Higher Education Minister Simon Harris pledged to bring forward legislation overhauling current governance structures in higher education institutions, and called some current governance structures “archaic”.
Harris committed to bringing forward the legislation by the end of the year which would “overhaul” the existing governance structures in higher education institutions, arguing that it will ensure policies enacted by his department and the Higher Education Authority (HEA) will be implemented “on the ground.”
Harris made the comments at a webinar run by the Dublin Chamber, as part of its “Meet the Minister” series of webinars. Harris’s remarks covered a wide range of topics, while also delving into his future plans for the new Department of Further and Higher Education.
Echoing comments made earlier this week on the cost of higher education, Harris said: “The student support system as of today is not fit for the model of tomorrow and the programme for Government recognises that. So the programme for Government commits to a review of those supports.”
“The speed of which I can do this depends on a whole variety of factors including budget negotiations, the wellbeing of the country and everything else, but it’s not lost on me at the moment that postgraduate supports are limited, extremely limited and are not back to where they were pre the recession.”
Focusing particularly on supports for postgraduate students, Harris pointed to the provisions for postgraduate students in the July stimulus package with the State taking on a large portion of the costs for certain programmes. Harris acknowledged that these programmes are “a temporary but important cost”.
The Student Support Act, which has yet to be commenced, was mentioned by Harris as he committed to “review the entire student support structures to see how they can be more responsive to the fact that people will be doing more part-time learning.”
Speaking on the subject of funding for the sector, which Harris described as “the elephant in the room”, Harris explained that the European Commission are currently undertaking an economic evaluation of each option in the Cassels report, which is due back in 2021.
Harris offered assurances that he “would not be found wanting” when it comes to taking decisions once that report comes back.
Discussing the future of technological universities in Ireland, Harris floated the idea of a cross-border university – asking the audience “why don’t we have a cross-border university on the island of Ireland” and emphasising that “education transcends borders.”
Consistently citing the need to “futureproof” the economy, Harris also described efforts to increase digital literacy in Ireland. “I’m very concerned when I met the National Adult Literacy Agency, when I meet Solas our training agency, I am very concerned that around 55 per cent of adults in our country do not have basic literacy skills.”
“Next week I intend to bring a proposal to government to design a new national literacy and digital skills strategy for Ireland, so that we can look at how we rectify this”, he said.