Minister Mitchell O’Connor launches two QQI reports to enhance quality in Higher Education

Mary Mitchell O Connor, T.D., Minister for Higher Education, today launched two reports by the national regulator for quality in Further and Higher Education:

· Quality within higher education which is a summary report of the quality assurance and quality enhancement activities in publicly funded higher education institutions pertaining to the previous academic year; and

· Professional Body Accreditation in Higher Education Institutions in Ireland which was commissioned by QQI to establish a clearer picture of the professional accreditation landscape in Ireland.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor indicated: “These reports provide evidence of the commitment of our publicly funded higher education institutions to maintain and promote quality of teaching and learning. There are positive messages in terms of the emergence of a ‘quality’ culture within our institutions and in how our institutions are using data collated through national surveys or at institutional level to improve the student experience”.

The key findings from Quality within Higher Education include the following:

· Work is continuing across HEIs to improve the student experience, with institutions continuing to focus on initiatives aimed at enhancing the first-year experience and increasing progression rates.

· The profile of quality offices within HEIs is increasing, while Quality Assurance is also becoming an area of growing strategic importance to Irish HEIs.

· Data continues to play an increasing role in QA in Irish HEIs, with the Irish Survey of the Student Experience (ISSE) in particular providing a way for institutions to benchmark nationally.

The report on Professional Body Accreditation in Higher Education Institutions in Ireland was produced by the Professional Association Research Network (PARN) in collaboration with all the universities, institutes of technology and those private independent providers availing of accreditation for programmes from professional bodies.

The report highlights the scale of professional body accreditation activity, with over 140 professional bodies active in this area. The report highlights the benefits to higher education institutions of accreditation activity but also identifies that these engagements can be resource intensive.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor commented: “The PARN report provides for the first time a clear picture of the professional accreditation landscape in Irish higher education. I expect that it will allow QQI to identify where efficiencies can be made in the future and to explore future data sharing opportunities which will reduce the impact of such accreditation on our higher education institutions while maintaining the benefits to institutions and their students”.

The two reports are available on the QQI website

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor turns sod on €30 million Student Accommodation Project

Minister Mitchell O’Connor today turned the sod on Oisín House at Trinity College Dublin.

The new purpose built student accommodation will comprise 250 bed spaces, disability services, retail units, a health unit, sports and recreation facilities and Estates & Facilities support space once complete. The overall floor area will be 12,110 square meters and the building will be six floors high.

The estimated cost of the project is approximately €30 million and the expected completion date is Q3, 2019. The project is being managed by Trinity College Dublin, and will be financed by the college’s own reserves and from EIB and other commercial banks.

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said:-
“I am delighted to have been invited by Trinity College today to turn the sod on Oisín House. A development which will play an important part, not only in the life of the University, but also in helping to reduce the difficulties that students are faced with in arranging accommodation during the current housing shortage.

“I launched the National Student Accommodation Strategy on this site last July and I am delighted to be back here today to see the progress of an important contribution to the targets set out in that plan.

“The target of 7,000 additional bed spaces will be met, if not exceeded and I am delighted to report that over 2,600 purpose built bed spaces have now been completed since launch of Rebuilding Ireland with a further 3,800 under construction and 5,000 more bed spaces either approved for planning or awaiting approval at the current time.

“Delivering purpose built student accommodation is not simply about reaching targets, it is about offering real choice to students and reducing the inevitable stresses which come with looking for somewhere to live.

“It is important to remember that students living in this accommodation will not only be members of the Trinity community, but will also become members of the local community in the Pearse Street area. I hope that this development will be an asset to this area and I have no doubt that the future residents of this accommodation will be encouraged to engage with the wider community”.


Oisín House will be built on Pearse Street to provide 250 student rooms over a Health and Sports Centre for Trinity College. The project is bedded in its Dublin location, yet is a contemporary interpretation of that environment, working to make a new vernacular for the city. The courtyard plan can be seen as a strategic extension to the sequence of Trinity squares, yet it also acts as a public city square and will serve as a public gateway between the College and the city, bringing increased life to this relatively dead section of Pearse Street.

The form is like a granite rock with an undulating stone roof folded and shaped, reflecting the mountains in distant view to the South and, at close quarters, a grouping of ordinary Georgian roofs glimpsed in the city. It feels like a solid mass externally excavated and penetrated by routes and ways through. Its materiality reflects its form and location – a board-marked concrete working plinth supporting a granite upper world – which descends to ground floor to encase it externally, revealing the concrete core at key moments.

TCD currently has a total of 1,750 PBSA units. 600 of the units are within the campus, 200 are in Goldsmith Hall on Pearse Street and there are 950 located in Dartry. The existing on campus PBSA is currently let at rates ranging from €140 – €180 per week depending on type (single, shared, ensuite etc.). Off-campus PBA are at 100% occupancy rate.

For further information about the project visit

Minister Mitchell O’Connor opens IT Sligo Constance Markievicz building

• Refurbished School of Business & Social Sciences named after one of Ireland’s most influential female historical figures
• Building’s name was chosen following poll amongst students and staff of the Institute
• €7 million refurbishment provides a transformed 21st learning and teaching environment
• Officially Opened by Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D.

Institute of Technology, Sligo’s newly refurbished School of Business & Social Sciences Building was officially opened on Monday.

