While there has been a decline in the rankings of some Irish institutions, Ireland performs ahead of most European countries relative to its population size and has the highest level of tertiary attainment rate for 30 to 34 year olds in Europe.
We have to be cautious about how we interpret the results of these commercial global rankings. It is clear that performance in rankings is often highly reliant on surveys of opinion and of citations in journals which do not adequately capture the full range of activities taking place in our third-level institutions. Nonetheless, they are widely read and can be influential.
I want a strong higher education system that serves the needs of all students, enterprise and other stakeholders through high-quality teaching and learning, upskilling and reskilling, research and innovation, as well as supporting the most disadvantaged to participate in higher education as part of the overall goal of delivering the best education and training system in Europe by 2026. It is important that we choose the goals and objectives and then benchmark ourselves against best international practice. The first systems performance report prepared by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and published in 2014 shows that the higher education system in Ireland is performing well against a range of international benchmarks.
I have acknowledged that funding is a key concern. The report of the expert group on future funding for higher education clearly outlines the funding challenges and offers a number of approaches and recommendations for consideration for the medium term. Higher education funding in the short term is also the focus of discussion as part of budget 2017. As committed to in the programme for Government, I referred the report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills as part of the process for formulating a plan for the future. This will ensure that all views can be heard.
We will require a broad consensus to enable us to move forward with a realistic and achievable strategy for funding the system into the future. I hope to work with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills as it analyses all of the options put forward by the expert group and allows the voices of all stakeholders and those on all sides of the debate to be heard.
In addition, the Department is working with the HEA on a revised system performance framework for higher education institutions which will establish clear goals for the system for the next five years across priority areas such as access, research and developing our pipeline of human capital.