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Ireland benchmarks higher education to keep international pace

In mid-January The Department of Education and Skills presented the Performance report into Ireland’s Higher Education system (2014/15), evaluating education’s performance against international benchmarks and taking into account key areas as widening access and responsiveness to skills needs. In the frame of Ireland’s Action Plan for Education, rolled out last October, that seeks to raise international attractiveness and secure the country, within a decade, a position as one of Europe’s top education providers, this report evaluates progress towards the target.

Main results of the report conducted by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) outline performance of Ireland’s internationally competitive Higher education, and show:

  • Expansion of the system is ongoing, with increasing student enrolment – student numbers reaching 210 000 for 2014/15.
  • The supply of graduates for the labour market is rising, supported by programmes as Springboard+ and ICT initiatives, addressing specify skills needs.
  • Ireland takes a particularly strong position in STEM education, Eurostat 2014 data placing the county second in Europe in terms of students studying in the field.
  • Close to a 60% increase in ICT, natural science, maths and construction graduates is observed from 2009-2014.
  • Tools for measuring ongoing improvements are gripping, such as the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) and the National Employer Survey and are well used by institutions to review quality of their education.
  • Some progress is shown in increasing the number of students with disadvantaged or disability backgrounds.
  • For the country’s research system, output indicators as citations and knowledge transfer are advancing. Of Ireland’s total secured 251million under Horizon2020, the higher education sector saw a share of 62.4% (EUR 156.7)
  • Growth in International linkages is reflected in the growing attraction of foreign students to Ireland – over 15 000 international students studying in the country 2014/15 (an increase of 7%)
  • Influential restructuring of the higher education landscape, largely driven by mergers, has sought to enhance quality, reform teacher education, and contributed to the fruition of technological universities.
  • Reform for improved accountability for public investments is supported by measures as the new HEA governance reviews.

Particularly welcomed are results of the Springboard+ initiative, which aims to reskill people in growing enterprise sectors with high skill needs, though 181 free conversion courses in higher education from certificate, to degree, to post-graduate level. The co-funded Initiative, by the Irish government and the European Social Fund, has a EUR 113 million investment behind it, with over 30,000 places filled on 1,349 courses since 2011.

As growth is on the way, the HEA report impulses Ireland to keep a watchful eye on: student experience, the quality of graduates, broadening access, enhancing research’s societal/economic relevance, and achieving financial stability for the sector.

To reach ambitious targets for a European and globally competitive education system, and confront national challenges of decreasing funding paired with rising student numbers, an initial investment of EUR 36.5 million will be provided to the sector in 2017 and EUR 160 million over a three year period. Raising the education budget, that had fallen by 33% over the last nine years, will serve to keep pace with demographic changes and key propriety areas, with a multi-annual funding model for Higher and Further Education to be rolled out 2018.

Irish Department of Education and Skills – Performance Report into Ireland’s Higher Education System (Press release)

Irish Department of Education and Skills – Results of Springboard+ (Press release)