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News : Innovation Last Updated: May 30, 2011 - 6:00 PM

Quinn says CAO system needs to be reviewed to take account of new profile of Irish third level entrants
By Finfacts Team
May 30, 2011 - 4:51 PM

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Pictured at the Annual General Meeting of Educate Together in Gorey were; Diarmaid Mac Aonghusa, chairpreson of Educate Together, and Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn TD, May 28, 2011

The Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said today that the CAO (Central Applications Office) system needs to be reviewed to take into account the new profile of Irish third level entrants.

In a major speech at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin on higher education, the Minister said the current system was designed around the dominant needs of full-time, school leaver applicants.  He said: "We have to think in terms of how we manage for a more diverse cohort of students, with new levels and forms of demand for flexible learning and non-traditional routes of entry."

Ruairí Quinn said that as a member of government of a country in effective receivership, "I am all too aware of the scale of the task of restoring Ireland's economic and social well being.  The reality of the public expenditure corrections that we face is harsh and unpalatable."

He said that unlike our European neighbours whose populations are ageing, our birth rates are increasing and in recent years have reached levels not seen since the 19th century.   However, while that demand growth can be seen as a short term cost pressure, it is also our potential passport to recovery.

The Minister said our future research investment strategy will be grounded on maintaining a broad base of knowledge across all disciplines while at the same time selecting priority areas for concentrated strategic investment.  The current national research prioritisation exercise will be important in giving direction on this. He added: "In sustaining that broad base of knowledge, I want to be clear about the expectation that all teaching staff will be research-informed or research-active and that all researchers will be active in teaching."

Ruairí Quinn said there are untapped capacities within technology institutes and "I believe that the creation of a very small number of technological universities has the potential to release those.  But we must be vigilant and ensure that excellence continues to be the hallmark of our higher education institutions and of our system of higher education." 

He said: "We cannot afford to be influenced by conventional prejudices, territorialism or institutional ambition for new status without new substance.  A technological university must first and foremost be a university in the quality of its programmes, teaching and research, albeit one with a quite different mission to our existing universities."

Quinn said on academic freedom: "I recognise that some of the recent specific control measures that have been introduced in the sector create concerns around future direction in managing that balance between autonomy and accountability.  However, these measures need to be seen as a necessary immediate feature of our current extraordinary circumstances and should not divert us from the challenge of striking the right longer term balance in defining an appropriate strategic relationship."

He added that the "new relationship that I envisage will be respectful and collaborative. It will be consultative and it will be fair; It will recognise the autonomy of institutions; It will be realistic and it will not make the mistake of pushing the scale of operations into unsustainable territory by ignoring realistic resourcing requirements; It will recognise that much of what is truly excellent and unique in higher education institutions can sometimes be difficult to capture in numbers, and the need not to put important, perhaps fragile qualities at risk.  But at the same time - it will be and it must be challenging in a way that we have not seen before."

Higher education funding remains a critical issue - IBEC

IBEC head of education policy Tony Donohoe said: "The Minister acknowledged that a knowledge economy needs people who can renew and refresh their skills and competences over the course of their lives. Therefore business particularly welcomes his commitment to end the funding discrimination against part-time study.

“We also welcome his emphasis on the need for higher education to engage with enterprise and society. There is significant scope to improve how business and education institutions work together on a range of issues, including knowledge transfer, joint research projects and the development and provision of employee education and training.

“However, we are disappointed that the Minister has asked the Higher Education Authority to undertake further work on developing a model for higher education funding. Two years ago, the Department of Education and Skills published a comprehensive report on the different options for a student contribution system. There is no time for further delay on addressing this issue.

"Students and their families have been faced with significant increases in student fees without any support system, while universities and institutes of technology are trying to cope with increased enrolments on an unsustainable funding model. Ireland needs to broaden its funding base if it wants to meet demand for education and retain quality,”
concluded Donohoe.

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