Students, staff and invited guests gathered in the new facility which is being named after Constance Markievicz, one of Ireland’s most influential historical figures, and who had a deep association with the North West.

The €7 million project was officially opened by the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D.

The 4,400 square-metre refurbishment, completed in October, was designed by Rhatigan & Company Architects, Sligo and was built by Boyle Construction, Donegal. It comprises 16 classrooms/lecture theatres; eight PC labs; four Early Childhood/Creative Design Studios; two social learning areas; offices for 72 staff as well as a café and support space.

The name of the new building was chosen following an internal competition amongst students and staff of the Institute.

“We asked our students and staff for their suggestions, and the name which received most traction was Constance Markievicz,” explains Dr Michael Barrett, Head of School of Business & Social Sciences at IT Sligo.

“She is one of Ireland’s most influential female historical figures, and her name has a strong resonance in Sligo and the North West. The fact that she continues to strikes a chord with both the younger and older generations was one of the key factors in the decision to name the building after her.”

Born in February 1868, Countess Constance Markievicz (her maiden name was Gore-Booth) was a suffragette, a socialist and a leading figure in the Irish Republican movement. She was spent most of her childhood in Lissadell House in County Sligo, and played a major role in the 1916 Rising. She became first Irish female cabinet minister in Dáil Éireann, and was also the first woman to be elected to the British parliament in 1918.

Speaking at Monday’s official Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “The scale and ambition of IT Sligo for its students and staff is neatly encapsulated in this spectacular new facility.

“In terms of infrastructural landscape, IT Sligo can justifiably lay claim to having one of the most advanced and dynamic campuses in the Institute of Technology sector today.

“This new building also marries that sense of looking to the future with celebrating the past, as reflected in naming the facility in honour of one of Ireland’s best known female historical figures.”

Dr Brendan McCormack, President of IT Sligo, said: “One of IT Sligo’s key objectives for the next five years is to create an innovative and inspiring learning and teaching environment.

“Students come to IT Sligo because they get the support to be successful in their learning and this new facility is a reflection of that ambition. It has a ‘University’ feel to it – which matches our ambition to build scale as IT Sligo moves confidently towards achieving Technological University status.”

The new external identity of IT Sligo’s Constance Markievicz building provides increased visual prominence for the northern end of the campus through the redesign of the old 1970s facades, the internal refurbishment to improve layout, natural daylight and ventilation standards whilst uplifting the internal spaces with new finishes.

The buildings approach to energy efficiency has taken into account the improvement of building fabric, reducing the requirement for heating and lighting through a reduction in elemental U-values and high efficiency plant with increased environmental control. Existing fenestration patterns have been redesigned to improve the internal daylight factor and allow natural ventilation.

The Constance Markievicz building will be home to some 1823 students and 118 staff in the Institute’s School of Business & Social Sciences.

Ireland will be hosting the 10th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of State with special responsibility for Higher Education today (17th November 2017) has announced that Ireland will host the 10th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education.

This is the first occasion that this major biannual conference will be held in Ireland. These European conferences have since 1998 brought together hundreds of gender equality practitioners, researchers and administrators from Europe and beyond.
The conference provides an international forum to discuss and exchange information and experiences on the challenges related to gender in academia, gender equality promotion and interventions in higher education and research institutions.

The Minister stated “hosting of this conference is an ideal opportunity for Ireland to outline the advances we are making towards tackling gender inequality in our third level institutions. These conferences provide a major international meeting point of higher education researchers and policy makers, and we can learn from the experiences of colleagues in other countries, to assist us in addressing the challenges that we all face”.

The conferences provide a unique international forum for networking and the discussion and exchange of information, experiences, policies and research findings from universities, higher education institutions and non-university research institutions. The European Network on Gender Equality in Higher Education, which was established as a result of the conferences, provides an international forum to share information about good practices and experiences as well as research results concerning changes and challenges related to gender equality in academia. It connects over 500 members from over 30 countries

The Minister further stated “The Gender Equality Task Force that I recently established which builds on work done for the 2016 HEA National Review on Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions, will report in 2018. The hosting of the conference is opportune and will enable us to highlight the outcomes of both the work of the 2016 Gender review and the Task Force to both a national and international audience”.

Previous conferences were organised by a local group, consisting of a number of stakeholders. The Trinity Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership (TCGEL) will work closely with representatives from the Irish universities, Institutes of Technology and other stakeholders in framing a programme for the conference.

The first European conference on gender equality in higher education was organized in Finland by the University of Helsinki in 1998.

Since then the conferences have been held in Zürich (2000), Genoa (2003), Oxford (2005), Berlin (2007), Stockholm (2009), Bergen (2012), Vienna (2014) and Paris 2016.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor announces €6.3m allocation to support Technological University development and higher education landscape restructuring

The Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (Tuesday, 14 November) announced the allocation of €6.3 million in funding in support of  the ongoing restructuring of the higher education landscape including the development of consortia projects seeking to progress to designation as Technological Universities.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said “The landscape of Irish higher education is significantly evolving. The Government continues to back this progressive evolution in higher education by all available means not least in a practical funding manner.  The latest funding allocation includes €4 million in ring-fenced funding secured in Budget 2017 for the development of technological universities and further significant funding has been secured in this regard in Budget 2018 also.”

