I was delighted to begin the introduction of this legislation in the House last night before the House adjourned for the evening. I believe this is important legislation for reforming and modernising how we govern the higher education sector. It needs to be seen alongside a broader programme of reform of the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, student grant scheme, reducing the cost of education, making sure there is education for all, and creating a unified, integrated third level system across apprenticeships, further education and training, and higher education. As we invest more and more in higher education, it is important we have modern governance structures in place and oversight and accountability mechanisms that recognise the autonomy of institutions but also the public policy concerns and views this House and the people will have in ensuring we have a modern, fit for purpose, agile, flexible, higher education system that can deliver educationally and deliver the skills our country requires now and in the future.
I began last night to outline the sections of the Bill. I got as far as section 34. Sections 35 and 36 provide for the preparation by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, in consultation with the Minister, of a performance framework for the higher education and research system and the agreement by the HEA of performance agreements with designated institutions of higher education that are in accordance with the performance framework.
Sections 37 to 42, inclusive, provide that grants may be issued by the HEA to higher education institutions or other bodies or persons which provide services consistent with the functions of the HEA. The HEA shall prepare and establish a framework, with the approval of the Minister, for the allocation of funding. Funding to bodies shall be made in accordance with such conditions of funding as specified by the chief executive officer of the HEA. The chief executive officer of the HEA may request and use the information provided by other bodies to establish if an education provider meets the criteria, terms and conditions of the funding framework and ensure a funded body is compliant on an ongoing basis with the conditions of funding. The chief executive officer may review compliance with conditions of funding by a funded body and may, following this review and consultation with the funded body, issue appropriate directions in writing regarding continued compliance with the conditions of funding. The chief executive officer may impose remedial or other measures on the funded body for non-compliance with conditions of funding. The body may appeal against the decision of the chief executive officer to impose remedial or other measures.
Sections 43 to 45, inclusive, provide for formal engagement between students and designated institutions of higher education, including the provision of training for students participating as members of the governing body of a designated institution of higher education. There is also provision for the HEA to 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. These sections also provide for the HEA to undertake, in partnership with other bodies, a student survey at least every two years in respect of undergraduate students and postgraduate students.
Section 46 provides that the 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. Each designated institution of higher education is required to report annually to the HEA on the implementation of the plan.
Section 47 provides that the HEA will promote and support designated institutions of higher education in the development and provision of lifelong and flexible learning. Sections 48 to 52 provide for the collection and sharing of personal and non-personal data from designated institutions of higher education and funded bodies subject to the data protection regulation, the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019. There is also provision for the HEA to carry out studies and research on any issue related to its functions.
Sections 53 to 60 provide for the designation of higher education providers as designated institutions of higher education. Universities, institutes of technology, technological universities, the National College of Art and Design, NCAD, and education providers which have received a university authorisation order under the Universities Act 1997 are automatically classified as designated institutions of higher education for the purposes of this Bill. Other higher education providers may be designated by ministerial order as designated institutions of higher education under the Act if, following an application for designation, they meet certain conditions following an assessment process undertaken by the HEA. The conditions of designation will be made by regulation by the Minister in consultation with the HEA and the designated institutions of higher education will be required to comply on an ongoing basis with these conditions. The HEA may undertake reviews of compliance and the Minister may make an order revoking the designation if a designated institution of higher education is not complying with the conditions for designation or where a designated institution of higher education has made an application for the revoking of the designation order itself. A designated institution of higher education may use the title "Designated Institution of Higher Education" to describe itself and it precludes a body which is not a designated institution of higher education from using that title.
Sections 61 to 63 provide that a designated institution which is not already obligated by sectoral legislation to do so, shall prepare a strategic development plan and an equality statement and provide them to the HEA and shall keep all proper and usual accounts. Sections 64 to 69 provide that the chief executive officer, CEO, may request the governing body of a designated institution of higher education to undertake a review where there are concerns about the governance or performance of a designated institution of its functions or responsibilities and to provide a report of the matter to the CEO. The CEO may make a determination for action following consideration of a report under section 64 if he or she is not satisfied that concerns regarding the performance by the designated institution of higher education have been adequately addressed and resolved, or if the designated institution of higher education concerned does not undertake a review or prepare and submit a report to the CEO. The determination may include all or any of the following actions: the provision of assistance to the institution concerned; the imposition of remedial measures as respects the institution concerned; the provision of information to such other bodies as the CEO considers appropriate; or the undertaking of a review of the institution concerned with the approval of the board.
Sections 70 to 72 provides for an appeals process. Appeals can be made under sections: 42(6) in relation to the imposition of remedial measures following review of compliance with conditions of funding; 54(12) regarding a refusal to make a designation order in respect of a higher education provider; 59(13) in relation to the revocation of a designation order in respect of a higher education provider; or 65(4) regarding the imposition of remedial measures following the review and report by a designated institution of higher education.
