The purpose of the Higher Education Authority Act reforms the legislative framework for the higher education system enabling improved oversight and regulation of higher education institutions. The legislation repeals the Higher Education Authority Act 1971 and provides a legal basis for the functions of An tÚdarás Um Ard-Oideachas, (the Higher Education Authority, (HEA)) and the role of the Minister.
The core objectives of the HEA legislation are to:
- Promote and support higher education institutions in achieving excellence in teaching, learning and research in higher education,
- Promote and safeguard the interests of students,
- Advance equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education,
- Provide a comprehensive governance and accountability framework to safeguard Exchequer investment in the sector and ensure accountability by higher education institutions for that funding,
- Maximise the contributions of higher education to social, economic, cultural, Irish language and environmental development and sustainability, and
- Maintain and enhance the reputation of the higher education sector, including international reputation.
The overall aim is to provide a high quality, student focused system with appropriate oversight and accountability to underpin public confidence of stakeholders, students and the public.
The legislation clarifies overall policy development in relation to higher education and research as the responsibility of the Minister. The legislation strengthens the institutional governance in higher education institutions but also provides for accountability by the higher education institutions to the HEA and the State, in particular for exchequer funding. This legislation puts an onus on the higher education institution to have in place robust governance and accountability structures and processes within their institution. It provides for oversight by the HEA of the institutions of higher education and intervention if they do not exercise good governance.
An tÚdarás will have regard to when undertaking its functions. The Objects are a set of overall principles applying to the higher education system as follows:
- to promote the attainment and maintenance of excellence in teaching, learning and research in a high quality higher education system,
- to support designated institutions of higher education in contributing to social, economic, cultural (including the promotion and use of the Irish language) and environmental development and sustainability through leadership, innovation and agility.
- to hold designated institutions of higher education to account for their performance and for securing value-for-money from the use of funding provided under this Act,
- to advance equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion in higher education,
- to strengthen engagement with the education system and society generally,
- to respect the academic freedom of higher education providers and academic staff in higher education providers, and
- to acknowledge the responsibility of designated institutions of higher education for the performance and governance of their institution.
It also provides that in the furtherance of these objects An tÚdarás shall provide that the needs of the student in higher education are a primary consideration.
The general functions of the Authority are :
- promote the objects of An tÚdarás,
- promote and support student engagement and student success in higher education and the attainment by students of a high quality educational experience in higher education,
- secure and evidence value-for-money in the expenditure of public money in higher education allocated to funded bodies,
- plan for higher education provision and make recommendations to the Minister on the overall provision of student places,
- plan for research in the higher education system and make recommendations to the Minister on the overall higher education research system,
- support the provision of a range of programmes of higher education and training aimed at meeting the educational and skills needs of individuals, business, enterprise, the professions, the community, local interests and other stakeholders locally, regionally and nationally,
- facilitate co-operation at a national, regional and local level between designated institutions of higher education and other education providers,
- co-operate with designated institutions of higher education and other bodies, as may be appropriate, in relation to the development and provision of higher education,
- promote, support and fund excellent research in the higher education system across all disciplines in accordance with national research policy and in partnership, as may be appropriate, with Ministers of the Government, Government agencies and such other bodies as The Authorityconsiders appropriate,
- provide capital funding and current funding to bodies seeking funding, monitor expenditure by funded bodies and to control or seek a refund of funding in certain circumstances,
- measure and assess the performance of designated institutions of higher education with a view to strengthening the performance of the higher education system and the designated institutions of higher education and to ensure their accountability,
- support the effective governance of designated institutions of higher education by overseeing appropriate governance frameworks to underpin public confidence in the higher education systemand to provide value for money for funding provided and ensure accountability and compliance with those governance frameworks,
- support equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education, including the participation and success of students in priority groups, or persons in such groups seeking to be students, in higher education,
- advise the Minister in relation to national policy on higher education,
- promote co-operation and collaboration with regard to higher education with authorities having responsibility for higher education in Northern Ireland, including the promotion of co-operation between designated institutions of higher education and institutions of higher education in Northern Ireland,
- provide a recommendation to the Minister in relation to the proposed acquisition or disposal of land, an interest in land or any other property by a designated institution of higher education, where the consent of the Minister is required for such a transaction,
- research any matters relating to the objects and functions of An tÚdarás, and
- collect statistical information and maintain an evidence base in order to provide high quality evidence-based policy advice.
It also provides that The Authority shall have the powers necessary for the performance of these functions.
