The minister has reappointed two non-academic members to the board of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), nearly five months after their terms ended. He is also seeking academics with expertise in economics, data analytics, or e-learning to apply for two positions left vacant since late January.
However, this will bring the board’s membership to 15, four short of the 19 it is permitted to have under the 1971 Higher Education Authority Act. A Department of Education spokeswoman said it is not proposed to appoint any further members to the board at this time.
“It is considered that the measures adopted by the minister will ensure that the HEA board will contain the appropriate mix of skills and expertise to fulfil its functions effectively,” she said.
“It is the minister’s view that a smaller board in this instance will ensure that the HEA can operate more effectively, while fulfilling all of its legal functions.”
The department previously said the HEA was meeting all legal requirements with just five academic members since January, despite a legal stipulation that it should have at least seven academics.
HEA chairman Michael Horgan notified Mr Bruton of the impending vacancies last November, around the same time he suggested to fellow board members that they allow a reduction in membership. Such a cut was suggested in the 2011 Government higher education strategy and in an independent 2015 structural review.
The department said that the reappointments follow consultation by the minister with Mr Horgan. Telecom entrepreneur Jim Mountjoy and Bakhram Bekhradnia, a former director of policy at England’s Higher Education Funding Council, were first appointed by former education minister Ruairi Quinn in 2012.
Any teaching or research academics who wish to serve on the board will be required to have expertise in economics, online course delivery or data analytics, according to details posted on the StateBoards.ie website last Friday.
However, no appointments will take place for at least a month as the Public Appointments Service must assess all expressions of interest before giving Mr Bruton a list of suitable candidates.
The HEA’s own role in overseeing the running of the higher education sector has come under scrutiny in recent months by the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC). It was unable to resolve internal disputes at University of Limerick over the handling of whistle- blower claims regarding expenses.
Senior managers from UL and UCC are due back tomorrow at the PAC, which will also question representatives of DIT and CIT.