Jan 7, 2022

Governance Bill Details New ‘Conditions’ Attached to State Funding

Universities could be asked to refund state money they have been granted if the HEA feels the institution is not meeting the conditions attached to state funding.

Emer MoreauEditor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

Universities could be asked to refund state money they have been granted if the Higher Education Authority (HEA) feels the institution is not meeting the conditions attached to state funding.

The Higher Education Authority Bill (2022), published today, details sweeping changes to how universities are granted state funding, as well as the largest shake-up of their governance structures in 50 years.

The bill states that state funding to higher-education institutions is subject to an array of conditions, including operating “to standards of good governance” and compliance with guidelines, codes and policies issued by the HEA.


Institutions must also “comply on a continuous basis” with a funding framework drawn up by the HEA with the approval of the Minister for Higher Education. The framework “may specify different criteria, terms and conditions for the allocation of funding”.

If the HEA believes there are “serious deficiencies regarding the continued compliance by the funded body”, the CEO will write to the relevant body to issue direction to resolve the issue.

If the CEO is then of the opinion that these directions have not been followed, “remedial or other measures” may be imposed on the institution. These measures include revising the institution’s funding conditions, the withholding of funding or the refunding of state money from the institution to the HEA.

The HEA could also appoint one or more people to advise or assist the institution, or have the members of the institution’s governing body “undertake a course of training on matters related to governance, management or funding”.

The new bill marks a significant expansion of the conditions attached to state funding of universities and colleges. The Higher Education Act 1971 simply says of funding: “Any payment to an institution which An tÚdarás makes out of the amounts that it receives … shall be made in such manner and subject to such conditions as An tÚdarás [the HEA] thinks fit.”

However, the bill is also a significant win for Trinity, as it gives College an exemption to other reforms – while other Irish colleges will have their governing bodies subjected to a maximum of 17 members, Trinity’s College Board will be permitted to have more than that.

The distinction between Trinity and other universities in the bill follows months of criticism from College Board members and others regarding the mooted reforms.

Prof Sarah Alyn-Stacey said in a letter to the Irish Times yesterday that the proposed changes amounted to “wholesale State ownership of the third-level sector”.

Last March, Trinity officially requested that it be exempted from the reforms. In a confidential submission sent to the government – seen by The University Times – Trinity asked that it be allowed to put together its own Board reforms, which would not undermine its “collegiate traditions and structures”.

In Trinity’s Provost elections, all three candidates slammed the proposed governance changes, with now-Provost Linda Doyle telling this newspaper in March that they were “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.”

When the heads of bill was published last May, Trinity was the only university specifically mentioned as being excluded from some of the

Sign Up to Our Weekly Newsletters

Get The University Times into your inbox twice a week.