Ministerial powers and information
The Minister may give a direction in writing to HEA requiring it to comply with any matter referred to in this Act including having regard to any other enactment or the implementation of any policy or objective of the Minister or the Government. It provides that HEA shall comply with any such direction and shall inform the Minister of the measures taken to comply with that direction. It also provides that the Minister may amend or revoke any such direction in writing.
The Minister may issue guidelines in writing to HEA for the purposes of this Act which may relate to codes of practice for governance or other codes, additional policy guidance or changes in policy and changes in prioritisation of corporate plan commitments of HEA. HEA shall have regard to any guidelines issued by the Minister in performing its functions under this Act.
HEA provides reports and information to the Minister in such form and manner and at such time as the Minister may specify on any matter related to the performance of the functions of HEA.
HEA may provide advice to the Minister on any matter related to the performance of its functions. It also provides that HEA shall provide advice as requested by the Minister on any matter related to the performance of the functions of HEA.
HEA shall have a Board established under this Act to perform the functions of HEA. The Board shall oversee the preparation and adoption of the corporate plan and the annual plan for HEA and their submission to the Minister. It is to satisfy itself that appropriate systems, procedures and practices are in place in HEA and shall establish and implement arrangements for the management of the performance of the Chief Executive Officer.
The Board is accountable to the Minister for the performance of its functions. The Board may delegate in writing certain functions to the Chief Executive Officer and the Board shall notify the Minister in writing of any delegation made and of any revocation of such delegation.
The Board will have 12 members (a chairperson and 11 ordinary members) and that all appointments are made by the Minister. It provides that the board shall consist of persons who, in the opinion of the Minister, have sufficient experience and expertise in certain competencies. Not less than 1 of the members shall be a student or a full-time officer of a national student union, nominated by the national student union.
It provides for gender balance on the Board and that the terms of office of the members shall not exceed 4 years and members may not serve more than 2 consecutive terms of office up to a maximum of 8 years.
It provides that the existing Board will cease on commencement day but that the existing members will be eligible for re-appointment.
Administrative co-operation with other bodies
HEA shall endeavour to secure administrative co-operation between it and other bodies consistent with the proper performance of its functions. HEA may enter into an agreement or arrangements with those bodies to facilitate administrative co-operation, avoid duplication of activities and ensure consistency between decisions made or measures taken by HEA and those other bodies.
This applies to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland, An tSeirbhís Oideachais Leanúnaigh Agus Scileanna, Science Foundation Ireland, and other appropriate bodies prescribed by the Minister for the purposes of this section.
HEA may enter into an agreement with An tSeirbhís Oideachais Leanúnaigh Agus Scileanna in relation to the delivery of a system of apprenticeships, having regard to their respective statutory functions. This agreement shall provide for the establishment, on an administrative basis, of a National Apprenticeship Office, whose functions shall be to manage, oversee and develop a system of apprenticeships. The Office shall have regard to the relevant policies of the Minister and the Minister may, by regulations, prescribe matters regarding the structure and operation of the Office.
Funding and accountability of HEA
A grant is provided to HEA each year out of money provided by the Oireachtas, by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, for the purposes of expenditure by HEA in the performance of its functions.
HEA shall prepare and adopt a corporate plan every 3 years. The corporate plan will include the objectives, outputs and related strategies for higher education of HEA, include a review and evaluation of the work of HEA in the performance of its statutory functions in the previous 3 years, be in accordance with the strategy for tertiary education and the performance framework, and accord with the guidelines, policies and objectives of the Minister and the Government as they relate to the functions of HEA.
HEA shall prepare and submit an annual plan to the Minister, no later than 28 days following notification of the financial allocation by the Minister for the next financial year.
It provides that the annual plan shall outline the proposed activities and related performance targets for HEA for the period, specify the proposed allocation of the total resources (both financial and persons) of HEA for the period, specify the monitoring arrangements of the performance targets, specify the reporting arrangements to the Minister, specify how it will have regard to its objects under section 8 of this legislation, contain any other information specified by the Minister, accord with the guidelines, policies and objectives of the Minister and the Government as they relate to the functions of HEA and have regard to the corporate plan and the strategy for tertiary education and any direction given by the Minister with regard to the annual plan.
The Minister may direct HEA in writing to amend the plan if, in his or her opinion, the plan does not contain the information required or does not comply with this section. HEA shall inform the Minister of the measures taken with regard to the activities determined and the performance targets and of their outcome and provide that information at intervals specified by the Minister or in the annual report.
HEA prepares and submits to the Minister an annual report by 30th June each year. The annual report shall include information on the performance of the functions of HEA during the previous year. This report shall be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and shall be published in an appropriate manner.
