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 www.teachingandlearning.ie/orla

Minister Bruton and Minister Mitchell O’Connor welcome results of first external review of fund for students with disabilities

Nearly 350% increase in number of beneficiaries to the scheme in past 10 years

Working Group to be established to fully implement recommendations of the Review

Minister of Education and Skills Richard Bruton and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor today welcomed the publication of the first external review of the Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD).

This is the first formal external review since this fund was established in 1994. The review notes that from 2007 to 2014 the number of students being supported through the Fund grew from 3,500 to over 10,000 beneficiaries and more recent figures provided by the HEA demonstrates that the significant increase in numbers applying and eligible for funding has continued into the 2016/2017 academic year with over 12,000 students now receiving assistance.

The Fund was established to support full-time students on approved further and higher education courses with disabilities who might otherwise, because of financial reasons, suffer severe hardship or be unable to continue their third level studies. The Fund is managed by the Higher Education Authority on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, and is co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020.

RSM Consultancy was commissioned by the HEA in April 2016 to undertake the review of the Fund and to make recommendations on the future policy and operation of the fund. The review concentrated on four main areas:

  • Financial provision of the Fund;
  • HEA model and guidelines;
  • Student experience of the fund;
  • Educational institutions and the fund.

The review evaluated the effectiveness of the Fund in supporting access and participation in further and higher education by students with disabilities. It also assessed whether the policies, guidelines and practices for the Fund are fit for purpose and in line with international best practice. The review made a number of recommendations on what aspects of the Fund are working well and where improvements could be made.

The Higher Education Authority has committed to fully implementing the recommendations of the Review and has committed to establishing a Working Group to oversee this implementation.

Speaking today, Minister Bruton said:

“Ensuring our education system is inclusive and meets the needs of all our students is a key priority of mine as Minister. The Fund for Students with Disabilities plays a vital role in ensuring students with disabilities can access and remain in further and higher education, by helping students overcome obstacles which might otherwise hinder them from completing their course.  I was pleased that the review found that students’ experience of the fund is positive and I am committed to ensuring that a Working Group is established to implement any recommendations for improvement”.

Commenting today, Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. said:

“I welcome the publication of the report on the Fund for Students with Disabilities today. The Fund for Students with Disabilities is available to students with disabilities attending both further and higher education courses and to students attending approved courses in Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU. We want to ensure that students with disabilities can access and fully participate in their chosen courses and that essential funding is available to ensure that they successfully complete their chosen course of study. A review of the Fund is one of the key actions identified in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015 – 2019 and I am pleased that this review has been completed”

Further information on the Review of the Fund for Students with Disabilities is available at www.hea.ie.

 

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. ”

ENDS

Notes

HEInnovate
The country reviews are part of HEInnovate (http://www.HEInnovate.eu), 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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264270893-en
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. 

Budget 2018 and Higher Education

After a relatively short time in the Department of Education, I am delighted to be able to announce a comprehensive major new investment in current and capital spending on 3rd Level education.

This includes a significant increase in capital investment in Higher Education over the remaining period of the Capital Plan.

The Exchequer envelope over the period 2018-2021 will be increased from €110m to €367 million.

This is in addition to the €200m worth of projects which are being selected to progress as part of a Public Private Partnership Programme for the higher education sector.

These combined investments will now put us in a position to make real and substantial progress in addressing the infrastructure deficits in the sector – expanding capacity in areas of key skill needs, driving regional development, orienting for demographic growth, and ensuring that core campus infrastructure is fit for purpose.

“The new investment will also support the development of Technological Universities across the country. It is my intention to have this Bill passed by Christmas and the first applications for designation will follow the enactment of the Technological Universities Bill.

I am delighted that we are responding to the increasing demographics and are providing an additional 2100 student places in higher education. The opportunity now exists for more students to avail of further education.

Throughout my career, I have been a strong advocate of opening up our Third Level institutions for students from disadvantaged communities and we are continuing to invest in broadening access to higher education. We are providing an additional €4m for access measures in 2018. This complements the €8.5m that was provided in 2017 and which will be provided again in 2018. It also complements the funding of €450m that is provided on an annual basis by the Department for access measures including the student grant scheme.

