The sudden resignation of HEA head Graham Love, just a year-and-a-half after he took up the position, has come as a surprise to people working in the higher education sector. Even for people working within the HEA itself it has come as a shock. No one expected this.

In his statement of resignation, Dr Love said that during his "brief tenure" he had "endeavoured to make strategic development a core element of HEA activities". This is a significant sentence and would seem to hint at frustrations experienced by Dr Love in the role.

Tension has been mounting over the past several years between the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority. There are those who believe that the department is attempting to micromanage the sector and that the role of the HEA is being stymied as a result.

Some senior figures in higher education see this as an understandable response to reports of financial irregularities and mismanagement within the sector, including media reports such as those carried by RTÉ's Prime Time programme on the University of Limerick and other institutions.

"It would be a natural inclination by the department to attempt to take the reins," said one to RTÉ News. But this person went on to say that they believed this approach was not in the best interests of the system.

This is all taking place against the backdrop of a crisis in funding for the sector. The Cassells report, published two years ago, made a convincing and undisputed case for significant additional resourcing.

It proposed a number of options, ranging from higher payments from students through a students' loan system to much greater public funding from the State.

But Cassells funding recommendations have not been acted upon and this is leading to frustration.

There is considerable frustration too among some within the sector at what they would perceive to be the department's inaction on this front, though that is a view that not everyone shares.

"They haven't been seen to come out and make the case for additional investment", one source told RTÉ News. "The department doesn't talk about a 'crisis' in the sector."

All this forms the backdrop to Dr Love's resignation, which everything indicates is being made on a point of principle.

The HEA had a difficult job to find a replacement for Tom Boland, who retired as Chief Executive in the summer of 2016. An initial competition failed to come up with a satisfactory replacement.

Dr Anne Looney, who had not applied for the position, was appointed as an interim head. Within a year a second process was initiated. Dr Love applied and was appointed as a result.

Now, at a crucial time for the sector, the HEA is back where it started.