08 Dec 2021

Legislation needed for HEA to regulate ‘as expected’ in relation to matters at UL

The University of Limerick

The University of Limerick

THE HIGHER Education Authority does not have “the powers to do what is expected of a regulatory body” in relation to some of the matters raised at the University of Limerick, the Public Accounts Committee has heard.

The exiting HEA chief executive Dr Graham Love appeared before the Dáil’s spending watchdog last week to discuss governance arrangements for the third-level sector.

The HEA found it does not have the powers to do “what is expected” in relation to some of the matters relating to the University of Limerick, as well as with other third-level institutes, due to current legislation, Dr Love told committee members.

“When push comes to shove we are not in a strong position at all,” Dr Love said. 

“That has resulted in myself and the team trying to work almost on a voluntary and acceptance basis for things that are very often pushing people right up to the edge.” 

“As far as that side of the equation goes, we are not well set up.” 

Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills Seán Ó Foghlú told the committee the DEIS has some power to investigate the third-level sector, with stronger power to investigate institutes of technology over universities. 

“In the case of the University of Limerick, we worked very closely with the HEA. Together, we engaged with the University of Limerick and with its agreement, the HEA led on an independent review. It was possible but we had to get its agreement to do it. Furthermore, with the HEA, we have come up with a concept of rolling reviews, which has also worked well.”

“​With reference to the University of Limerick, we have had the Thorn report and there is a report pending from the Comptroller and Auditor General,” Mr  Ó Foghlú said. “We will be appearing before the committee at some stage in the future to talk through that report.”

PAC also heard that eight of the ten recommendations of the Thorn Report, a wide-ranging investigation into UL finance, human resources and governance policies, have now been implemented by UL. The remaining two are due to be completed by the end of the year. “The HEA continues its monitoring of the university's implementation of the recommendations arising from the report,” Dr Love said.

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