Minister Mitchell O’Connor invites views on updating the Higher Education Authority Act 1971

Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, today, the 19th of July, launched a public consultation seeking views on updating the Higher Education Authority Act 1971.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is the statutory funding authority for the universities, institutes of technology and a number of other designated institutions, and is the advisory body to the Minister for Education and Skills in relation to the higher education sector. The HEA also has responsibility for the effective governance and regulation of higher education institutions and the higher education system. The HEA was established under the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971.

In launching the consultation process, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said:
“Our ambition is to be the best education and training system in Europe by 2026. We need to ensure that our key agencies and regulators are equipped to contribute towards that goal. The HEA plays a crucial role in regulating the higher education sector. However, it is relying on a legislative basis that is now more than 40 years old. The need to update the HEA legislation is part of a wider reform process in higher education that encompasses reform of the funding allocation model, reform of the National Training Fund, and the emergence of Technological Universities”.

Stakeholders views are invited in response to a set of eight key questions that are contained in a consultation document that is available here

The result of this consultation process will be presented to stakeholders later in 2018 and will inform legislative proposals to revise the HEA legislation that will be developed by the Department of Education and Skills.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor concluded by saying “The Higher Education Authority makes an enormous contribution to ensuring that our higher education system addresses a range of economic, social and cultural challenges. However, the nature of many of those challenges has changed considerably since 1971, particularly in areas such as governance, data sharing, funding reforms. This consultation process is an opportunity for stakeholders to provide their views on a number of key issues that will help to identify and define the role of the HEA for years to come”.

Interested parties are requested to return their views to by 31 August 2018.

National Student Accommodation Strategy

The Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. and the Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Urban Development, Damien English T.D. today released the end Q2 2018 progress report on the National Student Accommodation Strategy. The National Student Accommodation Strategy complements the initiatives being taken by the Minister for Housing to increase housing supply under Rebuilding Ireland.

The National Student Accommodation Strategy (NSAS) includes 8 key targets and 27 actions to support the delivery of an increased level of supply of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) and an increase in take-up of digs accommodation. The target as set out in the NSAS is the provision of 7,000 bed spaces by end 2019 and a total of 21,000 additional PBSA beds by 2024. We remain on track to meet, if not exceed, this number.

As of the end Q2 2018:

· 2,990 PBSA bed spaces had been completed

· 7,257 further bed spaces were under construction

· 7,154 additional bed spaces had planning permission granted

· 1,209 were at the planning permission application stage

These projects combine to a total of 18,610 PBSA bed spaces. 5,423 of these will be complete, or are due for completion, by the end of 2018.

Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. said “Students and parents have been heavily impacted by housing and accommodation shortages, particularly so in the context of the high demand for accommodation around our Colleges, Institutes of Technology and Universities – in light of this it is heartening to see that there is a healthy pipeline of student accommodation projects in train. Access to accommodation is a crucial factor in access to, and continued participation in, higher education.

Constructing additional accommodation will have long term benefits in moderating rent levels. In the short term I would also encourage people to consider renting a spare room to a college student and availing of the rent-a-room scheme. Whereby individuals can earn €14,000 tax free per annum for renting a room in their home. This would not only provide an alternative source of accommodation for students, but is also a potential income for parents and others who may have a spare room available.”

Minister of State Damien EnglishT.D. said “These latest figures are further evidence that increased supply of purpose built student accommodation continues to be delivered for this important segment of the housing market.

In particular, I am delighted that the specific planning measures delivered through the Rebuilding Ireland strategy, such as planning applications for student accommodation being made directly to An Bord Pleanala, are contributing to the continuing pipeline of future student accommodation projects that will be built in Ireland.“


The National Student Accommodation Strategy (NSAS) is a key action in the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. Launched in July 2017, it was developed by the Department of Education and Skills together with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, as well as key stakeholders to introduce measures to support the delivery of an increased level of supply of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA).

Currently, all indicators point to a significant increase in full-time students attending publicly funded Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) for the next decade. In terms of increased demand, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) has previously indicated the potential for the number of full-time enrolments in DES-aided HEIs to increase by 27% by 2030.

