A National Strategy for Higher Education?

HEA logo, from the HEA site.From today’s Irish Times, I learn that a new strategy for third-level sector [is] under way (sub req’d). Seán Flynn writes [with added links]:

A framework document mapping out the future of the third-level sector in the State is to be prepared by the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority. Preliminary work on the paper – A National Strategy for Higher Education – has begun and submissions will be invited from education partners, business, employers and other interested parties.

Minister for Education Mary Hanafin hopes a final report charting a course forward for the sector will be available within 18 months. Senior officials from the department and the HEA are working on the document.

Some senior third-level figures would like to see the document explore a range of issues including the possible return of college fees. They would also like to see more debate on how the third-level sector can move to the kind of funding levels enjoyed by top-performing universities in countries such as the US. But the department would prefer to focus on the immediate challenges facing the sector, particularly the huge projected increase in student numbers over the next decade.

The review is the first examination of the sector since the landmark OECD report four years ago. The report was widely praised but its two main recommendations – the return of college fees and a “quantum leap” in funding for universities – have never been implemented. The Government and the main Opposition parties oppose the return of college fees, despite huge financial pressure on many colleges.

The department says the new national strategy for higher education will:

  • outline national ambitions for higher education;
  • survey the operational environment for higher education and research; analyse the demands likely to be placed on the system and review capacity to meet those demands; and
  • review the use of resources and identify medium-term resource needs.
  • Ms Hanafin is hoping that Irish entrepreneurs will become more active in philanthropic support for the third-level sector.

    Similarly, John Walshe in the Irish Independent writes (in a story which is mainly focussed on the looming funding crisis and the issue of student fees):

    Sources expect a major new strategy on higher education to address the funding issue. But Education Minister Mary Hanafin has already gone on record as saying that if tuition fees are returned, then she will reduce the state funding to colleges accordingly.

    The minister added that over the coming months she would be inviting the higher education institutions and other interested parties to participate with her department and the HEA. This will lead to the development of the strategy to cope with the changes in higher education.

    “Higher education has now moved centre stage in social and economic development,” said Ms Hanafin. “We now need to ensure that we are making the most efficient use of existing resources and planning in a coherent manner for their future use across the sector and I am strongly of the view that the time is now ripe for the development of a national strategy for higher education.”

    It is clear that there is a long-standing need for such an approach [see also here, here (sub req’d)]. To take only one example, according to the Prospectus survey on Irish higher education, launched Wednesday 28th November 2007,

    the sector is facing significant global challenges in the absence of a clear national strategy. Having surveyed 175 key opinion leaders such as, heads of universities and institutes of technologies, senior academics, research centres and Government departments, Prospectus found close to nine in ten respondents (86%) believe that the absence of a national strategy for higher education is hindering the advancement of the sector.

    For an example of what such a strategy might encompass, have a look at the various Reports of the Commission on the Future Higher Education which was tasked with developing a similar strategy for the US in 2005 (discussed here in the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub req’d)).

    Bonus link: All Ireland Society for Higher Education site.