The Minister will develop a strategy for the provision of tertiary education which shall identify the objectives and outputs for the further education and training and higher education and research system in the State as soon as practicable and no later than 3 years after the commencement of the Act. The strategy shall be for a period of not more than 10 years.
The Minister shall in the preparation of the strategy –
- have regard to any relevant national policies, the tertiary education sector, the anticipated cost of implementing any such strategy and the availability of resources.
- consult with any bodies or persons the Minister considers
A strategy under this section shall be reviewed by the Minister from time to time and the strategy may be amended following the review.
It provides that the Minister shall publish the strategy and any amended strategy.
The HEA shall plan for higher education provision by maintaining a continuous review of the demand for higher education. HEA may for the purpose of maintaining a review of the demand for higher education consult with specified bodies and bodies or persons it considers appropriate.
HEA shall in the undertaking of a review:
- assess and measure the current number and distribution of students in each of the designated institutions of higher education,
- assess and measure the current number of students in each discipline,
- assess and measure the participation by students in priority groups in higher education, and
- assess the demand for higher education regionally and nationally and in each discipline.
HEA shall recommend to the Minister the overall provision of student places to be made within the higher education system having regard to specified criteria.
Performance framework provides that HEA in consultation with the Minister shall prepare at least every 5 years a performance framework for the higher education and research system. The performance framework shall specify the priorities and outcomes at a national level for higher education with public funding; the performance objectives for the higher education providers that are connected to the provision of funding to those providers; and the implementation, monitoring, assessment and reporting processes to be followed and complied with by higher education providers.
It provides that the performance framework shall take account of the strategy for tertiary education, national policy and objectives and priorities for implementation. It also provides for review and amendment of the framework. There is provision for a regular reporting process to HEA, the submission of this report to the Minister and the publication by HEA of the report.
HEA shall agree performance agreements with universities, technological universities, institutes of technology and the National College of Art and Design at least every 5 years in consultation with the individual institutions and may agree performance agreements with other designated institutions of higher education.
Performance agreement shall be in accordance with the performance framework and shall take account of the strategic development plan of the designated institution of higher education and shall include performance objectives and a monitoring, an assessment and a reporting process for the designated institution of higher education. There is provision for review and amendment of the agreement on an annual basis by HEA in consultation with a designated institution of higher education.
Provision of funding by HEA
Grants may be issued by HEA to all or any of the following bodies or persons –
- a designated institution of higher education,
- a higher education provider which is not a designated institution of higher education,
- a person or a body which provides support services for higher education, or
- other education providers, bodies or persons which provide services consistent with the functions of HEA,
in such manner and subject to such conditions as may be determined by HEA.
HEA shall prepare and establish a framework with the approval of the Minister for the allocation of funding, which is consistent with the objects and functions of HEA and in accordance with any policy directions given by the Minister. This framework –
- shall specify the schemes and programmes in respect of which HEA shall allocate funding to bodies, and will establish such criteria, terms and conditions for the allocation of such funding,
- may specify different criteria, terms and conditions for different funding schemes and programmes,
- may provide that certain funding schemes and programmes are allocated to specified designated institutions of higher education, specified higher education providers, or specified other bodies or
- may provide that specified schemes and programmes may be availed of on the basis of a competitive selection process,
- may provide for a particular scheme or programme to address specific strategic policy priorities with identified policy outcomes,
- may provide for the allocation of funding based on specified performance targets and outcomes,
- may provide for a scheme or programme to increase participation of students in priority groups in higher education, and
- may provide that funding for a scheme or programmes is for a specific time period.
It provides that nothing in this section guarantees the allocation of funding to a designated institution of higher education, other higher education provider, other education provider, other body or person.
Funding to bodies shall be made in such manner and in accordance with such conditions of funding as specified by the Chief Executive Officer.The Chief Executive Officer may request, and use the information provided by bodies such as the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland in establishing if an education provider meets the criteria, terms and conditions of the funding framework and ensuring that a funded body is compliant on an ongoing basis with the conditions of funding.
A funded body shall provide the Chief Executive Officer with information in relation to the expenditure of the funding provided by HEA and compliance with conditions of funding or any other relevant information as determined by the Chief Executive Officer.
If the funded body does not provide the Chief Executive Officer with the information required, the Chief Executive Officer shall request the funded body in writing for the information. Following a review of the information provided, if the Chief Executive Officer is of the opinion that there are serious deficiencies in the continued compliance with the conditions of funding by the funded body, the Chief Executive Officer shall inform the body in writing.
