08 November, 2017 - Minister Bruton and Minister of State Mitchell O’Connor note of the review into University of Limerick

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, TD, and the Minister for State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, today noted the publication by the Higher Education Authority of the review of the University of Limerick.

Following a number of protected disclosures and other complaints made against University of Limerick, Minister Bruton requested the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to initiate the independent review into governance, human resources and financial practices and procedures at the university. The need for the review was supported by the President of the University of Limerick, Professor Des Fitzgerald.

Dr Richard Thorn, President Emeritus of Sligo Institute of Technology, was appointed by the HEA to conduct the review. The review, which is now being published by the HEA, will be sent to the University of Limerick, who have a fortnight to respond to the issues raised in the report

Noting Dr Thorn’s report, Minister Bruton said:

“The publication of this report today is one of a number of actions being taken by my Department and the HEA to improve corporate governance in higher education institutions. I see the culmination of this review as a positive step towards addressing the serious matters which have been raised in relation to the University of Limerick by a number of stakeholders. The Review makes a number of important recommendations that must be addressed by the University of Limerick in order to bring these serious issues to a conclusion. My Department and the HEA will continue to work with the University of Limerick to provide the appropriate support to allow the prompt implementation of the recommendations set out by Dr Thorn.”

Minister Mitchell O’Connor thanked Dr. Thorn for his work in delivering the review:

“I would like to thank Dr Thorn for his work in undertaking this review. I would also like to thank the President, Governing Body and staff of the University of Limerick for extending their full co-operation to Dr Thorn. This is an important piece of work. When Dr. Thorn’s recommendations are implemented by the University of Limerick, it will allow the university to focus on its core mission of continuing to provide excellent teaching and learning opportunities for its staff and students.

The Governance framework for higher education has been strengthened considerably in the past couple of years. We are building on this framework with proposed new powers for the Minister to appoint an investigator in the university sector, as well as the introduction of a financial penalty for serious governance breaches in the future”.

A copy of the review has been provided to the President of the University of Limerick. The HEA have requested that the University provide a full response to each of the recommendations as set out in the review within two weeks. The HEA will be responsible for monitoring progress on implementing the recommendations in the review.

The publication of today’s report is one of a number of actions being taken by the Department and the HEA to strengthen governance arrangements in the higher education sector, including the establishment of a new Governance Framework for the Higher Education system. This has included:

    • More comprehensive annual governance reporting requirements
    • The introduction of signed financial memoranda between the HEA and HEIs setting out respective responsibilities
    • New guidelines on timeliness of reporting
    • Regular reporting and liaison with the Office of the C&AG
    • A  new accountability and risk mechanism in place with the Department of Education and Skills

 

In addition, a new programme of rolling reviews has been established to cover specific elements of governance. The first rolling review of governance compliance was on procurement and was undertaken in 2016. The second review, which is currently underway, is examining Intellectual Property policy implementation across Higher Education Institutes. The next review will focus on the issue of severance payments and unauthorised allowances across the higher education sector.

 

The Ministers have also acted to introduce new powers to complement the existing regulatory framework. These include a new power for the Minister,that will be enacted via the Technological Universities Bill, to appoint an investigator to any publicly funded higher education institution if serious concerns regarding corporate governance arise. It is also proposed to introduce a financial penalty for institutions in instances where there are serious governance breaches.

 

Notes to Editor:

 Terms of Reference of the Review

 The terms of reference of the review are as follows:

  1. The reviewer will receive details of the allegations from the disclosers and any other persons who feel that there are matters of concern or of public interest relating to the University of Limerick that need to be addressed.
  2. Where appropriate, the reviewer will interview or consult with the disclosers, other persons and relevant members of staff in the University in relation to the matters identified. The reviewer may revert to any party if further clarification or information is required.
  3. On the basis of the information received, the reviewer will:

·        Determine whether the allegations require further examination and whether, on the balance of probabilities, the allegations are well-founded;

·        Where allegations have been determined as well-founded, prepare a report that shall make findings or recommendations on the steps to be taken by the University including  governance, HR, financial and administrative processes as well as overall organisational culture;

·        Examine the application of wider HR policies and processes in the University. This will cover the governance arrangements and practices around the use of severance payments.

·        Consider specifically and report on the recommendations in the Mazars report which have yet to be implemented.

  1. The reviewer will consult with the Department and HEA as required and provide regular updates to them.
  2. The reviewer will present his/her final report, including any findings or recommendations, to all parties (the disclosers and other persons, the University, the Department and the HEA).

 

Powers Available to regulate the Third Level Sector

At present the Minister for Education and Skills has the authority to appoint an external person to investigate issues in Universities and Institutes of Technology (IoTs) under the Universities Act, 1997 (sections 19 and 20) and the Institutes of Technology Act, 2006 (section 20) respectively. This would arise in instances where there are serious issues raised in relation to governance or the management of an institution. The procedure to be followed in appointing such an individual currently differs between the university and institute of technology sector. The new power that is proposed, whereby the Minister for Education and Skills could appoint an investigator to any publicly funded institution, will ensure consistency in approach across the higher education sector, and will also encompass any future Technological Universities.

There is a provision under the Systems Performance Framework for the higher education sector, for the withholding of up to 10% of funding in the event that an institution does not meet the objectives outlined in the compact it has agreed with the HEA.

The model that is used to allocate funding to Higher Education Institutions is also currently being reviewed and will be updated shortly.

Following the enactment of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2015 the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has a power under Section 16 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2011 which allows the Minister to recover unauthorised payments to Public Servants from the public servant who received the payment or in certain circumstances the public service body concerned. This power applies to instances of unauthorised payments which were made after the 30th November 2015 (Commencement of the FEMPI Act).