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Statement from THEA to Oireachtas Joint Committee Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, & Science, on the reform of the Higher Education Authority legislation

Posted on: 06 Jul 2021

Statement from THEA to Oireachtas Joint Committee Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, & Science, on the reform of the Higher Education Authority legislation

Higher Education Representatives including THEA met today, Tuesday 6 July, with members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, & Science, to discuss items relating to the reform of the Higher Education Authority legislation.

THEA broadly welcomes the ambition of the new legislation and made a number of recommendations and observations during the opening statement.  The full statement can be found here DOWNLOAD

Collaboration and collegiality

THEA welcomes

  • the adoption of a collaborative approach as seen in the internal shared governance model and in the coregulation model between the HEA and the institutions;
  • the recent establishment of a Governance Forum by the HEA and including IUA and THEA, which is regarded as a positive manifestation of this shared approach.

THEA expressed the view that it is not only possible but advisable to work collegiately while retaining respect for the statutory functions.  In reference to the shared approach, THEA pointed to common objectives throughout the higher education sector, including:

  • working towards a common goal;
  • facilitating the realization of personal potential;
  • contribution toward social cohesion; and
  • the growth and sustenance of our economy.

THEA raised the question as to whether a regulatory agency can also be a fostering body and advised that the relationship between the HEA and the Department of Further and Higher Education Research Innovation and Science (D/FHERIS) should be carefully documented, as there is the danger of perceiving the HEA as an extension of the D/FHERIS.

Governance models

THEA noted the proposed shared governance model, which separates the corporate, executive, and academic strands, and questions what lies within the competence of any given strand.

While welcoming the intent informing the proposed reduction in the size of governing authorities, THEA cautioned against an overly reductionist approach, arguing that:

  • the relevant Heads of Bill still require further detail;
  • there is a risk that governing bodies may become too small to meet the increasing complexity and responsibilities of these organizations, which require multiple skill sets and subcommittees;
  • the HEA legislation in this regard should be consistent with that which is set out in the Technological Universities Act; and
  • the proposed competency-led model of governance should be grounded in a diverse and informed view of what is best for the institution and those it serves.

In addressing the role of the HEA in relation to research, THEA advised that the HEA’s role should be aligned with the role of the D/FHERIS in research policy, and that it would be beneficial for the Irish Research Council to have increased autonomy.  This would allow the Council to align better its resources and systems with its mandate, putting arts, humanities, and social sciences research on an equal statutory footing.

Borrowing Framework

THEA also noted that the Technological Universities Act references the role that the HEA has in formulating rules to be complied with by a technological university in relation to any borrowing, guaranteeing, or underwriting and requested that the new legislation support this ambition.

In conclusion, THEA stated that achieving balance between respect for institutional autonomy and requirement for accountability instruments will be the test of the legislation.

Dr Joseph Ryan, CEO of THEA stated “We have been very happy to work with our colleagues in the HEA and in the D/FHERIS toward shaping a collective vision of the new role of An tÚdarás which will see the higher education landscape through enormous changes in the short term.  We trust that the diversity, which is at the heart of the higher education system, will be respected and prioritised as institutions establish their identity in the regions which they serve.  We are on track to see at least three new technological universities designated in the coming months and look forward to working with them and our existing institutions to re-shape the higher education landscape for future generations of learners.”


For further information, please contact:
Róisín O’Connell, Head of Communications, THEA: (087) 9193333; roisin.oconnell@thea.ie
Note to editors: The full opening statement can be downloaded here: DOWNLOAD

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