Thursday, 14 December 2017
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 33, 34, 48, 49, 51, 52 and 54 to 57, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together. It is only necessary to move amendment No. 1 for now, which the Minister of State has already done.
This is the first of a number of technical amendments relating to investigator powers. The amendment specifically provides for the inclusion in the Long Title of the Bill of a reference providing for the investigation into the performance of functions regarding institutes of technology, including the Dublin Institute of Technology.
This provision is comprehended in the function and governance of technological universities, TUs, as referenced in the Long Title of the Bill. Amendment No. 2 is another technical amendment, providing for the inclusion in the Long Title of a reference providing for the investigation into the performance of its functions in respect of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and its three constituent schools of Celtic studies, cosmic physics and theoretical physics, and the National College of Art and Design. Amendment No. 3 is a further technical amendment providing for the inclusion of references to the Acts governing the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and its three constituent schools and the National College of Art of Design. The Institute for Advanced Studies Act 1940 and the National College of Art of Design Act 1971 are being amended to provide for the power of the Minister to appoint an investigator into any matter specified concerning the performance of the functions of those institutions.
Amendment No. 33 arises as a consequences of issues highlighted at the Committee of Public Accounts, which required reports and subsequent reviews, concerning the operation of several higher education institutions. The committee's deliberations highlighted the necessity for more flexible investigative powers to be provided to the Minister for Education and Skills to deal with such matters. This provision will enable any matter or concern relating to a technological university to be investigated and a draft report to be prepared by the investigator. The report will be provided to the Minister, the Higher Education Authority and the governing body of the TU, as well as any person the investigator deems it necessary should receive the report or part of the report. Having considered any representations made within a 28-day period, the investigator will finalise his or her report and furnish it to the Minister and the Higher Education Authority as soon as practicable thereafter. The provision requires the co-operation of both leadership and staff, as well as contractors, consultants and advisers, with the investigator. Specifically, the investigator shall be entitled at all reasonable times to enter a TU, institute of technology or other referenced publicly funded higher education institution on any matters regarding the performance of its functions and shall be afforded every facility by that body, including access to all records concerning the performance of its function.
Amendment No. 34 provides that the governing body of a technological university shall furnish to the Minister any information requested by the latter concerning the performance by the institution of its functions. The Minister may provide any such information furnished to him or her to an investigator. However, the Minister shall not be permitted to request information from a TU in regard to the specific matter being investigated during the period of the investigation, up to and including the furnishing of the final report by the investigator to the Minister.
In order to provide consistency in respect of the various referenced institutions, a number of amendments which mirror amendment No. 34 are required. Amendment No. 48 proposes to replace section 15 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992 to provide the same power to the Minister to appoint an investigator to examine the performance of its functions by the DIT. Amendment No. 51, in the same vein, amends the Regional Technological Colleges Act 1992 to facilitate the same investigatory function in respect of the institutes of technology. Again, provision is made, in amendments Nos. 49 and 52, such that the Minister shall not request information during the period beginning on the appointment of the investigator and ending with the furnishing of the final report.
The power to appoint an investigator is likewise extended to include the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and its constituent schools of Celtic studies, cosmic physics and theoretical physics. This is done by way of amendment No. 54, which inserts a new section 29A into the Institute for Advanced Studies Act 1940. Amendment No. 55 specifies that the Minister may provide information furnished to him or her by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and its constituent schools to an investigator. However, the amendment stipulates that the Minister shall not request information during the period beginning on the appointment of the investigator and ending with the final report.
Finally, amendment No. 56 extends the power to appoint an investigator to the National College of Art and Design by way of the insertion of a new section 15A into the National College of Art and Design Act 1971. Amendment No. 57 extends the power to the Minister to provide information furnished to him or her by the National College of Art and Design to an investigator. Again, the amendment stipulates that the Minister shall not request information during the period beginning on the appointment of the investigator and ending with the delivery of the final report.
I welcome these provisions. There has been some loss of confidence in aspects of the governance of the third level sector, as was highlighted in the discussions that took place at the Committee of Public Accounts and in issues reported in the media. I also refer to the University of Limerick in this regard. In some cases, there was a great deal of defensiveness on the part of sector representatives when confronted with the concerns being expressed. When I make the case generally, or even to colleagues, that the third level sector needs more funding, which it undoubtedly does, some people immediately respond that we should first look to how the institutions are spending their current allocation.
The investigatory provisions the Minister of State is proposing to insert by way of these amendments will help to restore confidence on a range of issues. Will she comment on why it was decided in the past week or so not to extend these provisions to the university sector? I wonder if doing so would affect the State's balance sheet, which might be the reason it is not being done. I would appreciate a clarification from the Minister of State in this regard.
