This evening, both the Irish Universities Association (IUA) and the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) have welcomed the appointment of Simon Harris to the new position of Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation.
In a statement, IUA expressed their “warm welcome” to Simon Harris as Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research.
Jim Miley, Director General of IUA said: “This key change in government clearly recognises the central importance of universities and other third level institutes as producers of the talent pipeline for the economy and as hubs of research and innovation.”
“Critically, it brings both parts of the higher education system together for the first time. We warmly congratulate Minister Simon Harris and we look forward to working with him and his new Department to harness the capacity of the sector as key partners in the recovery,” Miley continued.
He added: “It is critical that the first action of the Minister is to secure the required funding for the third level system to recover from the Covid-19 financial collapse and to follow with the long-awaited reform of the funding model for the system.”
Previous Minister for Health Simon Harris has been appointed Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research as Micheál Martin becomes the Taoiseach of the new Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Green Party coalition.
Speaking on the new ministerial position, USI president Lorna Fitzpatrick said: “The Union of Students in Ireland welcomes the creation of a new separate Government department for Higher Education, along with Innovation and Science and congratulates Simon Harris on his appointment as Minister for the department.”
Fitzapatrick continued: “The establishment of this new department creates numerous opportunities for the Higher Education sector, and we are looking forward to working with Minister Harris in the near future.”
Today, the 33rd Dáil was elected 140 days after the general election, the longest it has taken for the formation of a government in the history of the Irish state.
“One of the first actions of the department must be to set out a roadmap towards proper planned, sustainable funding of the sector,” Fitzpatrick added. “This department must take swift action to tackle the issues created as a result of a decade of underfunding.”
She stated: “As the largest stakeholder representation group in higher education, USI looks forward to a constructive engagement with the new department and Minister Harris at the nearest opportunity to discuss our policies for putting students at the heart of the future of higher education in Ireland.”
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.
Following in May, 1,500 Irish scientists called for a department specifically dedicated to higher education and research. Scientists claimed that this was to stop Ireland becoming a “backwater” in the area of science.
This afternoon, Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) President-elect Gisèle Scanlon has praised the introduction of a new minister dedicated to higher education and research following today’s Cabinet appointments.
Fine Gael’s Mary Mitchell O’Connor is the outgoing Minister of State for Higher Education, with Fianna Fáil’s Norma Foley to replace Fine Gael’s Joe McHugh as Minister for Education.