Higher education: Ontario and Ireland?

Last weekend the Irish newspaper the Sunday Business Post published an article in which it suggested that the report of Colin Hunt’s strategic review of higher education will recommend that there should be new controls by the Higher Education Authority on how universities spend their money and what they spend it on. More precisely, the article said that there would in future be ‘agreed targets’ for each university in a number of contexts, and that some funding would be made contingent on these targets being met.

While this would be a new departure for Ireland, it is not necessarily original thinking. A little earlier this year the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario was asked by the Ontario government to look at ways in which a more ‘differentiated’ university sector could be established. This is the key recommendation of the resulting report:

‘A roadmap is provided indicating how the government can advance the current university system to a more differentiated one. The cornerstone of this transition is a comprehensive agreement between each university and [the relevant state agency] identifying the expectations and accountabilities of each institution including its expected enrolment and student mix, its priority teaching and research programs and areas for future growth and development. In contrast to the practice with the current multi‐year accountability process, incremental funding to the institution would be aligned with its mission agreement, annual progress would be evaluated using an agreed‐upon set of performance indicators, and institutional funding would be continued or removed based on progress towards agreed‐upon goals and targets.’

It would be foolish to dismiss the idea that a degree of differentiation or specialisation of institutions might be a viable strategy, whether in Ontario or Ireland. But the model being contemplated may be more a bureaucratic one than a strategic one, and would establish the idea that central direction of higher education is a winner. It is likely that the resulting system would be administratively cumbersome rather than strategically effective. It would also completely undermine the concept of university autonomy.

I would agree with the idea that the universities themselves should consider ways in which sector-wide collaboration in order to avoid unnecessary duplication could be achieved. But I would be of the view that a new bureaucratic state-run mechanism to enforce specialisation would be wholly counter-productive and would tend to compromise initiative and innovation. Let’s not do that.

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10 Comments on “Higher education: Ontario and Ireland?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    LOL, the fellow that wrote the Lisbon treaties has moved to Canada.

  2. copernicus Says:

    Morning, Ferdinand and other colleagues here.

    Ferdinand says:
    “I would agree with the idea that the universities themselves should consider ways in which sector-wide collaboration in order to avoid unnecessary duplication could be achieved. But I would be of the view that a new bureaucratic state-run mechanism to enforce specialisation would be wholly counter-productive and would tend to compromise initiative and innovation. Let’s not do that”

    I agree with you 100%. We do not want a regimented university system where, a central Quango determines what each university should do and how it should collaborate with another in what ways etc.. and hence the recommendation: “The cornerstone of this transition is a comprehensive agreement between each university and [the relevant state agency] identifying the expectations and accountabilities of each institution including its expected enrolment and student mix, its priority teaching and research programs and areas for future growth and development..” is absolutely nonsensical. I give a simple example. In post-92 universities,the self-styled modern universities, each department has formal groups established by a formal administrative framework.. In Old universities- the pre-92s and the more importantly in the Russell Group for example, the groups in each department are the cluster of people who have common teaching and research interests and have voluntarily come together to work together. It is informal, flexible and more amenable to collaboration between groups in the same department, between departments in the same university and between departments of other universities. The result is there for all to see. Forgetting the quality of academics as more post-92s are getting good academics these days, but from the collaboration point of view point, the Russell Group universities produce the best research ( the groups in different universities combine to produce research proposals, and have been very successful in attracting funding from the industry, the research councils and the European Commission Framework programmes) have the best teachers and carry out the best multidisciplinary work. It is because of the absence of a formal framework and the bureaucrcy associated with it, and the innovation that this produces.

    • Fred Says:

      Hi! Copernicus, I understand what you mean but while post-1992 universities do have formal groups and departments, Russell group also tend to create them Look for example U of Birmingham, Leeds and Edinburgh business schools. They all have groups formaly established. I assume that nobody is 100% obligated to be in a specif group and cross colabotations exists but at the end I believe that it has nothing to do with the formal or informal structure but only with the people involved in any case.

      • copernicus Says:

        I expected your kind of response. With respect, you did not read my posting well. The groups in these universities you mention are formed from research interests, but they are not administraative units. There is no firewall between groups. But in post-92s these are administrative units and often have fire walls between them. I guess you do not have experience in working with the post-92 university groups. Let me explain: In RG universities member X1 from groupX of university RG P, can work with member Y5 of groupY in RG Q as X1 and Y5 could effect synergistic research. You try the above between a RG and post-92 or between 2 post-92s.

        • Fred Says:

          You may be right. And yes I have no experience in post 1992 universities but my main point is that there are also other factors that affect the quality of research in RG and in post-1992. One factor is the quality of academics it self. But also post-1992 Uni tend to pay more attention in teaching. As a result a lot of academics have too many hours of teaching so very little time to do research (on their own or in any type of colaboration)while in RG, 1994G etc a lot of PhD students and teaching assistants teach, so the formal staff has time for research. So, concluding I was suggesting that it is a matter of people and time and not a matter of structure.

  3. Al Says:

    Twould be hard to ask anything of any University with the ECF still in place…

  4. Mark Dowling Says:

    “We do not want a regimented university system where, a central Quango determines what each university should do”

    I wonder what % of Irish people are under the impression that the Dept of Education already does this, and what their reaction would be when told this is not the case – i.e. to what degree is university independence important outside of the academic class?

    • copernicus Says:

      In Britain, it is the Department of Business which has the HE responsibility and in England it HE Funding Councilin Rngland (HEFCE) provides funds and has some responsibility of how a university is governed. But then the real power rests with the governors and the chief executive, the VC. The Business Dept and the HEFCE do not dictate what a university should do. The VC does this as the CEO.


  5. […] this blog we have already discussed the desirability or otherwise of a centrally coordinated planning process for higher education and […]


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