For many in higher education, fears around autonomy and government interference have lingered for years.
Small wonder: by now, third-level institutes have had their cards marked on several occasions by a government that seems determined to exercise greater control over the administration of the sector.
It wasn’t until last week, however, that we got concrete evidence of what the future might hold for universities’ governing structures, when The University Times revealed that proposed reforms to the Higher Education Authority Act could see the size of Trinity’s College Board drastically reduced and external members appointed to Board in place of current staff members.
Members of the Board have voiced concerns, and it’s hardly a surprise that they’re worried – these reforms could curb their influence over the College they work in, and begin a process that could reshape the entire sector.
From the government’s perspective, increased power over higher education seems a smart way of reducing the threat of administrative mistakes, while also reassuring an impatient taxpayer that steps are being taken to improve the state of third-level education without having to tackle funding issues.
And it’s not as though higher education institutes have covered themselves in glory in recent years – several have been rocked by scandals that have made national headlines, and public trust in the sector could hardly be described as high.
The problem, however, is that these proposals may not improve the situation – in fact, there’s a strong possibility that they’ll make it worse.
Even some of its members have admitted that Board is not exactly strong in every area of governance. But flooding it with outsiders, who will not have the same investment in Trinity’s future, is not the way to fix this problem. Rather, as one Board member pointed out to The University Times, it could easily rob the Board of members who are willing to stand up to those at the top of the tree.
So, while it may be hard to swallow opposition to government interference from a Board that isn’t exactly popular with students, it’s important to consider the fact that the alternative could be far worse.