The NSAS is designed to support the delivery of an increased level of supply of PBSA by reducing planning barriers for public and private sector developers of student accommodation and seeking to address financing barriers for our HEIs. The NSAS also complements the various initiatives being taken by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to increase housing supply.

Another key action of this strategy is to encourage the uptake of traditional student accommodation in private homes – Digs accommodation – which will help alleviate the shortage of student beds and to provide choice to students in the short-term. Funding has been provided by the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Housing Planning and local Government to USI to finance a Student Housing Officer, to support the #homesforstudy campaign and provide training for Student Accommodation Officers.

The 2018 USI #HomesforStudy campaign was launched on the 25th June. It highlights the ability of homeowners to earn up to €14,000 tax free under the rent-a-room scheme and provides a platform on which homeowners can advertise available beds. Further details are available at

The National Student Accommodation Strategy is available at

Clonkeen College Update – Statement from Minister Mitchell O’Connor

Whilst I am disappointed that Clonkeen College lands couldn’t be retained in their totality, I am relieved that after protracted legal wrangling, and the fear of large legal costs ratcheting up for the school, a legal settlement has been reached between the Board of Management of Clonkeen College and the Christian Brothers.

It has been agreed to save the playing field to the size of a full adult  GAA senior size pitch, and that the ASD Unit for students with additional special educational needs is not negatively impacted upon.

I also welcome that the unfair  threat of dissolving the Board of Management by ERST has been withdrawn during the mediation process.

Clonkeen College is an excellently run school and I wish the students and staff the very best into the future as they can now concentrate on the teaching and learning in the school without the added burden of worrying about the playing field and ASD unit.

Without doubt The Board of Management of Clonkeen College, the Parents’ Association, students, staff and Principal Edward Melly, played an integral and indeed massive role in protecting the future of Clonkeen College.

Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor addressed IIEA Conference on Higher Education Funding in Ireland

The Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., today (13th June, 2018) gave a closing address to the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) conference on future funding of Higher Education in Ireland.

This conference presented a range of expert speakers on higher education including former Minister for Education and IIEA chairperson Ruairi Quinn and Peter Cassell’s author of the expert report titled Investing in National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education.

In addressing the conference Minister Mitchell O’Connor thanked Peter Cassell’s for his excellent report and contribution to the dilemma – how do we fund our Higher Education system? “The report presented by Peters Cassell’s and the expert group clearly identified that our higher education sector presents a significant and complex public policy issue , requiring substantial increased investment and as such does not allow for a simple or straightforward solution. The report was clear in its conclusion that our current funding model is not sustainable. It called for the development of a clear funding strategy for the sector that will deliver a robust and steady base of funding to sustain the system into the future. My Department and I have been working tirelessly since to achieve the goal of making progress on building the future funding model for Higher Education.”

In response the Government have already commenced a significant programme of investment in Higher Education. It is important to be clear that that a new funding model is already under construction and is being implemented on a phased basis over the next three years.

The reduction of approximately one-fifth in Higher Education Expenditure during the crisis years from 2008 to 2014 has been followed by a cumulative 9% increase subsequently.

In discussing higher education funding Minister Mitchell O’Connor advised that:

“In total an additional €100m has been invested in higher education this year than when the Cassells report was published. The Department is endeavouring to build on this investment for 2019 and beyond. This additional funding has allowed for targeted initiatives in higher education including technological university development, skills programmes, performance and innovation funding as part of the reform of the funding model, promoting access to higher education, and apprenticeship costs in the sector. This will also allow for places to be provided for 2,100 additional full-time students in 2018.”

The Department are also working with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to reform the National Training Fund in response to issues raised by employers and, indeed, education providers, in last year’s consultation process.

This work has already produced a successful return. The fund levy was increased by 0.1% to 0.8% in Budget 2018 and – subject to the delivery of agreed reforms in order to ensure that the National Training Fund is more closely aligned to and responsive to the needs of the economy and employers – by a further 0.1% in both 2019 and 2020.

This measure will allow for an additional expenditure of €47.5 million this year as part of the Exchequer-Employer Funding Mechanism, bringing the total allocation for 2018 to €415m. It is estimated that the proposed increases to the levy in 2019 and 2020 will create additional fiscal space of €104m in 2019 and €165m in 2020.

