The reduction of student representation on the College Board has been a particularly controversial aspect of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Bill 2022. Under the Bill, student representation on the Board is set to be halved, from four places to two. Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) and the Graduates Students’ Union (GSU) have condemned the change, and are seeking to retain four student representatives on Board. A number of strategies have been considered in doing this, both by working within the provisions of the Bill and by seeking to change them. Here is a breakdown of these options, as well as other possible outcomes for student representation on Board.
Working within the provisions of the bill
The HEA Bill 2022 allows the Board to appoint six external members of its own choice. In January, TCDSU said that it was seeking a commitment from the Board that some of its external members would be student representatives. This strategy is unlikely to be viable for a number of reasons. Firstly, section 73(8) of the bill specifies an external member as “a member of the governing authority other than an internal member or a student member thereof”, precluding students from being eligible under this provision. Secondly, the bill explicitly specifies the inclusion of “two student members” of the Board. According to Registrar Neville Cox, this prevents the inclusion of additional student members because the number is explicitly limited to two, therefore increasing this would breach the provisions of the legislation.
Therefore, the bill in its current form does not allow for additional student representatives to be members of Board. Changing this would require changes to the legislation itself.
Amending the Bill
In acknowledgement of this, TCDSU submitted an amendment to the bill in March to maintain four student representatives on Trinity’s Board. The amendment provides for three to four student representatives to sit on the governing authority, instead of two. The union has sought the support of TDs and senators for this amendment as the HEA Bill makes its way through the Oireachtas.
It is not inconceivable that this amendment will pass. The HEA Bill in its current form seeks to “promote formal engagement” between students and the governing bodies of higher education institutions. With the support of enough senators, government may accept the proposed amendment.
While the proposed amendment, submitted through the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI), makes general provisions for all higher education institutions, TCDSU may also consider a Trinity-specific amendment to the bill. The allowance of five additional fellows to Trinity’s Board decreases Trinity’s student representation as a proportion of the entire Board relative to other higher education institutions. An exception may be made on this basis which allows additional student representatives to sit on the Board.
Ex officio participation on Board
In the case that these strategies are unsuccessful, student representation on Board may take other forms. Even if the Bill reduces student membership of the Board to two, it does not preclude officers of students’ unions from attending Board meetings ex officio, with the right to speak and contribute to discussions, but without the power to vote. This can be provided for in the College statutes, which make more detailed provisions for the operation of the Board, without violating the provisions of the college charter or the HEA Bill 2022. In the view of the Registrar, this is likely to happen when the statutes are amended following the implementation of the bill. This is the overall most likely outcome of the proposed changes for student representation, though it remains to be seen what amendments may happen in the Dáil and Seanad.