On the reform of the National Training Fund reform it is my intention to continue constructive dialogue with employer representatives to ensure the closest possible alignment of their needs and programmes run under the Department of Education.I am also providing funding to support greater gender equality in the sector and the forthcoming work of the Gender Taskforce.”

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) demonstration

Statement by Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor

Wednesday 4th Oct, 2017

In response to the demonstration today by the USI, the Minister of State, with responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor has said

“I understand the students concerns as a politician and the Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education around funding and quality in education.

This is a very important sector. The Government is aware we need to fund our third level institutions so we produce thoughtful, inspired graduates to enrich our growth as a society.   We have to ensure job-ready graduates to assist in our continuous growth as a country.  

The Government must look at long term sustainable funding streams to make sure that our universities and our Institutes of Technology continue to excel and be world class.  

The students and their families have my assurance that we are looking at all funding options outlined in the Cassells’ report and that this Government has not made any decisions on deferred funding or otherwise.  

I am adamant there will be no undue financial pressure placed on parents and students.   We simply do not want our students graduating burdened with the kind of debts that we have seen in other countries.   

We are awaiting the report from the Cross Party Education Committee on the Cassells’ report.  Once we have that report, I will bring it to cabinet and will make it one of my top priorities to ensure that there is a fair outcome for students and their parents”

Minister Bruton and Minister Mitchell O’Connor Announce New Fund to Increase Collaboration with Global Universities

€500,000 available through new programme to promote collaboration between Ireland and our global partners

Minister for Education and Skills, Mr. Richard Bruton T.D. and Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today launched ‘The International Academic Mobility Programme’. The new Programme, which will be managed by the Higher Education Authority will fund activities that lead to collaborative activity between Irish universities and global institutions in high potential markets.

A fund of €500,000 has been dedicated to the programme, giving an estimated 100-150 academics from universities, Institutes of Technology and colleges here in Ireland the opportunity to travel to and collaborate with key strategic partner institutions across the world.

It is open to teaching, technical, management and administrative personnel from eligible institutions to apply to the programme. The HEA will now run an open, competitive call for proposals with a view to making awards by the end of 2017.

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD commented “I’m delighted to launch this new programme which will support more strategic collaboration between Irish universities and our global partners. Working closely with international institutions is key to the success of our higher education sector, especially in light of Brexit, and the other global challenges and uncertainties we face. This programme will be in addition to supports already available under the Erasmus+ initiative that facilitate, for example, student exchange and partnerships between higher education institutions”.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor was also delighted to point out that “This new Academic Mobility Programme is the latest in a number of strategic actions driven by my Department, in conjunction with the international education sector here, to implement the strategic vision set out in the Government’s International Education Strategy.  It follows on from the implementation of a trebling of the number of Government of Ireland Scholarships for international students, the introduction of a 24-month stayback permission scheme for post-graduate international students and the provision of greater supports by Government to assist with the diversification of international education markets.  This also further supports Ireland’s higher education sector as it prepares for the challenges and opportunities of Brexit.”

Speech at the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Chamber County Business Awards Thursday 28 September

Cathaoirleach, Pat Neill, fellow TDs, Senators and Councillors, ladies and gentlemen: good evening! I am so thrilled to be here at the inaugural County Business Awards in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

It’s recognition of the huge contribution business makes to the vibrancy of the county and the well-being of those who live in it. The categories of award cover almost every conceivable type of business: from start up to green business. From international trade to small retailer.  And of course a top award to the Business Leader of the year.

The eclectic mix is eye catching. It reflects the wide range of business in the County.  Whether it is global multinationals in the Sandyford Business District, restaurants and pubs in Monkstown and Dalkey, or retailing in Dundrum and Dun Laoghaire the blend is alluring and attractive.

You all make a valuable contribution:

– fulfilling consumers’ expectations,

– creating worthwhile jobs and wealth,

– paying taxes,

– being good corporate citizens.

You are building a better Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

 

At Government level we are working to build a better Ireland in which the businesses, families and citizens of this County can flourish and prosper.