The Minister also highlighted the significant capital investment by the Government through the National Development Plan and increased exchequer investment.

“I recently announced key progress on the appointment of design teams for the government’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) programme for the higher education sector. A capital envelope of €200m was provided for in the 2016-21 Capital Plan for this programme. This PPP Programme is being rolled-out alongside €367 million in funding from the Department of Education and Skills for investment in higher education over the period 2018-2021.”

Furthermore the Department in consultation with key stakeholders will look at it reviewing the latest QS rankings and will work with the HEIs to deeper understanding of the key drivers of Ireland’s rankings – better explain the factors driving performance. This will also enable us to identify where we believe our approach could be improved and indeed also seek to ensure that we do not miss opportunities to further develop our education system.

The comprehensive and holistic approach being taken to reform Higher Education, examining current and capital higher education funding and reform will contribute to the overall development of a long-term sustainable funding model for the sector.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor calls on Higher Education Institutions to transform Ireland through four new National Development Funds

€195 million to be allocated to Funds in Budget 2019 and €4 billion between 2019 and 2027

Intensive collaboration planned in rural development, urban development, climate action and disruptive technology

Minister Mitchell O’Connor urges all the Presidents of the universities and institutes of technology to join consortia that will transform Ireland as part of our National Development Plan.

Last week the Government announced details of the four new funds that will spend €4 billion on a wide range of projects between 2019 and 2027. It is intended that the funds will invite project proposals next month.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said:

“I believe the funds offer tremendous opportunities to higher education institutions to join consortia to develop projects that will transform Ireland as part of the National Development Plan.

“All our universities and institutes of technology have wide-ranging programmes, research activities and expertise across the desired themes.

“These Funds are a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our higher education institutions to innovate projects which will define the country, and future generations.

The scope for our third level institutions is huge. Science and technology themes range from health and wellbeing to robotics, smart food production to artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing to climate action. In social science fields, projects will be invited to stimulate active tourism in rural communities, revive smaller towns and villages or support entrepreneurship.”

The projects, covering a multitude of specific activities, will be under four broad themes:

– Rural development (€1bn)
– Urban development (€2bn)
– Climate Action(€.5bn)
– Disruptive Technology(€.5bn)

The Rural Fund will invite proposals to strengthen the fabric of rural Ireland and support job creation. Already higher education institutions, especially Institutes of Technology are working on the ground at this. Coming together with local authorities and community groups, for example, offer new opportunities to invest in areas like tourism, tackle infrastructure deficits, support entrepreneurship and innovation and enhance the vibrancy of smaller towns and villages.

The Urban Development Fund will focus on our five cities (all of which have higher education institutions) and five regional/cross Border drivers (four of which have institutes of technology). Key criteria include a joined-up approach to investment, collaboration between public bodies like education institutes, local authorities and the private sector with the aim of transformational place-based change such as can be seen at the DIT Grangegorman site.

The Climate Action Fund will support initiatives across a wide range of environmental and energy areas in which our higher education system has an outstanding record of innovation and research such as biofuels, air quality, energy efficiency, biogas, solar energy and micro generation. The Irish Bioeconomy Foundation activity at Lisheen in Tipperary is an exemplary flagship for what can be achieved in this area and involves UCD, TCD and Limerick IT.

The Disruptive Technologies Fund will examine proposals that fall in line with the national research priority areas for 2018 to 2023 across a wide range of activities and must be truly disruptive in a way that significantly alters the we work and live and how businesses or entire industries operate. This is a core activity in most of the research done in Irish higher education. Proposals will be sought from collaborations between companies, higher education, public sector bodies and research organisations.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor calls on Higher Education and Enterprise sectors to lead the way in delivering on key actions in the Foreign Languages Strategy

Wednesday 23rd May 2018 – Residence of the German Ambassador in Dublin

The Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D., last night opened the “Education for a changing world – Languages for Employability in a Post-Brexit Ireland” Conference in the residence of the German Ambassador in Dublin.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor, said, “This Conference is bringing together key stakeholders including Higher Education and Enterprise sectors and representatives from Cultural Institutes and Embassies, who must all show leadership in delivering on key actions in the Foreign Languages Strategy.”