She went on to say “The total €6.3 million in funding announced today will continue to support six significant projects. These projects will build national capacity, improve teaching and learning, the student experience, build skills supply and further strengthen the interface between higher education and industry that has been so important to Ireland’s economic recovery.

In relation to the Technological University development projects, this significant funding is of very practical assistance to consortia seeking Technological University designation. Taken together with the progression of the Technological Universities Bill, which I am bringing to Committee Stage in the Dáil tomorrow, this is further testament to the Government’s committment to make the long-sought concept of Technological Universities a reality”.

In addition to the four Technological University development consortia, the other landscape restructuring projects to which further funding has been allocated comprises the incorporation of Dublin City University, St Patrick’s College Drumcondra, Mater Dei Institute and Church of Ireland College of Education. This landscape project has created a “New DCU” pluralist teacher education centre of international relevance and scale. Finally, there is the ongoing restructuring project which has seen the successful integration of Shannon College of Hotel Management with NUI Galway and the progression of an agreement between NUI Galway and St. Angela’s College Sligo, whereby these institutions aim to create an internationally recognised centre of excellence in teacher education on Ireland’s western seaboard.


The 2012 National Strategy for Higher Education provided for substantial changes to the landscape of Irish higher education including reform of teacher education, improved institutional alignment and the development of Technological Universities.

Technological Universities will have an emphasis on the social and economic development of their regions through an emphasis on programmes at levels 6 to 8 on the National Qualifications Framework and the development and use of new knowledge through industry-focused research. Technological Universities will also enhance the pivotal national role traditionally played by the Institutes of Technology in facilitating access and progression by a wide range of students.

The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) is a system of ten levels used to describe the Irish qualifications system. The NFQ is based on standards of knowledge, skill and competence and incorporates awards made for all kinds of learning, wherever it is gained (see:

2017 Funding Call in support of Higher Education landscape restructuring

The HEA invited submissions for funding support in respect of the costs arising from landscape reform as part of the implementation of the National Strategy for Higher Education in October 2017. The total funding available under this call in academic year 2017/18 is c. €6.3 million. This call follows the allocation of similar landscape reconfiguration funding by the HEA in 2015/16. Further information and landscape reform is available on the HEA website at:

Funding Allocations by Consortia 2017–2018

The 2017 – 2018 allocations are set out in the Table under. Expenditure will be subject to ongoing monitoring, review and formal approval by the HEA.

Higher Education Landscape Funding Allocations 2017–2018 (€m)
Technological University Consortia HEA to date 2017–2018
Connacht Ulster Alliance €0.92 €1.20
Munster Technological University €1.27 €1.03
TU4Dublin €2.62 €2.26
Technological University for the South-East €0.57 €0.15
Institutional Mergers    
DCU Incorporation €9.91 €1.50
NUIG Incorporation €1.65 €0.15
Totals €16.94m €6.29m


Technological Universities Consortia

There are currently four consortia of Institutes of Technology engaged with the process seeking to become designated as technological universities:

  • Connacht Ulster Alliance (CUA), consisting of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Sligo, and Letterkenny Institute of Technology
  • Munster Technological University (MTU), consisting of Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Tralee
  • TU4Dublin, consisting of Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Tallaght and Institute of Technology Blanchardstown
  • Technological University for the South-East (TUSE), consisting of Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Carlow.


Technological Universities Bill 2015

The legislative process for the Technological Bill 2015 commenced in January 2014 and had passed Committee Stage when the 31st Dáil was dissolved in February 2016. 

As a result of a number of issues raised regarding the Technological Universities Bill, the Department of Education and Skills, as directed by Minister Bruton, undertook consultations with stakeholders, including Trade Unions and as part of that process, a clarification document was agreed between the Department, Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Technological Higher Education Association.   TUI members voted to accept the agreement in June 2017 and suspended their industrial action in relation to the development of Technological Universities.  A clarification document also issued to IMPACT as part of this process. The main issues covered during consultation process related to terms and conditions for staff, strengthening the regional remit of a technological university, membership of governing bodies and amendments to the application process for designation as a technological university.

Detailed drafting of the insertions and amendments to the Bill was approved by Government in July 2017 and was progressed in the interim by the Department with the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General. The Insertions and amendments to the Technological Universities 2015 Bill (As initiated) will be brought to Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann on 15 November 2017 by the Minister for Higher Education.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor welcomes Cabinet approval for progression of the Technological Universities Bill

The Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. welcomed the approval by the Government of insertions and amendments to the Technological Universities Bill.
Minister Mitchell O’Connor said, “I am delighted that we can now proceed to progress the revised Technological Universities Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I look forward to debating and engaging with Deputies and Senators on this very important piece of legislation for the Higher Education sector.

The Minister stated “I am sure we will produce through the legislative process what will be seen as a very significant milestone in the evolution of the Higher Education sector and the Institutes of Technology sector in particular. The legislation when enacted will underpin the development of a new type of Higher Education institution, focusing on the combined strengths of our excellent Institutes of Technology to develop into top class Technological Universities”.

The Government had previously approved the key insertions and amendments to the Technological Universities Bill in July. The insertions and amendments were developed following a consultation process with stakeholders including the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, IMPACT, the Union of Students in Ireland and the Technological Higher Education Association. These amendments relate to terms and conditions of service for staff, strengthening the regional remit of a Technological University, membership of governing bodies and amendments to the application process for Technological University designation.

