This spring, a bill is set to undergo review regarding an amendment to the Higher Education Act 1971. The bill would give power to The Dept of Education in removing and choosing the governing body of state funded universities. The government would also hold the power to impose sanctions of financial and non-financial nature on such universities.
In short, state funded universities, which University College Dublin is one of, will be held to account by the Higher Education Authority(HEA). Which under the bill, would be renamed the Higher Education commission(HEC). The Editorial Board believes that this transition of power is a positive move, but one which needs to be taken with profound caution.
Accountability in UCD is almost non-existent .Student power and Student Union influence remains ignored under the current structure. One does not have to look too far back for examples of actions that were the subject of student scrutiny. Rent prices, the ‘No-Detriment Policy’, several data breaches, and the Belfield papers scandal are just a handful of examples coming under criticism. Little repercussions resulted from these incidents.
The Dept of Education would have a say in such incidents, they would have the authority to influence anything that the University Management Team (UMT) decides on. The Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, holds a sentiment of working with Students to understand what they want in university.
However, it would be naïve to believe the government is going to do everything students want them to do. While this government remains subject to much scrutiny regarding decision making in many other areas, it is worth noting that the bill will remain in place for the foreseeable future and feature under different governments.
Students must be aware that the bill will not always fall in their favour. Fractured relationships between governments and students based on the political lean of those in charge and those in universities can vary. It may not always lead to the result that students want, but it should always provide accountability and transparency.
If the government believes more accountability is the way forward, it must be reciprocated. The bill must prompt transparency from both universities and the government themselves. Decisions on sanctions, appointments, and removals must be disclosed to students. If not, the disconnectedness of UMT and students will just have taken a new form under government control.
Students must also understand that academic freedom could be at risk, as well as social opinions across the student body. The government could have a significant sway in popular opinion if this bill is enacted.
However, We Believe this action was taken on by the government to improve Universities. Universities are businesses at the moment, students are commodities first and students second. The extortionate pricing of international students is just one example to prove how little student welfare is considered, and we believe that is what the government wants to rectify, they want to ensure student welfare improves.
Students should overall welcome this move, they should see it as an opportunity for change to happen, and their voices to be heard, they should allow some trust in that the bill is being enacted with good intentions. However, they should be wary of the consequences of government hands in university matters. It is a step in the right direction, but one which needs to be taken with caution.
The Editorial Board