A major shake-up in the running of Irish universities is planned by education minister Niamh Bhreathnach, who intends to introduce legislation to make them more accountable.
New governing bodies will be appointed which will have at least 40 per cent female members and which will include considerable outside representation. As well as staff and student nominees future governors will be drawn from business, industrial and agricultural interests, the professions, employers, trade unions, local authorities, regional education boards and ministerial nominees.
It is proposed that the chairperson will come from outside the university community and will be selected from a list of three submitted to the minister.
The proposals will affect the seven Irish university institutions and in particular the 400-year-old Trinity College Dublin and St Patrick's College Maynooth, which is both a national seminary for the training of priests and a civil university college. In Trinity's case the governing board is composed almost entirely of staff or fellows of the college while the Maynooth governors are the Roman Catholic bishops.
A confidential position paper sent to the universities by the minister says that they will be given considerable freedom within the range of categories to choose a governing authority which they consider would best meet their particular needs.
Since the document was leaked there have been reassuring noises from the education ministry that the ethos and traditions of the institutions will not be threatened. A further document is being prepared for publication.
The leaked document says that each university will be required to submit a charter for approval by the minister. This will cover the functions of the university, the composition of the governing body, academic affairs, equality and equity in all the affairs of the university, administration, and application of the funds and assets of the university.
The document says the minister should have the right not to approve a charter which she considers inadequate. But the governing authority should be given the opportunity to address any inadequacy and to revise the charter.