Look at jobs. There are now 2,063,000 people at work in Ireland. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.1 per cent; the lowest it has been since 2008. All those people at work in our County are supporting local businesses, large and small.

Most of you here are in business. As you know, my colleague Paschal Donohoe will announce Budget 2018 in twelve days. His first principle is to balance our books to keep Ireland secure in a risky world. That means paying our way and cutting borrowing, so that we can be better prepared for the uncertain future we face.

Brexit is the greatest economic challenge ahead and brings huge levels of risk and uncertainty. The challenge for the Government is to respond to uncertainty by bringing as much certainty as we can. Paschal is fond of quoting the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle who said “Doubt, of whatever kind, can be ended by action alone”. And so we need to take action. Action to prepare for the likely and unlikely outcomes of Brexit negotiations.

We need to continue to invest in and support the work of Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and our Local Enterprise Offices. We need to protect our 12.5% corporate tax rate from the renewed pressure at European level.  (That’s a red line issue for anyone who is serious about Ireland’s future on the international stage.)And we need to invest to ensure that our transport links to mainland Europe are fit for purpose for a post Brexit landscape.

On the supply side, we have to agree on how to use our recovery to invest in the change and the supports we need for better opportunities for all. That means investing taxpayers’ money carefully and with continued reform to deliver the best capital projects, services and targeted income supports. Budget 2018 will be fair and prudent. Never again will be gamble on the nation’s future.

Our challenge is to deliver more for vital infrastructure: housing, roads, energy and water. In Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, an example is upgrading the nearly 150 year old reservoir in Stillorgan which serves 200,000 people.

Or to deliver better health services, faster broadband and a more efficient public transport system. Locally, an example is more orbital bus routes around Dun Laoghaire, and more DART trains running. 

And to deliver on our promise of more housing, both social and private. That’s more affordable housing for people who want to settle down. People who want to raise families, work or return to Ireland. This week a major planning application was lodged for the new town soon to emerge at Cherrywood with 8,000 homes for 30,000 people.

As Minister for Higher Education, I am particularly focused on capital investment. Budget 2018 will allocate an additional €4.1 billion for capital investment over the next four years. The Government will be publishing a ten year capital plan for Ireland soon after the Budget. That has implications for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and the entire country.

Locally, I am confident that the Chamber, its members and the Council will play their part in delivering a better life for all.

In particular, I want to finish by once more saluting our winners here this evening. You will play a special role in realising locally what our long-term national vision will aspire to. I congratulate you and wish you continued success.

Thank you.

Returners: Our Workforce Needs You

Minister of State, Mary Mitchell O’Connor hosted a “Returners” event in the LexIcon Library, in Dun Laoghaire on Monday 25th of September.

Speakers were invited to give advice to over 100 attendees on how to make the job market work for them.

The panel included Margot Slattery, Margot is Country President of the Irish operations of food and facilities management company Sodexo. Globally Sodexo employs 430,000 people and has a work force of 3,800 in Ireland of which 59% are female. Margot is an industry leader in diversity, inclusion and flexible work practices.

Emer Kirk from Harvest Financials covered the subject of women and their pensions and how to prepare for retirement having taken time out of the work force to rear children, care for elderly relatives or due to illness.

Alan McGrath from the Higher Education Authority spoke on the courses and opportunities available to everyone to up-skill and re-skill and cited Springboard+ as being an invaluable resource to help you re-enter the work place fully skilled and equipped to face all the modern day challenges.

Alan was followed by Elaine Russell who has recently set up the Irish division of a UK franchise called Women Returners.ie. A website packed full of invaluable information on companies and industry who are keen to recruit females who want to return to work.

Paula King psychologist and coach, and CEO of Kingstown College challenged the audience to overcome confidence issues and how not to allow personal barriers stop you from challenging yourself to embark on a new career or return to a previous one.

Finally the last speaker was Ailish McGlew who returned to work after taking some time out to rear her three small children. Ailish spoke from the heart on how to make returning to the work force work for you and your family.

On the night the Minister said “As we reach full employment at a faster pace than envisioned in the programme of Government and Enterprise we have to ensure there is sufficient labour force with the right skills”

The Minister challenged her guest speakers to illuminate the route back to work for many of the attendees who had a desire to return to the work place after various extended breaks in their CVs.