The central aim of the Action Plan for Education is to provide the best education and training system in Europe over the next decade. A central part of this is our ability to support our students with the skills to be global citizens, to understand other cultures and societies, as well as the skills to function and thrive in the modern economy.

Last December, “Languages Connect – Ireland’s Strategy for Foreign Languages in Education 2017-2022 ” was launched with the vision to promote a society where the ability to learn and use at least one foreign language is taken for granted, because of its inherent value for individuals, society and the economy.

Both National and International research recognise the importance of foreign language skills, not only for personal enrichment and active citizenship but to increase employability and career opportunities. Ireland needs a workforce which has the necessary skills to attract new enterprise and to expand into new markets, particularly in a post-Brexit environment.

Some of the key target outcomes included in the Foreign Languages Strategy are:

– To increase the proportion of the higher education cohort studying a foreign language

– To increase participation in the Erasmus + programme

– To double the number of teachers participating in mobility programmes

– To improve learner attitude to foreign language learning and to highlight the benefits of learning a foreign language

– To adopt the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) by education institutions and by employers

– To enhance employer engagement in the development and use of trade languages

– To encourage enterprise to identify need and to support and invest in the development of those linguistic skills regionally

– To promote and encourage work placements requiring the use of foreign languages.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor stated that, “We need to prepare ourselves to take advantage of new opportunities and ensure that we have a steady stream of graduates with foreign language competence to meet these new business opportunities.”

The Minister thanked the Cultural Institutions and Embassies of Germany, France, Italy and Spain for facilitating the Conference, the outcome of which will build on the work already underway in the implementation of the foreign language strategy.

She wished the Conference every success and looks forward to hearing the outcome of the deliberations.

Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D. and her counterpart the Minister of Higher Education, H.E. Dr Rawya Al Busaidi sign a Memorandum of Understanding between The Department of Education and Skills and the Ministry of Higher Education of The Sultanate of Oman in the field of Higher Education cooperation

The Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., has today, in Dublin, signed a memorandum of understanding in the field of Higher Education cooperation with her counterpart from the Sultanate of Oman, the Minister of Higher Education, and H.E. Dr. Rawya Al Busaidi.

This agreement is as a result of Minister Mitchell O’Connor’s successful St. Patrick’s Day visit to the Sultanate of Oman, where both parties agreed that they wished to sign an agreement to further develop and enhance the cooperation that presently exists between Ireland and Oman in the Higher Education area.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said during the signing ceremony that:
“I am delighted that H.E. Minister Rawya Al Busaidi was in a position to come to Ireland to sign this important agreement which will be of mutual benefit to both the Irish and Omani Higher Education Systems. The agreement will allow for an enhanced level of Academic, Staff and student exchange between Higher Education Institutions in both Countries.”

Minister Mitchell O’Connor went on to say that “The Irish education system plays a key role in forging crucial global relationships and building international outlook and awareness. One of the core ambitions of my Government’s International Education Strategy, ‘Irish Educated, and Globally Connected’ is to support the development of internationally-oriented, globally competitive institutions and this agreement will assist us in delivering on this ambition.”

Bilateral cooperation in education between Ireland and Oman has been reflected in the growing numbers of Omani students studying in Ireland. Ireland now hosts over 500 Omani students in our higher education institutions

This growth in numbers is a priority area for our international education strategy as we seek to grow existing connections and to build new markets and partnerships.

Irish Educated, Globally Connected, A new International Education Strategy for Ireland, 2016-2020 is available at:

International education is currently worth €1.58 billion to the Irish economy. Of this €1.58 billion, the higher education sector contributed some €819 million and the English Language Training sector contributed €762 million.

Growth targets –

A growth target of 33% in the Higher Education sector has been set which will result in an increase in international students in both public and private HEIs from 33,118 in 2014/2015 to approximately 44,000 by the end of the 2019/2020 academic year. In terms of the target output value for Higher Education, the aim is to increase the output impact value from €819m in 2014/2015 to €1.15bn by 2019/2020.