Sections 73 to 118 relate to amendments to the sectoral legislation including the Universities Act 1997, the Technological Universities Act 2018, the Regional Technical Colleges Act 1992, the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Act 1994 and the National College of Art and Design Act 1971. These amendments include the reform of the governing authorities or bodies of universities, technological universities and institutes of technology to provide that they shall consist of 17 members appointed by the governing authority or body, comprising one external chairperson, two students, one chief officer, five internal members other than the chief officer, three external members nominated by the Minister, and five external members, other than the chairperson. These sections also contain a provision that the governing authority of Trinity College Dublin shall comprise of 17 members and up to an additional five fellows and the amendment of the Trinity College Supplemental Letters Patent of 1911, as amended by the Trinity College Dublin (Charters and Letters Patent Amendment) Act 2000, to be in accordance with the provisions of the Universities Act 1997. Other amendments provide that the chairperson of the governing authority of a university shall be appointed by a majority vote of not less than two-thirds and that the chairperson is an external member of the governing authority. That is an important change. These sections also provide for additional functions for the governing authorities or bodies to ensure good governance practice and the insertion of new sections to provide that the governing authority or body can carry out a review of a matter if it has concerns regarding the governance or performance of the functions or responsibilities of the higher education institutions. Another important provision is that the governing authority or body shall, with the approval of the Minister, determine the transitional arrangements and procedures to be put in place to ensure that the new governing authorities or bodies comply with the new provisions for governing authorities or bodies within 12 months. The Bill provides for consultation by the governing authority or body on the preparation of the strategic development plan. It also includes provisions for consultation by the governing authority or body on the preparation of the equality policy and provisions for members of the governing authority or body other than an ex officio member who is an employee of the higher education institutions to receive remuneration subject to the approval of the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Other amendments to the National College of Art and Design Act 1971 to modernise the legislation include the provision of an academic council and academic freedom of the governing authority and the academic staff of the college.
Sections 119 to 124 provide for minor amendments to the Student Support Act 2011, the Industrial Training Act 1967, the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 and the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2014. Sections 125 to 128 provide for the publication by the HEA of the names of the designated institutions of higher education, the preparation or adoption and issuing of guidelines, codes or policies to designated institutions of higher education by the HEA, the methods of sending a notice and consequential amendments of enactments in Schedule 4.
Schedule 1 provides the enactments to be repealed by this Act including the entirety of the Higher Education Authority Act 1971. Schedule 2 provides detailed regulations regarding the operation of the board of the HEA. Schedule 3 provides the detail regarding the making of a scheme amending the existing superannuation schemes of the HEA made under Section 15 of the Higher Education Authority Act 1971 while schedule 4 provides a detailed list of amendments to other enactments, primarily definitions to ensure compatibility with this legislation.
To summarise, this is genuinely the most significant legislative reform of the third level education system since the 1971 Act establishing the HEA. The world has changed an awful lot since 1971, as has higher education. As far as I remember, when these Houses passed the Higher Education Authority Bill in 1971 there were around 20,000 students in full-time higher education in Ireland. Thanks to huge societal progress in our country, economic progress and policies pursued by this Oireachtas through successive Governments, we now have a student population that is well above 200,000 and approaching 250,000. The world has changed, the education system has changed and the level of funding and investment from the taxpayer has changed. Education in and of itself has changed and it is important that the legislative framework changes as well. The aim of this Bill is to set up a modern system for future students, staff and governing authorities of higher education institutions and with this we will drive forward higher performance, accountability and overall improvements in our higher education system. This education tries to ensure that we absolutely respect the autonomy of our higher education institutions but that we also help them to make sure that their own internal governance is fit for purpose. It is not acceptable in the twenty first century, and I am not sure it was acceptable in the twentieth century, to have boards that are not chaired by external members. We cannot have a scenario where the chief executive is also the chair of the board. We have to get real here and modernise. We must recognise that we need boards based on competencies and skill sets. I pay huge tribute to all who have served and who currently serve on governing authorities. They do so without remuneration and they do so driven by the public good. I thank them all for their service. This legislation is about recognising that we need smaller boards, with more external appointees and an external chairperson and that the HEA, the Minister and the Department must be clear in relation to the setting of overall higher education policy in our country.
There is no doubt that higher education system is a key plank of our country's future, our people's prosperity. It is also a driver of equality and cultural change and integral to our national economic and social sustainability. It is essential that we bring a clear, specific and respectful definition to the relationship between higher education institutions and the State. This legislation is a crucial part of the Government's reform agenda for the higher education system but it is just one part. Others include a sustainable funding model, changes around student accommodation, reform of the SUSI grant, the delivery of the technological universities and the expansion of the apprenticeship programme. This is a jigsaw and these are all important parts of forming that picture. As we look to drive our ambitions forward, we are seeking to ensure that the fundamental building blocks of governance and funding are firmly in place. I genuinely look forward to working with Members on all sides of this House on this legislation as it goes through the various stages. I hope we can work together to tease through issues and to make sure we produce the best possible law. I look forward to engaging in that spirit.