Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage
I will try to address some of the issues raised. I refer to the general point on access. On the concern that the number of students who currently attend institutes of technologies in the region might decline or that students would be less encouraged to do so, I wish to categorically state that is not the intention of the Bill. In fact, the Department is planning for consistent increases in the number of students that will attend higher and further education over the next decade. It is policy to provide those options. Obviously, it is also policy to provide other options, such as apprenticeships and so on, but that choice should be available to students.
In my previous contribution I said we committed, as per section 22 of the Bill, to retaining the regional element. Merging institutions does not mean the focus on individual campuses will be in any way diminished. Separate individual campuses will be retained in the merged institutions with, I expect, increased numbers of students for individual campuses, whether they are individual IOTs that remain separate or are merged and subsequently become technological universities in conjunction with other institutions.
I repeat what I said. It would not be fair to change the criteria mid-stream, when it was clear to anybody who was involved in, or stayed out, of the process that mergers were one of the criteria. It remains one of the criteria and, therefore, we cannot say that an IOT does not need to merge in order to meet the criteria. It is one of the criteria that was very clearly explained at the time; it was not hidden.
We have already provided extra resources this year to facilitate the process. There is no intention of using this as a way to cut down on the resources available to the sector. There were some resource elements to the process, but they mainly involved ensuring there was proper consultation. For example, the institutes in the Munster region have agreed to free up four trade union representatives on a full-time basis. There is a problem with that because I understand the TUI does not trust the process. We have asked the institutions to free up the staff members concerned and they have agreed. The Department, the Higher Education Authority and I have reiterated time and again to the institutions concerned that they need to consult properly with their staff, academic and otherwise. We will reiterate the point if there is some doubt that is not actually happening.
Deputy O'Sullivan referred to SUSI. We will address the issue. She suggested students would not receive the non-adjacent rate if, for example, they lived in Cork and attended Tralee because they were adjacent to the Cork campus. That issue will be dealt with by SUSI to ensure that if the campus in which students' courses are situated are far away enough from their homes to qualify under the current system for the non-adjacent rate that they will qualify for the correct rate. I would not want any students to be disadvantaged in that way.