Under the FOI Act 2014, 24 documents were released to Students4Change. They concern a webinar held by DFHERIS Officials with Senators, and emails sent to Senators by Minister Harris outlining why their amendments to the bill are rejected and finally one document which is an instruction from Minister Harris to the HEA to prepare guidelines for environmental sustainability.
The crucial point is that in the webinar held 11.07.2022 (July 11th 2022), DFHERIS Officials are minuted as admitting that the bill has no protections for trade union, academic staff, non-academic staff or democratically-elected student representatives on governing bodies of HEIs.
To the question “The SIG asked considering that the composition of the 5 internal members on the governing bodies of higher-education institutions as listed in the HEA Bill 2022 does not guarantee either trade union or academic staff representation explicitly, how will this bill guarantee that those with a democratic mandate will sit on governing bodies of our institutions?”, the answer given by DFHERIS Officials was “The legislation allows for a flexible mix of academic, non-academic in accordance with the procedures set out by individual HEIs as the individual HEI requires”. In other words, no trade union representation, and the keywords “flexible” and “allows for” implies there is no guarantee of any proper representation, and this is up to the HEI’s senior management to decide. It certainly allows for, but the way the bill is worded does not require institutions to have academic staff, non-academic staff or trade union representatives on governing bodies, since the 5 internal members are merely defined as “‘internal member’, in relation to a governing authority, means a member of the governing authority who is a member of the academic council of the university, an employee of the university or a person
who is remunerated under a contract with the university and, in the
case of Trinity College, including fellows of Trinity College;” in case of a university as per section 73 and no subsections are set to further refine who the 5 internal members should be comprised of. In other words, the 5 internal members can comprise of only senior management staff, because it includes anyone who is remunerated under a contract with the university. In the case of TUs (section 90) and Regional Technical Colleges (section 109) this is better defined as elected academic staff and elected non-academic staff are required to sit on the governing bodies, but no trade union representation is explicitly guaranteed either.
To the question of “The SIG asked considering that the bill does not guarantee that student representatives are elected to governing bodies of higher-education institutions, how will this bill protect the autonomy of student unions and their democratic mandate to be on governing bodies?”, the answer given by DFHERIS Officials was that ” Procedures will be set out by each governing body regarding the election of students to its governing body.“. Since the governing bodies will be under the control of senior management, Ministerial appointees and external appointees who are biased to be corporate and not to upset the apple cart, we do not see how this offers any actual protection to students. Finally, there is no guarantee that procedures will be set out to elect student representatives rather than handpick or appoint, since this is not in the bill. In fact, the bill clearly says that on governing bodies there should be “3 student members appointed by the governing body” / “three student members appointed by the governing body” for all types of institutions.
There is also an interesting moment when the DFHERIS claims that when the bill says “students OR students’ union” must be consulted, it is not problematic that the union can be disregarded, since the student union officers are included under the definition of students.
It is further mentioned and agreed by DFHERIS Officials that the HEA Bill 2022 could seriously hamper the ability of the state to borrow in the future from the EU and other parties, if it is deemed that universities are under government control, due to the debt balance sheets of many institutions.
Please see in our FOI Database the other documents, including emails to Senators in which Minister Harris rejects all their amendments. It is under “HEA Bill 2022 Minister Harris” and then “Minister Harris and DFHERIS Briefing to Senators” folder in the Google Drive.