Further education will be under the remit of the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris, the newly appointed minister announced today.
In a tweet this morning, Harris said he was looking forward to creating a Department of Higher Education, Innovation and Science that will “drive inclusion & equality in further & higher education”, dispelling speculation over whether further education would be included in his responsibilities.
Solas currently oversees and funds further education, and the Higher Education Authority oversees and funds higher education.
On Saturday, it was announced that Harris was set to be appointed minister for higher education, innovation and research, which replaced the junior position of minister of state for higher education that previously fitted into the framework of the Department of Education.
Meanwhile, Norma Foley of Fianna Fáil will take over as minister for education as part of Ireland’s new coalition government.
Under the outgoing government, Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor became the first minister of state for higher education.
In the Dáil on Saturday, new Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed the creation of a new department for higher education and research.
Third-level, he said, “is going through a major transformation and needs clarity and engagement from government”.
Third-level stakeholders will welcome a move to set up a specific department to look after the sector: many, including Provost Patrick Prendergast, have called in recent times for the establishment of one, after higher education got a partial ministry in 2017 as part of the Department of Education.
Prendergast told The University Times in a statement on Saturday evening that “higher education and research have been brought together and can now work together for the benefit of students, industry and the country”.
In a press statement, Jim Miley, the director general of the Irish Universities Association, said the decision is a “key change in government”, which he said “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”, he said.
Correction: 17:00, June 29th, 2020
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Simon Harris was appointed Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research yesterday. In fact, he was appointed to the position on Saturday.