Doherty joins SU Presidents in opposing amendments to University Act

DCU Students’ Union President, Paul Doherty has joined other SU Presidents in opposing Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn’s plans to amend the Universities Act.

In a joint statement Doherty, along with the Presidents of Trinity College SU, University College Dublin SU, University College Cork SU and NUI Galway SU said the proposed bill “undermines the internal control mechanisms and the ability of the Universities to innovate and develop strategies for the future”.

The 1997 Universities Act sets down the governance structures for Universities in Ireland. It gives control to each university’s governing authority over the number of staff they can hire and the salaries their staff receive. The proposed amendments, which have passed through the Cabinet and are now being drafted, give control back to the Minister and the Department of Education.

The SU presidents described the amendments as the Minister’s “knee-jerk and populist reaction to recent expenditure and remuneration controversies. Students feel that constructive engagement with the sector and an attempt to understand the nuances of Higher Education and reliance on Human Capital to produce top quality and fit for purpose graduates is required, not the intervention of the Government and Civil Service.

The statement continued: “It is the feeling of students in these Universities that University Management, in consultation with members of the academic staff, must be able to design and implement curricula independent from fear or realised government intervention. This amendment threatens principle of academic autonomy and will relinquish control of such decisions to the Minister and the Department of Education.”

The SU presidents also addressed the problems with Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) the awarding authority for new grant applications, saying the Minister for Education and the Civil Service in the third level sector “failed students and their families, and placed a further burden on the sector as a whole”.

Speaking to The College View about the proposed amendments to the Universities Act, DCU SU President, Paul Doherty said: “My personal view on the Minister’s plans would be that it he is reacting more to pressure from media sources that what is practically more beneficial for the Universities and in turn there students. The Minister announced this shortly after the PAC Meetings with Universities and IOTs which again I would believe led to this overreaction by the Minister.”

The SU Presidents also believe amending the Act demonstrates a lack of appreciation of the unique governance and operation requirements of Universities.

The statement read: “Taking away control of the most important element for success from those managing the institution and passing it to the Minister and the Civil Service the government are putting the quality of teaching and learning in Ireland in grave risk.”

The statement ended with a warning the amendments to the Act would be “to the detriment of Higher Education in Ireland”.

Aoife Mullen

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