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HEA seeks review into purchase of houses near UL campus

The Higher Education Authority has written to the Chancellor of the University of Limerick, requesting that its governing authority conduct a review of matters related to the purchase of a number of houses adjacent to its campus.

The HEA has invoked a legislative provision which allows it to request such a review if it is of the opinion, “that there are significant concerns regarding the governance of an institution, or with the performance of its functions or compliance with its obligations.”

It is an unusual step and comes amid disquiet and controversy at UL over the purchase of the properties.

UL is the second university to have had this legislative provision invoked in recent weeks.

Last Month, the HEA also requested a review under the legislation from the governing body of TU Dublin.

Pressure is mounting on UL president Dr Kersten Mey, after ten members of the executive of UL expressed no confidence in her leadership.

No confidence has also been expressed by staff via their union UNITE, and separately by a large number of professors and the university’s graduate students’ union.

Last Friday Dr Mey told staff in a letter that “an issue” had arisen in respect of the properties and that UL was engaging with external auditors and the Comptroller and Auditor General in relation to the matter.

She said new independent valuations confirmed that the university had paid significantly above market price for the Rhebogue properties.

This resulted in a “draft impairment” in the region of €5.2m in the UL financial accounts, which was coupled with an impairment arising from the purchase of the former Dunnes Store site in nearby Limerick city centre.

Dr Mey said the deficit in the university’s accounts would be funding out of its financial reserves.

“This is an issue of major concern for the University in terms of management, governance and reputation,” she wrote.

“I am engaging with our stakeholders to chart the best way forward and there will be action taken as a result of the review that has been commissioned into the transaction”.

UL chancellor Brigid Laffan has invited UL staff to a meeting on campus at lunchtime tomorrow.

The HEA last month told TU Dublin that it had “serious concerns with the apparent lack of urgency, responsiveness and conduct by the Governing Body to address [its finances] in a timely and constructive manner”.

In a highly unusual move the HEA invoked legislative powers to request that the university’s governing authority conduct a formal review of the college’s performance in managing and controlling its finances.

Shortly after, academic staff expressed no confidence in leadership at the college via their trade union.

There has been ongoing controversy around how TU Dublin has managed a financial deficit of €8.6 million.

Meanwhile, the president of TU Dublin Professor David FitzPatrick has resigned and will leave at the end of May.

Prof David FitzPatrick said he was taking up a role with the University of Nottingham (file image)

The college said he had handed in his notice to take up a new position.

In a letter to staff, Prof FitzPatrick said he was leaving TU Dublin in order to join the senior management team of the University of Nottingham, taking up the role of Provost & CEO of the University of Nottingham Malaysia from 1 June.

In the letter, Prof Fitzpatrick said he recognised “that this is an appropriate time for new energy to take the reins”.

He said it was part of “a long held ambition to live and work abroad in an International education setting”.

Professor FitzPatrick said he made the decision last summer.

In his letter to staff he said: “During the course of last summer, while reflecting on our progress, together with the experiences and perspectives I’ve gained, I reached a decision about future roles and responsibilities that I would like to engage with.”

Professor FitzPatrick said that in the time before he stood down he was “committed to ensuring that we develop a financial recovery plan that will demonstrate a sound financial footing”.

He said that “notwithstanding the current financial headwinds we face, I am immensely proud of what TU Dublin has become and firmly believe in our ability to deliver both nationally and regionally”.

He said he had been “privileged and honoured to be President of TU Dublin, working with you all in the creation of Ireland’s first and largest Technological University”.

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