Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Hunt Report: Key Recommendations

Key recommendations from the Hunt Report (or National Strategy for Higher Education) have been announced today in the Irish Independent. The Hunt Report has been discussed by Kevin and myself before on this blog. On a previous occasion, I also flagged a report entitled: "Policy Options for New Student Contributions in Higher Education", which dates from July 2009. There is no sign of the Hunt Report on the websites of the Higher Education Authority or the Department for Education and Skills. However, the Education and Skills website does have a link to "Strategy for Higher Education" on its homepage; but this link does not appear to be working. The key recommendations from the Hunt Report, as announced in today's Irish Independent, are as follows:

* Means test for families of students applying for higher education grants to be extended to include assets.
* Mergers of institutes of technology and of smaller colleges.
* Lower fees in key subject areas where there are skill shortages.
* Performance-related pay for college staff but much greater transparency of their workload.
* Increase investment in research and development to 3pc of national income, nearly double the present level.
* No university status for the Waterford and Dublin institutes of technology.

Addendum: The above set of recommendations do not say anything about a student contribution, something that many observers had been expecting. of course, the recommendations listed above may not reflect the entirety of the full report. Also, the other report mentioned above - Policy Options for New Student Contributions in Higher Education - covers the issue of a student contribution comprehensively, for those who are interested. Update: According to another article in today's Irish Independent: "For years, an argument has raged as to whether tuition fees should be brought back or student loans introduced. Controversially, it (the Hunt Report) recommends both." According to a third article in today's Irish Independent, students would have the option of paying part or all of their fees up-front or taking out a loan. The third article also mentions that the report recommends a stronger Higher Education Authority - which would monitor performance by colleges and keep back some funding until they improved their performance. I discussed the potential pitfalls of such an approach before on the blog here.

In relation to the recommendation on means-testing, this issue was previously investigated by an expert group led by Dr Donal De Buitleir in 1993. That group made recommendations to improve the fairness of maintenance grant awards. It was proposed that family assets, including businesses and large farms, be taken into account as well as declared taxable income when eligibility for maintenance grants is being calculated. In addition, an OECD panel of international experts looked at the De Buitleir recommendation in 2005 and strongly urged that it be implemented. So it can be argued that the implementation of this recommendation is long overdue in Irish higher education. Myself and Kevin discuss the above, and other aspects of Irish policy relating to higher education in this blog-post: How Education Policy is Made.

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