Survey shows lack of confidence among senior academics in governance of their own institutions

A survey conducted by the polling firm Prospectus has found that senior academics in Ireland lack confidence in the governance and management of their own higher education institutions.

Earlier this year, 343 people in senior positions in Irish higher education and stakeholder groups were invited to complete the survey by education consultants BH Associates. Only 27.5% of respondents said they were happy with the quality of financial management and only 22% of respondents agree that the management capability is of an appropriate standard.

Almost half of the participants reported doubt in the Government’s goal to achieve providing the best education system in Europe over the next decade, citing issues including poor policy support and an unhelpful policy on immigration as barriers. Only one third agreed that Irish institutions are succeeding in attracting world-class academics.

There is strong support among those surveyed for a bigger role for private providers of higher education, despite “national policy not being supportive.” Only 15% of third level students in Ireland are enrolled in private institutions. Students enrolled in private colleges, such as Griffith College and Dublin Business School, are not eligible for funding through State grants.

Some senior academics surveyed expressed concern that, despite Irish law stating the right for colleges to maintain institutional autonomy, the Department of Education and Higher Education Authority (HEA) over-regulate the sector in a manner that is “not appropriate” and “unnecessarily intrusive”.

The Minister for Education and Skills published draft legislation in July proposing reforms to the powers and functions of the HEA in the higher education system. There is a concern among the higher education staff surveyed that autonomy to manage their internal affairs is "increasingly being encroached on by a political system wedded to command and control”.

Many expressed worry that the sector is also underfunded. In 2018, the Irish Universities Association, of which University College Dublin is a member, called on the government to take steps to increase third-level funding in the 2019 budget.

Jim Miley, Director General of the Irish Universities Association, said "The sector cannot continue to deliver without the politicians of Ireland grasping the funding challenge for the

university sector. Without significant additional investment, universities cannot enhance their efforts to improve access and better respond to skills needs across the economy."

In August, it was announced that The UCD Future Campus Project would be one of five major building projects at five higher education institutions to receive backing through the Higher Education Strategic Infrastructure Fund (HESIF) as part of ongoing investment in the sector through Project Ireland 2040. The total investment in higher education infrastructure is to amount to €100 million.

The President of UCD, Andrew Deeks welcomed the announcement, stating that the fund will allow UCD to grow in 'size and quality' over the next decade and "contribute to a flourishing Irish society." There is anticipated growth in student numbers at UCD of 25% by 2030.

According to 87% of those surveyed, however, further issues such as pay caps and limits on staff numbers are having a negative effect on the overall performance of higher education institutions.