An open letter has been issued to government regarding the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Bill 2022 on behalf of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), Students4Change (S4C), National College of Art and Design Students’ Union (NCADSU) and NUI Galway Students’ Union.
Expressing disappointment and dismay at the guillotine of the debate that addressed only six of the 326 proposed amendments to the bill, the authors of the open letter outlined a number of grievances.
Singling out Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, the open letter conveyed their stance: “The dishonesty and conduct of the government — in particular, Minister Harris — was appalling yesterday and marks a new low in policy-making for students and staff across the country.”
The open letter stressed the gravity of the HEA Bill 2022 for the future of universities and students, citing this importance as the reason behind their attendance at the debate and the motivation to issue such a letter condemning the handling of the bill.
Discussing the current state of the bill, the open letter states: “As the bill stands, the state has the capacity to underfund third-level institutions, then take them over via appointments to the governing bodies. This facilitates the imposition of an austerity regime — pay cuts, courses stopped, fees increased — knowing that the weakened staff, trade union and student voice will struggle to dissent.”
Among the collection of objections to the conduct of the government was the issue of allocation of time. The authors of the open letter wrote: “We were disappointed that Minister Harris signalled that the time he used outside the Seanad would be returned to the Senators to discuss the bill, if the Leader of the Seanad set it as an order of business.”
“However, he refused to send a request to the Leader to add the time he took away from the important discussion.”
Another concern for the authors of the open letter was the treatment of Seanad representatives.
“Watching Minister Harris and the acting Cathaoirleach try to humiliate our Seanad representatives by cutting speaking time in the Seanad is an assault on Irish democracy,” the letter expressed. “Not only was this inadequate representation by Minister Harris, it disenfranchised Senators, who are public representatives elected to protect us by advocating for legislation that takes us into account.”
The open letter concluded with a call-to-action in opposition to the actions outlined throughout the body of the text and their predicted consequences: “We appeal for help from students, staff and workers; trade- and student unions; societies; political groups on- and off-campus to oppose the government takeover of academia and the weakening of democracy with the utmost urgency.”