Concerns have been raised in Cork, and I am sure in Kerry also, in respect of the Technological Universities Bill 2015 and the proposed merger of the Cork Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology Tralee to form the Munster technical university. Workers in these colleges are expecting job losses, and I believe they are probably right to expect job losses. The best that the Higher Education Authority, HEA, can offer at the moment is to say that it does not envisage job losses. This seems to be a rather slippery form of words. It does not take a genius to work out that rationalisations in administration and academic staff could follow this proposed merger. I ask the Minister a direct question. The HEA has said that it does not envisage job losses but is the Minister prepared to be more precise and give a guarantee that there will not be job losses? Is she prepared to deny to the union concerned that there will be job losses and will the Minister give a guarantee to the House and the workers in this regard?
On the superannuation issue, the employee self-service, ESS, pension scheme is the lower tier pension scheme for education workers who were recruited after 2015. It is an inferior scheme because it provides workers with a career average pension as opposed to a final salary pension. I note that this is the scheme for new recruits under the arrangements as planned in the Bill. It amounts to an endorsement of a two-tier system and discrimination. I ask the Minister to give a guarantee that there will not be job losses in the institutes in Tralee and Cork with the formation of the Munster technical university.
Deputy Thomas Byrne asked about the investigatory provisions relating to universities. Important technical issues have come up which are being considered in respect of university governance, autonomy and control of the impact on the classification of universities in terms of a wider, national fiscal policy. These technical issues will be considered by the Department of Education and Skills, in conjunction with the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. For consistency right across the higher education sector, it is intended to provide for the power in relation to universities at a later stage. The enactment of the Technological Universities Bill 2015 is a priority for the Government and I do not want to delay the passage of the Bill in any way. I have, therefore, decided to proceed with the introduction of the investigative power into performance of functions across the institutes of technology and the technological university sector, and in respect of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the National College of Art and Design.
Deputy Barry asked about jobs losses. The whole concept behind us forming technological universities, TUs, is to improve the sector right across the State. There have been problems with specific institutes of technology and by doing this, not only are we offering more to the student who is the most important person in these institutions, but I believe that jobs will be safer in strong, technological universities to which students will apply and in which they will want to finish their studies. Currently we find that students are dropping out and there is no continuum of education across the sector. In the technological universities, students will be able to do levels six through to ten. We envisage that this will strengthen the technological universities and that by doing this, jobs will be preserved and saved.
I strongly criticise Deputy Barry for coming into the Chamber and throwing this red herring into the debate at the last minute. It casts a slur on all Deputies who support this legislation. If the Deputy had taken a minute to read section 50 of the Bill, he would see a specific section about the transfer of staff. There are no jobs losses and this is provided for by law. It is scandalous that Deputy Barry has come here today and thrown this red herring into the debate. He is frightening the horses down in Cork and elsewhere that jobs are going to be lost. It is outrageous and it is typical of the way the far left operates in Ireland.
I would not support the Bill if I thought there were job losses involved. The Teachers' Union of Ireland, TUI, would not support the Bill or have balloted their members if that was the case. I do not know if Deputy Barry is aware that the union put a ballot out with an information sheet on this issue. The Deputy could have looked at section 50 and studied the law before he came into the Chamber talking nonsense. It casts a slur on all Deputies who support the Bill. We are facilitating the Government on the legislation. We support it and we are pushing for it. Deputy Barry is not just criticising the Government, but he is also criticising Fianna Fáil and I take that personally on behalf of the party.
I am well aware that when I criticise the Government I am, in passing, criticising Fianna Fáil on this issue. Deputy Byrne has said that my comments are scandalous, represent a red herring and are typical of the far left. The Deputy, however, does not remark on the fact that a significant body of trade union opinion among the workforce in the Cork and Tralee institutes of technology has genuine and serious concerns that the merger will be used to bring about job losses. I ask that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle ask the Minister to answer the question. It was not whether the Minister thought jobs will be safer. The question was if the Minister would give a guarantee to the House and to the workforce and the workers with genuine concerns that there will no job losses. I await the Minister's answer to that specific question.
I reiterate that I am not in the business of guaranteeing anything. We have spent years bringing in this Technological Universities Bill, and I thank the TUI which voted in favour of technological universities. The regional remit of TUs is being strengthened in this Bill. With regard to staff transfer to the TUs, I have been very clear in what I have said. I reiterate that the Technological Universities Bill will strengthen the education on offer to students and, if one thinks about it logically, in doing so, jobs will be safer. It is very easy for Deputy Barry to stand up and throw that out, but we have worked with the unions and we have discussed it with them. I believe the lecturers and staff in those institutes of technology, who are hoping to get technology university recognition, want the very best for their students. That is what this Department is about; the student and then the lecturers.
I would like the Minister to clarify this. With all due respect to the Minister, section 50 of the Bill does provide a guarantee. I ask that the Minister reconsider her point on not being prepared to give a guarantee. If one reads the legislation, in my view, it is utterly clear.
The Bill states: "Every person who, immediately before the designated day (a) was a member of the staff of the dissolved body shall, on the designated day, become and be a member of the staff of the merged institute and (b) was a fixed-term employee of the dissolved body shall, on the designated day, become and be a fixed-term employee of the merged institute for the duration of his or her contract of employment."
