COLLEGES have been warned their funding will be cut if they continue to offer similar sets of courses.
The message from Higher Education Authority (HEA) comes as third-level colleges struggle to cope with rising student numbers on falling budgets from the Government. Overall funding for the sector during the downturn has been cut by almost 9%, with staffing down 7% to 18,000 in two years, while student numbers are up by 15%.
HEA chief executive Tom Boland said that, instead of duplication of courses by numerous universities and institutes of technology, each college must focus on its own areas of expertise to help achieve greater efficiency and build Ireland’s international reputation.
“In defining mission, institutes should avoid playing catch-all — this is a formula for blandness and dissipation of energy and resources — and ultimately will not be funded,” Mr Boland said.
“Institutes [of technology] and universities should instead seek out niches where they already have strength and develop these. They need to find a balance between their own development as institutions and the development of the sector as a whole,” he said.
Mr Boland spoke at Limerick Institute of Technology, which has integrated Tipperary Institute into its remit, despite a recommendation by An Bord Snip Nua two years ago that the smaller college be closed.
The HEA is to issue guidelines in the next few weeks on the development of further collaboration between colleges on research, staffing and procurement, as well as the proposed merger of several institutes of technology under the new heading of technological universities.
Eliminating duplication of course provision was a key focus of the National Strategy for Higher Education published in January.
Mr Boland said the most crucial reform of third level education it envisages is to replace the sector’s historic light touch regulation with ‘directed diversity’.
“While light touch regulation has brought us much success in higher education, including soaring participation rates and a standard of higher education which is good by any benchmark, it has also given us unnecessary and inefficient duplication in programme provision,” he said.
“It has given us mission creep; inflexible staffing structures and practices and it has given us a fragmented system of institutions with no national, coherent strategic focus,” Mr Boland said.
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