Higher education chair urged chief to change his mind on resignation

Graham Love resigned as HEA boss amid frustration over ‘risk’ faced by colleges

The chair of the Higher Education Authority tried to convince its chief executive to reverse his decision to resign over issues such as the risks posed to colleges from underfunding, new records show.

Dr Graham Love announced his resignation from the regulatory body for the third-level sector last August, a year and a half after taking up the role.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show Dr Love emailed his resignation to the chair of the authority and expressed frustration over the limits of the role to help reform the sector.

“After much consideration, I have formed a view that the role has not matched my expectations and the actual nature of the job militates against any realistic opportunity to deliver much-needed strategic development in the sector,” Dr Love wrote.

“A number of serious concerns have led me to this conclusion, including the lack of role clarity between the HEA and the Dept of Education & Skills, the level of risk posed to the higher education system by the failure to resolve the overall funding issue, the nature of the board/executive relationship in the HEA and the dominance of the compliance/regulatory agenda.”

In response, the authority's chair, Michael Horgan, urged him to reconsider his decision on the basis that 18 months was too short a time to effect any meaningful change.

“I doubt five years is even enough. You have learned a great deal since your appointment both about leadership as well as managing staff, politicians, civil servants and the board. It would be a shame to waste that learning,” Mr Horgan wrote.

Strategic issues

Mr Horgan said new senior management appointments would help ease the burden, allowing more time to focus on strategic issues.

“As their recruiter, you also have a responsibility to them,” he wrote.

The chair added that most of the big issues that were raised in the Dáil Public Accounts Committee – such as misspending and mismanagement by universities – have their origins in colleges’ own governance rather than compliance with code of conduct.

“This should allow us influence and guide the higher education institutions now without interfering with their autonomy; while also reducing demands on your time for intervention.”

Mr Horgan said the board was “one of the best he had ever served on” with a combination of “skills, experience, good character and a willingness to listen, challenge and act”.

“In my experience, this is a very rare combination in public bodies. You have the opportunity to harness these resources in a very positive way. It is my conviction that you have the full confidence of the entire board and I am certain all of them would join me in encouraging you to stay and give yourself a more realistic timeframe to make the kind of contribution to Irish higher education that you know you can.”

Significant frustration

Dr Love responded that while he appreciated the message, his decision was made.

There is significant frustration within higher education over what many see as significant underfunding at a time when student numbers are rising significantly.

While a major report on the future funding of the sector was published more than two years ago, it has not yet been acted on.

Government sources, however, argue that investment has been rising significantly in recent years following years of austerity-era cuts.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent