Thursday, 28 January 2016
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage (Resumed)
I wish to deal with a couple of issues. Colleagues are correct that some of them were dealt with already by the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, yesterday and probably on Tuesday and on Committee Stage. Deputy Buttimer might not have been present for the full debate so I will clarify the position for him. The TUI has consistently sought a full process of consultation in regard to the process and legislation. This has been followed through by the Minister and the Department with the respective institutes involved in the processes. We are disappointed that the TUI has chosen to withdraw from all the WRC engagement processes in respect of technological universities because I believe that all the TUI concerns can be addressed through discussion and negotiation via the normal industrial relations processes, including that of the WRC. The processes were employed in the recent successful ETB mergers in the education sector, to which the TUI was a party. They were not rushed. All of us wanted the reform of the full education and training system in respect of the ETBs but the process was not rushed. There was ample time for the issues to be worked through and negotiated at the desired level. That is what happened. In the case of the technological university proposal, the position is similar. There has been ongoing engagement and discussion. Everyone might not have got his way but there have been ongoing discussions and engagements for the past three or four years. There are new procedures in place allowing everybody a chance to have his or her voice heard. There is ample opportunity for all the concerns to be dealt with. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is correct that most people seem to agree with the principle of what we are trying to achieve here. However, many of the problems she is raising can be sorted out. It is not necessarily a matter for this legislation. It is to be dealt with under the WRC; that is what it is for. The processes are in place. Looking back at what has occurred in all the institutions of the past three or four years, I note there were many meetings and much engagement and consultation. New procedures were put in place to allow for that and to allow a safe space or forum for conversation.
I have visited the CIT on probably seven or eight occasions in the past 18 months. It is a fabulous place and is doing unbelievable work, including through the Rubicon Centre, the innovation centre. Unbelievable work is being done with local enterprises and people are being given a start-up opportunity. The students are being turned into entrepreneurs and business people who are creating jobs. The institute is an exemplar and I cannot commend it enough. This legislation will only enhance the good work and give further opportunities. There is ample time to sort out all the concerns.
Let me refer to the specific amendments, namely, amendment No. 19 and the rest of the amendments in the group. Sections 17, 44 and 52 all relate to the making of a decision by the Minister on an application made by a higher education institute or institutes. Each of these sections provides that the Minister, having come to a proposed decision, will inform the applicants of the proposed decision and allow them to make representations on a proposed decision within 30 days, and that those representations will be taken into account before a final decision is made. This is a common step in such processes, particularly statutory processes, and it is designed to ensure fair procedures are adhered to. More important, it allows the applicants the opportunity to point out any errors that might have been made in coming to a decision before the decision is finalised.
It would not be appropriate to open this process up to a wide range of other stakeholders. For that reason, we cannot accept amendments Nos. 19, 20, 81, 82 and 83.