Speeches by Androulla Vassiliou and Ruairí Quinn, Irish Minister for Education and Skills, at the "Rankings and the Visibility of Quality Outcomes in European Higher Education" Conference
Type: Complete speech
Dublin - Castle
Androulla Vassiliou, Member of the EC in charge of Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, and Ruairí Quinn, Irish Minister for Education and Skills, made speeches at the "Rankings and the Visibility of Quality Outcomes in European Higher Education" Conference on 30 January 2013 in Dublin.
A new university ranking, set up with funding from the European Union, was publicly launched that day under the Irish EU Presidency in Dublin. The new 'multi-dimensional' listing marks a departure from traditional approaches to ranking university performance, most of which focus disproportionately on research excellence. Instead, it will rate universities according to a broader range of factors, in five separate areas: reputation for research, quality of teaching and learning, international orientation, success in knowledge transfer (such as partnerships with business and start-ups), and contribution to regional growth. Some 500 universities from Europe and across the world are expected to sign up to take part in the ranking and the first results will be published in early 2014.
Only the original language version is authentic and it prevails in the event of its differing from the translated versions.
||Speech by Androulla Vassiliou, Member of the EC in charge of Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, (in ENGLISH):Dear Minister Quinn, Ladies and gentlemen,First, let me thank the Irish Presidency for hosting this conference. I am particularly grateful that you decided to focus on the quality of higher education in Europe as it goes right to the core of the challenges we face.Eighteen months ago I set out my vision of the type of higher education we need in Europe, in the Commission's Agenda for Modernising Higher Education. We need systems that are diverse, inclusive; linked to the needs of business and the labour market; that feed the development of our regions; and that help create the articulate, engaged citizens on which our democracies depend.Higher education does not exist in a vacuum, of course; to a large extent, it is dependent on the quality of all the other sectors of education. So last November I underlined the need to rethink our entire approach to organising and delivering education across the whole system, from crèche to college & Universities. Even if each education sector is different, there are many common issues that need addressing. And quality is the key.We face considerable challenges: The economic crisis, changing world demographics, the emergence of new competitors, new technologies and modes of working. All this means that Europe can no longer rest on its laurels. We need to become more outward-looking and more innovative.We need more people with high-end, university level skills and knowledge if we want to put our societies on a sustainable footing for the future.
||Speech by Androulla Vassiliou (in ENGLISH):Even now, despite the crisis, we do not have enough people to fill the highly skilled jobs that are being created. We expect these jobs to grow in number - 16 million of them - in the near future. In order to fill them, and to reach our potential as a society, we must enlarge our pool of talent. Higher education needs to become more inclusive. We must be able to draw on the talents of a wider range of people, from all sectors of society – and especially groups who have not traditionally taken part in higher education. Change is never easy. Particularly at a time of severe budgetary constraints. But it is necessary. Because many of our universities are still delivering teaching according to a 19th century model. It worked well then. It even worked well for much of the 20th century. But it is not enough anymore. If we are to provide quality, relevant higher education to more students, from diverse backgrounds, we need a new approach. Because people learn in different ways, we need to teach in different ways, through different means – and most of all, to think in different ways. New forms of teaching and learning such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are opening up new opportunities in education, and giving us a chance to reshape our systems. And we must do this in an international context which has seen many more entrants to higher education worldwide, a huge expansion in the number of providers and a rapid increase in the quality of provision in many parts of the world. Europe needs to play a central role in the current global race for talents so to become an attractive place where to study and do research.
