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Overview of the Governance Framework for Higher Education


This document sets out the governance framework for the higher education system. It represents the culmination of a process to build on the significant existing governance and accountability infrastructure already in place with a series of new and improved mechanisms which will provide more robust assurance of compliance with legislative and other requirements and more timely and responsive interventions to address any issues arising. This process has involved consultation with the Department of Education and Skills, higher education institutions and other key stakeholders to develop the individual components of the framework.


The framework makes clear the central oversight role of the HEA in monitoring governance practice across the system, the respective responsibilities of higher education institutions (HEIs) and the mechanisms in place to ensure good governance practice and accountability of State funding. It begins by considering the definition of governance in a higher education context, provides an overview of the roles and responsibilities in maintaining good governance and highlights the key components which will ensure a robust and transparent governance framework moving forward. The key relationships underpinning an effective framework are then outlined, together with the individual mechanisms in place that facilitate the monitoring of compliance and good practice.

What do we mean by governance?

For the purpose of this framework “governance” means the systems and procedures of oversight implemented by the HEA with regard to the individual HEIs, and to the collective system of higher education. The objective of such oversight is to ensure that the HEIs and the system collectively meet the outcomes expected, effectively and efficiently.
This is consistent with the definition set out within the respective Codes of Governance for Irish institutions. “Regulation” means the system of statutory and administrative rules and requirements placed on HEIs, with the HEA responsible for monitoring and reviewing ongoing compliance. In practice governance and regulation have a relationship of mutual dependence, with adherence to the regulatory system being a subset of overall good governance.

Overview of roles and responsibilities in the governance of higher education

In exercising its governance and regulation mandate, the HEA operates in a multi-stakeholder environment, with the Department of Education and Skills, the HEIs and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General the other three ‘core’ pillars within the framework. An overview of the respective roles and responsibilities of these main actors is set out in the diagram below.

Overview of roles and responsibilities HEA Governance

While the diagram above presents the core pillars over which an effective governance system for the higher education sector operates, there is of course wider engagement with other key stakeholders. This includes QQI, which is responsible for the overall quality assurance of the system; the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which is responsible for elements of research funding for higher education; and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which has overall Government authority for implementation of wider public sector pay and employment controls across the higher education sector. The HEA works with all of these bodies to ensure clarity of respective responsibility and that effective co-ordination occurs between them within the context of national strategy for higher education and research. A full statement on the role of the HEA in the governance of higher education is set out in Appendix 1.

Appendix 1 - A Statement of the role of the HEA

Overview of the Governance Framework for Higher Education

The figure below provides an overview of the governance framework as it stands, setting out the key mechanisms by which good governance and accountability across the higher education system is assured.

the Governance Framework Diagram

As the figure indicates, the success of this framework is dependent on clear governance and reporting arrangements between the HEA, the Department of Education and Skills, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the higher education institutions and their employees and students. These relationships, and the mechanisms that underpin them, are discussed in greater detail in the sections:

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