Universities could be big creators of jobs if the Government cuts regulation of third-level education, the new provost of Trinity College has claimed.
In his inaugural address, Dr Patrick Prendergast warned that Ireland's national strength as an educational hub is in jeopardy after latest world rankings saw the college fall 22 places from its peak of 43rd in 2009.
The Trinity head said there is a current national tendency towards increased regulation and that trust needs to be restored to the education system.
"I would suggest that the Government does not need to shelter us within the framework of a nationally regulated system - but could open us up to competing globally," he said. "Trinity cannot compete for Ireland on the world stage with our hands tied behind our backs. Too much constraint and sheltering removes choice - and if you remove all risk, you limit the opportunity for success."
Dr Prendergast, the 44th provost of Trinity College, called on the Government to release some of the constraints on the higher education system to allow it to compete on the world stage. He said building trust was integral to that.
"Ireland cannot prosper without it. Nothing flourishes in a climate of fear and suspicion. Trust is linked to accountability," he said.
Dr Prendergast pointed to the need for university heads to be given flexibility and decision-making powers, particularly for hiring staff and promotions.
The new provost said he welcomes regulation that ensures accountability.
"But it's when regulation threatens to emasculate decision-making that I feel the need to cry halt," he said. "If government can regulate in terms of outputs - and leave universities to deploy resources to best effect for the education of our students - then universities can prosper as employers, and act as an inward focus for students to come from abroad.
"If this could happen, Irish universities delivering quality education to large numbers of students could be big creators of jobs."