Legislation for higher education 'dated' and better accountability is needed

The bill, which is scheduled to be enacted later this year, represents the first reforms to the current legislation governing higher education in 50 years.
Legislation for higher education 'dated' and better accountability is needed

Digital Desk Staff

The current legislation governing higher education is “dated”, and change is needed to allow better accountability and to provide a “high-quality, student-focused” system, the Oireachtas education committee heard earlier today.

As the Irish Examiner reports, the committee met to discuss the Higher Education Authority Bill 2021, which is under pre-legislative scrutiny.

The bill, which is scheduled to be enacted later this year, represents the first reforms to the current legislation governing higher education in 50 years.

The new legislation is aimed at improving governance by giving the Higher Education Authority (HEA) increased legal powers.

The authority is currently responsible for allocating approximately €1.6bn in annual funding for the country’s higher education institutions, according to Tim Conlon, head of policy and strategy with the HEA.

The proposed legislation provides the HEA with the power to collect relevant data while holding institutions accountable, Mr Conlon told the committee.

The authority is currently accountable to the minister for the achievement of national outcomes for the sector, and it takes this responsibility “very seriously”, he said.

Original act

“But we are somewhat weakened by the processes and tools available to us under what is now dated legislation,” he said.

The original act is over 50 years old this year, and while it has done the nation some service, it is no longer fit for purpose.”

The vision for the higher education system here is to provide high-quality education that is adaptive, and advances equality, diversity, and inclusion while working with wider society, according to Tanya Kenny, a principal officer with the Department of Further and Higher Education.

“The new legislation will provide a detailed and modernised framework to achieve this vision, and create and safeguard the reputation of Irish higher education system aligned with best international practice,” she said.

There is “no doubt” that HEA legislation needs to be reformed, Ms Kenny told the committee, as the sector has evolved from a small number of universities in 1971 to all universities, technological universities, and institutes of technology today.

The higher education system is based on “strong, autonomous” institutions, she said.

“We recognise the importance and the excellence and diversity of education and research which results," she said.

"We have no desire to change this — however, institutions need to be accountable for Government funding.”

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