The Universities Act 1997 constituted and established certain colleges and universities as universities under the legislation.  It provided for the incorporation of educational institutions as parts of universities or as universities in their own right.  It provided for the governance of universities in receipt of monies from the State.

The Universities Act applies to the below universities and other universities as may be established under it or so long as they are institutes of higher education in receipt of public money under the Higher Education Authority Act 1971.  Certain provisions do not apply to Trinity College.

It constituted the governing authorities and Academic Councils and provided for their powers and functions.  It also made provision in relation to strategic planning, financial scrutiny and reporting.  It amended certain charters.

Older Universities

Trinity College is defined as the College of the wholly and undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin established by Charter 3rd March 1592.  This is deemed to include the University of Dublin save where the context otherwise requires.

The University of Dublin means the university established by Charter and Letters Patent incorporating Trinity College, further provided for by letters patent of 24th July 1857.

The National University of Ireland is constituted and founded by charter in pursuance of the Irish Universities Act 1908.  A constituent college refers to the three constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland, the University College Cork, University College Dublin and University College Galway.

The constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland become universities and each college has been known by its constituent name that the universities remain constituent universities of the National University of Ireland.  The constituent colleges of the university are accordingly each a university and are to be interpreted accordingly.

The University of Limerick was established by the University of Limerick Act 1989.    Dublin City University was established by the Dublin City University Act 1989.

Incorporation and Establishment

If the Authority considers that an educational institution or part of an institution should form part of the university, the Minister for Education may by order made with the consent of the Minister for Finance the institution concerned and the governing body provide that the institution shall become a part of the university and the making of the order and be so incorporated.  The order must be laid before both houses of the Oireachtas and approved by them.

The government may appoint a body whose membership is recommended by the HEA which  must include national and international experts and employees of universities to which the legislation applies to advise the Authority as to whether having regard to the objects and functions of the university an educational institution should be so established.

On the advice of the body and recommendation of the Authority, the government may by order provide that the institution shall be constituted as a university.  The order must be approved by both houses of the Oireachtas.  On establishment, the university is a body corporate with a separate legal identity.

Objectives of University

The objects of a university shall include

  • advancement of knowledge through teaching scholarly research and scientific investigation, promotion of learning in a student body and in society generally.
  • promotion of the culture and social life of society while  fostering and respecting diversity of the university traditions,
  • fostering a capacity for independent critical thinking amongst its students,
  • promoting the official languages of the State with special regard to the preservation, promotion and use of the Irish language,
  • promotion of the distinct cultures of Ireland.
  • supporting and contributing to the realisation of national, economic and social development
  • education, training and retraining high level professional, technical and managerial personnel
  • promoting the highest standards in and quality of teaching research,
  • examining outcomes of its research
  • facilitating life-long learning and  the provision of adult and continuing education
  • promoting gender balance and equality of opportunity among students and employees.

The university is to do all things necessary and expedient in accordance with the legislation and its charter to further the objects and development of the university.

Without limiting this it shall

  • provide courses of study, conduct examination and award degrees and other qualifications
  • promote and facilitate research
  • establish by incorporation or participate in the establishment of trading research or other corporations as it thinks fit for the purpose of promoting or assisting or in relation with the functions of the university.
  • collaborate with educational, business, professional, trade union, Irish language, cultural, artistic, community and other interests further its objects.
  • maintain, manage and administer property and assets
  • collaborate with graduates convocations of graduates and associations representing graduates inside and outside the state.

Values and Principles

A university in performing its function shall have the right and responsibility to preserve and promote the traditional principles of academic freedom and the conduct of its internal and external affairs.  It is to be entitled to regulate its affairs in accordance with its independent ethos and traditions and traditional principles of academic freedom.

In so doing, it shall have regard to promotion and preservation of equality of opportunity, effective and efficient use of resources and its obligations as to public accountability.  Where there is a doubt as to interpretation the legislation is to be interpreted so as to promote the ethos and tradition and principles of the university.

A member of the academic staff of the university shall have freedom within the law in his teaching, research and other activities either inside or outside the university to question and test received wisdom to put forward new ideas and to express controversial and unpopular opinions and not be disadvantaged or subject to less favourable treatment by the university for the exercise of that freedom.


The university may in accordance with procedures specified in the statutes or regulations appoint persons to be employees,  as he thinks fit having regard to the efficient use of its available resources, the requirement of accountability in the use of public monies, the policy in relation to pay and conditions in the public service as determined by the government and guidelines issued by the Minister. A governing authority may delegate functions to the chief officer relating to the appointment of employees and selection procedures.

Remuneration, fees, allowances and expenses are to be approved by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance.  The university may depart from the levels of remuneration fees, allowances and expenses approved, where it is satisfied that it is necessary to meet the objects of the university but may only do so within the framework agreed between the universities and the HEA.

The university may suspend or dismiss any employee, but only in accordance with procedures and subject to conditions specified in the statute, following consultation through normal industrial relation structures operating in the university with recognised staff associations or trade unions, which procedures may provide for delegation of powers relating to suspension or dismissal to the chief officer and shall provide for the tenure of officers.

Employment Matters

There are provisions for the continuation of and the terms of superannuation scheme, rights entitlements in respect of tenure, remuneration, fees, allowances and superannuation enjoyed on the commencement of the legislation by employees.  In the case of superannuation, former employees shall not by virtue of the operation of the legislation, have less beneficial provisions than those thereto enjoyed.

A governing authority must establish procedures for resolution of disputes which arise in the university other than the disputes which are to be dealt with through normal industrial relation structures operating in the university or certain appeal matters below regarding Academic Council matters.

Procedures shall be established following consultation with trade unions and staff associations representing employees and with student unions or other student representative bodies.  They shall provide for consideration of issues and disputes by an independent person, if appropriate one of whom in the case of a constituent university of the NUI, shall be a nominee of the chancellor of the National University of Ireland.


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