Universities (Public Mission Agreement) Bill

Higher education institutions play a key role in our society, they are institutions of learning and research but they are also social, cultural, environmental and economic hubs.

This Universities Bill aims to ensure we realise the full potential of our universities in playing a key role in tackling deprivation and inequality, and supporting the creation of a fairer, more regionally balanced and sustainable economy. Universities can and should also play a key role in the economic recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic and tackling the climate and biodiversity crises.

Here in the North of Ireland, universities receive significant public funding and there is a need for them to be accountable for that funding, aligning with government policy and delivering on social value.  They must have transparent governance arrangements which clearly demonstrate the involvement of staff and student representatives in decision-making.

At the moment there is no statutory compliance framework which applies to Higher Education Institutions in receipt of public funding.

This type of framework is not an entirely new concept and the purpose of creating such a framework can help increase fairness, social benefits, transparency and accountability in the area of higher education.

An example of where legislative provisions to improve the transparency and accountability in university governance already apply, is in Scotland through the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016.

The Universities Bill will establish a statutory Public Mission Agreement between the Department for Economy and Higher Education Institutions in receipt of public funding.

The Public Mission Agreement will build on the work done by universities and colleges here in the North which have established Social Charters.

The intent of the Bill is essentially to reinforce the work that has been done to date by the universities and Executive Departments, to provide clarity and to set standards of good practice for Institutions.

Core Principles:

The Public Mission Agreement will require that universities comply with the following Core Principles:

Accessible and Inclusive Education: Institutions must actively break down socio-economic barriers and increase social mobility. Institutions should endeavour to achieve equality of opportunity for their students and staff. Institutions must facilitate students with disabilities and must ensure equal access to education.

Governance Structures and Decision Making: Institutional governance must be transparent and must contain adequate representation of students and staff, have oversight and accountability. The academic freedom of institutions and staff will be upheld in the terms of the agreement between the institution and Executive.

Fair Staff Pay, Costs and Employment Procedures: Institutions must ensure that they are fair and equitable workplaces. Staff recruitment, dismissal and redeployment processes must be fair and adequate.

Social Value: Institutions must provide social value not only to staff and students but to the communities in which they are based.

The level of compliance with these Core Principles will be defined by the Indicative Measurements which will be made in agreement between the Department and the Institutions.

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* 1. Do you believe there is a need for more transparency and accountability in respect of Higher Education providers in receipt of public funding?

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* 2. Do you believe that the Bill proposal facilitates an adequate balance between institutional autonomy and accountability?

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* 3. Do you believe that this Bill will provide the wider public with a better understanding of the contribution that Higher Education makes?

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* 4. Do you believe that the Core Principles of the Public Mission Agreement will complement the aims of all stakeholders in the Sector?

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* 5. Do you believe that the Bill will improve the delivery of Higher Education in the North of Ireland?

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* 6. How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on human rights?

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* 7. How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on equality of opportunity?

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* 8. Do you believe there is a need to review the current governance arrangements which are in place for Further Education Colleges?

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* 9. If you disagree with this Bill proposal, please outline, if any, the adjustments to the proposal or alternatives to the measures proposed which would garner your support for this initiative.

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