||Speech by Androulla Vassiliou (in ENGLISH):The Commission will come forward with ideas shortly on how the EU can contribute both to the internationalisation of our higher education institutions and to the greater use of new methods of delivering learning, to help make this transformation as straightforward and as effective as possible. Our high-level group on the modernisation of Higher education, chaired by former President Mary McAleese, will soon present its recommendations on how to promote the quality of teaching and learning in a changing academic environment. These structural reforms of our systems are especially important to make our universities more relevant and reactive to the needs of our society and our economies. Within Europe we are still not managing to take the knowledge, the research and skills from within our universities and channel these into the wider world to create long-lasting benefits. Because we are not thinking strategically enough about shaping our systems for the 21st century. Companies lack the structures to link into our research and innovation potential. We do not join up education with research and innovation. Our universities are not equipping students with the entrepreneurial and work-relevant skills they need. Of course, there are exceptions. For instance the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the EIT, is proposing a new approach to innovation based on structured partnerships between universities, research centres and businesses. It has the possibility to act as a beacon for the spread of this approach across university education more generally. But these exceptions need to become the rule if we are to properly use the potential of higher education to re-energise our societies and to organise a genuine mindset change towards a more entrepreneurial culture in Europe.
||Speech by Androulla Vassiliou (in ENGLISH):But let me stress that I am not proposing a 'one-size-fits-all' model; I do not suggest that we need 4000 Harvard or Oxford lookalikes in higher education. What Europe needs is a diversity of institutions that perform well across the variety of missions of higher education – so that students benefit from the best. We all share responsibility for achieving this vision. Universities and colleges themselves, who are responsible for designing and delivering quality education. Public authorities, as active partners at regional and local level. Students and academic staff. And governments, who ensure their systems as a whole are designed and resourced to meet the changing demands. Where does the EU fit into all of this? We may not have a university to run… but we have exceptional tools and programmes to help you get the best out of yours: Erasmus, Erasmus Mundus, Marie Curie and the Research Framework programme; the EIT, the structural funds, to bring direct funding on the ground.The EU is also the best placed to help the different stakeholders to take a broader view of their performance, and create transparency beyond the national systems. For this we are developing tools and instruments to help translate one system to another, or to help one institution to collaborate with another, or to benchmark itself against its peers.This is why, at EU level, we have decided to take forward a new multidimensional university ranking - U-Multirank - to have the fullest possible picture of our higher education landscape, so that we can identify the traits that make any institution outstanding; and use this knowledge to spread excellence in a diverse landscape. Because what we need above all else, in order to drive up quality, is to ensure that students, professors and administrators are able to make deliberate choices based on objective information about the strengths and weaknesses of our institutions.
||Speech by Androulla Vassiliou (in ENGLISH):In the search for better information, rankings complement the many other valuable transparency tools that stimulate better quality and help our higher education systems work better together. Rankings can inform student choice; give feedback to institutions; help decision makers do their job. And we need to face the truth: existing ranking systems attract considerable attention on a global scale from institutions, students and the media. Whether we like it or not, we cannot ignore them, despite the diversity in the quality and usefulness of these ranking.Indeed, it is my belief that the current predominant focus of existing rankings on research does not help improve the overall level of higher education - higher education is much more than research excellence. I acknowledge also that rankings are never perfect, as the European University Association's (EUA) valuable analysis has shown. Even if some are more transparent than others, there is always a subjective element which can distort the picture. But I consider that U-Multirank is not an end in itself. Our purpose is certainly not to provide yet another blunt instrument on which reputations fall or rise.U-Multirank is different. It will allow an institution - but also departments within institutions – to benchmark itself against its peers across borders; for many, for the first time ever. And not only against its peers in Europe, but in all quarters of the globe.It won't give us a perfect view; but it can give us a much more rounded, fair and accurate image. It will help us see how international our institutions are - because it is through international networks that we can deliver quality.It will help us know how well they deliver teaching and learning; or transfer knowledge and promote innovation; or how they interact with their regions, to create skills and job opportunities and plough these back into the region. It will be user-driven; individual users will be able to produce their own personalised rankings, from a selection of institutions that meet their needs.
