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Irish universities launch special charter and campaign to save their spark

Ireland’s universities have joined forces to transform capacity and performance in order to deliver a sustainable, competitive university system. To do this, they have launched “Ireland’s Future Talent – A Charter for Irish Universities”. At the same time, the universities kicked off “Save our Spark”, a campaign that urges the public to get involved in pushing the government to tackle the funding crisis.

On 17 September 2018, Ireland’s seven universities launched a Charter to grow and develop the Irish university education system for current and future generations of students. “Ireland’s Future Talent – A Charter for Irish Universities” commits to transform capacity and performance across a range of key criteria to deliver a sustainable, competitive university system for Ireland’s foreseeable needs.

The first of its kind in Ireland’s tertiary education history, the Charter was developed by the Irish Universities Association. It is a response to the Irish government’s stated target of making the Irish education system the “best in Europe” by 2026. Irish universities share that ambition. However, making it a reality, while maintaining and enhancing the quality of Irish graduates across all disciplines, requires substantial ongoing change. It also requires a significant increase in funding for Ireland’s universities, which have faced a decade of public under-investment.

As it stands, the scale of this funding deficit continues to grow, as more and more students enter the system due to the demographic bulge. The student population in Irish universities will likely surge by 25,000 by 2030, an increase of more than 20%. This will place additional strain on a system now struggling to cope, having already absorbed a 30% increase in students while funding was cut over the past decade. Moreover, a transformation of how university education is controlled is needed, giving universities more flexibility to innovate, coupled with strong governance and accountability.

The Charter sets out an ambitious and targeted collective strategy for the sector. It identifies six central objectives in order to deliver an Irish university system that is prepared for the evolving demands of society and the competitive international education environment. Under each main objective, listed below, Irish universities make a number of specific commitments, and in turn state what support they need to deliver.

  1. Build on the quality of the student experience in a digital age.
  2. Increase the scale, scope and impact of investment in research and innovation.
  3. Expand student access and increase engagement with communities and industry.
  4. Support a programme of staff development and increased equality and diversity.
  5. Create more flexible and accountable structures.
  6. Secure the investment and resources to achieve our ambitions.

While the Charter captures the universities’ commitment to deliver, it is now incumbent on the Irish government to meet the challenge of a decade of under-investment in the university sector. Irish universities have delivered more with less over the last decade while long-awaited policy decisions on closing the funding gap have been delayed.

To that end, on 15 October 2018, Ireland’s seven universities launched a major campaign aimed at encouraging the public to demand that the government tackles the funding crisis. Another first of its kind, the “Save our Spark” campaign was also developed by the Irish Universities Association.

The campaign asks students and alumni, university staff, their friends and family, and everyone with an interest in the future of Irish universities to get informed, sign a petition and contact their public representatives urging them to take action. A series of advertisements are running on national and regional radio stations and in print on trains and buses around the country, as well as in all seven university campuses. A short video was also specially created to highlight that universities are where the Irish spark burns brightest and the key to protecting that spark is securing better state funding. This video is being promoted across social media and has reached nearly 200,000 views. The campaign which will run until end November has received much attention and support with, at the time of writing, nearly 5,000 petition signatures.

All views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.

All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.

Nora Trench Bowles

Nora Trench Bowles is Policy and Research Officer at the Irish Universities Association.

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