Reader’s guide

The reader’s guide provides information on the HEInnovate conceptual framework and online tool. It presents the methodology used in the Irish county review and concludes with a brief overview of the chapters in this report.


The HEInnovate framework

Conceptual framework

Higher education is changing across European Union and OECD countries and there is a growing expectation from policy makers and society that higher education institutions (HEIs) should evolve into a new type of economic actor. Entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education are no longer only associated with business start-ups and technology transfer but are increasingly understood as core elements of a procedural framework for how organisations and individuals behave. For example, in how links between teaching and research are created and nurtured, how societal engagement and knowledge exchange are organised, how resources are built and managed for effective partnerships, and how new entrepreneurs are supported.

Transforming (traditional) HEIs into entrepreneurial and innovative organisations is neither an easy nor a straightforward endeavour. It requires commitment of resources into areas of change and high impact which, in turn, needs to build on a strategic collaboration between policy makers, HEI leaders, staff, students, and partners in the local economy. The aim of HEInnovate is to stimulate and contribute to this strategic collaboration with a guiding framework that describes the innovative and entrepreneurial higher education institution through a set of good practice criteria that has been distilled from an ongoing analysis of current HEI practices across European Union and OECD countries.

HEInnovate was developed collaboratively by the Directorate-General for Education and Culture (DG EAC) of the European Commission and the Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Local Development and Tourism of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Also contributing was a network of innovation and entrepreneurship professors and experts from across European Union countries. The stimulus for HEInnovate was the University-Business Forum in March 2011, an annual event organised by the European Commission for HEIs and their key strategic partners. Delegates expressed a need for support and guidance in implementing practices that will help them become more innovative and entrepreneurial institutions.

A working definition was agreed which describes the innovative and entrepreneurial HEI as “designed to empower students and staff to demonstrate enterprise, innovation and creativity in teaching, research, and engagement with business and society. Its activities are directed to enhance learning, knowledge production and exchange in a highly complex and changing societal environment; and are dedicated to create public value via processes of open engagement”. How this can be translated into daily practice in HEIs is described through 37 statements, which are organised within the following seven dimensions (please refer to the Annex for the full HEInnovate framework and good practice statements):

  1. Leadership and Governance

  2. Organisational Capacity: Funding, People and Incentives

  3. Entrepreneurial Teaching and Learning

  4. Preparing and Supporting Entrepreneurs

  5. Knowledge Exchange and Collaboration

  6. The Internationalised Institution

  7. Measuring the Impact

HEInnovate online tool

A freely available online self-assessment tool ( covering the seven dimensions of the “entrepreneurial university” was developed for HEIs to organise a participatory stock-taking exercise to review achievements and identify areas for improvement. It is possible to involve a wide range of stakeholders (leadership, staff, academic and administrative staff, key partner organisations etc.), and to repeat the exercise over time. Users can choose to remain anonymous and data is accessible only to users. The seven dimensions are available in all EU Member State languages.

Explanations of the statements, a growing number of cases studies, multi-media material and workshop facilitation tools, make the online tool inspirational and very user-friendly. Users can work with all dimensions or choose dimensions that are most relevant for their purpose. For example, users could choose to focus on “Organisational Capacity” and “Knowledge Exchange” if the purpose is to (re)organise collaboration with external stakeholders.

An instant reporting function generates a snapshot of the status quo and potential areas of change in the chosen dimensions, comparing the rating of the user/user group to the global/HEI mean. The report points users to guidance material and case study examples with information on concrete actions that HEIs can undertake to enhance their performance in the respective dimension(s). Results are stored and can be compared over time.

There are various examples of how HEIs have been using the HEInnovate online tool. Several HEIs have been using it to organise a creative consultation process around their institutional strategy (e.g. Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK), to design new cross-faculty education programmes (e.g. University of Aveiro in Portugal), for the re-organisation of entrepreneurship support infrastructure (Dundalk Institute of Technology in Ireland), or for the organisation of knowledge exchange activities (e.g. University of Ruse in Bulgaria).

HEInnovate country review methodology

The seven dimensions and good practice statements are also used for HEInnovate policy and system reviews at country level or regional level. The aim of these reviews is to provide a roadmap for strengthening the innovative and entrepreneurial higher education institution. Following an approach that involves a wide range of stakeholders from within the reviewed country (policy makers, HEI leaders, academic and administrative staff members, researchers etc.) and experts and peers from other countries, key areas of strength and areas for improvement are identified and analysed. Recommendations are presented for policy measures that can be implemented by national and sub-national governments, as well as for actions that HEIs can take to act upon opportunities and overcome barriers. The reviews also help to identify and examine examples of good practice from other countries that could provide relevant inspiration.

Recent HEInnovate country reviews have been undertaken in Bulgaria, Ireland, Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands and further reviews will be undertaken with interested governments.

Method applied in the country-level review of Ireland

The HEInnovate country review of Ireland was undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Education and Skills Ireland, the Higher Education Authority and Quality and Qualifications Ireland. The methodology used in the Irish review was the same as in other HEInnovate reviews and includes the steps described below.

