Through a series of reports and communications from the Department of Education and Skills, viagra it has emerged that the department is aiming to reform the complex system of third level education in Ireland.

The Minister for Education and Skills, treat Ruairí Quinn TD, recently asked his department officials to engage with the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on the direction of the current higher education system review and development. Aspects of this report were leaked, including the recommendation of a potential merger of UCD and TCD. The Department told the College Tribune that, “Any divergence [from the national strategy for Higher Education as provided in the Hunt report] has the potential to significantly derail the process of reform which is already well underway.” Minister Quinn, who counts UCD as his alma mater, said that, “such a merger is neither feasible nor desirable.”

Despite not making the recent HEA report available to the wider public, the Department is of the view that the HEA is not a waste of state funding, “While it contained very useful insights into the challenges facing higher education in Ireland, some of its recommendations were in conflict with these agreed policies and would not be acceptable to government.” In the fortnight during which the Times University Rankings for 2012 were published, the department, and indeed the minister, have acknowledged that reform is needed in the 3rd level education system, “The Minister acknowledged the magnitude and importance of reform of the system but stressed that there was also need for certainty and stability in the management of the process.”

The aforementioned Times University Ranking report sees no Irish university in the top 100 ranking. However, the department of Education sees the results in a more positive light, “Ireland again sees two of its seven universities featuring in the top 200, or top 1% out of some 15000 universities worldwide” a department source told the College Tribune. Despite being in the top 1%, the department recognises that, “It is widely acknowledged that the individual biases and methodological flaws of different ranking systems mean that a level of caution is required in their interpretation.” The department have also noted, “Our high numbers of young graduates has led Ireland to be ranked 1st for the availability of skilled labour in this year’s IMD World Competitiveness Survey.” Their interpretation of the various reports ultimately acknowledges that Ireland has performed well in international terms despite widespread belief that a continued fall in the Times University Rankings is a negative occurrence.

New legislation was recently announced that, if passed, would amend the 1997 Universities Act. The amendment will give the Minister for Education & Skills the power to compel universities to comply with government guidelines on remuneration, allowances, pensions and staffing numbers.

According to figures released by the department, between 2005 and 2009 some €7.5 Million in unauthorised allowances were paid out by universities to senior members of staff already in receipt of high levels of pay. According to an article in the Irish Independent, UCD was responsible for most of the unapproved payments, involving 77 staff and accounting for almost €3.3m of the total. Minister Quinn commented, “At a time when all areas of the public sector are being asked to do more with less resources, it is essential that universities adhere to, and are seen to adhere to, public sector pay policy.”

The Minister feels that no one sector in the education system should be allowed to operate outside of the parameters of public sector pay policy, “While I recognise the desirability of universities retaining certain levels of autonomy, I believe the legislation I am proposing will strike the right balance between such autonomy and protecting the Exchequer at a time of financial crisis and growing student populations.”

As it stands Universities have been accused of not complying with collective industrial relation agreements such as Croke Park. The proposed new legislation will give the Minister power to oblige universities to adhere to such collective agreements.

-Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton