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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Simon Harris publishes major reform plan for higher education as current law remains unchanged for 50 years

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris has published a plan relating to a major reform plan for higher education with the current law remaining unchanged for the past 50 years.

Mr. Harris stated that the plan has been subject to reform as “an awful lot has changed” in 50 years with the prominent change being the vast number of higher education students now studying in the country, from 20,000 to 200,000 and new legislation needs to reflect this change.

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On Wednesday, the Government approved to publish the Higher Education Authority Bill to reform the oversight and regulation of the Higher Education Institutions and modernise the regulatory role of the Higher Education Authority. The new legislation aims to provide comprehensive governance, performance and accountability framework to safeguard Exchequer investment in the sector and ensure that there is accountability in the system.

It will also aim to include provisions for strategic planning regarding the tertiary sector as well as equity of access and participation in the sector, lifelong learning and the collection of data for advice, planning and research. Students’ interests will also be a prominent focus of the reformed legislation, along with advancing equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education.

In response to the legislation, Harris stated, “This is a really important piece of legislation, which reflects the significance of our higher education system and the need to modernise and improve the governance.”

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Harris added that this legislation would introduce a co-governance model and that institutions will remain autonomous but will ensure the investment that the Government is making in the sector is safeguarded and that there is accountability for the funding.

The legislation will make each Higher Level Institution responsible for governance but a clear accountability and reporting requirement will be in place for the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Specific remedies will also be made available by the HEA where performance or other failures are not adequately or transparently dealt with at an institutional level. Specific legal powers will also be granted to the HEA to attach mandatory conditions of funding to public funding.

The legislation will also see a reduction in the size and composition of governing bodies which can currently have up to 40 members, however, the legislation will be amended to provide for 17 member governing bodies in universities, institutes of technology, and technological universities.

These governing bodies will consist of the Chairperson, eight other external members, two students, Chief Officer and five other internal members. Three of the external members will be nominated by Harris while five will be appointed by the governing bodies.

IMAGE – Twitter/SimonHarrisTD

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