||Speech by Androulla Vassiliou (in ENGLISH):In this way, U-Multirank will help students find the university or college that is right for them. It will help institutions make strategic decisions based on knowledge about what they do well, or what they need to improve, compared to their peers. It will provide information that policy makers can use to guide their decision making.U-Multirank will help us to do all this. That is why it is fully worth the investment in time, energy and resources.It will be a tool for all types of institution, not just the top 500 research institutions. Because Europe needs excellent universities across all missions: excellent research universities, of course; but also universities that excel in teaching, or in their international or regional footprint. It will not be a one-shot exercise. U-Multirank is an evolving instrument that will need to improve over time.
||Speech by Androulla Vassiliou (in ENGLISH):But today we are launching the start of the implementation phase for this new ranking to become concrete. I will not hide that it is an ambitious initiative and we have many challenges to overcome to make it a full success. One of the main challenges will be in the collection of data, as some of these data will have to come directly from the institutions. In this perspective, I consider that it is extremely important that U-Multirank is not seen as an initiative which is done to the universities but with the universities. U-Multirank is first and foremost there for you, and I hope that through this conference everyone can understand the benefits of participating. That is why I am so pleased that we have such a diversity of higher education stakeholders at this conference, from students and policy makers to institutions and organisations. And I would like to launch an appeal to all of you to join and participate in this initiative. If we are to publish the first edition of the ranking already next year, the work begins now. It is important, because we want all stakeholders to get involved, we need all of them to be part of the process of growing U-Multirank, so we can build right from the start on the very diversification of European higher education that we want to promote achieving greater transparency for higher quality.
||Speech by Ruairí Quinn, Irish Minister for Education and Skills, (in ENGLISH): Good afternoon,I am delighted to welcome you all to Dublin Castle for the first Education event of this Irish Presidency. In particular, I extend a warm welcome to Commissioner Vassiliou and her colleagues. We very much look forward to working closely with them over the next six months to achieve our shared aims for the European education and training sector.I am also really pleased to welcome the speakers and delegates who have travelled from as far a field as the United States and from all over Europe to enjoy our Irish hospitality and participate in this conference on rankings and increasing the visibility of quality across our higher education systems.
||Speech by Ruairí Quinn (in ENGLISH): The theme of the Irish Presidency as you know is Stability, Jobs and Growth. The challenges facing Europe are well documented. But within that context, I cannot overstate the case for the need for the modernisation of higher education so clearly defined in the Commission’s communication of last year.As Europeans, we must act constructively together to enhance the quality and attractiveness of our higher education across the continent. We have already witnessed significant milestones in the integration of higher education across Europe as a result of the Bologna Process. But Europe now faces competitiveness challenges on a new scale in the emerging global economic order of the 21st Century. We need to act decisively to ensure that the EU economy can emerge from the current economic crisis in a position of strength, innovation and creativity. The capacity and potential of Europe’s higher education systems to support innovation and growth and to provide highly skilled human talent is at the forefront of that challenge. We know that social stability, the creation of jobs and the economic growth that we require to get out of our current predicament, is all underpinned by the quality of knowledge produced and disseminated in our education system.Our ability to produce graduates with the right mix of skills for the needs of 21st Century will underpin equal opportunity for a prosperous future for all of our citizens.We are all aware of the emergence of vibrant, rapidly growing higher education systems in growing economies, and the economic importance of higher education in the US.
||Speech by Ruairí Quinn (in ENGLISH): The agenda for modernising our systems of higher education is fundamental to the continuing prosperity of European member states and citizens. European actions can and must add value. It is estimated that there are 15,000 Universities and Higher Education Institutions in the world.4000 of them, or just over one quarter, are located within the European Union.They contain some 19 million students and some 1.5 million academics. That amounts to a very powerful potential. Our universities are among the oldest in the world and, in some cases, the world’s best. As policy makers we need to be ambitious in stating and in realising the full potential of European higher education as an engine of future competitive advantage. That means thinking and acting collectively in pursuing reforms; In identifying opportunities for collaboration within Europe In advancing the profile and performance of our institutions on a wider global stage. These are not new challenges.