That is written in the Bill. What I was alluding to was that sometimes, courses change. That has happened in the past. This provision guarantees those jobs which will move from the institutes of technology to the technological universities. If a course becomes defunct, there can be an issue. That is what I am talking about.
As someone who worked in the Dublin Institute of Technology for almost 20 years, I wish to recognise and acknowledge all the work that has gone into the proposal to establish technological universities in Ireland by various people in different colleges around Ireland.
It is the Minister of State's job to be able to allay people's fears. One thing in the institutes of technology which has been partially resolved, particularly by the work of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, in a constructive and lengthy contact and debate with the Department of Education and Skills. Some people may have concerns about section 50(1)(b) and section 50(2) because they want reassurance and clarity about status. This is because, in recent decades, there has been a shift in how staff are appointed to various positions within the third level sector. This is not only in institutes of technology but also the universities. Recently, there was a suggestion that in future, university presidents may have much higher salaries. At the same time as the Government indicated it is favourably disposed to the new Garda Commissioner receiving an annual salary package of around €250,000 annually, which is a lot of money to most people, there were indications that the heads of colleges and universities might similarly be in line for such salaries. The Minister of State should clarify this. I do not know what stage this proposal has reached.
Many young people are at various stages of undertaking PhDs while others have recently been awarded PhDs. Many find that they are being effectively being appointed at assistant lecturer level. The salary that goes with being at assistant lecturer level is modest. People would earn far more working in the information technology sector, in the commercial business sector, as accountants, lawyers or finance experts. Many people want to pursue an academic career. There is concern that in the transfer from one type of institution to another, there might be people whose terms and conditions are at risk. There has been a creeping development, I suspect influenced by the UK, where some of the leadership in third level institutions have people on contract terms that do not equate to tenure for long periods and perhaps even over a lifetime, whereas tenure used to be the common experience in Irish third level institutions. This could work out fine for people in some cases but it does not for others and it does not work fine for those who are among the 30-somethings who also need to buy a house and need status and confirmation of salary terms and conditions to be able to get a mortgage. There is a question of status within the institution for those without tenure. There has been a vast change internationally on the matter of status. It also applies to ancillary staff. I have often met people from the institutes of technology and the universities who might work in the library, for example, which is critically important especially in institutions where research is dominant. Their terms and conditions are being changed as institutions evolve. It is important to send a clear message. The technological university development will be really good for institutes of technology. It will allow them to grow and prosper and become more of a magnet for foreign direct investment into their local area. They are very attractive to people who have qualified in trades who can then progress to become engineers, professional accountants or other professionals and go up the ladder of achievement, but it needs to be directed.
Another thing which must be addressed are the complaints, which have come from as high a level as head of department, is that there has not been enough consultation with and information given to the senior staff in the institutions who are the leadership therein. These are the people on whom the Minister of State will rely to develop and lead this vision. I have seen people, whose achievements for their institutions and their students I really respect, query why they are not being included in a process. The process seems to being run out of the offices of the presidents.
Many years ago, I was on the original steering committee for the Grangegorman project. It was very difficult to explain the vision of the Dublin Institute of Technology being an institution with 20,000 students, for this city and country, that would open up career or academic progression, regardless of a person's background. It would offer the kind of progression that exists in countries such as Germany and Austria, where someone can begin as an electrician and go right up the ladder to become head of engineering in the institution, whether it is a university or an institute of technology. These heads of department, many of whom have made a similar progression and for whom I have the utmost respect, are saying that they are not sufficiently involved or consulted.
On the other end, I could take the Minister of State to my constituency, or indeed her own, and introduce her to people who, having committed to a PhD and an academic career, find it extremely difficult to get an established post. The Minister of State must speak on this to those two different sets of people who have only the best of ambition and intention to progress. The Minister of State said that this was all about students. People who have given their lives and are now heads of department, as well as those who are starting on a career to which they are totally committed, all need more information and contact from the Department and a greater indication of what is going to happen.
I fought in Cabinet for the new Luas to stop at Grangegorman, which it now does, and this will transform not just the DIT, but the whole area. Leadership is required from the Minister in the really important job she has to do. She has to reach out to the different sets of people who have genuine questions.
The Minister has thrown a spanner into the works in the debate today. I read section 50 as stating, in the plainest possible language, that there is a guarantee that everybody who has a job will continue to have one. I am supporting the Bill on that basis. If the Minister contradicts that and says she cannot give that guarantee, then Fianna Fáil cannot support the Bill - it is as simple as that and I ask her to clarify the position.
I cannot understand why the Deputy did not hear. It states:
Every person who, immediately before the appointed day—
(a) was a member of the staff of a dissolved body shall, on the appointed day, become and be a member of the staff of the technological university
Section 50 is very strong and strengthens the negotiations for staff. It defines their tenure and section 54 is also very strong.
