The dissolution by the chief of higher education raises questions

By Niall Murray, education correspondent

The sudden resignation of the general director Graham Love of the Higher University of Applied Sciences (HEA) has raised questions about the relationship between the funding body and the Ministry of Education.

Although there have also been internal tensions with his management, the resignation of Mr Love is mainly caused by frustration about the tight control of the department about the HEA and his work.

The unexpected announcement comes just over 18 months after the scientist took the role and asked him to be invited to explain the reasons for the Oireachtas Education Committee. That call from Fianna Fáil spokesman Thomas Byrne was followed by Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane looking for a meeting of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) next month with HEA president Michael Horgan to explain the circumstances.

Mr Love did not comment alongside a formal statement that was posted on the HEA website during lunch.

"In my short term of office, I have tried to make strategic development a core element of HEA activities," he said. "I wish the organization every success in the future."

However, a source of authority said that there are clear tensions with the department about the role of the HEA.

Another said that these problems have been clear for a long time, with specific tensions about how much legal power it really has around the board of colleges at the third level.

A person who spoke to the Irish Examiner said that there is a feeling that the HEA is using a buffer between the department and controversies at colleges on spending and management issues, but the funds are not provided to undertake this work.

The Department of Education thanked Mr. Love yesterday for his contribution to the HEA and the third-level sector, and referred to some of the important reforms he was supervising.

"Between the department and the HEA, a performance delivery agreement and a work plan are developed annually to determine the main objectives for higher education," said a spokesperson.

In its report last year on a number of spending and governance issues in the sector, the PAC advised the HEA to give more resources and powers to effectively exercise its supervisory role.

Mr. Love and other HEA officers had told TDs at committee meetings that they do not have the legal authority to perform some of the functions they would have to carry out according to the agency.

At a meeting of the HEA board in March, Mr Love established relationships between employees and board members, leading to a long debate with particular attention to the Board's involvement in various issues.

He had raised the issue of "trust and mutual understanding" between different stakeholders, but especially between the board and the HEA staff.

In the statement on the HEA website, Mr. Horgan said that Mr. Love had made a significant contribution to the development of higher education and "we in the HEA are disappointed in the sand that he leaves".

It is expected that Mr. Love will formally leave the position in October, but Mr. Horgan said the board will soon be working to find a permanent replacement.

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