The Higher Education Authority (HEA) Bill 2022 has passed through both houses of the Oireachtas after TDs agreed to amend the bill in the Dáil last night.
The Dáil agreed upon the amendments made in the Seanad to specify that student members of colleges’ governing bodies must be students’ union representatives.
Speaking in the Dáil, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Innovation, Research and Science Simon Harris said: “I commend the Bill to the House in its entirety. It will have a real, lasting and positive impact on some of our most important educational institutions.”
Harris thanked the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and individual students’ unions for their engagement and contribution to the legislation.
The HEA Bill 2022 was introduced in the Dáil in January, with signification implications for higher education in Ireland, including for Trinity specifically.
Due to the provisions of the bill which specify the composition of college governing authorities, College initiated the process of drafting a supplemental charter in order to maintain internal authority over its laws.
The supplemental charter will be submitted to government for official recognition before the bill is signed into law by the president.
In the Dáil Harris also made reference to academic freedom, an area in which the HEA Bill has caused controversy due to concerns around the increased power it gives to government in the higher education sector.
He said: “Our researchers, academics and intellectuals are key drivers of sustainable progress, equality and our country’s future prosperity. It is important to put on the record of this House that academic freedom of higher education institutions and staff continues to be explicitly enshrined in Irish law and legislation.”
Harris added: “The overall aim of this legislation is to provide a high-quality, student focused system with appropriate oversight and accountability to underpin public confidence.”
In June, lobbying by Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) secured increased student representation on the governing bodies of higher education institutions.
The new amendments will ensure that these representatives are elected by the student body through their students’ union.