The guarantee is there. It is not a guarantee from a Minister but it is in black and white in the Bill. I have also read it into the record on two occasions.
I thank Deputy Burton for bringing up the issue of doctoral education. We have a national framework for doctoral education which was launched in 2015. The framework articulates nine principles for doctoral education in Ireland and has been endorsed by the Irish higher education institutions, as well as the main research funders. Its aims are to facilitate consistent excellence in the quality of postgraduate education, to enable and encourage higher education institutions to work more closely in the delivery of an improved learner experience and outcome, and to maximise the employability of doctoral graduates across a broad range of employment sectors by ensuring that the acquisition of discipline-specific knowledge is complemented by the development of transferable skills to underpin the international standing of the Irish doctoral award. In 2016, QQI commissioned an expert panel to report on quality assurance for research programmes. We want the best for our doctoral programmes and we have set up two national negotiation forums with unions where issues can be raised. We have strengthened postgraduate study for our doctoral students.
The issue is whether there will be job losses in the institutes of technology, specifically Cork and Tralee, but also more generally, on foot of this Bill and the merger into the Munster technical university. Job losses could happen in different ways. They could happen on day one as a result of the merger or they could happen down the road, such as later in year one or in year two. The Minister was asked a straight question and, in the answer she gave, she quoted section 50 of the Bill, which seems to give a clear indication that there will not be job losses on day one. We can put that in the bank, but then we must ask whether the way this could work out will lead to job losses down the road, and the Minister is far less clear in that regard. On top of saying she hates to give guarantees, she said that, sometimes, courses change. In that context, she is not able to give a guarantee about job losses.
It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that courses will change on foot of this merger. If there are two almost identical courses in college A and college B and all the students are grouped together from different locations with teleconferencing, it would lend itself to changes in the courses which take place. Resources from one course could be freed up and both lecturing and administrative staff could be affected. Incidentally, such a development, far from improving standards for students, would lower standards but that is not the main issue. Notwithstanding the fact that the TUI has signed up to this, there are more than one or two TUI members who have questions and concerns about this and these concerns are genuine. I do not think they will have been lessened in any way by the comments of the Minister because she seems to be saying that there is a guarantee for day one while, a little bit down the road, the picture is not so clear and no guarantees can be given. For Solidarity, that is not good enough, even if it is good enough for the Government. The issue in this debate is whether it is good enough for Fianna Fáil. Is Fianna Fáil going to vote for the Bill on the basis of a somewhat half-hearted guarantee or is it not? The ball is in Fianna Fáil's court.
I do not answer to the far left but I will wait to hear what the Minister says on section 50 before committing because a spanner has been thrown into the works. We want to support this and get the legislation through. We want to support staff and the TUI, as well as the agreement it reached with the Department. We want to get these universities started and to ensure section 50 is properly explained on the floor of this Dáil by the Government.
I understand the Minister to be saying that, legally, this has the effect of being a transfer of undertakings, which has happened from time to time in respect of various public bodies that transferred. My question is on something that does not feature in the Bill and maybe we will come back to it in the new year so I will flag it for the Minister.
Does the Minister of State have concerns about what is happening to very talented people who are either completing their PhDs or in the middle of same and their capacity to get stable, recognised employment? Section 50(1)(b) refers to a fixed term employee. Does the Minister of State have data on the institutes of technology and other institutions as to how many staff working there over long periods lack full staff positions? While they rightly have to run their own institutions, it has suited some college presidents to vary their budgets to have some people on full staff terms and conditions which others do not enjoy. The Minister of State may well tell the House that this is not a feature of the Bill, but it is one of the issues she has to address as an office holder. If she does not, many of these people, who are among the brightest and best, will end up leaving the country or going into other fields where their skills are recognised and remunerated.
The document from which the Minister of State read is a general one on how postgraduates are to be treated. I do not even think that is being done, by the way, in some of our universities. It does not apply either to how some women are being treated in our universities where their rate of promotion is significantly lower than that of men. That has been addressed in part by the courts and in part by a number of other bodies. These issues are really important for the quality of our third level institutions. What is the Minister of State saying to staff who are in those positions and where tenure is weak or non-existent? What about promotion by gender, where women are not numerically represented as well as men? We have a lot of women staff in colleges and universities at the lower levels but they are not necessarily going up the promotion ranks. Again, it means losing out on a lot of talent. What are the Minister of State's thoughts on this important issue for the country as we progress? Our third level sector is a major draw for foreign direct investment because of the calibre of those who have been educated and trained here. Institutes of technology are vital to attracting more foreign direct investment to Tralee, Sligo and Mayo and as such we need clarity that the people employed in these institutions will get contracts.
The Minister of State did not address the point I made about ancillary staff in libraries, laboratories, research centres, services and administration in colleges. Is the Minister of State saying that what was traditionally understood as a transfer of undertakings operates at a 100% level for all of these people and not just for the academic staff?