It is also intended that an insertion will be made at Report Stage of the Bill to allow the Minister for Education and Skills to appoint an investigator to a publicly funded Higher Education institution to investigate and report on issues related to governance and management of the institution. The relevant provisions will be introduced at Report Stage for which Cabinet approval will also be sought. The drafting of these specific amendments are being finalised between Department officials and the Attorney General’s Office.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said “The advancement of the Bill to early enactment by the end of the year if possible, will pave the way for consortia that are ready to make applications for designation to apply and be assessed in 2018.

She went on to say, “This will be a very significant and advantageous step for the Higher Education sector and will have major benefits for the sector, students, the community and regional development. It will constitute a step change for the new institutions when established in terms of their critical mass, reach and influence regionally, nationally and internationally”.

Status of Technological University Consortia

There are currently four consortia engaged with the process to become designated as Technological Universities. These are TU4Dublin (Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Tallaght, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown), Technological University for the South-East (TUSE – consisting of Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Carlow), Munster Technological University (MTU – consisting of Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Tralee) and the Connaught Ulster Alliance (CUA – consisting of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Sligo and Letterkenny Institute of Technology).

Minister Mitchell O’Connor launches Gender Equality Taskforce for Higher Education

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of State with special responsibility for Higher Education today (6th November 2017) has announced the establishment of a Gender Equality Taskforce.

The Minister has appointed this high level taskforce to prepare a prioritised three year action plan, in consultation with stakeholders.

The Task force will also oversee a national systems review of the recruitment and promotion policies and practices currently in place in higher education institutions, with a view to identifying good-practice and highlighting areas that need improvement. This will feed into the development of actions for the action plan.

Funding of €500,000 was provided in Budget 2018 to support the work of the Taskforce and greater gender equality in the sector. A regular reporting mechanism will be put in place to track progress on the various actions to be implemented.

The Task Force will build on work done for the HEA National Review on Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions, which was published in 2016. That report set out an important analysis of the position in relation to gender equality in Irish higher education institutions and made recommendations to improve the position.
The Task Force will identify good practices in the higher education sector, including in those institutions who have been awarded Athena Swan awards and lessons learnt from those that have not been successful with Athena Swan applications.
Commenting on the review of recruitment and promotion systems, the Minister said that “I was very concerned that nearly three quarters of respondents to a HEA survey on gender equality indicated that there were issues in relation to transparency in recruitment, promotion and progress in higher education institutions. I want these issues thoroughly examined and changes put in place where needed”.

The Minister went on to say that “I know there are good practices in our higher education system, but we need to ensure that all institutions learn from these. Where improvements are required, they need to be addressed without delay. Having a national action plan with progress monitored on a regular basis will help to drive the change that we need to see. It will give us a clear line of sight on all relevant activities across the sector. “

The Chairperson of the Task Force, Marie O’Connor, said “I am delighted to have been asked by Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor to chair this Task Force on Gender Equality within our Higher Educations Institutions. Gender equality starts at home – none of us today have lesser ambitions for our daughters than our sons! It is important as all students enter education that there are female role models and mentors and this is even more vital in the Higher Education Institutes which are so influential in the development of skills for future careers of young people.

We know that diversity fosters innovation, brings new ideas, new ways of working and makes for better communities and businesses. Women are significantly underrepresented in top positions in the higher education sectors In Ireland and indeed across Europe. The recent HEA Review of Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutes indicates that talent alone is not always enough to guarantee success for women and that a culture change is necessary to foster an environment where our daughters, sisters, aunts and our mums have equal opportunity and encouragement as their male counterparts to progress in their career pipeline and that this influential sector in Ireland achieves a long lasting and sustainable change. The task force and l look forward to working with the Minister, Department, Higher Education Authority, higher education institutes and stakeholders on how to best address gender equality.

Taskforce members

Chairperson Marie O’Connor
Marie O ‘Connor was a financial services partner at PwC in Ireland for 30 years. She has also been a board member of a number of State and Not for Profit organisations. Marie was the founding Irish Country Lead for 30% Club and continues as a member of its steering committee. Nominated in 2017 as one of Financial Times FT Heroes for Championing Women in Business, Marie was also honoured by Irish America Magazine as one of its Wall St 50 for 2017 and its Inaugural Top 50 Women in 2016

Mr Ryan Shanks
Ryan Shanks is Head of Strategy Practice at Accenture Ireland, delivering technology-enabled strategy and transformation initiatives that position Accenture s clients to take advantage of the latest business opportunities.
Ryan has over 17 years’ experience of successfully delivering large-scale, complex change and transformation programmes across multiple industry and the public sector.

Professor Philip Nolan
Professor Philip Nolan, President of Maynooth University, overseeing all operations from teaching and research to capital development and international initiatives. He is responsible for setting the future direction and goals for the University.

Dr. Patricia Mulcahy
Dr. Mulcahy is President of Institute of Technology Carlow. She was recently appointed as the new IBEC South East Regional President. She is also chairperson of the South East Regional Skills Forum.

Sheila Nunan
Sheila Nunan is the General Secretary of the INTO. She has been a member of the Executive of the INTO since 1995 and was INTO President in 2005/2006. Sheila is the current President of ICTU having been elected at the Biennial Delegate Conference in Belfast in July 2017.

