Trinity Provost, Dr. Linda Doyle, harshly criticised the new Higher Education Bill’s requirement for higher-level institutions to be more compliant with frameworks put forward by the Higher Education Authority. In comments made to the Irish Times, Doyle shared concerns that the bill would limit the autonomy that higher-level institutions in Ireland are accustomed to. 

In the interview, Dr. Linda Doyle highlights how she believes that this could be the start of a slippery slope of removing autonomy that Irish higher level institutions have. Speaking to the Irish Times, she said, “I’m not saying that the Bill will lead to this, by any means, but if you lose autonomy you could potentially have somebody telling you what to teach, who to hire, and what to do research on.”

Doyle also highlighted the importance of having higher-level institutions that can openly criticise and challenge the society and higher authorities of a nation. She also stressed the importance of higher-level institutions having the ability to conduct independent research without worrying about higher government authorities that they may offend or have to answer to. 

The Trinity Provost drew harsh comparisons to other European nations that have seen major stripping of autonomy for higher-level institutions. Doyle warned that as a European nation, Ireland should not feel comfortable or safe with more authority being imposed on our higher level institutions.

 “I don’t think you can sit back in a country like Ireland and just think everything will be fine. Because we have countries in the EU like Hungary and Poland where things are not fine. So, I don’t think we should rest on our laurels and say, “oh, we’re great.” To a certain extent there should be a kind of tension and uncomfortableness, but a productive one”, Doyle told the Irish Times in an interview. 

Dr. Linda Doyle however did concede that “the devil is in the detail,” the exact nature of what may lie in the legislation and how it may be implemented. 

This was a view shared with Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, who told the Oireachtas the value he placed on autonomy. Harris stated that instead of the bill attempting to strip the autonomy of higher-level institutions, it was about empowering a Governing Authority to regulate and manage the higher-level institutions across the board. He told the Oireachtas it is about trying to get the balance right between putting the structures in place to empower a governing authority and allowing it to get on with its own internal governance.

However, Doyle later stated that her concerns had been largely addressed by Minister Harris. She stated that the unique 400 year old legal structures of Trinity had been taken into account. In a statement to the Irish Times, she said that the Minister and the department have recognised Trinity’s unique legal structure in comparison to other universities, where some of their ethos is reflected. 

However, this makes it unclear how the Bill may affect other universities in terms of their autonomy being stripped.

Adam Van Eekeren – News Writer

Featured Image Credit: Gerry Mooney