1. Selection of case study HEIs

The selection of HEIs to be covered in the study visits was undertaken collaboratively by the review partners. Several factors were considered during the selection of HEIs, including type of institution and academic focus (e.g. general university, applied sciences university, etc.), size (e.g. number of students) and location (e.g. rural, urban). Applications were sought from HEIs to participate in the review and subsequently the Department of Education and Skills and the OECD jointly selected five higher education institutions for an in-depth study. These were Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Limerick Institute of Technology, University of Limerick, University College of Cork, and Dublin City University. Dundalk Institute of Technology was also included following the recommendation of the Institutes of Technology Ireland1 (IOTI; the representative body for thirteen of Ireland’s institutes of technology) to include an HEI with a unique reach into its surrounding economy.

2. Background report and kick-off workshop

A background report was prepared. It contains information on the Irish higher education system, as well as profiles of the HEIs and regions that were included in the study visit. Material from the background report has been integrated into this report.

A kick-off workshop for the project was held in Dublin in April 2015. Representatives of the HEIs selected for the study visits, the Department for Education and Skills of Ireland, the Higher Education Authority, Quality and Qualifications Ireland and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Enterprise Ireland participated in the workshop.

The purpose was to familiarise the participants with the HEInnovate tool, the review method, and to identify the following HEInnovate dimensions to be examined in more depth as focus areas of the review. Three dimensions were selected: Organisational Capacity, Entrepreneurial Teaching and Learning, and Measuring Impact. A representative of the OECD Secretariat presented the HEInnovate country-level review methodology and outlined the expectations for participating HEIs. The European Commission presented the HEInnovate tool and explained how the HEIs could use it and benefit from it.

3. Study visits

In October and November 2015, an international review team completed two country visits to Ireland with one-day study visits to the above mentioned six case study HEIs to meet with presidents/rectors and/or vice-presidents/vice-rectors, deans, professors, career offices, technology transfer offices, business incubators, student associations, student and staff start-up companies, students taking entrepreneurship courses, and alumni. In addition to meeting with local and regional representatives, several meetings were held with national stakeholders, including Enterprise Ireland (EI), IDA Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Irish Research Council (IRC), Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the Higher Education Authority (HEA), SOLAS (the further education and training authority), the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Social Protection, and various business representative organisations.

4. HEI Leader Survey

An online survey of HEI leaders was used to complement the information obtained in the background report and the study visits. The questionnaire is based on the HEInnovate framework and contains seven sections. It asks about current and planned practices in i) the strategic directions of the HEI, ii) management of human and financial resources, iii) the teaching and learning environment, iv) knowledge exchange activities, v) internationalisation, vi) entrepreneurship education, and vii) business start-up support. The survey was sent to the Presidents’ offices of the seven universities and the 14 institutes of technology. In total, 17 HEIs, including all universities and 10 institutes of technology completed the questionnaire with an overall response rate of 81%. The survey response rates per HEI type are as follows: universities (100%), institutes of technology (71%).

5. Report and workshop

This report was prepared with inputs from the international review team and the local review co-ordinator, drawing on information gathered during the study visits and from the two online surveys. An interim report summarising key findings and preliminary recommendations was circulated in December 2015 for comments to the Department for Education and Skills. Written feedback on observations from the study visits and suggested actions were sent to the case study HEIs.

A draft report was presented and discussed in an interactive workshop hosted by the Dublin City University in May 2016. Following the workshop, the OECD Secretariat finalised the report, taking into account written feedback and contributions made in the workshop.

The content of this report

Chapter 1 presents the Irish higher education system. It describes the multi-step ladder system of qualifications that allows students to step in and out of undergraduate education. It presents trends in student numbers and resources of higher education institutions. Further it provides an overview of recent policy initiatives, such the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, the introduction of the System Performance Framework and the establishment of the Regional Skills Fora and the Regional Cluster initiative.

Chapter 2 presents key review findings and recommendations. The analysis is aligned to the HEInnovate framework with its seven dimensions and 37 statements. It covers a holistic approach to supporting entrepreneurship and innovation, including strategy, governance and resources, practices in organising education, research and engagement with business and society, and measuring impact.

Chapters 3,  4and 5 expand on the key findings and recommendations presented in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 examines organisational capacity from a system-level perspective and discusses the current restructuring of the higher education system, the steering mechanisms and funding of research in higher education institutions. The chapter discusses regional collaborative initiatives involving HEIs and provides suggestions for their further development. The chapter also reviews current practices undertaken by higher education institutions to enhance and sustain their organisational capacity primarily with regard to research and knowledge exchange.

Chapter 4 focuses on teaching and learning in Irish HEIs. It starts with an overview of the national level approaches in this regard, namely the teaching and learning recommendations in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 and the establishment of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. The chapter analyses various approaches to enhance the capacity of students for entrepreneurship and reviews the role of higher education institutions in lifelong learning. The chapter also discusses the role of education in translating scientific research into societal relevance and presents good practice examples of how to incentivise student participation in knowledge exchange activities.

Chapter 5 reviews the impact of higher education and the possible results of a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation. There are significant opportunities to impact the local economy, not only directly but in a wide range of indirect ways, both on the supply and demand side. However, as discussed in the chapter, there is also a range of tensions that need to be understood and carefully managed by the HEIs themselves, their local partners and national policy makers if impacts are to be effectively delivered.


← 1. Since this country review was undertaken, a new representative body for institutes of technology has been established called the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA). THEA is the representative body for all fourteen institutes of technology.