Colleges ‘too conservative’ on merger plans

Colleges have been accused of being too conservative in their proposals for future collaboration, almost two years after Government strategy to overhaul the sector.

At the same time, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has ruled out as too radical recommendation of international experts on a series of third-level mergers.

A Higher Education Authority analysis of submissions from the colleges says that they are too conservative, focusing on their individual futures instead of system-level requirements or the overall system coherence it envisaged in a blueprint for the sector in February.

While TCD and UCD referred to plans for further collaboration, the HEA said there is “little evidence of the outcomes that these efforts have generated thus far, and there appears to be no desire to take collaboration further”.

Both colleges were open to affiliating smaller colleges but full mergers were not contemplated.

While UCC has undertaken considerable collaboration with CIT, the HEA said UCC’s submission has no suggestion of having considered merging with another college.

CIT has applied jointly with Limerick and Tralee ITs to become a Munster technological university, but the HEA says it appears driven more by the college’s desire for status than by the natural synergies of the three institutes.

The recommendations in a separate report of an international panel, chaired by Dutch European Commission adviser Prof Frans van Vught, include merging TCD and UCD, an idea that attracted anger from academics when details were leaked in September.

The panel said that, instead of the technological university sector proposed in last year’s higher education strategy known as the Hunt Report, there should be a national university of technology.

It would be a single national entity, but some colleges within it could become universities, while others would be institutes that could not offer courses beyond master’s degree level.

The panel suggest far more radical structural reforms than in the Hunt Report or the HEA landscape document in February.

The Department of Education said that the reports “contain useful insights and inputs to assist the review process”.

“However, some recommendations and opinions are in conflict with agreed policies and would not be acceptable to the minister or the Government,” the department said yesterday.

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