

One crucial issue facing Irish higher education over the next while will be institutional diversity. Broadly the question goes like this: we are a small country, so why do we need seven universities that cover more or less the same territory, and a dozen or so institutes with the same mission, and some other colleges? Why not identify a specialism for each and then ensure they are the best they could be in that area? Or maybe, why not identify one or two all-rounder institutions, with everyone else occupying a niche?

At one level this direction could only be travelled if we were to have a wholly dirigiste system of national strategic management of the sector. If we were to specialise in this way, someone would have to direct this process, because it is unlikely that bilateral or multilateral discussions between the institutions themselves would achieve this. On the other hand, if we all occupy the same space, it may be that we cannot achieve national critical mass at all in some key areas, because the expertise would be excessively diluted between colleges.

In some ways DCU might find this discussion easier than some, because it, alone of the Irish universities, has pursued niche status. It has not sought to have a presence across all the major disciplines, and does not address a number of key subject areas that other universities might find indispensable. But of course this position has been reached by an autonomous process of strategic planning within the university, rather than being an output of a national plan.

It is my view that the institutions should collaborate much more to distribute provision in areas where too much duplication does not seem sensible. But I have no faith that a better distribution can be worked out by national agencies, necessarily dominated by civil servants. In the end, autonomy has to trump all that, because it is the guarantor of excellence; but within that autonomy, the institutions should be looking much more openly at the possibilities of adjusting provision, and through that process, ensuring a level of diversity that will in fact be attractive to our external supporters.

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3 Comments on “Higher education diversity”

  1. Vincent Says:

    You are really talking about the Science subjects here. As for the most part the only reason that Arts stay near each other is the Library, and honestly knowing more than a few it might even be better if a more Hedge School approach was adopted for the sake of peace. Can you imagine an old folks home for the Arts Laws and Letters. 🙂

    • Vincent, I am not just talking about science. For example, DCU does not have many of the classical arts and humanities subjects, and this is part of the particular niche approach it has adopted, I think with some success.

  2. Vincent Says:

    And as such DCU needs the buildings, with its focus.
    History in NUI, Galway, TCD and where ever are examined in every barn, shed and cowhouse that the examinations office can get their hands upon. While the science persons are pampered within expensive hollowed halls.
    The only real saving that could come from amalgamation in the way you imply for the Arts is with the books and journals and give that the Library of the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. Something in theory that Louth should have as far as publications are concerned, have ten times the standing availability of any Irish University.

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