Dáil Éireann - Volume 603 - 14 June, 2005

Other Questions. - Third Level Funding.

  55. Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the main points of third level funding proposals announced on 25 April 2005 under which third level colleges will be required to compete for additional funding; the persons who will decide the way in which the money is to be allocated; the measures which will be put in place to protect independent thought and research; the assurances she will provide that disciplines important to society as well as those important to the economy will be funded; the weighting which will be given to those who promote wider access for lower socio-economic groups; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19650/05]

  Ms Hanafin:As I announced in April, the Government has approved the establishment of a strategic innovation fund which aims to encourage reform and capacity building in the higher education sector in accordance with the recent recommendations of the OECD review of higher education. The fund will promote inter-institutional collaboration to achieve a system-wide approach to supporting wider national goals; incentivise and reward internal restructuring and rationalisation efforts; provide for improved performance management systems; meet staff training and support requirements associated with the reform of structures and the implementation of new processes; implement improved management information systems; introduce teaching and learning reforms, including enhanced teaching methods, programme restructuring, modularisation and e-learning; support quality improvement initiatives aimed at excellence; and promote access, transfer and progression and incentivise stronger inter-institutional collaboration in the development and delivery of programmes.

It is intended that the fund will be competitively awarded on the basis of an independent external evaluation of the quality of proposals, with a requirement for excellence. This draws on the successful principles established for the awarding of funding under the programme for research in third level institutions. Where the PRTLI supports the development of an infrastructure for excellence in research, this fund will support enhanced capacity in the core teaching and learning function in all areas of the remit of the higher education institutions. The fund will only be allocated to institutions to the extent that the proposals received meet the standard required and achieve the outcomes committed to.

The fund will be created on a multi-annual basis. I have asked the Higher Education Authority to proceed immediately with developing detailed criteria and launching a competitive process for the approval of funding awards with a [1445] view to the drawdown of awards commencing in 2006.

The fund will be structured to ensure current national objectives are adequately reflected. I have previously identified these objectives as including the need to safeguard and reinforce the many roles of higher education and the full diversity of disciplines within it in driving economic development, providing independent intellectual insights and contributing to our broader social and cultural understanding.

The Deputy is aware that access and social inclusion in all areas of education are priorities for the Government. I have stated my belief that the economy and society cannot prosper to their full potential at the expense of any of our citizens. We need as full a participation as we can achieve in third level education. The National Office of Equity of Access to Higher Education has a specific remit to contribute to the formulation of policy in this regard and it is important that the necessary structures within the institutions are in place to facilitate the process of widening access to third level education to all.

  Ms O’Sullivan:I thank the Minister for her answer. While I do not doubt her dedication to equality of access or her concern with regard to the inclusion of the many different disciplines, many in the third level sector fear certain disciplines, namely, those more attuned to the economy than society, could benefit more from the fund. Who will make funding decisions? What type of background will they have? Will the decision-making process factor in institutions which have good equality of access programmes and ensure opportunities to participate in programmes are available to people from less well-off backgrounds?

  Ms Hanafin:The Higher Education Authority has established the process of attracting and seeking submissions. It will be for the authority, bearing in mind Government priorities and the priorities I have set out, to allocate the funding. I am satisfied that different faculties were included in the distribution of funding for the PRTLI and that there was no question of any social element being excluded. This approach will carry through in the distribution of the new fund.