I accept what the Minister of State has said on section 50 and the guarantee she has given. I am glad that has now been resolved as far as Fianna Fáil is concerned. As a by the way comment, I cannot see how one could go further than what is in the legislation. I am much happier now that the Minister of State has clarified and explained that.
I thank Deputy Burton. If she has specific examples, I would be very pleased to look at them. She has definitely raised gender and equality within third level institutions. I have set up a task force and on Committee Stage I accepted an amendment from Deputy Thomas Byrne to address gender balance on academic councils and to provide that at least 40% of a governing body of a technological university shall be women. The Bill also provides in section 12 that in making regulations relating to the conduct of elections, seeking nominations for appointments and the appointment of members to a governing body, a technological university shall have regard to the objective that at least 40% of members shall be men and 40% shall be women.
On 6 November 2017, I noted my concern about women progressing to professorships and I remain concerned. Only 19% of women are at professor level across the institutes and we have never had a woman president in 425 years of the university sector. I have set up a task force to look at this directly and to come back with solutions. Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn produced an excellent report in 2016 and the task force is going through its recommendations to establish how we can ensure that women come to the fore as they should. Organisations which recognise male and female talent are much better. That is what I want from my task force. As to any specific examples the Deputy has, the legislation guarantees at section 50 the terms and conditions of current staff. I am happy with that. It is there in black and white.
As Minister of State, did Deputy Mitchell O'Connor take an initiative to have it brought to her attention, read it and find out what the contents were? These are very important people in their different institutions. Has no one in the Department interacted with them?
I have been in education for 31 years and I am from outside Dublin. I believe technological universities represent the best way forward for the regions. For staff and students, these will be stronger organisations. In good faith, that is why we have put a very strong Bill forward. It addresses all the issues that have come up via the unions, lecturers and students. This has not happened over a year or the six months I have been in the job. This has been going on for years and a great deal of effort has gone into it. We have been through the Dáil before, but the Minister, Deputy Bruton, put it back on Committee Stage to find the optimal solutions for students and lecturers. The document I have here is a very strong one and it addresses the issues the Deputy raises. If there are specific examples, the Department and I are more than willing to look at them.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, line 10, after “Technology;” to insert the following:"to provide for investigation into the performance of functions of the Institute for Advanced Studies and its Constituent Schools and the National College of Art and Design;".
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:" "Act of 1940" means the Institute for Advanced Studies Act 1940; "Act of 1971" means the National College of Art and Design Act 1971;".
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:" "pensionable public servant" shall be construed in accordance with Part 2 of the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012;".
This is a technical amendment, the first of a number of related amendments, which inserts a new definition of "pensionable public servant" into section 2 of the Bill. There is no substantive change to the provisions relating to the superannuation of staff of a technological university from those agreed on Committee Stage. However, on the advice of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC, this is part of a technical placement of sections of the Bill which splits the provisions to more clearly delineate and clarify the superannuation scheme entitlements between staff already in an institute of technology which becomes part of a technological university in section 51 and any staff newly appointed to a technological university in the future, who are provided for in section 15.
In related amendment No. 22 provision is made that, upon appointment of the technological university, a pensionable public servant shall become and be a member of the education superannuation scheme 2015 or Statutory Instrument No. 290 of 2015. There is no impact on a member of staff in another institute of technology who transfers in due course to a TU. Such a person's superannuation entitlements are protected and the person will carry his or her entitlements with him or her.
Amendment No. 43 is a related technical amendment to delete section 51(2), which is being moved to section 15(1). This is being done to delineate between the superannuation entitlements of pensionable public servants' superannuation newly appointed to a TU as opposed to those of existing staff of an institute of technology which merges upon a successful application for TU designation. This latter category of staff may be members of a relevant superannuation scheme or the single public service pension scheme and shall upon the appointed day establishing the TU continue to be a member of such scheme in accordance with its terms and conditions.
Related amendment No. 44 is a technical drafting amendment recommended by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.
Amendment No. 45 is a technical amendment to delete the definition of "pensionable public servants". This definition is now provided for in section 2 on interpretation.
Amendment No. 46 is a technical amendment deleting "(S.I. No. 290 of 2015)". With other amendments this will be referenced earlier in section 15(1) and does not require to be repeated.
Amendment No. 29 is the first of a number of technical amendments relating to provisions regarding borrowing, guaranteeing and underwriting loans by the technological university. The amendment amends section 22 and provides that an údarás shall, rather than may, from time to time with the approval of the Minister, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Finance make rules to be complied with by a technological university in respect of any borrowing, guaranteeing or underwriting. This provision will require the údarás or the HEA to make rules rather than leaving this to their discretion. This wording was agreed following consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance. It clarifies the requirement for the HEA to make rules with the consent of relevant Ministers.
Related amendment No. 30 provides for the requirement for a technological university to obtain the prior approval of the HEA, and that such consent is subject in turn to the consent of the Minister, which consent is subject to the prior consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Finance, before borrowing, guaranteeing or underwriting. This wording further clarifies the controls on borrowing, guaranteeing or underwriting by a TU. It was agreed following consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance.
