40th Anniversary - Chairman's speech - English

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					    Address of the Chairman of the HEA on the occasion
    of the 40th anniversary of the legislation establishing
                           the HEA

Minister, members of the Authority, distinguished guests, friends
and colleagues.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you here today to mark the 40th
anniversary of the legislation that established the Higher Education
Authority. The 1960’s marked the beginning of a period of significant
change in Irish education. The provision of free secondary
education, the establishment of the Institutes of Technology as the
Regional Technical Colleges and the expansion of university
education led to a dramatic and sustained increase in educational
opportunities that has been one of the greatest achievements in
modern Irish history. Back then 1 out of every 10 school leavers
entered Higher Education, today it is close to 7 out of 10.

The establishment of the HEA was significant in that it was designed
to oversee the state’s investment in higher education [university
education initially] and to provide an overall framework for the
development of higher education. In a recent review of that period
of educational transformation, John Walsh (the Trinity College
historian of education) describes the establishment of the HEA as
“the most significant innovation in the governance of higher
education since the foundation of the Irish state” 1. The general
functions of the Authority as articulated in the founding legislation
were very forward looking at the time and continue to have an

  John Walsh (2009), The Politics of Expansion – The transformation of education policy in the Republic of
Ireland, 1957-72, p.292.
enduring relevance: “furthering the development of higher
education, assisting in the coordination of state investments,
promoting the democratisation of the structure of higher education
and promoting the attainment of equality of opportunity.”

Reflecting on developments in Irish higher education ten years after
the establishment of the HEA (1981), Professor John Coolahan
observed that “new institutions have come into being, new
coordinating and award-giving agencies, new courses and, overall, a
more dynamic third-level system”.2

Whilst there has been continuous development over the years, we
must acknowledge more recent endeavours, such as the
strengthening of research infrastructure and basic research
capability in Higher Education institutions, through the establishment
of the PRTLI programme.

Notwithstanding our current difficulties, Ireland’s success and our
continuing underlying strengths are due in large measure to the
educational vision of our predecessors during that period.

Higher education in Ireland remains crucial to our future success as a
society and an economy. And any society that wishes to continue to
prosper must constantly reenergise its systems, processes and
institutions. Ireland generally, and our higher education system in
particular, are no exceptions. The current financial environment is

    John Coolahan (1981 – reprint 2009) Irish Education: Its History and Structure, p.252
undoubtedly bleak but in all other respects, the conditions for
transformation of our education system are good. The quality of
strategic planning at institution level has improved greatly over the
last decade and the National Strategy provides a template for
planning at the national level – for the first time in many years.

Our higher education institutions, both public and private, have
shown an admirable capacity to respond to national imperatives
such as labour market challenges, financial restrictions and the
research, development and innovation agendas. And you Minister,
have shown, in the few short months you have been in office, clear
policy and political leadership, not least in your recent address to the
Royal Irish Academy.

For our part, we in the HEA look forward to working with you, your
Department and the higher education institutions to ensure that the
objectives of the National Strategy are realised. The role of the HEA
is multidimensional and complex. Resource allocation, evidence
based representation, oversight, policy development and higher
education system development come together in ways unlike any
other institution that I am familiar with. Far from being
overwhelmed by the complexity of the tasks, in my time as
Chairperson of the Authority, I have been impressed with the
dedication, commitment and can-do attitude of the staff within the
HEA. Likewise, the interest in and passion for higher education so
obviously present amongst the members of the Authority bodes well
for the ability of the HEA to deliver on its obligations in respect of the
In realising the vision set out in the Strategy we are conscious that all
the resources and expertise of the higher education sector must be
mustered. In keeping with our founding principles, we have always
promoted and nurtured the autonomy of institutions. The HEA
engages with higher education institutions in a spirit of mutual
respect, of trust and of partnership.

The HEA’s role is, I think, well captured in the process of strategic
dialogue set out in the National Strategy. It is through collaboration
and working together that Irish higher education can develop the
concentration of expertise and resources necessary to succeed on
the international stage.