A growth target of 25% has been set for the ELT sector, which will result in an increase in ELT students from 106,000 in 2014/2015 to 132,500 by the end of 2019/2020 academic year. The aim is to increase the output value by approximately €200m from €760m to €960m during the lifetime of the strategy.

In terms of the target output impact value, the value will increase from €1.58bn in 2014/2015 to €2.1bn by 2019/2020.

The mobility of academic staff and researchers is an essential element in the creation of a truly international campus. Ireland’s International Education policy is to actively promote outward and inward mobility of staff, researchers and students.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor gives opening address at first Technological Higher Education Association Colloquium in GMIT

Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., opened the first annual Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) Colloquium in GMIT today (10th of May). The three core themes for the day revolve around a central theme of ‘Engagement’ and it brings together students, agencies, enterprises, further education, policy makers, and the voluntary sector to explore the reality of the ‘Engaged Institution’ and how to meet the challenges ahead while working with industry, community, and policy-makers.

Speaking at the Colloquium, Dr Joseph Ryan, Chief Executive of THEA, said, “THEA is now one year in operation and it has been a dynamic time with many changes culminating in the passing into law of the Technological Universities Act 2018 which offers the promise of the creation of new Technological Universities in Ireland. These can have a profound and catalytic role in support of their regions and communities. As a sector, our members have already demonstrated the impact that an Institute of Technology can have on the lives of the community it serves and on the sustainability and enhancement of the local economy. We are delighted to have a range of experienced speakers here today, from industry, politics and academia, with various perspectives who will share in a reflection on the contribution of the technological sector and help us shape how that can best be calibrated to meet future challenges.”

Speaking at the event, Dr Fergal Barry, President of GMIT, stated, “We are delighted to host the first annual Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) Colloquium here in GMIT today (10th of May). GMIT and the students and region we serve has been a major beneficiary of the reforms within higher education since our founding nearly 50 years ago. Our vision is to provide students with a transformative university experience, empowering our graduates to fully contribute to the social, economic and cultural betterment of society. We aim to invest in excellent applied learning, teaching and research environments reflecting the real needs of business, enterprise and the professions in our region. I want to welcome again the investments of €5M in GMIT’s iHub and €25M in a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Building. GMIT student enrolments have increased considerably in recent years to over 7000 enrolments. The ongoing reform of our Higher Education Sector led by Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, particularly the passing of the Technological Universities Act, will allow TU Consortia to deepen our engagement with industry and organisations for the people we serve across the region for many years into the future.”

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., stated, “Today’s Colloquium firmly positions the technological higher education sector as the champion of access, opportunity and engagement, forging links across diverse communities, geographies and socio-economic boundaries. Government’s commitment to and support of the sector was evidenced by the announcement of the €200m capital funding earlier in the year and it points to an exciting future for the sector as we look towards the establishment of the first technological universities. We look forward to continuing our engagement with THEA in civic dialogue around the transformative effect that higher education and engaged institutions have on entire communities.”

Monica Barnes RIP

It is with profound sadness that I learned of Monica Barnes passing last evening. Monica was the most wonderful, warm hearted woman and represented our Dun Laoghaire constituency so ably. She was articulate, sincere, and passionate about the advancement of women.

Only last week when I spoke to her, she was excited and enthusiastic about coming to our next DunLaoghaire Constituency meeting and celebrating Votáil 100. She was also due to participate in an event tomorrow for Fine Gael women of the “Class of ‘83”.

I have the lovely memory of meeting three generations of the Barnes family a few short weeks ago: Monica, Sarah and her granddaughter Ailbhe. It was clear how much of Monica’s energy and passion has been passed through the generations.

I offer my deepest condolences to the Barnes family.

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor to widen the demographic of students from our higher education institutions taking up international study abroad or internship opportunities


In the University of Limerick today Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor launched a report “Enhancing Mobility for Access Students Ireland [EMASI]” and online resource for higher education institutions in Ireland to widen student participation in international mobility opportunities, such as Erasmus +, for non-traditional students such as mature students, student with disabilities or from lower socio-economic groups.

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