Autonomy climbdown

November 24, 1995

Niamh Bhreathnach, the Irish education minister, is expected to back down on her plans to restructure university governing bodies following strong opposition from the older universities.

A vote on the general principles involved was due to be held this week in the senate but has been postponed pending the publication of a new consultation document. There were fears that the government would have lost the vote because of the opposition to the original proposals.

The new document will spell out plans for giving university status to the constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland and to St Patrick's College, Maynooth.

It will also outline options for the composition of the governing bodies in the country's seven university institutions and is expected to modify earlier proposals for control over new appointments by thecolleges. The main criticism had come from Trinity College Dublin which has no outside representatives on its governing board. The college was opposed to earlier proposals to have a 30-member board with one-third drawn from outside the university community.

However, under the new proposals the minimum number of outsiders could be as low as three or four but could be raised at any time if the college wished.

The legislation will not spell out how many outside governors will have to be appointed. Instead the colleges will decide what number they want from ministerial nominees, business or trade unions.

Statutory provisions will be made for staff and student representation on the governing bodies which will also have to have at least 40 per cent female representation.

All university institutions will be given considerable flexibility in deciding the make-up of their governing structures.

Some issues remain to be resolved over the amount of control the government should be able to exercise in the creation of senior appointments.

Some colleges say they should be free to use government funding in any way they choose subject to overall budgetary limits.

But the education ministry initially wanted greater controls put in when new appointments were being created. It is understood that the original proposals may be modified somewhat.

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