HEA Review of systems of recruitment and promotion

The Minister has requested the Higher Education Authority to commission a review of the systems of recruitment and promotion in operation in publicly funded higher education institutions in the Republic of Ireland will be conducted. This work will be overseen by the Taskforce announced today.

The objective of the review is to provide a national position of the recruitment and promotion practices currently in place in the HEIs, with a view to identifying good-practice and highlighting areas that need improvement. Institutions will be expected to take steps to improve their systems in a specified timescale where the need for improvement is identified.

The review will seek to identify good practice in the system including in those institutions who have been awarded Athena Swan institute awards or have made applications.

The terms of reference for the Task Force will be to:
• Oversee a review of the systems of recruitment and promotion policies and practices in higher education institutions,
• Review national and international practice and relevant literature including the Review on Gender Equality published by the HEA in 2016 and good practices arising from the Athena Swan process and lessons learnt from unsuccessful applications,
• Consult with relevant stakeholders,
• Prepare a prioritised three year action plan.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor launches an online resource to inform Higher Level Institutions’ Student Retention Strategies

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., Minister of State for Higher Education, today 2nd of November, 2017, launched an online resource to assist higher level institutions to create effective student retention strategies and to enhance student experiences. The Online Resource for Learning Analytics (ORLA) was developed by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning to support institutions to use existing data to benefit their students’ learning. The Minister stated, ” This resource will help institutions, teachers and researchers to better understand students’ learning behaviour. The insights gained from analysing data that institutions already have can enable them to both enhance the student experience and reach out to students experiencing difficulties”.

On average, approx. 15% of third-level students do not progress to the second year of their course. Some of these students could be helped to stay in education if institutions applied Learning Analytics (LA) to the data in their in-house student systems to develop new approaches and strategies to support students to continue with their studies. ORLA is a tool box that provides a detailed introduction to the concepts and applications of Learning Analytics. The resources can be used to develop institutional strategies and help teachers make better use of the data available to them. They are supported by a suite of case studies, written and submitted by educators who have successfully incorporated LA into their teaching or module management.

Welcoming the Ministers announcement of ORLA, Sarah Moore, chair of the National Forum said, “Employing Learning Analytics intelligently can provide predictive models that can help shape our teaching approaches, allowing us to look at what is working for our students and what is not. The tools contained in ORLA can inform earlier and more focussed student interventions, with a view to optimising student success.”

The comprehensive suite of information available through ORLA was developed by the National Forum in conjunction with over 60 representatives from across the higher education sector. The National Forum will continue to work over the coming years with institutions to develop their use of Learning Analytics, for example targeting support for priority groups identified in the HEA National Access Plan. ORLA can be accessed through

Minister Mitchell O’Connor launches OECD/EU Report on Ireland’s entrepreneurship education

Irish Minister of State for Higher Education, EC and OECD are launching a report on “Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education in Ireland”

Irish Higher Education Institutions are engines for economic development

Entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education are critical for driving business start-ups, knowledge transfer, internationalisation, engagement with society and entrepreneurial mind sets in the labour force. Irish Universities and Institutes of Technology offer many great examples of how to act entrepreneurially.

These examples are examined in the new report by the OECD and the European Commission on “Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education in Ireland”, launched today [23rd October, 2017] by the Irish Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., the Deputy Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Mari Kiviniemi and Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva, Director for Innovation, International Cooperation and Sport in the Directorate-General for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the European Commission.

To support entrepreneurship and innovation, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) need to be entrepreneurial and innovative themselves in how they organise education, research and engagement with business and the wider world. This requires introducing supportive frameworks at national and HEI level for resource allocations, staff incentives, training for entrepreneurship educators, strategic partnerships and so on.
The OECD/European Commission review conducted a comprehensive assessment of Irish HEIs including a detailed survey of all university and Institutes of Technology leaders and extensive study visits by an international review panel Universities and Institutes of Technology in Ireland.

The report shows that HEIs are playing a fundamental role in fostering entrepreneurial career paths for their students and staff. These activities are driven by senior management, usually by a combination of the vice-president for research and the heads of faculty.

Innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and greater synergies between the core functions – that is, education, research and engagement – are fundamental for success. Study visits to six HEIs – Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Limerick Institute of Technology, University of Limerick, University College of Cork, Dublin City University and Dundalk Institute of Technology – revealed several very successful practices that stimulate and reward leadership at all levels, and create proper support structures and incentives for staff and students. For example, a strong emphasis is placed on supporting teachers to teach entrepreneurship with continuous professional development activities supported by CEEN, the Campus Entrepreneurship Enterprise Network and the National Forum for the Enhancement for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education,

The report also identifies some areas for improvement:
• Increasing start-up support for students and alumni who wish to found a new venture.
• Broadening the scope for multi- and transdisciplinary research initiatives in research priorities and in the effort to mobilise HEIs in regional and national development
• A review of current employment control restrictions in higher education to allow for enhanced engagement activities with business and society
• Continued support for HEIs to establish collaborative and mentoring links with innovative and entrepreneurial HEIs abroad
• A system-wide exercise to document and assess the impact of entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said:
“It’s great to see that the HEInnovate country review highlights so much good practice in the Irish institutions visited, across a range of areas including entrepreneurship education, work placements, fostering entrepreneurial career paths for students and research.“

“This report is a testament to the quality of the teaching in our Higher Education Institutions and the findings of the review will inform best practice in entrepreneurial education across Europe”

“It highlights the fact that engagement between institutions, employers, community and regional stakeholders is becoming increasingly important. Building bridges between all these stakeholders is a key goal in the Action Plan for Education.”