||Speech by Ruairí Quinn (in ENGLISH):However, increasing globalisation, current economic turbulence and rapidly advancing technological developments demand action now.To deliver on these, we will need to support a system of diverse institutions that can cater for increasingly diverse demands and pursue excellence on a range of fronts, and we need to do all this against the background of communications and information technology which is transforming third level education.However, I have a real concern that I know is shared by many of you in this room. The pursuit of excellence is at risk of being reduced to a narrow pursuit of high profile league table rankings. Some of these are based on limited and sometimes flawed or questionable indicators. I mean no disrespect to those involved in compiling these and other similar rankings. They are working from limited data sources and have sought hard to develop and refine their measurements. But we do need to recognise the dangers of encouraging a culture of ‘playing the rankings’ in higher education to the detriment of more rounded and important quality development objectives. However, the media and the public have an enormous appetite for these ranking systems, despite their flaws. And of course that points to a very real public need to see into the heart of the higher education institutions that play such a pivotal role in our communities and economies.
||Speech by Ruairí Quinn (in ENGLISH):The Great English Philosopher of the 16th Century, Sir Francis Bacon, said that “Knowledge is power”. This remains true to this day - access to information empowers all our citizens. With today’s advanced technology we have a duty to facilitate this.Robust and relevant information on the true quality of institutions, systems and programmes at both national and at the global level is a high priority. That is why I have been a strong vocal supporter of U-Multirank. It is a ranking system properly developed can capture and reward many attributes that are not currently evaluated in current international league tables. It will help to feed that appetite for more granular and complex information that will be of real value to students, employers and other constituencies. It can capture multiple forms of excellence that underline the parity of importance of diverse forms of higher education institutions.Rankings are an increasingly important determinant of attracting students from different member states as well as international students from across the globe. A robust, rounded EU ranking model can significantly enhance the reputation and attractiveness of European higher education institutions to the wider world. It will do this by providing readily accessible information on our institutions and programmes and by acknowledging and promoting institutional excellence in its many forms.
||Speech by Ruairí Quinn (in ENGLISH):The success of U-Multirank will depend on widespread participation of higher education institutions. I strongly urge such institutions to seize this opportunity to participate in building a ranking system which will shine a light on the many positive aspects of higher education activity across Europe for the benefit of students, institutional leaders, policy makers and other stakeholders.It is of crucial importance that the full range of higher education institutions are represented in this new ranking system – from the research intensive older universities of Europe through to the newer universities of applied sciences and institutes of technology with their strong enterprise focussed mission. During the Irish Presidency and throughout the 18 months of the combined Irish, Lithuania and Greek Presidencies, the presidential TRIO, this will be a theme of our shared endeavour.I will be asking our Universities and Third Level Institutions to participate fully in this ranking system.Next month at the Education Minister’s meeting in Brussels, I will be asking each Minister and Member State to encourage their institutions who have not become involved, to do as soon as possible.If we can successfully illuminate a map of the diversity which exists in our European higher education systems then we can ensure that all aspects are equally valued and evaluated – comparing like with like – so that we can work towards the quality and excellence of outcomes to which we all aspire.
||Speech by Ruairí Quinn (in ENGLISH):Henry Ford, the Irish-American automobile innovator, once said “Quality means doing it right when no-one is looking”. I know that for generations our higher education institutions in Europe have been doing just that with the quiet pursuit of excellence as its own reward. But now the whole world is watching higher education and we must embrace far greater transparency so that we can exponentially improve quality across its many dimensions.I am determined that quality and equity in education and training will be advanced through the Irish Presidency.This will entail a particular focus on promoting access and increasing relevance to emerging skills needs through the development of quality assurance and greater regional engagement.This conference is the first step of this Presidency in advancing that wider modernisation agenda. The Higher Education Authority have put together a varied and interesting programme ahead in the next two days and I am really delighted to see such a wide range of perspectives feeding into this important topic. I hope that you will all join me later tonight for dinner in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, another beautiful historical building in Dublin, where I look forward to picking up the strands of discussion begun today in a more informal setting.