Universities Act

The Universities Act applies to all universities.  It sets out the objectives and functions of a university, the structure, the functions of its governing body, staffing arrangements academic counsel, planning and evaluation of progress.

It also deals with finance reporting and property issues. The Act recognises the NUI colleges as largely autonomous

A university is entitled to regulate its affairs in accordance with independent ethos and traditions and the traditional principles of academic freedom.  It is to have regard in so doing to the promotion and preservation of equality of opportunity and access, the effective use of resources and obligations as to public accountability.

Governing Bodies

The governing body of existing colleges was to continue until the first governing authority was constituted under the act.  There were provisions in respect to the constitution of the first governing authority.

The governing authority in accordance with procedures as specified in the statute may appoint a person to be a chief officer who should be called a President, Provost or like title.  The chief officer is to be the accounting officer in respect of the university for the purpose of the Comptroller and Auditor General legislation.

The governing authorities are obliged to prepare a strategic development plan for periods of at least three years.  The chief officer of the university must establish procedures for evaluating the quality of teaching and research carried out.  The HEA has an oversight role in relation to strategic plans and quality assurance.

Subject to the below, each university is to have a governing authority howsoever described.  The functions of the university are performed by or on the direction of its governing authority.  All acts done by the authority or in its name on behalf of the university with its expressed or implied authority shall be deemed to be done by the university.


The governing body shall consist of such members between 20 and 40 as is determined in accordance with the legislation.  The members of the governing authority are to include a chief officer, a chairman, at least one but not more than two senior officers having responsibility to the chief officer for academic, financial or administrative affairs appointed by the governing authority one of whom shall be responsible for academic affairs.

It shall also have the following members elected in accordance with regulations made by the Minister.

  • two to six members of the academic staff who are professors or associated professors elected by staff,
  • three to five permanent full-time members of other academic staff elected by such staff,
  • at least one but not more than three permanent full-time employees who are not members of academic staff elected by non-academic staff,
  • two to  three students of the university, elected as officers of the students union or other student representative body
  • one postgraduate student elected by postgraduate students.

There is provision for a number of other members chosen from nominees of representatives, external bodies and nominated by the members.  Slightly different provisions apply to different universities.  In the case of the National Universities of Ireland, the Lord Mayors of relevant cities and persons nominated by councils are appointed. The first meeting of a governing authority of a university shall be chaired by a chief officer and a chairperson shall be chosen. 


The functions of the governing authority of university shall be in pursuance of its objects and within the constraints of its business

  • to control and administer the property of the university
  • to appoint a chief officer and such other employees as it thinks necessary subject to its charter and any statutes
  • to determine the membership of its governing authority from time to time and the legislation and
  • to perform such other functions as are imposed by the legislation its charter or statutes.

Universities must have an equality policy that focuses on access for economically and socially disadvantaged persons and on equality in all aspects of the university’s activity.

The chief officer must prepare an annual report on the operation of the university. The legislation prescribes budgetary arrangements.   The HEA and the Comptroller and Auditor General have powers to approve and investigate budgets and finance in relation to public financing of education.


Where a university does not have a visitor the government shall from time to time as the occasion requires following consultation with the President of the High Court, appoint a judge or retired judge of the High court or Supreme Court to be a visitor, for the purpose of the act.

Where the Minister is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the functions of the university appear prima facie to be in conducted in breach of its laws, statutes or ordinances, the Minister after first advising the authority of his opinion and considering any explanation and with the concurrence of the government, request a visitor to inquire into any matter giving rise to the Minister’s opinion.

If the visitor is satisfied, there are reasonable grounds for the opinion, the visitor shall enquire into the matters in any related matter.  The visitor is entitled at all reasonable times to enter a university to enquire into the academic or other affairs and to conduct an inspection of the university, its buildings and equipment.  He shall be afforded all reasonable cooperation and facility by the university; its employees and governing authorities including access to books and records relevant to the inquiry and to employees.

After consideration of the report of a visitor made in pursuance of the above provision, if the Minister is of the opinion that the functions of the university or its governing authority are being performed in a manner that constitutes a breach of the laws, statutes or ordinances, the Minister shall inform the chief officer and give him a copy of the report of the visitor.

