Wednesday 17 July 2019

Higher education chief steps down amid tensions over third-level funding

Dr Graham Love: no immediate career plans. Picture: Frank McGrath
Dr Graham Love: no immediate career plans. Picture: Frank McGrath
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The sudden resignation of the chief executive of the Higher Education Authority is being blamed on increasing control over the agency's activities by the Department of Education coupled with a lack of progress on the third-level funding issue.

Dr Graham Love's announcement that he would be stepping down in October after less than two years in the job caused widespread shock, although not everyone was completely surprised.

There is a view within the higher education sector that, increasingly, the Department is micromanaging the HEA, an independent statutory agency that comes within its remit.

One source told the Irish Independent that he was "not entirely shocked", as he believed the HEA's arm's-length role as an advocacy and advisory body for higher education was being reduced to that of "messenger boy".

Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne said Dr Love's sudden resignation gave rise to "serious concerns".

He wants the Oireachtas Education Committee to invite him to a hearing at the earliest possible opportunity.

Dr Love announced his resignation on the HEA website yesterday. It is understood he has no immediate career plans.

He wrote: "It is with regret that I resign as HEA chief executive.

"The HEA makes a valuable contribution to higher education in Ireland.

"In my brief tenure, I have endeavoured to make strategic development a core element of HEA activities."

Dr Love was appointed to the HEA job in January 2017 and its chairman, Michael Horgan, said he had made a considerable difference during that time with the authority.

His resignation comes at a time when the role of the authority is under scrutiny, with a recent announcement by Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor of a public consultation on updating the Higher Education Authority Act 1971.

In that context there are views that the Department would like to see the HEA have less of a policy making role, which would curtail public commentary it may make about issues affecting the sector.

It is understood there have also been tensions over the level of detail required from third-level colleges in new three-year performance agreements soon to be signed with the HEA.

Sources said the HEA had "lost that battle".

In a statement, the Department of Education said it would like to thank Dr Love for his contribution to the higher education sector.

On the funding issue, the department noted there had been increased investment in higher education in recent years and said decisions in relation to the measures introduced as part of Budget 2019 will be considered as part of the normal budgetary process.

"We will continue to make the case for why increased investment in Education is the best way in which we can help everyone to fulfil their full potential."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News