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Proposal would give the State powers to investigate universities quickly

It comes after a report last week into universities found “unacceptable” financial practices.

Image: Kurhan via Shutterstock

THE GOVERNMENT WILL support plans to increase its powers to appoint investigators to look into Irish universities.

Last week, the Public Accounts Committee released a report into financial irregularities at six universities across Ireland – in one case a university’s annual report was submitted 37 months after the year’s end.

At the moment, the Minister for Education and Skills has the power to appoint a visitor to investigate serious issues raised in relation to governance or management at a university.

But this can only happen after consulting with the President of the High Court and the governing body of the publicly-funded university.

However, because of the complex process involved, this power has never been used.

The new process will allow the government to appoint an investigator to look into issues at the university without a university’s permission and by passing the courts.

An example of a situation where an investigator could be called in would be where universities are late filing their annual audit reports.

At a press briefing at the Department of Education this afternoon, the Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the new powers would speed up the investigation process.

The old process of investigation, through the courts, is expected to be kept in place as an option in the event of more serious allegations and problems, the department said.

The proposal was being announced as part of the Technological Universities Bill which received the government’s approval following a clarification with teachers’ unions.

Technological Universities

As part of that bill, the government have announced the up-skilling of people based in rural areas, and aim to attract international talent to work in these universities.

Bruton said that the issue of up-skilling and was one that was brought up with international companies looking to relocate or invest in Ireland.

“When the IDA [Ireland's foreign direct investment body] did a review of their five-year-plan, a strong issue from all companies was the ‘war for talent’,” Bruton said. “That’s the battle they’re engaged in.”

“If [companies] want to bring employment to Ireland, they will look for the talent base and will go anywhere for that talent-base and we have to see that our regions are capable of responding to that.

To be a magnet to attract the most ambitious companies in the world, but also to look at the capacity of our own Irish companies, if they’re going to win markets to replace Britain, they’re going to have to offer that on the back of innovation, new offerings, designs, so it really ties back to that talent and innovation-based.

Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell-O’Connor said it had been brought up in boardrooms in the US and China.

“What was happening [was], the young people were leaving their regions, were going to Dublin or whatever universities or Institutions of Technologies they were going to, and then it was difficult to get them back.”

Read: University presidents showed ‘arrogance’ when questioned about financial misconduct, claims TD

Read: ‘€100,000 was spent on pens and medallions for retiring university staff’

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