Irish higher education strategy: implementing Hunt
Not long before the last Fianna Fáil led government left office it published the higher education strategic review (the Hunt Report). At the time a number of commentators, myself included, speculated that the timing of this report, the political and economic circumstances, and the generally negative response to the document might lead to it being quietly shelved (like every other strategic review before it).
Not so, apparently. The briefing document recently prepared for the new Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn TD, and published on the Department’s website has revealed that an ‘Implementation Oversight Group’ has been established, largely composed of senior civil servants, and that it has already adopted a ‘detailed implementation plan’.
If you are wondering what it intends to implement, here are some key passages from the briefing document. First, the document summarises the overall system it wants to see developed:
‘A higher education system with the highest quality of delivery of all aspects of the mission is the overarching objective of the Strategy.’
This is how it sees the Irish higher education system of the future:
‘The Strategy recommends a new framework for future system development. This will be aimed at creating a reduced number of higher education institutions of more significant scale and critical mass. A key objective is to protect the distinctive role and mission of universities and technological institutes within the Irish system.’
This is how it sees the relationship between higher education and govbernment policy:
‘The Strategy recommends that a strengthened Higher Education Authority should oversee a process of strategic dialogue with institutions (and groups of institutions within regional clusters) to ensure that institutional strategy and performance is aligned with and supports delivery on stated overarching national policy priorities. ‘
This is about governance:
‘The Strategy recommends that the management, governance and leadership of higher education institutions need to be positioned to allow higher education institutions to become more entrepreneurial and more flexible and responsive to the external environment.’
And here something on terms of employment:
‘In addition it is recognised that more flexible institutions will require new contractual arrangements with staff as well as strong performance management and workload allocation systems embedded throughout the sector.’
The focus in all of this is on system rather than pedagogy, something (as I have noted) that Ireland has in common with the current outlook in England. How education fares in all of this remains to be seen. Certainly in Ireland the sector is facing a more centralised and bureaucratised framework. That is unlikely to push up educational standards.