Minister for Education will be able to appoint independents to examine ‘issues of concern’
Minister for Education Richard Bruton is seeking powers to appoint investigators to examine “issues of concern” in higher education institutions.
The proposal comes as universities face increasing pressure over their spending of public funds from the Higher Education Authority and the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.
At present the Minister only has the power to appoint a “visitor” to a university, as their governance is independent of the Department of Education. This has never previously been done and would only occur in cases where there have been egregious breaches of governance standards.
Following the change, which is to be announced on Monday by Mr Bruton, the Minister would have the power to appoint independent people to look into matters in universities or institutes of technology. They could be brought in to address less serious issues and such a system is seen as offering a more proportionate option.
“This strengthened power will facilitate greater oversight and improved corporate governance [in universities],” Mr Bruton said.
The change will be brought in as one of several amendments to the 2015 Technological Universities Bill, which is at committee stage in the Oireachtas.
An independent review sought by the department is under way in the University of Limerick, following a series of whistleblower claims made by staff about financial practices and governance issues in the university.
Mr Bruton and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor have said the progress of the Bill, which would allow for institutes of technology to merge, will be fast-tracked when the Dáil resumes in September.
Plans to allow a merger of two or more Institutes of Technology to create a regional “Technological University” have been under consideration for the last number of years. Problems with the initial form of the Bill will be amended before it is considered by the Oireachtas education committee.
Under the original legislation, institutes of technology (IoTs) would have to meet certain criteria in order to merge together, and then go through a second panel to be granted status as a technological university.
Several IoTs expressed concern that a situation may arise where institutions are merged together and then fail to be granted status as a Technological University.
A new amendment to the act will combine the process so candidates looking to merge together and form a Technological University go through a single process.
There are currently four proposed Technological Universities. one for Dublin which would involve Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Tallaght, and IT Blanchardstown. Munster Technological University is a proposed merger between Cork IT and IT Tralee. Connacht Ulster Alliance is a proposed merger of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, IT Sligo, and Letterkenny IT. Waterford IT and IT Carlow are also in discussions over forming a Technological University for the South East.