Michael Horgan says governance systems in the higher education sector are an area in which he would like to see changes during his term, as the authority is “doing a lot of hand-holding with various colleges”.
“From what I’ve seen, I don’t think they have a fit-for-purpose governance in place. A lot of issues come back to the HEA, somewhat like a child to a parent when they should be dealing with it themselves within the organisation,” he said.
The committee agreed to recommend that Education Minister Richard Bruton confirm Mr Horgan’s appointment as chairman of the HEA.
One of the authority’s roles will be to oversee delivery of any additional extra funding to arise from new systems agreed by Government. However, it will be up to the Oireachtas committee to consider the options presented in the report published three months ago by the expert group chaired by Peter Cassells, before Mr Bruton says he will bring recommendations to Cabinet colleagues.
While extra state funding of €36.5m was announced for 2017 in the budget this week, this and other medium-term commitments fall well short of the €600m-a-year extra which the Cassells Report said will be needed in the sector by 2020.
Mr Bruton announced plans on Tuesday to engage with the business sector on additional investment from employers to be ringfenced for higher education. The move appears to signal the Government’s intention to share the burden of future extra funding between taxpayers, business, and a possible increase in student fees with a loan scheme to assist them, rather than the option of an entirely exchequer funded system.
Mr Horgan indicated he did not believe the latter option is feasible: “If we discovered oil off Kerry, and suddenly there’s loads of money coming in, then of course you’d do it. We have to get what we have working to its optimum and then look and see.”
He confirmed to committee members that institutes of technology are not legally allowed to borrow, unlike universities, and this is probably why some of those colleges are not on as sound a footing as others.
The HEA has had governance difficulties of its own since last year, as its recent board meeting was the first in nearly 18 months for which there were no vacancies, with eight seats empty since last December and the chairman’s role vacant since last January.
A second attempt to find a chief executive will begin in the coming weeks, after a recruitment competition earlier this year resulted in no appointment to replace Tom Boland who retired in July.