Wednesday, 10 July 2019
Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages
I wish to tease out a few issues. What would be the effect of accepting amendment No. 6? What does the Minister of State read as the impact of that? Would it completely dilute what she is trying to do? I am talking about the amendment in the name of Deputy Jan O'Sullivan relating to the existing learner protection schemes in place that are at least equal to or possibly better than what the Minister of State is proposing. If that amendment were accepted, what would be its impact?
How much has it cost QQI to bail out students since 2010? How much will it cost the State to establish the learner protection fund? Presumably, if there is a fund in place, there will be administrators of that fund and thousands of students will be involved. Someone has to administer it and set up an infrastructure to maintain it. General data protection regulation, GDPR, issues also arise. Where does the money come from to cover that cost? It must come from the State because one cannot harvest the money without having the infrastructure in place. It cannot, therefore, come from the students or the college. Will the Minister of State clarify that?
I want clarification on this matter. The Minister of State should not misinterpret what I am saying as being negative. It is just that there are issues that I want to tease out. I addressed two questions to her. The Australian model involved having a modest fund. What if a negative event occurred that exhausted the moneys in the pot and a second negative event subsequently occurred? We have experience of multiple colleges failing in one year. What if there was a second negative event and there was nothing left in the pot? Under the existing system, the affected students and their teachers would be insured but if there was a second event and the pot was exhausted, under the system proposed by the Minister of State, the only recourse would be to the taxpayer. The Minister of State did not answer my question about what would happen if one of the big colleges failed and the liabilities exceeded the moneys available in the learner protection fund? Who would be liable for picking up the cost if such a substantial failure occurred?
The system in place in Australia is known as the Tuition Protection Service. Our system will be known as the learner protection fund. A few years ago, the director of the Tuition Protection Service entered into an insurance contract under which all claims would be met in the event of a large closure carrying heavy liabilities. This is what the Minister of State is modelling the learner protection fund on and that is fine. The Australian system has many good and positive aspects. Australia took the decision four or five years ago to take out insurance on its fund to ensure it could meet claims carrying heavy liabilities. What is the point of the State taking out insurance on a fund and thereby admitting that the fund it is providing may not be sufficient? That is what some of the private providers are saying. They are saying the cover they give is equal to or greater than what the Government is offering. What the Australian approach seemed to imply was that its fund or sinking fund may not be up to the task and needed to be insured against a major draw being taken on it. Will the Minister of State tease out that issue? Does she envisage her Department or QQI having to take out an insurance policy in the event of a large closure carrying heavy liabilities that would not be covered by the learner protection fund? It is a simple question and I apologise for repeating it. If there was a significant closure that exceeded the potential of the fund to resolve it because the liabilities accrued were heavier than the total amount in the fund, the taxpayer would have to pick up the bill, whereas under the existing process, insurance companies would pick up the bill and the taxpayer would not be liable. Will the Minister of State tease out those issues?