At a conference held last Friday by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) Minister for Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, announced that agility and flexibility of colleges are key strengths and that this required an appropriate level of autonomy. To accompany this increased autonomy, legislation to be published next year will contain stronger governance and accountability measures for third-level institutions. 

This is Minister Harris’ first major policy speech since accepting the role of Minister for Higher Education in June. 

Reform in this area had been planned by the previous government and Minister Harris acknowledged Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s work in establishing the new department centered around higher education and innovation. Harris said that he plans to use his department to unlock the potential of the Irish population. 

One plan for reform described by Harris was to achieve clarity between the roles of the Department and its agencies, particularly the ‘Higher Education Authority’ and ‘Quality and Qualifications Ireland’, saying “I also think it is opportune to review the legislative provisions relating to the governance of our higher education institutions.”

The Minister continued that universities of the future would place a much bigger emphasis on delivering short courses in flexible formats and tailored courses to meet the needs of enterprise and life-long learning. Referencing micro-credentials and short courses Minister Harris said: “This is exactly the kind of initiative we need to increase Irish university capacity to extract and adapt high-demand modules from existing programmes and develop tailored courses to suit the needs of enterprise and lifelong learning.”

In relation to funding for these new reforms, “an appropriate funding model” was mentioned by Harris who said that “Detailed research is underway to inform the decisions required on this funding model next year.” One change being considered in relation to funding would give the HEA the power to withhold State grants if they have been misused in the past. 

Emer Nolan – Reporter