Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh has welcomed the publication of reports from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) aimed at achieving greater cohesion within the third level sector but has also called on the Government to do its utmost to improve education standards as the threat of losing thousands of jobs for the country looms.

Senator Walsh said: “Fianna Fáil recognises that there is a need to centralise resources within the higher education sector in a way that will benefit students at all levels. The previous Government began the process of examining how we can bring about better cooperation between third level institutions to ensure that resources are used to the maximum effect and that students are given the best possible opportunities that the sector can offer.

Senator Walsh has raised the performance of Irish universities in the latest QS University rankings in the Seanad: “I am deeply concerned that the international league table of universities saw six of out of the top seven third level institutions drop in their rankings recently. We must have quality management and there is a need now on the part of the government to avoid complacency when it comes to ensuring that the third level sector is fit for purpose for the economy.”

“The consistent increase in funding for third level has produced major results. In 1980, 20% of all 18 year olds went on to higher education but by 2009 it had risen to 65%.  Ireland has moved rapidly up the ranks of OECD countries for third level attendance, with one third of adults qualified to higher education level.  In 2007 Ireland was also noted as being 5th highest of all OECD countries in terms of the higher educational attainment levels of young adults aged between 25 to 34.”

Senator Walsh said that a greater emphasis is needed on innovation in the third level sector.

“This could be achieved through a number of initiatives including extending the number of hours actually spent on lecturing and ensuring a high-quality of lecturing.

“Education will be key to the recovery of the economy. The government needs to address this in its jobs strategy. There needs to be a strong government emphasis on the smart economy; through ICT, research and development and the sciences. If we continue to develop and nurture highly skilled workers, it will attract more inward investment.

“The possibility of merging some third level institutions with an emphasis on ICT is another possibility that should be explored and this is now part of a consultation process between institutions and the HEA.

“However, throughout this process we must ensure to maintain equality of access to third level for all students in every part of the country.  It is vital that access to third level education is not hindered in any way. In fact, the entire focus of this process must be the students and enhancing their learning experience at third level.”