THE MINISTER for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, has expressed his support for a new system for the third-level sector that would see colleges and universities work more closely together or even merge their faculties. The presidents of all seven national universities will convene for a special meeting next month, with sources predicting that radical changes for Irish universities could be decided upon for the sector.
It is believed that Minister O’Keeffe wants a more focused university sector in which each college will each develop and focus on their own, specialist areas of expertise and create mergers between the institutions. Currently, each university offers a range of similar disciplines, which overlap each other.
It has been claimed that the Government is considering the possibility of the alliances and mergers of third-level institutes as this would result in major cost-savings in this sector. However, the Government has made no specific proposals. Instead it is hoped that the strategy will consider questions regarding how current institutions are organised and administrated.
Recently, the seven university presidents met the chairman of the Irish University Association (IUA), Paddy Teahon, in Cork to discuss the plans outlined by the Government.
The Government’s push for such rationalisation of the third-level sector reflects the concern expressed in official circles that third-level institutes may be under-performing, despite the record level of Government investment in recent years.
However the universities say that they are forced to manage on little funding, even before the recent cutbacks, which, they claim, is about half of that available to comparable universities in countries such as Britain, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. UCD has, for example, been forced to incur a twelve per cent funding cutback in many areas of the university.
Full details of the new agenda for higher education are expected to be announced imminently. The review is due for completion in the summer of 2010.