Seanad debates

Thursday, 15 February 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Further and Higher Education

9:30 am

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris.

The employees of higher education institutions are protected by the provisions of employment law. This includes, but is not limited to, the provisions contained in the Employment Equality Acts and Equal Status Acts. As employers, relevant HEIs are also bound by the same provisions in their capacity as employers of academic staff. In the case of any staff member believing that they are discriminated against, they should use the internal mechanisms available in HEIs. They should refer to their internal policies and human resources department, as appropriate.

Academic freedom, including in relation to research funding, is strongly protected in Ireland through the relevant legislation, including the Technological Universities Act 2018 and the Universities Act 1997. As the body with oversight of the higher education sector, the HEA has an obligation to protect academic freedom. The Higher Education Authority Act 2022 includes the following provisions: to advance equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion in higher education; and to respect the academic freedom of higher education providers and academic staff in those providers.The HEA is committed to meeting these objectives.

Every HEI has a responsibility and a statutory duty under relevant sectoral legislation to act in a way that promotes academic freedom. The sectoral legislation also includes a statement that the academic staff of the relevant HEI shall not be disadvantaged if they question and test received wisdom, put forward new ideas or state controversial or unpopular opinions in their teaching research and any other activities, either inside or outside the HEI.

The HEA Act also outlines a statutory duty of HEIs to promote equality. The Athena SWAN Ireland charter is a policy initiative that sits under the legislation and the charter is cognisant of national policy in this area. As such, the objective of the Athena SWAN Ireland 2021 charter framework is to support higher education institutions, academic departments and professional units in impactful and sustainable gender equality work. The charter supports HEIs to build capacity for evidence-based equality work across the equality grounds enshrined in Irish legislation.


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