Where the Chief Executive Officer has carried out a review of compliance with conditions of funding, he or she may following consultation with the funded body, issue appropriate directions in writing regarding continued compliance with the conditions of funding. A funded body issued with such a direction shall comply with the directions and shall provide the Chief Executive Officer with information when requested to do so regarding compliance with the direction.
Where, following a review, the Chief Executive Officer considers that directions issued to the funded body have not been complied with or there are serious deficiencies in the continued compliance, the Chief Executive Officer may impose remedial or other measures on the funded body. The remedial or other measures that the Chief Executive Officer may impose on the funded body may comprise one or more of the following:
- the exclusion of that body for a specified period from the provision of some or all categories of funding from HEA,
- the application to that body of revised conditions subject to which funding is, or has been, provided,
- the controlled release to that body of funding by HEA,
- the withholding of funding due to be paid to that body by HEA,
- the refund by that body of funding paid to it by HEA,
- the appointment by the Chief Executive Officer of a person or persons, or of a body, to provide advice or assistance of a specialist nature to the funded body concerned,
- the issuing of guidance to the funded body concerned regarding a particular matter or matters relating to funding,
- an admonishment or censure of the funded body concerned, taking into account any professional regulatory requirements or obligations that may be thereby impacted,
- the requirement for members of the governing body of the funded body concerned to undertake a course of training on matters related to governance, management or funding,
- the requirement for a plan to be put in place by the funded body concerned providing for the rectification or resolution of an issue of concern to the Chief Executive Officer, and
- the provision to other bodies of information relating to funding as respects the funded body concerned.
It provides that where the Chief Executive Officer proposes to impose a remedial or other measure they shall, inform that body in writing and state the reasons for the proposed imposition of the measure concerned. The funded body may make representations to the Chief Executive Officer which shall be considered. The body may appeal against the decision.
Notwithstanding the role and responsibility of designated institutions of higher education to engage with the students of their respective institutions, HEA shall in collaboration with the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland and representatives of students, promote formal engagement between students and designated institutions of higher education and encourage the development of formalised engagement processes between them.
This may include the provision of training for students participating as members of the governing body of a designated institution of higher education and a mechanism for the students to request such training. The designated institutions of higher education shall report annually to HEA on student engagement activities undertaken, training for student members of governing bodies and a summary of issues raised by students and representatives of students and how these issues were addressed.
HEA shall, from time to time, engage with and seek views from representatives of students, including representatives of students in priority groups on issues of relevance at a national level to the experience of students participating in higher education, including matters related to teaching and learning, research, governance and support services for students.
HEA may engage with the Minister, the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland, higher education providers or such other bodies or persons as it considers appropriate in its engagement with representatives of students. HEA shall consider the outcome of the engagement in the performance of its functions.
HEA will in partnership with representatives of students, national representatives of designated institutions of higher education, designated institutions of higher education and the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland undertake a student survey at least every 2 years. This will be in respect of undergraduate students and postgraduate students and will collect information to document the student experience in higher education and enhance student engagement, teaching, learning, and assessment at a local and national level. It will also collect information on student opinion on important issues of higher education practice and policy at a local and national level, or other agreed information.
It provides that HEA shall, in partnership with the relevant bodies publish a report of the findings of each student survey undertaken. The processing of personal
Participation and Long Learning
HEA shall prepare and submit to the Minister for approval a draft strategic action plan providing for equity of access, participation and promotion of success for a period of up to seven years.
HEA shall have regard to any policy directions given by the Minister, the likely cost of implementing the proposals contained in any such plan, and the availability of resources. HEA while preparing the draft plan will consult with the Minister, other specified bodies and other bodies or persons as it considers appropriate.
The plan may specify priority groups; the ambition for enabling equity of access, participation and success in the higher education system; the goals, objectives, actions, targets and performance indicators for improving equity of access, participation and success in the higher education system by priority groups; the body or person responsible for the implementation of any action; an evaluation, stakeholder engagements and progress measurement of the plan; and any policy directions given by the Minister.
There is a review of the plan and that the designated institutions of higher education shall have regard to the plan when they are preparing their strategic development plan and equality statement. The designated institution of higher education is required to report annually to HEA on the implementation of the plan.
Notwithstanding the role and responsibility of designated institutions of higher education for the development and provision of lifelong and flexible learning in their respective institution, HEA will promote and support designated institutions of higher education in the development and provision of lifelong and flexible learning. It also provides that HEA shall support the implementation of procedures for access, transfer and progression by designated institutions of higher education which have been approved under the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) ct 2012.