Strategic Innovation Fund
As part of the Irish Government’s response to the OECD’s Review of Higher Education in Ireland (2004), the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) was launched in 2006 to support the enhancement of quality and effectiveness across the higher education sector. Specifically the SIF was established as a mechanism for institutional restructuring and modernisation; for the enhancement of teaching and learning; for the development of postgraduate education and research; and for the improvement of equity of access into, and progression through, higher education. Inter-institutional collaboration has been a distinctive feature of the SIF, as has the leveraging of existing resources (through the matched-funding provided by participating institutions) to advance strategic national priorities.
The SIF was originally conceived as a multi-annual fund of €510 million to be allocated on a competitive basis throughout the course of the National Development Plan (NDP), (2007–2013); and two four-year cycles of the SIF were initiated, in 2006 and 2008 respectively, through which a total of €144 million was awarded to projects as detailed in the table below.
|Thematic area of projects funded||SIF 1||SIF 2||Total|
|Teaching and learning||€9m||€40m||€49m|
|Graduate education and research||€10m||€21m||€31m|
|Lifelong learning and upskilling||€4m||€16m||€20m|
From late 2008 the global economic downturn and the severe deterioration in Irish public finances precipitated significant reductions in the allocation of SIF funds, and the eventual curtailment of the programme. As a result of these reductions, the total funds allocated to institutions under the SIF during its lifespan of 2006–2012 were as detailed in the table below.
|SIF 1 & 2||€15.0m||€16.0m||€27.0m||€18.9m||€13.9m||€1.25m||€92.05m|
The HEA’s management of these declining resources was informed by two evaluations of the programme that took place in 2010: a HEA-commissioned interim evaluation undertaken by Dr. Gordon K. Davies, the report of which was published in February 2010; and an audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), on which a report was issued in September 2010. These reports, which can be accessed via the links below, recommended the consolidation and mainstreaming of the key achievements of the SIF across the higher education sector, towards which the HEA moved through an internal review of the SIF that was cognisant of Davies’s ranking of the projects. All funding for SIF projects as stand-alone projects concluded at the end of 2011.
Approximately €2.5 million of the 2011 SIF budget was allocated strategically to a small number of SIF consortia, identified by the HEA in consultation with the Department of Education and Skills (DES) as of potential strategic national importance. These targeted allocations to key SIF projects in the areas of teaching and learning, engagement, and equity of access to higher education were made in order to foster the formation of regional and national platforms in strategic priority areas, and to support the implementation of the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, thus optimising the benefit of SIF investment for the sector.
Building on this strategic investment, the small budget allocated to the SIF in 2012 (originally €4 million, but reduced to €750k), along with unspent SIF funds accrued, was used by the HEA to support the establishment of hubs for enterprise engagement, civic engagement, and entrepreneurship, which are being led by the REAP, Campus Engage, and ACE consortia respectively. It also contributed to the start-up funding provided by the HEA for the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.