Monday, January 10, 2011

Some intitial thoughts on the Hunt Report

The National Strategy for Higher Education document or the "Hunt Report", as it is known was published on Tuesday, January 11th.

The lengthy document covers a range of topics in the higher-ed sector; from access to third-level to standards in teaching and funding for the sector.

The 110-plus paged report, compiled by the Higher Education Strategy Group, led by Dr. Colin Hunt, was delayed for some months, although a draft version of the report had been in the public domain for some time.

So, what do I think?

Well, judging by the draft version and an early look at the final version, the document seems to have high aspirations, but the authors themselves recognise that much of the recommendations they make will be dependent on securing increased funding for the third-level sector.

That aside, the report makes a number of recommendations which are to be welcomed:

  • Teaching and Learning - the report rightly emphasises the importance of appropriate teacher training for third-level teachers. The report recommends that ,"academic staff should make full use of the range of pedagogical methodologies available to them and be qualified as teachers as well as in their chosen discipline". As the authors of the report rightly point out; teachers at other levels of the education system require qualifications - from primary to secondary. Other professions such as medicine, dentistry, law and engineering all have rigorous standards and it is  not unreasonable that teaching staff in the third-level sector should also need to be suitably qualified.

  • Funding - As unpalatable as it may be for some, there is now a growing recognition that some form of user-contribution is required to ensure a steady stream of exchequer funding for the sector. The report states that a requirement for students or graduates "to directly share in the cost of their education, reflecting the considerable private returns that they can expect to enjoy" is now "the only realistic option".

  • E-learning - The report notes that conventional teaching methods "will increasingly be complemented by e-learning (including podcasting and online discussion groups), self-directed learning, problem-based learning, and collaborative projects.” This is due recognition for those in the sector who are pioneering the use of Web 2.0 technology in third-level teaching.

  • First-Years - I've written previously about the problems students face in their first year in college when they are making the transition from the often rote learning of the Leaving Certificate to the very different culture at third-level. The Hunt report focuses particularly on the problems of first year, stressing that it should "serve as a 'foundation of learning activities entailing more enquiry-based formats and engendering employability and lifelong learning outcomes". The report specifically warns against over-specialisation in the early years of an undergraduate degree.

Whit the final version of the Hunt Report now published, its size will require some reading and analysis to see just what it is saying about third-level education in Ireland. From this early reading, it seems there is much that can welcomed in the report. However, as the authors recognise, there are significant funding issues which need to be overcome if all the recommendations are to be implemented.

1 comments:

Jeremy Stone January 10, 2011 at 11:40 PM  

I completely agree with your analysis so far Eoin!

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