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New rules will require colleges to merge or lose funding

Plans published by the Higher Education Authority will ask small colleges to merge with bigger ones or face the financial chop.

Image: Taqi®™ via Flickr

NEW PLANS for funding Irish colleges, published this morning, will require smaller colleges to merge with larger ones if they are to keep their state assistance.

The plans, published by the Higher Education Authority, will require smaller institutions to merge with a larger university or institute of technology or risk having their taxpayer funding being cut.

The authority says a proportion of future funding will be dependant on colleges following the rationalisation plan, as well as other reforms proposed in documents published today.

Documents published this morning also include the criteria for designation as a new ‘technological university’, requiring institutions to demonstrate certain “capacity and qualities” before they could be considered for the new status.

Those rules might also require some colleges to merge with others which are either geographically close to them, or which share common areas of expertise.

Another document sets out plans encouraging colleges within geographical regions to develop new co-operative arrangements, in order to eliminate unnecessary duplication of activities in multiple colleges.

Consolidation

The documents follow last year’s publication of the Hunt Report, which recommended against the creation of new universities in their current format, but opened the door for the creation of a new category of ‘technological university’ to be created.

They come as almost all of the country’s Institutes of Technology have confirmed plans to conglomerate and form technological universities – a prospect which could potentially leave Ireland with eleven universities, no ITs, and merely a handful of other third-level institutions.

HEA chief executive Tom Boland said the documents would allow for an educational system in which each institution was “playing to its strengths”, though insisting that funding would “follow performance” in future.

Boland told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that while he acknowledged the potential “anxiety” of some colleges, who feared that the rules could hamper their individual autonomy, the HEA had tried to retain what was best from those systems.

Gary Redmond of the Union of Students in Ireland said the new documents allowed colleges to “enter into an open and honest dialogue with students and stakeholders”.

He described the criteria for technological universities as “ambitious but achievable”, believing they would “protect the integrity and international reputation of Ireland’s Higher Education system”.

The documents have been forwarded to the presidents of Irish universities and ITs in order to seek their input.

Read: College registration fee could hit €3,000, warns education minister

More: Three more ITs to seek ‘technological university’ status

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Gavan Reilly

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