Governance in Irish Universities
NUI/IUA Webinar 20th November 2020: On Good Authority: Perspectives on Institutional Governance in Irish Higher Education
This event was opened by NUI Chancellor, Dr Maurice Manning with a brief address from Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD. Our webinar chair, Prof Colin Scott (University College Dublin) introduced our keynote, Prof Peter Maassen (University of Oslo), who gives a global perspective on governance in higher education. In response, Prof Pat Clancy (UCD) provided the Irish context.
Governance comprises the systems and procedures under which organisations are directed and controlled including organisational standards of conduct and accountability mechanisms. Good governance arrangements are essential for organisations large and small and whether operating in the public or private sector. A robust system of governance is necessary for organisations to operate effectively and to carry out their responsibilities as regards transparency and accountability to those they serve. As public entities, universities should act prudently, ethically and with transparency, and should conduct their activities consistent with their statutory responsibilities. Given their pivotal role in society and in national economic and social development, together with their reliance on public as well as private funding, good governance is particularly important in the case of universities.
Our Charter Commitment on Governance
“CREATE MORE FLEXIBLE AND ACCOUNTABLE STRUCTURES” BY…
- Universities working with Government on legislative reform to deliver a more flexible operating structure with a better capacity to respond to the needs of the economy and society generally.
- Improving accountability through better governance structures in accordance with best international practice.
- Re-balancing the overly-centralised control structure of universities in line with the principles laid down in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 by removing restrictive measures in relation to employment and otherwise.
The Universities Act 1997 and the Code of Governance of Irish Universities
The principle of good governance in Irish universities is well-established, initially enshrined in the Universities Act, 1997 and subsequently detailed in the Code of Governance for Irish Universities (‘the University Code’). This is a voluntary code outlining a further set of principles and best practices, which builds upon developments in governance since 1997 and is intended to be generally applicable to the internal practices, external relations and responsibilities of the Universities.
In 2019, the IUA/HEA published an updated version of the University Code assists universities and their governing authorities in the good and proper management of universities and in ensuring that appropriate procedures and controls are implemented to manage the risks facing such complex institutions, while at the same time respecting their autonomy. In the interests of transparency and the public good, the University Code reinforces the commitment of the universities in -operating to the highest standards of governance and accountability in relation to all their activities.
The Governing Authority in the Universities
All seven Irish Universities have a Governing Authority established in accordance with the Universities Act, 1997. All acts and things done by a governing authority are deemed to have been done by the university. The Governing Authority is collectively responsible for the long-term sustainability of the University and its members bring an independent oversight on key issues such as strategy, performance, resources, key appointments, and standards of conduct.
The functions of a Governing Authority are set out in Section 18 of the Universities Act, 1997 and include the control and administration of the land and other property of the university, and the appointment of the chief officer and such other employees for the purposes of the university. In addition to these functions set out in legislation, the other duties that apply to the Governing Authority include the following:
- Monitoring the performance of the University and Governing Authority sub-committees, as appropriate.
- Advising and supporting the Chairperson and Chief Officer.
- Satisfying financial controls and systems of risk management to ensure that they are robust and defensible.
- Keeping up to date and fully informed about strategic issues and changes affecting the University and the environment in which it operates.
Reviewing corporate governance developments (including ethics-related matters) that might affect the University, with the aim of ensuring that the Universities corporate governance policies and practices continue to be in line with best practice.
IUA’s Head of Governance and Assistant Director of Finance & Operations is Aidan Mullany.