“The findings and recommendations from the review will inform policy and in particular the new Entrepreneurship Education Policy Statement and the revised System Performance Framework for HEIs which we are currently working on.”

The Deputy Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Mari Kiviniemi said:

“The Irish education system plays a fundamental role in developing an entrepreneurial mindset among students and staff. This combination of creativity, initiative, problem-solving, marshalling resources, and mastering technological and financial knowledge is what all of us need to succeed in any field.”

“Students need incentives and support to engage with entrepreneurship. A recognition of what students learn in entrepreneurship courses is important. Diploma supplements on entrepreneurship competencies that graduates can show their future employers are a good example.”

Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva, Director for Innovation, International Cooperation and Sport of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Culture Youth and Sport

“We congratulate Ireland for its successful completion of the HEInnovate review process. HEInnovate is a key initiative in making Europe more innovative and entrepreneurial as it supports individual higher education institutions in their ongoing transformation to more entrepreneurial organisations. We believe that this positive experience will motivate other Member States to join this initiative. ”



The country reviews are part of HEInnovate (, a guiding framework, jointly developed by the EC and the OECD, to support policy makers and HEI leaders to enhance the entrepreneurial and innovative potential of higher education institutions. To enhance the framwork’s practical application, a free online self-assessment tool is available in 24 languages for HEIs to organise strategic discussions and debate around entrepreneurship and innovation. A wide range of stakeholders can be easily involved from within the HEI (leadership, staff, students, academic and administrative staff) and the local economy. Easy-to-read graphs show where stakeholders agree or disagree and provide a basis for strategic discussions and debate in board meetings, the senate or public events. The online tool is currently used by more than 800 HEIs around the world. Also in Ireland, several HEIs in Ireland are using HEInnovate for strategy design and implementation. An example is Dundalk Institute of Technology, which has been using the guiding framework for several years to introduce entrepreneurship education across its different faculties and departments.

To date, HEInnovate country reviews have been undertaken in Bulgaria (2014), Ireland (2015-16), Poland (2015-16), Hungary (2015-16), and the Netherlands (2016-17). By the end of 2018, 10 countries across Europe will have completed the reviews.

Survey data
The survey data reported was collected through a representative online survey that was administered to the Presidents’ offices of the seven Universities and the 14 Institutes of Technology in Ireland. From the 21 HEIs included in the survey, a total, 18 HEIs, including all universities and 11 institutes of technology completed the questionnaire with an overall response rate of 86%. The survey response rates per HEI type are as follows: universities (100%), institutes of technology (79%). Responses were collected between 15/6/2015 and 29/9/2015. The questionnaire was available in English language.

The report
Higher education institutions (HEIs) play a critical role in Ireland’s economy and innovation system, which is based on a strong and growing engagement agenda with industry and local communities, new learning environments and multidisciplinary research teams. This report offers practical recommendations on how Ireland can enhance and sustain the outcomes.

As part of the OECD-European Commission HEInnovate country review series, the report assesses in five chapters strategies and practices for entrepreneurship and innovation in Ireland’s HEIs and the systemic support provided by government.

Chapter 1 presents the Irish higher education system, including the multi-step ladder system of qualifications that allows students to step in and out of undergraduate education, trends in student numbers and resources and an overview of recent policy initiatives.

Chapter 2 presents key review findings and recommendations in an analysis that is aligned to the HEInnovate framework with its seven dimensions and 37 statements, and draws from a survey of all public Universities and Institutes of Technology in Ireland and an in-depth analysis of six HEIs.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 expand on the review findings and recommendations. Chapter 3 looks closer into the organisational capacity of HEIs and the steering mechanisms and funding of research. Chapter 4 focuses on teaching and learning and analyses various approaches to enhance the capacity of students for entrepreneurship and how to incentivise student participation in engagement activities. Chapter 5 reviews the impact of higher education and the possible results of a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation and discusses the tensions that need to be understood and carefully managed by the HEIs themselves, their local partners and national policy makers if impacts are to be effectively delivered.

Key review findings
Higher education institutions (HEIs) in Ireland play multiple roles in their local environments and are pivotal drivers of development, particularly outside Dublin. The HEIs visited as part of the review offer excellent examples of innovation and entrepreneurship both in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS). More could be done to broaden the scope for multi- and transdisciplinary initiatives in research, education and engagement.

The sustainability of the HEIs’ multiple roles is a question of institutional autonomy and organisational capacity, of which the amount, allocation and duration of funding are key determining factors. For entrepreneurship education and start-up support HEIs are dependent upon temporary project-based funding. This is limiting the range and sustainability of activities, as the HEIs have had to be fluid and flexible in their financial strategies and focused on maintaining core activities principally in the teaching and learning arena, particularly in the Institutes of Technology.

