A Higher Education Authority (HEA) commissioned report on higher education has recommended that University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin should be merged, however Minister for Education and Skills Ruari Quinn has voiced concerns over such a merger.
A statement from the Press Office of the Department of Education read: “The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn, is anxious to ensure that the review adheres to stated government policy and the National Strategy for Higher Education. Any divergence has the potential to significantly derail the process of reform which is already well underway.”
“The Minister has concerns about some of the recommendations in the report from an International Panel which were not in accord with stated government policies, such as the suggested merger of Trinity College and UCD. Such a merger is neither feasible nor desirable.”
The Department of Education has delayed the publication of the report, which was scheduled for release last week, due to a discomfort with how the report drastically diverges from the National Strategy for Higher Education.
Head of Communications at the HEA, Malcolm Byrne says the report is “just one of a series of reports around changing the structures of Irish higher education. Over the summer, we would’ve received submissions from all Higher Education institutions, where they would’ve set out what they viewed as their priorities and where they feel like they fit into the National Strategy.”
Speaking specifically about the delayed Higher Education report, Byrne says that one of the ideas of the HEA was to get a completely independent report on how Irish higher education could be improved: “One of the things which we as the HEA thought would be useful would be to get an international perspective on the Irish education system.”
The report does not come internally from the HEA, but was compiled by an international team of education specialists: “These are highly respected international education experts. They came together to simply give their perspective as to what they would’ve seen as the optimal configuration for the Irish system,” says Byrne. “The views they expressed are not the views of the HEA or the views of the Government. It was simply an independent international perspective to contribute to the debate.”
It is understood that the recommendation of the merger of UCD and TCD was taken by the panel as a way of looking to bring the Irish Higher Education System to a point where it could compete in the Top 50 in the world. The report is believed to contain details of how combining Ireland’s two best ranking universities, UCD and TCD, as well as consolidating other third-level institutions, could see a drastic improvements for Irish colleges in the world rankings.
The likelihood that the recommendations of the panel will be taken up is slim. In addition to describing the TCD-UCD merger as “neither feasible nor desirable,” a statement from the Department of Education also read: “While it [the HEA report] contained very useful insights into the challenges facing higher education in Ireland, some of its recommendations were in conflict with these agreed policies and would not be acceptable to government.”
It is also understood that the Department of Education paused the publication of the report because of the strong differences of opinion held by the Department and those outlined in the report.
The report also contains recommendations for the merging of other universities, such as combining the National University of Ireland, Galway with the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and other third-level institutes in the region. Mergers of other third-level institutes in the northeast, midlands and south, were also recommended in the report.
The report is one of a number of reports from the body on improving education and implementing the national strategy. Among these are reports on Teacher Education, and the Institutional Profiles Report, which compares higher education institutes across different sectors.
The reports are intended to help in the examination of Irish higher education, which faces a number of challenges in the near future, such as budget cuts, implementing the National Strategy as outlined in the Hunt Report and the anticipated surge in demand in third-level institutes.
Some reports have indicated that the HEA’s report has been shelved permanently, though Byrne says its publication is, “anticipated shortly.”
A spokesperson for UCD was unavailable at the time of going to press.