The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, has published a Performance Report into Ireland’s Higher Education system.
The document reviews the performance of the Irish Higher Education system for the years 2014 and 2015, in critical areas such as access, responsiveness to skills needs, and outlines how the Irish Higher Education system is performing against international benchmarks.
It shows that:
The higher education system continues to expand and enrol more students, and to provide an increasing supply of graduates for the labour market. Overall student numbers in the sector increased from 196,000 in 2011/12 to about 210,000 in 2014/15.
In addition to this general growth, additional programmes have been put in place to address specific skills needs, through the Springboard+ programme and the ICT skills initiatives.
Ireland performs particularly strongly in terms of graduates with STEM qualifications, with 2014 Eurostat data showing that we have the second highest percentage of students in tertiary education studying science, maths and computing in the EU.
There was a 59% increase in ICT, natural science, maths and construction graduates from 2009 to 2014.
Evidence of ongoing improvement in teaching and learning across the system, with innovations such as the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) and the National Employer Survey being used by institutions to review and improve the quality of the education being provided to students.
The number and share of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and of students with a disability attending third level rose between 2012/13 and 2014/15 (from 22% to 26% and 7% to 8.8% respectively).
The research system continues to perform well, as is evident from its outputs, measured by citations and also by measures of knowledge transfer in a broader sense. Under Horizon 2020, the higher education sector has won 62.4 per cent (€156.7m) of the €251m secured by Ireland to November 2015.
The Irish higher education system has continued to create more and stronger international linkages, while also attracting a greater number of students to study in Ireland. In 2014/15, over 15,000 whole time equivalent, full-time students in Irish HE were international – c. 9% of full time numbers, an increase from c. 7% in 2012/13.
Far-reaching restructuring of the higher education landscape, with ongoing institutional merger projects designed to enhance the quality and sustainability of the education provided to students attending those institutions. Successful restructuring can be seen particularly in the process for reforming initial teacher education, and in the process for the development of technological universities.
Improved accountability of the system for public investment, through for example, this strategic dialogue process and the improved governance reviews introduced by the HEA.
In terms of shared services, the sector performs well. HEAnet provides over 40 services to over one million first, second and third level staff and students in Ireland. A recent evaluation found that six HEAnet services saved the Irish taxpayer just under €20 million in 2014 based on an operating cost of €4.9 million.
The report also highlights the risks around the sustainability of current performance. The HEA have said that the decline in public current funding, in addition to the increases in student numbers, creates risks for a series of policy objectives:
Sustaining a high quality student experience and a high quality of the graduates emerging from the sector,
· Broadening access to higher education for those from under-represented groups,
· Enhancing research performance and its contribution to social and economic development, and
· Achieving a stable and sustainable financial basis for the higher education system.
You can read the Higher Education System Performance Report in full here.