Wednesday, 10 July 2019
Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 42, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
“(r) an institution, other than a recognised school or a university, which—(i) is a company limited by guarantee within the meaning of the Companies Act 2104,
(ii) is registered or deemed to be registered in the register of charitable organisations maintained under the Charities Act 2009,
(iii) offers early childhood education, adult or continuing education, or vocational education or training to economically disadvantaged persons, and
(iv) is designated as a not for profit community college by the Minister for the purposes of this paragraph,”.
These amendments are somewhat different but they are being discussed together. The background to the tabling of these amendments is that the Bill passed through the Seanad quickly. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills and we had indicated that we wanted to hold hearings on the Bill. We were informed, however, at the committee that we could not do so because Bill had gone to the Seanad. We had to wait to hold hearings until after the Bill had completed its passage through the Seanad and Second Stage in this House.
The joint committee then held hearings and a number of different organisations came in to talk to us about the Bill. We are quite happy with the general purpose of the Bill and with the different measures in it. I will not go into them now as we had an opportunity to speak about them on Second Stage. I tabled these two amendments in response to concerns that arose at those hearings. Amendment No. 5 arose from a presentation from AONTAS, the body that represents adult and community education. It was concerned that, as a not-for-profit provider, it might have to pay into the fund being established by this legislation. The fund is intended to ensure that if a college goes to the wall, particularly in the English language teaching sector, students will not lose out on the fees they had paid or on continuing with their course. We do not have any quarrel with ensuring protection for the students. My concern in this amendment is to ensure that not-for-profit community providers will not have to pay into this fund. Those who have to pay into the fund have to do so every year.
A series of exemptions is provided for in this section.I will not quote all of them but they include universities, Teagasc and SOLAS, as well as education and training boards, ETBs.
Perhaps the Minister of State can clarify if the not-for-profit community sector will be protected under that. My concern is that these providers might end up having to pay in. A lot of this fund concerns the teaching of English. There are many non-Irish people who do not have English as a first language living in our communities. In many cases, community educators provide English language education for those people. These educators may be seeking to have their qualification registered on the Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, list of qualifications into which we are trying to slot everybody.
I tabled the amendment to clarify this concern with the Minister of State. In many cases, not-for-profit community providers serve people who have had the least benefit from the education system, whether they are Irish people who had to leave school when they were young or people who came to live in this country for whom English is not a first language. They are nearly all not-for-profit providers, to which my amendment specifically refers. I want to be absolutely assured that they will not have to make a yearly payment into a fund. In recent years they already faced an issue about having to pay to re-register. This would be an added burden on voluntary organisations that do not have the capacity to pay extra money. That is the purpose of amendment No. 5.
Amendment No. 6 arises from a presentation to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills from an umbrella group of providers of English language education to students from outside the European Union. For some time, this group of colleges has organised an insurance fund which I understand fully covers students if there is a problem with a college or if a college folds. It also provides coverage for teachers. We had a big issue here around Christmastime, when some teachers were not paid because the college they were teaching in closed.
I have worded this amendment in a way that should protect the public purse. It does not envisage a subjective judgment on the part of a school that its cover is better than that offered under the proposed legislation. There is a three-year lag. If a provider has insurance, that can cover it for three years. It then comes into the system and has to pay in. If a provider has insurance cover that is better than that provided under this legislation, it should be allowed to continue with what it has and should not have to pay into the central scheme.
Issues around competition were raised by some other members of the committee. They asked if it would be anti-competitive not to allow for an option that would be better than what is offered in this legislation. That is what amendment no. 6 seeks to do. It provides:
The Minister, having considered any particular arrangements put in place by a provider under section 65 and continued in being by subsection (2), and after consultation with the Authority, may by order declare that the arrangements concerned offer greater protection to enrolled learners than would be offered under the relevant substitution and that paragraph (a) [which concerns paying into the scheme] shall not apply in respect of those arrangements.
That is the purpose of the two amendments.