A report commissioned by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) recommending the merger of DCU, Athlone IT, NUI Maynooth and Dundalk IT remains unpublished after the Minister for Education and three university presidents distanced themselves from the controversial document.
In response to the report the DCU and Maynooth Presidents issued a joint statement explaining that they had not been involved in any discussions regarding a merger, “nor would it be supported by either of the Presidents of the two institutions”.
The report was conducted by an international expert panel chaired by Prof Frans Van Vught, a Dutch academic who specialises in education policy. It proposes more than 20 higher education colleges be consolidated into six.
It also recommends the merger of UCD and Trinity College. Trinity provost Dr Paddy Prendergast said a merger “does not accord with Government policy nor does it represent the views of the HEA”. He also said that there had been no merger discussions with UCD.
According to the report a merger of these two universities would create the critical mass and expertise needed to secure a place among the top 100 universities in the Times Higher Education World Reputation Ranking. Ireland does not currently occupy a slot in the top 100.
No consultation took place with the colleges during the drafting of the report. The report has not been read by any of the Presidents or heads of colleges mentioned in the report. It was due to be circulated early last week but its release was postponed after the Department of Education and the HEA held discussions.
According to the HEA Chief Executive, Tom Boland, in a letter to university presidents and college heads, the report was delayed, as more time was required “for clarification on policy issues and for wider consultation”. He said the report was only one part of “an overall reconfiguration of the higher education system”.
The HEA also issued a statement saying: “The International Panel was assembled by the HEA to provide one of several inputs into the process of developing a configuration of the higher education system…the Panel relied solely on a portfolio of information and statistics provided by the HEA…the specific institutional configuration recommended by the Panel does not accord with Government policy nor does it represent the views of the HEA ”.
DCU President, Brian MacCraith and NUIM President, Philip Nolan said they had “very good reason to believe, however, that no such recommendation will be accepted by Government, nor implemented…it is our clear understanding that no merger of DCU with NUI Maynooth is envisaged.”
The Minister said that although the report “contained very useful insights into the challenges facing higher education in Ireland”, he has concerns “about some of the recommendations in the report from an international panel which were not in accord with stated Government policies, such as the suggested merger of Trinity College and UCD”.
The government backs implementation of the Hunt report which was published last year and included recommendations such as the mergers of Institutes of Technology as well as smaller colleges and means testing to include family assets for students registering for the grant.
Aisling Kett is our Deputy News Editor