Eleven action points from Purser Study on harmonising regulations, awarding joint degrees and integrating credit transfer arrangement between universities on the island of Ireland

Study on harmonising regulations, awarding joint degrees and integrating credit transfer arrangements between the nine universities on the island of Ireland

Action Points for Universities Ireland


The objective of harmonising regulations, awarding joint degrees and providing integrated credit transfer systems across all universities on the island of Ireland is to encourage the optimal use – by students, stakeholders and the universities themselves – of the collective potential represented by the nine universities.

The numbers of existing joint programmes and of participating students show that these are unlikely to become large-scale initiatives. However, given the relatively small size of all universities in Ireland and the broad range of disciplines currently available, the joint programmes examined in the UI study show that significant academic, economic and cultural advantages can be gained for both individuals and institutions by creating and sustaining such programmes in strategic fields.

Furthermore, in those academic areas where rationalisation has begun or is a future possibility, harmonising regulations, joint degrees and integrated credit transfer arrangements would be of significant use in ensuring continuity for students and staff and the necessary disciplinary range.

Action points

The following action points arising from the report are put forward in order to add value to the work of individual universities by encouraging inter-institutional cooperation in key niche areas.

  • Hold a high-level seminar to discuss in which strategic fields inter-institutional work could be most useful, and in particular where small scale joint projects could be most effective in order to start such work.
  • Set up a working group to examine the feasibility of establishing inter-institutional, all-Ireland doctoral and graduate schools in strategic fields where critical mass could be achieved (e.g. bioengineering, nutrition).
  • Establish a post-graduate and doctoral catalogue covering all 9 universities – (eg www.postgradireland.com), and link this to www.expertiseireland.com . Use this for the aggressive marketing of Irish Masters and Doctoral programmes abroad.
  • Build on existing cross-border and European networks to encourage joint participation, North and South, in European programmes such as Erasmus Mundus (there are currently no Northern Ireland universities in this programme). Several existing cross-border programmes could potentially also include a wider European dimension and be eligible for substantial European funding.
  • In the light of changing national and international contexts, reconvene the UI group of international officers and Vice-Presidents for international affairs (which last met in December 2003) to explore how joint programmes in strategic and innovative fields could attract greater numbers of high quality overseas students to universities in Ireland.
  • Establish a consultative process to develop internal institutional guidelines regarding the collaborative provision of modules, programmes and degrees. Only a narrow gap remains to be bridged between the internal regulations of each institution, in order for such provision to be possible on an inter-university and even island-wide basis.
  • Commission a short study as to how ECTS and NICATS (or the new UK credit system) can, by focusing on outcomes, be used more strategically to overcome national and institutional differences in assessment practices and grading systems. Both ECTS and NICATS have worked effectively with US and other European partners. Only a few small steps would need to be taken to ensure satisfactory sector-wide arrangements regarding recognition of qualifications and mobility on a North-South basis.
  • Set up a working group to examine the feasibility of establishing joint validation procedures between universities wishing to set up new programmes and courses on a collaborative basis. A joint validation approach for such collaborative work would be considerably more effective and efficient than current practices.
  • Convene a seminar to examine the desirability of awarding joint degrees between universities across the island, and look at the agreement already reached between University of Ulster and HETAC (MSc in innovation management) as an example of how this can be achieved.
  • Open discussions with HEA , DEL and HEFCE regarding the need to include cross-border teaching and learning and research networks in both national funding frameworks, including through the mainstream research funding mechanisms.
  • Through a consultative process, define areas of major interest to key North-South stakeholders (particularly business bodies such as InterTradeIreland, the North/South Roundtable Group and the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council) in order to enlist their support for high visibility cross-border programmes in strategic areas.

Lewis Purser
July 2005