Amendment No. 31 is a consequential amendment arising from an additional subsection being inserted into this provision.
Amendment No. 32 inserts a new provision requiring a TU to comply with the provisions of section 67 of the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Act 2010, which relates to the prohibition of certain secured borrowings. This is being inserted following further consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance.
In addition, there are a number of other technical drafting amendments. Amendment No. 7 is a technical amendment to reflect that campuses of a TU or campuses of applicant institutes may be located in more than one region. The rewording of the definition was requested by the Teachers' Union of Ireland and I am happy to provide further clarification on this issue.
Amendment No. 25 is a technical drafting amendment merging two subsections into one subsection. It is recommended by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.
Amendment No. 39 corrects a typographical error in the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 47 and 50 are technical amendments to amend an erroneous reference in the Bill and to delete "11" and substitute "12".
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 9, to delete lines 26 to 28 and substitute the following:" "student union", in relation to an institute or technological university, means an independent body established by students, with a written constitution ratified by students in a referendum to promote the general interests of students of an institute or technological university and which represents students, both individually and collectively, in respect of academic, disciplinary and other matters arising within the university;".
This amendment provides a definition of a student union as an independent body democratically elected by students for students. The Bill's current definition of student union bizarrely allows the technological university to define any student representative body whether it is democratically elected or not. Obviously there are huge concerns and I have met numerous students' unions about this. The Bill also requires the union to be recognised by the technological university before it can be defined as a student union. My proposed amendment defines a student union as an independent body democratically elected by the students for the students. It requires that a representative group for students should not have to rely on a TU to recognise it, but on the students who recognise it by voting for it.
This issue arose on Committee Stage.
It is an important one because historically, students have always been represented by their student union and it is really important that a student union has autonomy from the institution and the university. To me, it is very similar to a workplace situation where workers decide whether to join a trade union and have representation through that trade union. The current wording regarding a representative body brings to mind an institution basically trying to put in its own body instead of actually recognising the student union. There has been a lot of talk today about staff but not much about students, who are obviously really important in all of this. The wording of my amendment and that of Deputy Catherine Martin's amendment goes a lot further to recognise the autonomy of a student union and how important it is that students are represented and a student union is given a mandate by students. If this amendment does not pass, we will see an erosion of student rights, which I would regret, so I hope people will support this amendment. It is something that student unions feel very strongly about and it is an important amendment.
I support these amendments, which are vital in terms of defending student unions as representative, independent institutions of their members, which means they can operate effectively to represent their members on whatever issues arise instead of the potentially Orwellian scenario of the technological university deciding which body it will be dealing with and what body it denotes as a student representative organisation. A very worrying example of where this can lead can be found in Institute of Technology, Tallaght, ITT, where the student union has been very effective. For example, it recently led a successful campaign to defend a students' crèche that was faced with closure as a result of cutbacks. In recent weeks, ITT has made moves to cut the full-time student union secretary position, a position that plays an important role in terms of dealing with administrative, secretarial issues for the student union. The institute of technology has just unilaterally cut that, which is a massive cut to the resources available to the student union and means that instead of being able to deal with the issues they are meant to be dealing with, the student union sabbatical officers are drowning in paperwork, which is quite a conscious decision by the institute of technology. The cutting of the position undermines the ability of the student union to offer essential services to the student body and the result is unacceptable backlogs in services and essential facilities effectively being closed. That student union is campaigning to maintain its independence and resources so that the institute of technology does not have the capacity to just cut and damage the ability of the student union to operate. I ask the Minister of State to comment on that situation if possible, to support the student union campaign to have that position restored and to endorse these amendments, which are vital.
I have met the student unions and I have to say that I am shocked by some of the stories I have heard about student unions not being recognised and colleges putting obstacles in their way. I have heard that anecdotally about a number of colleges and I think that is very wrong. However, I have explained to the student unions that I am not sure this legislation is the right place to place a definition of a student union. I, along with Fianna Fáil, am open to considering separate legislation on the recognition of student unions. Obviously, a bit of work will have to go into that. Perhaps somebody on the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills could look at it because a fair issue has been raised. I worry that we are setting up recognition of a student union or legal rights in the definition of it here and I am not sure that would do it or would be good enough. I see the point colleagues are making and I respect them but I think I will sit this one out today. My commitment is definitely there and I have told the student unions that I will work with them to make sure that type of practice is changed. The types of practice outlined by Deputy Paul Murphy today or the types of practice that other student unions have outlined would not be affected by this definition. I am not denigrating anyone. Deputies Paul Murphy and Funchion raised fair points. If what Deputy Paul Murphy is saying is correct, that would be very wrong but this would not change it. If that is happening, it must be changed and we should be working on that. I will suggest to the Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills that we work on the fair points that have been raised but I would have thought that if this is accepted today, it will just delay the Bill. I do not know whether we can do so but I want to do everything possible to get this through as soon as possible and if possible, today.
