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Posted 13 May 2011

HEA Chairman: Higher education system must prioritise pursuit of excellence

Ireland’s higher education system needs to adapt to reward excellence, and universities, institutes and colleges should have greater control over Human Resource policies and practices in their institutions, according to John Hennessy, the Chairman of the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Addressing delegates at the All Ireland Conference of the Association of University Administrators at University College Dublin on 12 May 2011, Hennessy said:

“A concern I would have for the higher education sector is that there appears to be limited effort to devise and implement a strategy to identify and reward institutions, faculties and individuals that are doing best.”

The former Chief Executive of Ericsson Ireland believes that for the Irish Higher Education system to compete globally, it “must place increased focus on the labour market future needs together with emphasis on Ireland’s future economic and social development, and that when these are identified, higher education institutions should adapt their structures to meet those needs”.

“A key differentiation between the private sector and the public sector is to be found in HR policies,” he said. “There are good reasons for this differentiation, relating to the different missions and structures of organisations in the two sectors.  That said - the degree to which universities and institutes have very limited control over key levers in HR management is a major difference in our system.”

“Combined with the rigidities that have built up in working practices, contractual terms and tenure arrangements, our institutions are hamstrung in a way that many of our strongest international competitors are not,” he added.

During his address at University College Dublin on 12 May 2011, Hennessy also stressed the importance of critical thinking as a key element of a third level education and stated that all students should experience arts and humanities subjects in their first year of college, being a critical element of creating ’employability for life and leadership’.

The All Ireland Conference of the Association of University Administrators at University College Dublin included plenary sessions from other key figures in the Higher Education sector including the President of UCD, Dr Hugh Brady; Stephan Vincent-Lancrin, Senior Education Analyst at the OECD; and Pat Clancy, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UCD.

Key outcomes from the plenary sessions included:

  • Decisions and solutions to issues in Higher Education require an ‘administrative voice’ in partnership with academic inputs
  • Universities must work to reduce the ‘distances between hierarchies of staff’ in order to secure the best outcomes for students
  • Universities must create the conditions for ‘all staff’to advance new ideas - in line with the spirit of overall public reform agenda.

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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John Hennessy, Chairman of the HEA
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