In the HEA, we recognise the power of collective action and the
creativity and quality enhancement that it induces. This has been
demonstrated by the change leveraged in key areas of activity
through the Strategic Innovation Funds. What we have learned is
that the projects which have been most ambitious in their scope, and
which have been characterised by the greatest levels of
collaboration, have achieved most and had the greatest impact on
the system. We are working with your Department and with the
sector, to ensure that the collaboration and innovation supported
over recent years through the Strategic Innovation Funds, can be
built upon.

Minister, we share your keen appreciation for the

interconnectedness of the entire education ecosystem and of the
importance of complementarity in the skills and aptitudes that are
nurtured and developed at all levels of education. Each higher
education graduate is a graduate of the whole education system and
in all our planning for the education system at all levels, “quality” has
to be the key watchword. As a country we have enjoyed, and
continue to enjoy, an enviable reputation for the quality of our
graduates and the system that nurtures them. But there are,
increasingly, dissonant voices in the chorus of approval. And we
ignore them at our gravest peril, economic and social. For that
reason, Minister, the HEA strongly supports the added impetus that
you have given to reform – the on-going reform of the Junior
Certificate and the Project Maths programme; the measures you
recently announced in relation to numeracy and literacy in primary
schools and your expressed desire to see reform in the assessment
approach at Leaving Certificate.

These reforms and others should in time impact on the quality of
students entering higher education where quality outcomes have to
be THE priority of our universities and colleges. At government level,
the establishment of the Quality and Qualifications Agency will bring
much needed synergies and co-ordination. The HEA will work closely
with the Agency and will use our funding and oversight systems to
relentlessly pursue the goal of graduates that are among the best in
the world.

The occasion cannot pass without referring to the issue of
sustainability and resourcing of our higher education system. There
is never a good time to raise this issue, and particularly so when the

economy languishes in recession. But recession also presents
opportunities and perhaps now given the forecasted growth in
numbers into the system, there will not be a better time. The precise
linkages between resources and quality outcomes are not clear but
all of us understand at an intuitive level that they exist. We hope
that the sustainability study that we are now working on in the HEA
will form a sound basis for the policy decisions that need to be made
in this complex but vital area.

Passion and a can do attitude combined with an inspiring vision, a
clear set of objectives and a plan is a sure recipe for success. All of
the ingredients are in place or now within reach. In the HEA we will
in the coming weeks have finalised a Strategy implementation plan
that will see significant progress towards realising the vision of a HE

   that can meet the demand for higher education opportunities
   that can improve the quality of the student experience
   that can broaden and deepen engagement with Irish society so
    that the relevance of HE is clear to all
   that can take the investment in research and ensure a return to
    Irish society in the form of knowledge and technology transfer


   that can maximise the advantages of being a small system by
    ensuring mission differentiation and strategic diversity.

We expect to be judged on the basis of outcomes. To that end,
Minister, I now formally invite you back to the HEA in no longer than
a year to discuss with us the progress we have made.
Implementation of the Strategy is a job for many hands and it is
important that we harness the expertise and enthusiasm of the
wider higher education sector to the project. To that end we
propose, in the Autumn, to commence a series of meetings around
the country, providing an opportunity for stakeholders to make a
direct input into implementation. We all want intelligent, informed
implementation of the Strategy and I know Minister that you have
already given your support to this initiative.

You will forgive me for betraying my Munster roots when I quote the
Munster rugby adage that there must be ‘fire in the belly and ice in
the veins’ if objectives are to be delivered. In the much used, now
clichéd but still powerful phrase “Is feider linn”.

Finally I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to all staff and
Authority members, current and past, for their commitment and
contribution to Higher Education, and through it, to the Irish
economy and society.

Minister and guests, thank you for coming here today to help us
reflect on and celebrate the work and achievements of the Authority,
and we look forward if not to another 40 years at least to the next

Thank you all.

I now call on Minister, Deputy Ruairi Quinn, to address us.

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