Ireland has the highest share of employment in the ICT sector at 5.14 %, compared to the OECD average of 2.85%. The Springboard programme, addressed at reskilling and upskilling of the work force, and the ICT Skills Action Plan are excellent examples of how HEIs can effectively develop the skills base of small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) relevant for firm survival and growth in the digital economy.

The collaboration of HEIs in Regional Clusters and Regional Skills Fora is an important feature of this and core to the initial development stage for strong knowledge-based innovative regions. Greater emphasis is needed to connect knowledge producers, users and transformers in these regional collaboration platforms in addition to the current focus on alignment of study programmes and pathways for students.

Irish HEIs play a fundamental role in fostering entrepreneurial career paths for students and graduates. 85% offer entrepreneurship education activities and 80% targeted start-up support measures. These activities are supported and driven by senior management, usually by a combination of the Vice-president for research and the heads of faculty. With the National Forum for the Enhancement for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, a strong emphasis is placed on staff development programmes, building in entrepreneurship education on CEEN, the Campus Entrepreneurship Enterprise Network.

Start-up support offered in HEIs includes assistance with intellectual property rights, applications for public funding, preparation of business plans, referral to external business support organisations, and access to infrastructure, such as incubation facilities, co-working spaces and laboratory facilities. Less common, reported only by one-third of the surveyed HEIs, is the provision of financial resources.

Over the past two years more than 80% of the surveyed HEIs noted increased demands for the assistance with applications for public funding, and internationalisation of start-up activities. More than two-thirds of the surveyed HEIs reported increased demand from start-ups for the HEIs to facilitate contacts with potential investors, such as venture capitalists, business angels and banks.

Comparing the current offer of entrepreneurship education activities with the start-up support measures in HEIs, there is a gap for students in terms of start-up support. Whereas all of the surveyed HEIs reported to offer entrepreneurship education activities for their students, only less than half of the universities and two-thirds of the IOTs reported to offer start-up support for students. Start-up support is more oriented towards researchers, professors, other staff members, alumni and people from outside the HEI.

Effective internationalisation strategies evolved from the successful participation of Irish HEIs in international education and research Effective internationalisation strategies evolved from the successful participation of Irish HEIs in international education and research networks. There is a “stay-back” scheme, whereby international students can remain for one year after graduating to work in the country. This works well for multinational companies and large national firms but small and medium-sized firms seem to be reluctant in taking foreign students on as the perception is that these students tend to leave shortly after the work placement ends. Information events which include the involvement of international students in collaborative research and other measures could help to raise awareness of opportunities which these students could gain and bring to (traditional) SMEs.

There are many examples of innovative and impactful activities taking place in Irish HEIs. While there are numerous sources of information on various activities, these are not being translated effectively enough into details of their actual impacts in terms of the economy and society as a whole. Individual HEIs, research groups and the sector as a whole need to speak with one voice in describing and aggregating the impact of education, research and engagement in order to win the support of policy makers and the public for continued and additional investment.

Review recommendations for public policy action

• Enhance collaboration between policy structures and state agencies involved in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in HEIs.
• Broaden the scope for multi- and transdisciplinary research initiatives in research priorities, and in the effort to mobilise HEIs in local, regional and national development.
• Review current employment control restrictions in higher education to allow for enhanced engagement activities with business and society.
• Continue targeted state investment in internationalisation initiatives.
• Support HEIs in creating collaborative and mentor links with innovative and entrepreneurial HEIs abroad.
• Introduce a system-wide exercise to document and assess the impact of entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education.

Review recommendations for higher education institutions

• Expand entrepreneurship education across all disciplines and increase the number of interdisciplinary education activities.
• Increase the number of places available on venture creation programmes, particularly for students and alumni.
• Incentivise and support staff engagement in knowledge exchange activities.
• Enhance collaboration with small and medium-sized enterprises through a single “front door” approach.

€200 Million PPP Investment Programme Announced for Institutes of Technology

“I am delighted that the PPP programme we are announcing today will provide eleven new state of the art buildings and that it will have such a strong focus on supporting regional development.

“The projects announced today will be focused on the Institute of Technology sector. The sector that is key to our dual aims of increasing access to education and ensuring we are producing graduates that are fit for purpose in a changing economy.

“Institutes of Technology have been disproportionately affected by the fall-off in capital investment in higher education over the past decade. And yet they have still shown a level of flexibility and innovation that rivals any other sector. In recent times the infrastructure hasn’t evolved or improved quickly enough to match their dynamism. We’re starting the process of changing that today. Today’s investment will help cater for new approaches that promote innovation and make use of the latest technologies.

“Many of our Institutes are working towards the attainment of Technological University status and the new infrastructure will support them in that aim.
“The move towards Technological Universities is a game changer for the sector. It’s a significant, welcome structural change. And is an example of the kind of vision and big thinking we need to progress our society.

“Technological Universities will provide the opportunity to drive regional development, provide more opportunities for students, and create a step change in the impact and influence of these institutions regionally, nationally and internationally. My intention is to progress the legislation as quickly as possible. Because it’s essential that we make rapid progress on this issue.
“The projects announced today will address a diversity of skills areas. A majority of new student places will be generated in critical STEM areas but we are also responding to wider skills needs in the economy, with support for digital media and design provision, culinary arts, and teaching and collaborative work space that is purpose-built for the teaching and learning needs of today. The buildings will also allow Institutions to expand their flexible and blended learning provision, with scope for online learning delivery.”

