The Higher Education Authority has said proposals to reduce the number of higher level institutes by 15 through merging existing colleges aims to create a more co-ordinated and effective third-level system.

Chief Executive Tom Boland said one of the objectives of the changes outlined in a discussion document is to do away with unnecessary duplications of courses.

"We need a more effective higher education system, a system of coordinated institutions, institutions of scale, institutions with clear missions," he said.

He added that Ireland needs "institutions working closely together in that coherent system, that will better serve the objectives of Ireland, and give quality outcomes for students".

Mr Boland said the absence of a university for the southeast in the proposals did not mean the HEA was ruling out the prospect.

He said a proposal was currently under consideration and it has "absolutely not" been ruled out.