Universities give monitoring system a cautious welcome

A new systems performance framework has been given a cautious welcome by Irish universities. It sets out performance objectives under each of the four pillars of the framework – teaching and learning, research and innovation, access and participation, and engagement – and is seen as an improvement on the previous iteration which specified dozens of metrics and indicators.

“It was too restrictive and ended up as a box-ticking exercise. This one seems to offer more flexibility,” a university source told University World News.

Others are more cautious, preferring to wait for the details of individual performance agreements which have yet to be finalised between the institutions and the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the state body charged with the strategic development of the higher education system.

A new HEA act last year strengthened the authority which controls public funding for all higher education institutions. The performance agreements will be published on the HEA website to promote the transparency of process and ensure accountability across the system.

“The framework is designed to be flexible and responsive, enabling institutions to demonstrate their unique input to the delivery of national priorities and the strength of the higher education and research system as a whole,” said Dr Alan Wall, CEO of the authority.

“Each institution’s performance objectives will also reference the transversal areas of impact identified by the framework, reflecting national system level priorities such as student success, climate and sustainable development, and digital transformation.

“Together, the pillars and transversals of the framework present institutions with a flexible mechanism to identify performance objectives that are aligned to institutional strategy and to address challenges and opportunities such as the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI),” added Wall.

A lot of information

Although regarded as better, the latest framework still requires the institutions to supply a lot of information. For instance, having selected their objectives for each of the four pillars they have to provide a rationale for each choice.

This should include information on alignment with the institution’s strategy and contribution to institutional strategic objectives as well as alignment with national strategy and contribution to national policy objectives with reference to specific national, supranational, or intergovernmental policies, strategies, or agreements.

Institutions must also outline the evidence base that informed selection of the performance objective. This should outline how analysis of baseline and benchmarking data informed the strategic prioritisation of each performance objective and provide a rationale for the targets selected.

They need to state whether the performance objective represents achievement of minimum or foundational level, maintenance of current performance or continuing development in a priority area, or ambition to be a leader in the sector, system, or internationally. This may include reference to relevant previous achievements or learning.

Institutions will then specify how each of the four objectives will be implemented, monitored, assessed and reported. They should include information on:

• Management and reporting structures relevant to the performance objective, including identification of roles responsible for oversight;

• How the performance objective will be achieved, including identification of specific strategic actions that will support success;

• Resource provision associated with the performance objective and how this will contribute to success;

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