After a period of 14 days and after considering observations of the governing authority, if the Minister is still of the same opinion and is of the opinion that because of the report the governing authority should be suspended and the visitor concurs, he may recommend to the government the suspension of the governing authority who may by order suspend it.

The visitor following consultation with the Minister and such persons within the university as he considers appropriate may appoint such person as he thinks fit to perform the functions of the governing authority.  There are provisions for the constitution of successor governing authority.

Academic Council

Each university shall have an Academic Council which is subject to financial constraints, determined by the governing body and to review by that authority, control the academic affairs of the university including the curriculum, the instruction and education provided by it. The  functions of the Academic Council shall include

  • design and development of programs of study,
  • establishment of structures to implement those programs,
  • recommendations of programs for the development of research,
  • recommendations relating to selection, admission, retention and exclusion of the students generally
  • the  form and  content of statutes relating to academic affairs of universities including the conduct of examinations, determination of examination results, procedures for appeals, and evaluation of academic progress,
  • recommendations in respect of awards or fellowships, scholarship, bursaries, prizes and awards,
  • general arrangements for tutorial and  academic counselling,
  • performance of other functions as be delegated by the governing body
  • implementation of  any statutes and regulations made by the governing authority relating to any of the matters referred to above

A majority of the members of the Academic Council shall be members of academic staff.  The members, composition, selection, appointment and terms of an office are to be provided for in the statute.

They must contain provisions for the inclusion on the Academic Council of the senior members of staff having the responsibility to the chief officer for each academic discipline, school, department or faculty, members from what in the opinion of the governing authority is an appropriate range of levels of other academic staff and the appropriate number of students.

Subject to the legislation and directions of the governing authority, the Academic Council shall hold meetings as it thinks necessary and may regulate its own procedures.  The chief officer is entitled to preside at all meetings of the Academic Council or a committee of the Council or he may send a nominee.  The Academic Council may establish committees. There was provision for the continuation of the existing Academic Councils in the pre-existing university.


A university is to have a charter which is not to conflict with the legislation setting out

  • its objects and functions in respect of its academic and administrative affairs,
  • arrangements for the promotion of the Irish language and promotion of Irish culture
  • position  of the governing authority and its functions,
  • rights of employees and students and their responsibility towards the university and the university’s responsibility to them.
  • arrangements for review of and  appeal against decisions of the governing authority and Academic Council which affect employees or students
  • policy in respect of the promotion of equality of opportunity among students and employees
  • policy in respect of adult and continuing education and arrangements for the provision of the same
  • other relevant matters

In preparing the charter, the governing authority is to consult with the academic staff and employees, recognised trade unions, staff associations, student unions, other student representative bodies or others whom it believes should be consulted.

Amendment of Charter

The charter in respect of the National University of Ireland and Trinity College was to be supplemental to the charter in force at the commencement of the legislation.

A draft of the charter is to be submitted to the government with the request that it be recognised and the government shall by order recognise it.  The recognition order is to be placed before the House of the Oireachtas and it may be annulled within 21 days by either House.

The government may by order made on the application of the university,  amend its charter in a manner agreed by the university.  It may submit a consolidated charter which may be recognised as so consolidated.

Statute and Operational Plans

Subject to the legislation and to the charter if any of the university, governing authority of the university or the senate may, and where required by the legislation shall, make such statutes and regulations as it considers appropriate for the regulation of its affairs.  The governing authority shall as soon as practicable after making a statute or regulation, inform the HEA and the Minister and arrange for its publication in Iris Oifigiuil.  Pre-existing statutes in  force continue insofar as they are consistent with the legislation.

A governing authority shall as soon as practicable after its appointment, require the chief officer to prepare a plan setting out its aims, the operation and development of the university and its strategy for achieving those aims and carrying out the functions of the university during a period,  not less than three years, to which the plan relates.

A governing authority shall, having regard to its resources, either approve a strategic plan with or without modification or approve it with modifications after consultation with the chief officer.  A copy is to be provided to the HEA and the Minister.

A governing authority in consultation with the Academic Council shall as soon as practicable after it is established, and at such other times as it sees fit, require the chief officer to establish procedures for quality assurance aimed at improving the quality of education and related services provided by the university.

