Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Department of Education and Skills
Higher Education Institutions
457. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to put in place an independent inquiry into the governance at universities here further to a television programme (details supplied); his plans to carry out a due diligence review of the purchase by a university purchase of an institute (details supplied) in respect of commercial academic and pension related issues; if he has or plans to intervene in the purchase of the institute by the university in view of the fact that its payment of over €20 million is excessive; his plans for a full review of the higher education authority role in view of its inability to effect a culture of good governance at universities here as shown on the television programme; if he has sought or plans to seek reports from his appointees to the governing authorities of the universities named by the programme regarding their knowledge of poor governance and or their role as governors in enabling poor practice; and his plans to intervene at the university in view of the fact that it has and continues to be involved in the payment of excessive legal fees in cases against its own staff. [26796/17]
My Department of Education and Skills and the HEA have been working closely together to strengthen governance arrangements in the higher education sector in recent years.
During 2015, the HEA reviewed its approach to the oversight and governance of higher education institutions and built on existing governance and accountability infrastructure with improved and more transparent mechanisms. This included:
- more comprehensive annual governance reporting requirements,
- the introduction of signed financial memoranda between the HEA and HEIs setting out respective responsibilities,
- new guidelines on timeliness of reporting,
- regular reporting and liaison with the Office of the C&AG and
- a new accountability and risk mechanisms in place with the Department of Education and Skills.
This culminated in the establishment and communication of a new Governance Framework for the Higher Education System, which is available on the HEA website. The framework makes clear the current governance arrangements that are in place and clearly details the responsibilities of higher education institutions (HEIs) in this area.
In addition, a new programme of rolling reviews has been established to cover specific elements of governance. My Department agreed with the HEA that the first rolling review of governance compliance would be on procurement. This review was undertaken in 2016. It has been agreed that the next rolling review will be carried out on non-compliance of payments, including any payments to staff at higher education institutions. The process of tendering for this review is currently underway in the HEA.
In relation to the purchase of a specific institute referred to by the Deputy, it is important to note that universities are autonomous institutions within the meaning of the Universities Act 1997 and the management of their functions are matters for individual institutions in the first instance. The Minister for Education and Skills has no function in relation to the purchase by the University of the Institute referred to by the Deputy. However, the University has provided assurances to the HEA that there are no implications for current or future state pension liabilities as a result of the acquisition.
In relation to other specific university issues raised in the recent programme, my Department and the HEA have established an independent review of the governance, HR and financial practices within the University of Limerick. This review will be completed by end September.
The HEA has also recently announced a rolling governance review of Intellectual Property policy implementation across HEIs.
My Department of Education and Skills and the HEA are considering whether any additional measures may be necessary to further strengthen governance in the future.