Seven universities launch joint Charter to underpin the future of Irish university education 17.09.18

Commitment to six-point plan to achieve a sustainable, competitive university system  for Ireland’s future talent.

Ireland’s seven universities have today (September 17th, 2018) committed to a Charter to grow and develop the university education system for this and future generations of students. Ireland’s Future Talent – A Charter for Irish Universities commits to transform capability and performance across a range of key criteria to deliver a sustainable, competitive university system for Ireland’s foreseeable needs.

Professor Patrick O’Shea, President of UCC and Chair of the Irish Universities Association said:

“Ireland has long extoled the virtue of our indigenous talent, nurtured by our education system. However, a decade of under-investment by the State, the demographic bulge and a dynamic, competitive international education environment forces us all to confront stark realities. It is incumbent on the State, on universities and on society to implement initiatives to develop and fully realise our national talent. The time for talking is over. The time for change has come.”             

“The importance of the Charter is that it underpins a commitment to substantial change. It calls out the challenges. It identifies solutions. It puts meat on the bones of the Government’s ambition. As a society, we must commit to and enable this change. This Charter captures our commitment and it is now incumbent on the Government to meet the challenge,” he concluded.   

IUA Charter 2018 CoverThe Charter identifies six central objectives and commits to delivering a fit for purpose university system for the evolving demands of society. Its target is to enable the Irish education system to become the best in Europe by 2026, thereby achieving the Government’s ambition for the national education sector.

The development of the Charter, the first of its kind in third level education history, has been engineered by the Irish Universities Association and was launched at an event in Dublin today.

Jim Miley, Director General of the Irish Universities Association said: “Universities worldwide are transforming and the Charter to which we have committed today is designed to move Irish universities to the forefront of that change by jointly committing to a range of measures that better support students, staff and research and that will deliver in the national interest. This is a mission-critical initiative for the combined universities. The political community now needs to step up to the challenge and match the ambition and commitment demonstrated by the universities.”

He added: “We require a transformation of how university education is controlled including freeing universities from the grinding levers of State to allow them innovate and grow. This requires more flexible structures combined with strong governance and accountability.”

“Every politician is aware of the major funding deficit for third level, yet no progress has been made on re-vamping the overall structure, despite clear options proposed by the Government-appointed expert group. Too many are hiding behind the fig leaf of the option they don’t like.  Meanwhile, the scale of funding deficit continues to grow as more and more students enter our universities. We share the government’s ambition for education but that ambition needs to be matched with a commitment to provide the structures and funding required to deliver it. It’s time to get real on this,” he concluded.              

The Charter sets out six core commitments by universities, which will work in partnership with government and other stakeholders, to fully deliver.

In summary they are:

  1. Build on the quality of the student experience in a digital age.

The student population in Irish universities will surge by 25,000 by 2030, coinciding with rapid advances in digital learning and a need to expand lifelong learning opportunities. To meet these challenges, universities commit to:

  • Developing a national programme in digital learning in partnership with government;
  • Increasing lifelong learning for people aged 25 to 64 from the current 6.5% to the EU average of 10.7% by 2030;
  • Increasing our international reach by increasing international student numbers to 15% of the overall student population and enabling 20% of students to undertake study or placement abroad by 2025.

This requires investment to refurbish decaying infrastructure, build capacity and provide the systems needed for an increasingly digital and flexible learning environment.

  1. Increase the scale, scope and impact of investment in research and innovation.

While sustained public investment in R&D continued through the recession, Ireland still lags behind the OECD average of 2.4% of GDP at just 1.2%. To build capacity for world-class research, universities commit to:

  • Expanding engagement between universities and industry on knowledge transfer and innovation;
  • Increasing the output of PhD graduates by at least 30% over the next 10 years.

Growing R&D investment to at least 2% of GPD will require an investment of €680 million per annum. Securing additional EU funds from the Horizon Europe EU Research Programme should be a core Government priority.

  1. Expand student access and increase engagement with communities and industry.

The Disability Access Route to Education programme has resulted in a 70% increase in new entrants with disabilities, while the Higher Education Access Route programme has grown the numbers from priority socio-economic target groups by 31%. Universities will further grow these numbers, address progression rates and build on the success of Campus Engage. Universities commit to:

  • Increasing access numbers by a further 30% by 2025;
  • Providing better opportunities for students to work with civoc society organisations through accredited learning, growth in engaged research and promotion of studentvolunteer.ie;
  • Strengthening and deepening industry links to align with workforce demands and build more partnerships.
  1. Support a programme of staff development and increased equality and diversity.

University staff numbers and pay scales are controlled by central government, which limits universities’ capacity to respond flexibly to rapidly changing needs. All seven Irish universities have now been awarded Athena Swan Bronze status, a key indicator of progress on equality and diversity. To build on this, universities commit to:

  • Implementing a professional development framework for university staff;
  • Implementing the recommendations of the Gender Equality Taskforce on Higher Education to advance diversity, inclusion and equality.
  • Securing agreement on a Researcher Career Development and Employment Framework to provide a secure basis for researchers to develop a career path.

To allow delivery of these commitments, the rigid and centralised control on university staffing should be changed to allow greater flexibility for each university to develop bespoke HR plans.

  1. Create more flexible and accountable structures.

International evidence points to the fact that the most successful universities are those with

the greatest levels of independence coupled with strong governance and accountability. Universities are committed to:

  • Working with government on legislative reform to deliver a more flexible operating structure, with a better capacity to respond to the needs of the economy and society in general.
  • Improving accountability through better governance structures, in accordance with best international practice.

To deliver a more effective and efficient university system we need the removal of restrictive measures in relation to employment, in line with the principles set out in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030;

  1. Secure the investment and resources to achieve our ambitions.

While the Government has commenced reversing the funding decline, long-awaited policy decisions on revamping the overall structure of funding have been delayed. A definitive decision on a sustainable funding model for higher education is urgently required to prevent risks to our economic competitiveness. A more sustainable university system can be delivered by:

  • Increasing State investment in Higher Education in each of the next three budgets by €150m, €180m and €230m respectively.
  • A more detailed plan for the capital investment in higher education, referenced in Project Ireland 2040, is required and should include a dedicated refurbishment programme.

Ends

For media queries, please contact:

Lia O’Sullivan, Head of Communications, Irish Universities Association
lia.osullivan@iua.ie    01 6764948 / 085 714 1414