The final report from Trinity’s Board Review Working Group was deliberately vague on the question of students on Board, Provost Linda Doyle has said.
In an interview with The University Times, Doyle said that the decision of how many students will be on the reformed Board will not be made until the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Bill is finalised.
“What I have to honestly say to that is I don’t know”, she said when asked whether the number of students would be cut from the current four. “The bit about the numbers is purposely left vague. The reason for that is because the legislation that’s currently being drafted is going to be the legislation that imposes on us things to do with the shape and size of the board.”
“I think it’s really important that the students have a proper voice on Board” Doyle said. “But I don’t think the number four means anything in the absence of knowing the overall number of the Board.”
“I think we benefit hugely by having really good student voices, and they really know what they’re talking about and [are] very dedicated to it.”
She added that Trinity is working with the government to “emphasise the kind of democratic nature of how we do business in Trinity and that democratic ethos”.
The Higher Education Authority Bill, if passed, could significantly change the way Irish universities are run by giving increased input to the Department of Higher Education.
As part of the bill, the government would also be able to impose financial and non-financial penalties on an institution if it has serious concerns about how it is being run.
The government has previously indicated that it is willing to give Trinity more flexibility than other universities on future governance.
In the heads of bill, Trinity was the only university specifically mentioned as being excluded from some of the proposed reforms to college governance.
Doyle said: “Trinity has a unique legal structure … we have a charter, the other universities don’t, we have the statutes. We’re structured in a particular way. And our unique structure means that we need to be handled in a particular legal way.”
She also reiterated her commitment to appointing an external chair to the Board: “I think it’s a good idea to have an external chair, I’m completely happy with that idea.
“There’s many ways that you can have good governance, but one way of having good governance is separating the role of chair from the role of the provost. That person being external can be very good”, she said.
“You get an external chair who’s interested in education and research and, I suppose, has the right competencies and could be very good in making sure that kind of Board is run in a particular way and can help us be more effective and getting voices heard.”
When running for election, Doyle committed to separating the roles of chair and provost on the Board, which the Working Group also later recommended. However, she said at the time that the proposed reforms would be “very bad” for College.
“Of course accountability is crucial, but I feel that the document as it’s written [sic] in a way suggests we do not already function under a huge level of accountability”, she said.
“The democratic ethos of Trinity must be defended.”