A full list of projects to be included in the PPP Programme is as follows:

Athlone Institute of Technology
STEM Building
Cork Institute of Technology
Learning Resource Centre
Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire
Digital Media Building
Galway Mayo Institute of Technology
STEM Building
IT Blanchardstown
Phase 2 Teaching Block
IT Carlow
Science Building
IT Tallaght
Phase 2 Campus Development
IT Tralee
STEM Building, North Campus
Letterkenny Institute of Technology
Library, IT and Teaching Building
Limerick Institute of Technology
Applied Science and IT Building
Waterford Institute of Technology
Engineering, Computing and General Teaching Building

The 11 projects will be procured on behalf of the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education and Skills by the National Development Finance Agency.
While the intended location and skills focus of projects today is being announced today, it should be noted that all proposals will be the subject of ongoing technical appraisal and economic analysis to ensure value for money is achieved. This process will inform the final scale and scope of each project, which will be approved and announced prior to procurement.

The projects have been selected for inclusion in the Programme following a detailed assessment undertaken by the Department of Education and Skills and the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which took account of factors such as projected enrolments, capacity to deliver on skills requirements, the potential to contribute to regional development, and an economic analysis of the costs and benefits. The relevant circumstances of each institution and the objective of achieving maximum impact from the limited capital envelope were also key considerations.

In the next stage of the process, the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) will procure technical advisers on behalf of the Department to bring the projects through planning and to procurement stage. It should be noted that value for money aspects will continue to be monitored as projects are progressed, including updating economic appraisals where necessary, and undergoing the value for money tests that form part of PPP assessment. A project may be removed from the Programme if value for money requirements are not met.

The total floor area in new infrastructure to be delivered through the PPP programme will be over 70,000m2. The floor area of each building will be confirmed as part of the detailed technical design process, review of Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBAs), and engagement with each Institute of Technology. Costs for each building will not be announced as is the norm in such a PPP procurement process. The total capital envelope for the programme amounts to approximately €200 million ex VAT.

The projects will facilitate an additional 8,000 new student places. These will be created primarily through the provision of new accommodation in the PPP buildings. However, in many cases, the provision of these buildings will free up space in existing buildings and allow for new student places there. It should also be noted that the new PPP buildings will also provide upgraded accommodation for existing students.

The following is a summary description of each of the eleven projects being announced today:
Athlone Institute of Technology
Athlone Institute of Technology is aiming to develop a new STEM facility which will include science labs, lecture theatres, classrooms and other facilities.
Institute of Technology Blanchardstown
As part of its campus Masterplan, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown is aiming to expand its general teaching facilities to support growth in student numbers across a range of disciplines.
Institute of Technology Carlow
The project in Institute of Technology Carlow would provide additional space for STEM provision, in particular science.
Cork Institute of Technology
The proposed project is the construction of a Learning Resource Centre which would accommodate learning, study, exhibition, engagement and entrepreneurial space. It would allow CIT to increase capacity across STEM, business and humanities subjects.
Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire.
The proposed project is the construction of a Digital Media Building which will house the animation and visual design communications labs, with capacity also for growth in courses in creative computing, entrepreneurship and creative technologies.
Galway Mayo Institute of Technology
GMIT has proposed the construction of a new STEM building, which would include labs, multi-purpose rooms, lab support rooms, seminar rooms and classrooms.
Limerick Institute of Technology
The proposed project is the construction of a new Applied Science & IT building on the LIT Moylish campus. The building would accommodate science labs, flat teaching facilities, computer labs, tutorial rooms, breakout and meeting spaces.
Letterkenny Institute of Technology
The project proposed is the construction of a Library and General Education Building which will accommodate a learning resource centre, IT and innovation laboratories, online learning delivery rooms and classrooms.
Institute of Technology Tallaght
The project proposed by IT Tallaght includes a technical development centre (i.e. practice based learning facilities for engineering and science courses); facilities for the culinary arts; and new classrooms and computer labs.
Institute of Technology Tralee
The proposed project is the construction of a building to accommodate the STEM School of IT Tralee. The STEM building would be located at the Institute’s north Campus at Dromtacker.
Waterford Institute of Technology
The project would consist of the construction of a new Engineering, Computing and General Teaching Building at WIT’s Cork Road Campus. It would provide for the consolidation of a number of faculties in one space and generate efficiencies in that respect.

Note on Public Private Partnerships
A Public Private Partnership or a PPP is a contract between a public sector contracting authority and a private sector company (PPP Co.) for the provision of public works and/or services. Typically the State procures buildings under the form of an “availability based” PPP contract whereby the PPP Co. is responsible for the design, build, finance and maintenance of public buildings and facilities on land provided by the State.

In exchange for this, the State pays a “monthly availability payment”. The duration of the services phase of a PPP contract (and monthly availability payment) is typically 25 years. The State payment of the monthly availability payment is dependent on the building and facilities being maintained to an acceptable standard and the satisfactory provision of associated services by the PPP Co.

The Department of Education and Skills has also used PPPs for the delivery of schools infrastructure. There are currently 27 operational PPP schools, 6 PPP schools under construction and two operational PPP higher education buildings as well as one in the procurement phase.