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:
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.