As I have experience of working in a trade union, I know we are not going to solve everything by an amendment or wording but it certainly gives greater protection to student unions. If this amendment is not passed, we will see universities and institutions nominating representative body "X", whoever that might be, and students would be then be forced to either accept it or have no representation. We are going down a very dangerous path. I accept that it does not solve all problems but student unions do have some recognition and this merely involves adding three or four more sentences to what is in the Bill. I do not see how it would delay the Bill any further. It is an amendment that is quite progressive and makes a lot of sense. If we are looking at our education system and trying to make it somewhat progressive, we should be looking at representing students. There was a lot of talk about the TUI and staff, and that is very important but we need to take the student voices into account. I feel strongly that having a representative body does not go far enough. It leaves the power to decide who will represent students completely in the hands of the institution when the students should be making that decision.
I reiterate what my colleagues said and thank them for speaking in support of my amendment. As it stands, the Bill would lead to the oxymoronic situation where a group would be defined as representing students because the technological university states that and recognises it but an independent body established by students and whose members are democratically elected by students would not be considered representative. We need to strive to protect the students.
Student union members are elected to office by their peers and are autonomous in that sense. However, it is not unreasonable that student unions, in interacting with a technological university, should be recognised by the technological university. This makes practical sense as otherwise there could be a multitude of fragmented and sectional representative bodies of individuals seeking to advance particular issues. The successful interaction of the student representative body with the technological university will be based on mutual co-operation to achieve the resolution of any particular issues.
In seeking to amend the definition of student union to include reference to an independent body, the definition in Deputy Catherine Martin's amendment does not reference accountability for funding channelled to that body. There must be an appropriate balance between autonomy and accountability. Officials from the Department of Education and Skills have had initial discussions with USI regarding the potential development of a framework for student unions. Work carried out in Scotland has been highlighted as a possible model. I cannot accept Deputy Martin's definition of a student union because the current definition also includes the reference to other student representative bodies, which ensures the possibility of there being more than one student representative body being provided for. In terms of that proposed amendment, the definition relates to the independence of the student union but does not reference accountability, as I have said. There must be appropriate accountability. My officials have had the discussions with USI. They are trying to produce a framework that is acceptable for students.
I cannot accept amendment No. 6 in the name of Deputy Funchion. We are providing a technical definition to ensure clarity in the context of issues relating to representation. The current definition does include the reference to other student representative bodies. As I have said, that ensures that the possibility of there being more than one student representative body is provided for.
In terms of the proposed amendment, the definition relates to the independence of the students' union but does not refer to accountability. We cannot accept amendments Nos. 5 or 6.
I do not accept that. The amendment is needed to protect the students' union as an independent body democratically elected by the students. We cannot allow a situation in which it depends on the technological university to recognise it and have no regard to the fact it can be democratically elected by the students for the students.
Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Joan Burton, Michael Collins, Ruth Coppinger, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Dessie Ellis, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Michael Harty, Séamus Healy, Brendan Howlin, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Mattie McGrath, Catherine Martin, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Carol Nolan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Louise O'Reilly, Jan O'Sullivan, Maurice Quinlivan, Brendan Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín.
Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Seán Canney, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Michael Creed, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Brendan Griffin, John Halligan, Simon Harris, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Seán Kyne, Michael Lowry, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Josepha Madigan, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Shane Ross, David Stanton, Katherine Zappone.
Bobby Aylward, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, James Browne, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, John Curran, Stephen Donnelly, Timmy Dooley, Seán Fleming, Seán Haughey, John Lahart, James Lawless, Michael McGrath, Micheál Martin, Aindrias Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eugene Murphy, Willie O'Dea, Frank O'Rourke, Anne Rabbitte, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Robert Troy.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 9, to delete lines 26 to 28 and substitute the following:" "students’ union" means an independent body established by students, with a written constitution ratified by students in a referendum to promote the general interests of students of an institute, merged institute or technological university, and which represents students, both individually and collectively, in respect of academic, disciplinary and other matters arising within the institution and provides services to them, including commercial services at competitive rates;".
Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Joan Burton, Michael Collins, Ruth Coppinger, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Dessie Ellis, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Michael Harty, Séamus Healy, Brendan Howlin, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Mattie McGrath, Catherine Martin, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Carol Nolan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Louise O'Reilly, Jan O'Sullivan, Maurice Quinlivan, Brendan Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín.
Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Seán Canney, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Michael Creed, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Brendan Griffin, John Halligan, Simon Harris, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Seán Kyne, Michael Lowry, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Josepha Madigan, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Shane Ross, David Stanton, Katherine Zappone.
Bobby Aylward, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, James Browne, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, John Curran, Stephen Donnelly, Seán Fleming, Seán Haughey, John Lahart, James Lawless, Michael McGrath, Aindrias Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eugene Murphy, Willie O'Dea, Frank O'Rourke, Anne Rabbitte, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Robert Troy.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 11, to delete lines 1 to 3 and substitute the following:
“(2) A reference in this Part to a region includes a reference to each of the regions in which the campuses of a technological university or, as the case may be, applicant institutes are located.”.
