The creation of the Department of Higher Education and Research has been announced. Simon Harris, TD for Wicklow and member of Fine Gael, has been appointed the inaugural Minister for the Department. In a statement to The University Observer, the President of UCD, Prof. Andrew Deeks said that “The creation of a Ministry of Higher Education, Innovation and Science is the most exciting development the sector has seen since I came to Ireland at the beginning of 2014."
Recognising the distinctive nature of higher education, and particularly the interrelationship between quality higher education and excellence in research and innovation, the creation of this new ministry has the potential to facilitate a greater contribution of [the] Irish university sector to the post-COVID-19 recovery and to the future of Ireland than was previously possible."
I particularly welcome the appointment of Minister Harris to the portfolio, as the new Ministry will benefit from the strength and experience he brings. I anticipate that delivery of a sustainable funding model for higher education, as promised in the programme for government, will be high on the Minister’s agenda. With our strengths in Innovation and Research across all disciplines, we at UCD look forward to working with the Minister and the new Ministry.”
While both The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the Irish Universities Association (IUA) mirrored President Deeks’ welcome of the new department and the appointment of Simon Harris as Minister, they flagged the need to address the severe underfunding of the sector immediately. "This key change in government clearly recognises the central importance of universities and other third level institutes as producers of the talent pipeline for the economy and as hubs of research and innovation", Jim Miley, Director General of IUA said. “It is critical that the first action of the Minister is to secure the required funding for the third level system to recover from the Covid-19 financial collapse and to follow with the long-awaited reform of the funding model for the system."
UCDSU have yet to respond to the request for comment.
The President of the USI, Lorna Fitzpatrick, warned; “One of the first actions of the department must be to set out a roadmap towards proper planned, sustainable funding of the sector. This department must take swift action to tackle the issues created as a result of a decade of underfunding”.