Evaluation and Assessment

Procedures  shall include

  • regular evaluations and in any case at least every 10 years or such longer period as may be determined in agreement with the HEA of each department and where appropriate each faculty and any service provided by the university, by the employees of the university in the first instance, or by other persons other than employees who are competent to make national and international comparisons on the quality of teaching and research and the provision of other services and
  • assessment by those including students available of the teaching, research and other services provided.  It shall provide for the publication of findings arising out of the procedures.

The governing authority is to implement findings arising out of evaluations in accordance with procedures established, unless having regard to resources available, it would be impracticable or unreasonable to do so.

A governing authority shall from time to time, and in any case, every 15 years having regard to resources available, arrange for the review of the effectiveness of the procedures provided for above and the implementation of the findings.  The governing authority in a report prepared below is to publish the results of the review conducted above.

Certain Policies

The governing authority shall as soon as practicable but not later than 12 months after it is established and at other times as it sees fit require the chief officer to prepare a statement of the policies in respect of access to university education

  • by economically and socially disadvantaged people
  • by people who have a disability and
  • by people from sections of society significantly underrepresented  in the student body and
  • equality including gender equality in all activities of the university.

The chief officer in preparing the statement shall have regard to such policies as may from time to time be determined by the Minister on those matters.

The governing authority having regard to resources available shall either approve the statement prepared above without modification or after consultation with the chief officer, approve the statement with such modifications as it thinks fit.  The university shall implement the policy set out in the statement as approved.


A governing authority shall annually prepare and submit to the HEA a statement of proposed expenditure and income for the financial year.  The HEA having regard to the statement and after consultation with the governing authority, shall determine the amount to be allocated from monies provided to the Authority and the amounts so allocated together with other expected income shall be the budget for the university for that year.

The chief officer of the university must carry the budget into effect.  The authority may on application by the governing authority increase the amount to be allocated. Where the chief officer is of the opinion that q proposed course of action of the governing body is likely to result in expenditure in excess of the budget, the chief officer shall inform the governing authority.

Where despite being so informed, the governing authority decides to proceed with its course of action, the chief officer unless satisfied that a material departure from the budget will not occur, shall inform the HEA of the decision.  Where notwithstanding the provision, the university incurs expenditures in excess of its budget which is not met from the income of the university, other than that allocated by the HEA, the excess is to be a first budget charge on the budget for the following year.


The university may borrow by way of overdraft and may guarantee and underwrite a loan taken or borrowing undertaken by a person or bodies of persons.  Borrowing, guaranteeing or underwriting is to be in accordance with the framework agreed from time to time between the universities and the authority following consultation with the HEA and the Minister.

Universities must keep all proper and usual accounts and records of income received and expenditure incurred.  Accounts to the extent directed by the Comptroller and Auditor General shall be submitted to the Comptroller for audit.  A copy of the audited accounts together with the report of the Comptroller is presented by the university to the Authority and to the Minister.  The Minister shall cause the accounts to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The university may determine and charge fees of such amounts for student registration, course lectures and examinations, exhibitions and other events held at or provided or produced by the university.  The authority may review with the university the fees charged or proposed to be charged for student registration and courses and for lectures and examinations relating to those courses.  Arising from the review, the Authority may after consultation with the Minister advise the university on the fees which in its opinion should be charged.

The chief officer shall with the approval of the governing authority and having regard to the strategic development plan as soon as practicable after the end of each period, prepare a report on the operations and the performance of the university during the period.  The governing authority shall publish the report in such form as it sees fit and shall provide the Minister with a copy, which shall be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The university may sell or dispose of property.  Where the land is funded out of monies provided by the Oireachtas after the passing of the legislation,  a sale or disposal shall be subject to such terms with relation to payment as may be agreed between the Minister and the governing authority.

If a university ceases to be substantially funded from monies provided by the Oireachtas, then all monies provided after that date for h the acquisition, development and refurbishment of land or for the acquisition of other assets which are the property of the university shall be repayable to the Minister, subject to such terms as may be agreed by the Minister and governing authority.  In default of agreement, the matter shall be referred to and determined by arbitration.


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