Most of the local colleges and Institutes had sent representatives and a number of recruitment companies attended hoping to meet potential candidates.

At the end of the event the Minister thanked her guest speakers and the audience who took part in a lively and entertaining Q&A and said “I think we also need to encourage and facilitate employers to view ‘returners’ in a positive light. They have the ability to strengthen their skills base and have the ability to address their talent constraints”

Speech on the Launch of QQI cycle of reviews

Good afternoon.

 Francis Bacon wrote in the Advancement of Learning, Book 1,

 …if we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties”

With that in mind I am delighted to be here today to launch this first review cycle for higher education institutions, the CINNTE review cycle.

 QQI have a crucial role to play in our national higher education infrastructure. They are the national regulator for quality and quality assurance. The organisation has now been in existence for 5 years. During that time it has evolved from an organisation that inherited policies and procedures from its 4 predecessor bodies into a forward looking organisation with its own way of doing things based on its own ethos.  That has been no mean feat and I would like to take the opportunity of thanking everyone in QQI for their efforts in this regard.

 This is a challenging time for the higher education sector. We have seen funding decline since 2008 at a time when student numbers have risen considerably. These demographic trends are set to continue well into the future. This has led to concerns about the impact of quality in higher education. QQI itself recently suggested that quality was at a tipping point and that investment in the sector was urgently required. This was the same conclusion that was reached by the expert group on future funding which reported in 2016.

As Minister for Higher Education I am pleased that the Government signaled its intent in this regard in the last budget. The Department secured an additional €36.5m in Budget 2017 for higher education. That was the first increase in higher education expenditure in almost a decade. I would like to invest further in higher education through Budget 2018. Those discussions are ongoing.

The review cycle that is being launched today has a crucial role to play in contributing to quality in higher education. It is our window into what happens inside our higher education institutions. It allows us to see in a very transparent way the manner in which quality assurance is supported and enhanced in the sector.

 I am particularly interested in enhancement. We need to support and maintain quality. But it is equally if not more important to strive to improve quality.That is the challenge that QQI are setting for our higher education institutions. Institutions have an opportunity, through the review process, to showcase their examples of quality enhancement. These examples can then be shared as best practice through the publication and dissemination of the review reports. The review process is underpinned by some very important principles that are at the heart of QQI’s approach to quality assurance. I would like to highlight five in particular:

Firstly:

  • Institutional autonomy:

 Quality is the responsibility of each higher education institution in the first instance. This is an important principle and it means that everyone in an institution has a responsibility to make quality their business.

 The second one I want to highlight is

  • Transparency:

The fact that the review reports are published is an important means of promoting transparency. It also allows my Department, students, and the wider public to have confidence in the public investment that is being made in our institutions.

 Thirdly: 

  • Student involvement:

 QQI have been very active in ensuring that the student voice is recognized and reflected in their work. The involvement of student representatives in the review process is a very welcome development. Students should be at the centre of everything we are trying to achieve in higher education.

 Fourthly:

  • International context:

 The fact that the review teams will be appointed to conduct reviews will comprise international experts is very important. We can learn a lot from our international peers as well as sharing our best practice with them. This international dimension also provides added assurances about the independence of the review process.

And finally:

Administrative impact: I know that QQI are very conscious about the potential administrative impact of their work on institutions.

The potential for ‘review fatigue’ was a clear message that emerged from the ‘review of reviews’ that was conducted by QQI in 2014. QQI are working closely with the HEA in particular to ensure that their regulatory activities are planned to complement one another so that the impact on institutions is minimized as much as possible.

I think that ensuring that these principles are at the heart of the new review process      will contribute in a significant way to its future success.

I would just like to finish by acknowledging that my Department is working closely     with QQI in drafting the new Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill. This new Bill will provide QQI with new regulatory powers and will facilitate the introduction of the International Education Mark.

These future legislative developments will complement the work that QQI is       currently doing in relation to its new cycle of reviews and in other important areas.

 I would like to thank QQI and Dr Pádraig Walsh for the opportunity to be here today to launch CINNTE and I wish you every success for the future.