Thursday, 28 January 2016
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage (Resumed)
I am in favour of the Bill, as it is important that we have a technological university. Deputy O'Brien spoke about engagement. Recently, we were part of the engagement process with CIT and IT Tralee when Dr. Brendan Murphy held a meeting for public representatives and candidates. Deputy Creed and I met the TUI on Monday night and I met it previously. I am concerned by the large number of academic staff members who voted against the Bill. They numbered in excess of 80%. In my dealings with CIT's staff, they have been professional and committed. Notwithstanding the level or quality of the engagement between CIT and the TUI, Deputy O'Brien is correct, in that there must be a continuum of engagement at various levels.
It is important that we get this right and that the foundation be put in place now so as to ensure that the edifice that will be the technological university is of benefit to students and the cohort of people in the wider catchment area that it serves. Fundamental to this is the level of staff buy-in.
The representation that I received on governance and engagement centred on disillusionment in CIT and the appointment of academic staff and student representatives to the governing body. I was told that there should be a broad diversity of views among stakeholders. A concern has been expressed in the Chamber and elsewhere in this regard. To be fair to the Minister, she has been open to discussion and we have had conversations about this issue. She met TUI members in Cork on Monday night. In the education and training board, ETB, mergers, we brought people with us. It is important that we be open about the future appointment of staff, including academic staff, to the governing body, as the concern in that regard has been rightly expressed.
Another concern expressed to me during the dialogue centred on the six-month period at the beginning when there could potentially be no staff members or students on the governing body. That is not the right move. This relates to the question of engagement. Who better than the staff to be on a representative body? They are committed and interested and their remit does not end at the classroom or research door. Their role is much greater than that. As a director of adult education, I engaged with CIT and, in particular, Mr. Paul O'Mahony. The regional provision of outreach services for continuing education, back to education and upskilling was in its infancy and helped many people. The then Regional Technical College, Cork was good at doing this. It afforded people the opportunity to become part of higher level education in various shapes and forms. The Bill allows for this.
In this critical period of the merger, though, we must focus on ensuring access for students who might not otherwise get to college and on maintaining the core ethos along with business development, which is something that we have all accepted. What the Rubicon Centre and Dr. Murphy and others in CIT have done with the business case model, for example, the research and development of new thinking, new ideas and innovation, is to be applauded and commended. In keeping with this, there is an obligation to ensure that the ethos of upskilling and further education is preserved, but I am concerned that it will be lost during the opening six months. I say this conscious that we have high calibre people on the governing body, for example, Mr. Bob Savage of EMC, who do Trojan work and have no vested interest beyond the further advancement of the college and its students and staff.
When staff vote in such high numbers, it raises a flag and demands that an issue be examined. Undoubtedly, this Bill is about a future vision. The amendment referred to by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is about stakeholder engagement. The governing body is best served by having a wide diversity of opinion and membership. If we had done nothing in this Oireachtas other than pre-legislative scrutiny, it would have shown that true engagement and participation, beyond the normal shuffling of paper involved the compilation of Bills, works. In this case, it is important that we see further engagement.
The Minister is aware that those of us who are interested in education and have been involved in it for a long time recognise that a Bill is about winning people on the journey towards a particular point of view. It is about arriving at a consensus, if possible. It is important that we have a Bill that reflects the views of all of us. The Minister has gone some way towards this with the many amendments she has accepted since the consideration of the Bill began. The members of the academic council should be elected by the academic staff to ensure a diversity of views, as a TUI member said to me on Monday, and also to ensure a constructive challenge to management and the maintenance of academic quality. We must always ensure this.
I am very much cognisant that there is an excellent management council in CIT. It comprises people of the highest calibre who have done considerable, transformative work in bringing the institute to where it is today. In the fullness of time, this Bill will prove to have been the correct approach for both the students and staff. However, concerns have been expressed and views have been articulated that we must listen to and take on board.
I note how we have changed. Yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, commended a new skills strategy, on which I congratulate him. He is correct that we need to challenge one another in this area and reach out to young people to invite them to become part of the new skills era of our country. With a view to making this legislation better and having and a meeting of minds, I hope the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will listen to and reflect upon some of the views expressed to us at our meetings on Monday and during the week, and in the emails we received.
This is good legislation. It represents the right thing to do for CIT and IT Tralee. As I stated, we must now proceed in a calm, measured way. If we can do so, we will have a better Bill that will serve the needs of the staff and students, which is what we are about here today.