Colleges face further cuts to funding if they fail to meet a range of targets, under controversial government proposals.
A Higher Education Authority (HEA) document published today sets out a blueprint for the third-level sector, including the possible closure of smaller state-funded colleges or their incorporation into larger ones.
It also proposes setting strategic targets that may be perceived as a threat to the autonomy of third level institutions. College bosses have already complained that government restrictions on recruitment are interfering with their academic freedom. Fears of a focus on economic requirements could worsen tensions.
The HEA says funding will be based on performance against the new targets. These are likely to set the bar for each college under headings such as:
* Widening access and improving student experience.
* Teaching and learning, including more courses delivered online or in summer months.
* Research performance.
* Engagement with industry and community.
In a letter to all college presidents, HEA chief executive Tom Boland said performance in a range of categories still being decided may also be used to inform funding allocations.
In the document on the future structures of higher education, the HEA says the academic autonomy of Irish colleges has been a key strength, and it acknowledges the likely perceptions of that being endangered.
“There is, in developing a system approach to higher education as now intended, a risk that such autonomy will be weakened to an extent that outweighs the benefits that can arise from a system approach,” it says.
This is part of the reason why a more coordinated structure and the performance funding model will not be fully in place until the end of 2014.
An HEA spokesperson told the Irish Examiner that the system would equally reward colleges if they do well, and if the main focus was on ensuring the most effective use of public funding.
The changes would probably result in a reduction in the number of colleges offering the same degrees, as the HEA is critical of the “crowded landscape” where certain courses are available in many institutions.
The colleges are being asked to submit responses within six months.
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