Plans to create a regional higher education cluster in the West could be completed within the next year, the President of NUI Galway has said.
Mr Jim Browne this week called on Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to fast-track plans for a new education ‘landscape’, in the wake of proposals from the Irish Universities Association to reconfigure the current high education system into five regional clusters.
The arrangement would see NUI Galway join GMIT, Sligo IT, Letterkenny IT, St Angela’s College in Sligo and Shannon College of Hotel Management in a new umbrella group for the West of Ireland. Mr Browne said this arrangement would allow for major reductions to the cost of education provision.
“There is a certain amount of duplication of programmes within regions, so we would try to remove duplication and that would ultimately make education cheaper. We would want to make sure that everything was provided for and there may be gaps in education, so by working together across the region, we can see what gaps there are and try to provide for those,” he said.
Mr Browne added that the clusters would also allow colleges to share resources via web and videoconferencing, as well as sharing specialist staff and offering students a wider range of facilities “without incurring huge costs”.
He added that using region as the criteria for grouping colleges was preferable as the “great majority” of Irish students go to their regional provider, rather than moving to other cities as is common in the UK.
“If this were to work, it couldn’t be a voluntary collaboration; you would need a structure to be created and that’s where the Minister for Education comes in. I would be fairly confident, as the Minister seems very keen to do this.”
The move comes in response to the Hunt Report, published in January 2011, which called for a reduction in the number of higher education providers in Ireland. The HEA will also publish its plans for the seven universities, 14 institutes of technology and over 20 colleges in the coming weeks.
GMIT President Michael Carmody also welcomed the idea of regional clusters, saying it was “definitely the way forward”.
“Higher institutions are expensive undertakings and we certainly feel that a co-ordinated approach to programmes and sharing resources and services would be a positive step. It would also improve pathways for getting into the college from further education and between colleges, moving from level to level, as well as cross-research.”
He also conceded that the amalgamation should probably have come at an earlier stage.
“It probably should have but, up to the last number of years, most institutions were really trying to cater for the growth in numbers, rather than worrying what everyone else is doing. The current economic situation obviously forced the issue but it will make things much more efficient.”