Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) President-elect Gisele Scanlon has praised the introduction of a new minister dedicated to higher education and research following today’s Cabinet appointments, describing it as a “positive move” for universities around the country.
Fine Gael’s outgoing Minister for Health Simon Harris has been appointed Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research this evening as new Taoiseach Micheál Martin assigned Cabinet positions.
Speaking to Trinity News, Scanlon said that the new brief is a “positive move in the right direction to addressing postgraduate education, innovation and research”.
During her campaign for the GSU presidency in May, Scanlon said that “the biggest mandate on our lap would be calling for a dedicated department of higher education” in an interview with Trinity News.
On Saturday, Scanlon said that she was “so delighted” that “postgraduates and research will have a voice at the table at national level with a minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research”.
Harris, who served as Minister for Health from May 2016, has been appointed to the new ministry for the 33rd Dáil following Martin’s election as Taoiseach at the Dáil’s first sitting on Saturday morning in a new coalition government between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party.
The creation of a dedicated Department for Higher Education has been among Fianna Fáil’s education policies since 2019, when Martin said at an event hosted by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) that he believed higher education was losing out to other levels of education in terms of investment under the existing department arrangements.
In June, Trinity Provost Patrick Pendergast wrote an open letter calling for the creation of a Department of Higher Education and Research, saying that the department would represent the “best means” to obtain a globally competitive third level education sector with “ground-breaking research that drives innovation economies”.
Similarly, 1,500 Irish scientists called for the introduction of a department dedicated to higher education and research, saying that this was to stop Ireland becoming a “backwater” in the area of science.
Fine Gael’s Mary Mitchell O’Connor is the outgoing Minister of State for Higher Education, alongside former Minister of Education Joe McHugh. Fianna Fáil’s Norma Foley is to replace McHugh as Minister for Education.
Harris has been a Teachta Dála for the Wicklow constituency since 2011. He formerly served as Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Public Procurement and International Banking at the Department of Finance from 2014 to 2016.