The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has announced Alan Wall, formerly the assistant secretary general of the Department of Education, as its new Chief Executive, more than a year after the resignation of Dr Graham Love from the role.
Wall, who has a master’s in public policy analysis from Trinity, will take over the position from Paul O’Toole, who has served as interim Chief Executive since October 2018.
In a press statement this afternoon, HEA Chair Michael Horgan said: “We are delighted to welcome Alan to the HEA. I have no doubt that the HEA will benefit from his extensive experience in the education sector.”
Wall takes over as Chief Executive of an organisation set for rebranding, with the government seeking to bring forward proposals that would see it renamed the Higher Education Commission. The legislative proposals will also codify the body’s regulatory powers, amid ongoing concerns over the precise role of the HEA and its power to make decisions on the running of Ireland’s higher education sector.
In a press statement last month, Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said of the proposed changes that “the current HEA legislation is almost fifty years old, and reflects a different era”.
“The proposed new legislation will address the need for best practice regulatory models for higher education, the transformation of the higher education landscape and the requirement to prioritise the interests of students and secure public accountability”, she said.
Love’s resignation came less than two years after he took over the organisation. In October 2018, he told the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee that a lack of clarity over the role of the HEA in regulating third-level institutes was a key factor in his decision to resign.
During his time in office, Love said, he had spent 70 per cent of his time on the regulatory and oversight aspect of the HEA’s work, rather than the development of higher education.
Writing in the Irish Times earlier this month, Love said that “in my experience, the HEA’s advice was often ignored by the department, in some cases was unwelcome and sometimes the agency was actively discouraged from developing advice in the first place”.
Love welcomed the proposals on the regulation of higher education. However, he said that there “is a thin veneer of HEA involvement, but the important decisions take place in Marlborough Street. This must stop”.
Higher education has frequently made headlines in recent weeks, with Minister for Education Joe McHugh promising in August not to increase fees or implement a loans scheme.
McHugh’s comments come at a time of increasing costs for students, with accommodation prices increasing rapidly in recent years. Last month, The University Times revealed that less than seven per cent of purpose-built student accommodation built in Dublin since 2016 is available for less than €840 per month.
The Independent subsequently reported that all of Ireland’s third-level institutes have hiked the price of their college-run accommodation for the coming year.