Thursday, 17 December 2015
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Second Stage
I welcome the Bill and the Minister should be commended on bringing it forward. I listened to her opening statement on the monitor. I do not agree with everything she said but I agree with most of it. In many respects what is being provided for in this Bill in the third level education sector is historic. Collectively, if we succeed in achieving what the Minister wants to achieve in the technology sector together with the raising of the status and quality of education in that sector, this will have been a good day's work.
There are many divisions in our society, be it in health or other areas, but the sector that most reflects the divisions in society is the education areas, and there are many examples of it. Deputy Smith rightly pointed out that since the institutes of technology have evolved they have offered students from working class areas the opportunity to have their first introduction to third level education. I am one of the lucky ones because there is a very good institute of technology, Institute of Technology, Tallaght, in the constituency that I represent, which is the third largest centre of population in the country. It is worth noting that 30 years ago within the wider community in Tallaght - approximately 100,000 people live there - only a little more than 2% of students who left second level school went on to third level. Today that figure is 22%. It has taken the best part of 30 years to raise the percentage of students from working class areas who go on to a third level institution. I repeat the point Deputy Smith made, namely, that those students are the first members of their family, having regard to their parents and grandparents, to get their foot in the door of a third level institution. We still have a long way to go in terms of the difficulty that was illustrated by other Members, in that, if one's parents are lucky enough to have the required disposable income, one is pretty much guaranteed from birth to get a place in a third level institution and one is guaranteed a better standard of living and a better education. Those are the types of barriers we should be trying to break down. We should make third level education not a privilege for some in society but open for all in society who complete their second level education.
The Institute of Technology, Tallaght has done tremendous work in the manner in which it has developed during the 20 plus years that it has been established. Its catchment area is not only south Dublin, it also has an intake of students from Kildare and further afield. It has a very good reputation and has made great progress in the quality and variety of courses it offers. It has quite high standards, which is a positive development. There is a strong attachment to the institute because of what it has managed to do for many families in giving many working class students the opportunity to get a third level education.
One or two Deputies became very exercised about the cuts in education. I acknowledge there were cuts in education across the board. Unfortunately, that is history. Sometimes when people speak in this House they choose to forget what happened in 2007 and 2008 as if the collapse in the economy never happened. When the Minister was being criticised about the cuts in education neither of the Deputies referred to the fact that there was no cut in the €100 million subsidy that is given to private schools. It may have something to do with the fact that those two Deputies, who come from the great and the good, the privileged, went to private schools. I did not see them becoming exercised about calling for the abolition of the €100 million that goes to those small number private schools, which could be distributed among the institutes of technology about which they got so agitated. However, that is the nature of politics.
There are areas of the Bill on which the Minister and I will not agree but the debate on this sector has now started on a different level with the publication of this Bill.
I am being parochial about the Dublin scenario with DIT, ITB and ITT. Many of the differences relate to governance of the overarching body and the fear that the IoT in Tallaght would be subsumed into DIT and would not have the autonomy it has. Obviously, it will lose some power when they amalgamate but the fear among the staff in Tallaght is that they will be moved into a much larger institution and their institution will lose its identity. They also want to protect the quality of the education they provide. I understand that and I am sure the Minister does also because in any amalgamation in the education sector or other sectors, there are vested interests and it is understandable that the staff do not want to be pushed back. That is for another day and I am sure when amendments are tabled, we all will have a few comments to make about that on Committee Stage.