Before we move on to amendment No. 8, I remind Members who were not here this morning that the weekly divisions will take place on the conclusion of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill, which will be at 6.45 p.m. or, if delayed, at 7.07 p.m., but we will have the votes before 7 p.m.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 11, line 31, to delete “citizens” and substitute “individuals”.
Following our discussions on Committee Stage, this amendment provides that the functions of a technological university provide programmes of education and training that reflect the needs of individuals in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located.
Amendment No. 26, which is related, also arises from the debate on Committee Stage. This amendment provides that the strategic development plan of a technological university shall specify the plans to provide programmes of education and training that reflect the needs of individuals in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located.
Following consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, the word "individuals" is considered more appropriate to encompass the broad scope of population and meets the concerns of Deputies. I thank Deputies Kathleen Funchion, Catherine Martin and ThomasByrne for engaging with my officials on this issue following the Committee Stage discussion. Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Burton were also notified of the change.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 11, line 32, to delete “the professions and other stakeholders” and substitute “the professions, the community, local interests and other stakeholders”.
This amendment is the first of a number of related amendments and it provides that in addition to the needs of business, enterprise and the professions, the functions of a technological university also provide programmes of education and training that reflect the needs of the community and local interests. I had previously sought an amendment relating to the community but withdrew that amendment on Committee Stage. This amendment follows discussion on Committee Stage and relevant consultations with Deputies Kathleen Funchion, Catherine Martin and ThomasByrne. Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Burton were also notified of the change.
In similar vein, amendment No. 10 provides that in addition to collaborating with business, enterprise and the professions, the functions of a technological university also provide for collaborating with the community, local interests and other stakeholders in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located.
Again, I had previously sought an amendment on the issue of the community, but withdrew the amendment at Committee Stage.
Amendment No. 24 promotes the involvement of the community and broader local interests in the functions of the academic council.
Amendment No. 27 broadens the scope of the strategic development plan to take account of providing programmes of education and training, the needs of local interests as well as the community and other local stakeholders. As such it covers a wider breadth of interest groups and strengthens the provisions of programme development in this regard.
Amendment No. 35 provides for the widening of those groupings which can be involved in the development and delivery of programmes for students at a technological university. The wider scope also includes community and interest groups.
Amendment No. 36 provides that applicant institutes demonstrate to the satisfaction of the advisory panel at the time that they apply for an order under section 33 that the innovation and research has positive social and economic effects on the community and local interests in the region in which the campuses of the applicant institutes are located.
Similarly, amendment No. 37 provides that applicant institutes demonstrate to the satisfaction of the advisory panel that the applicant institutes have strong links with the community and local interests in the region in which the campuses of the applicant institutes are located, as well as with businesses, enterprises and the professions.
Amendment No. 38 provides that applicant institutes also demonstrate to the satisfaction of the advisory panel the capacity to reform effectively the functions of a technological university. In particular they must demonstrate that they have developed and have procedures in place to develop programmes further that respond to the needs of the community, local interests and other stakeholders in the regions in which their campuses are located.
Amendment No. 41 was agreed at Committee Stage but I withdrew it to include a reference to local interests. This amendment provides for those matters to which the Minister shall have regard in relation to an application under section 26 as to whether he or she will make an order under section 33. This section incorporates these elements of section 16 of the Technological University Bill 2015, as initiated, which would previously have formed part of the considerations by the Minister when determining whether a merger was appropriate but which now will be used to consider an application made under section 26.
Amendment No. 42 was also agreed in Committee Stage, but again I withdrew it in order to include a reference to local interests following the discussion with Deputies at Committee Stage. This is broadening the scope of local interests for inclusion in the needs of a wider number of stakeholders, to be served efficiently and effectively by the proposed technological university. The Minister shall now have regard to whether the needs of students, businesses, enterprise, the professions, the community, local interest and other stakeholders in the region in which the campuses of the applicant college and applicant technological university are located would be more efficiently and effectively served if the order was made.
I am not going to hold this up. There was a major debate.
It is worth noting the presence of the Irish sign language interpreter. What a wonderful day this is. That debate will happen later and we thank everybody for their presence.
On the Bill at hand, there was an extensive debate at Committee Stage, and I thank the Minister for acknowledging the role that everybody had in coming up with a formula of words. The Minister and officials came back to us, we engaged and the Bill was improved. I am grateful for that. We will be accepting the amendment as the Minister set out.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 12, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:"(i) developing and promoting strong social and cultural links, and links supporting creativity, between the technological university and the community in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located,".
This group of amendments arises from our discussions at Committee Stage and provides for references to links supporting creativity and creative organisations to be included in a number of sections of the Bill.
Amendment No. 11 provides that technological universities will develop and promote strong social and cultural links, including links supporting creativity between the technological university and the community in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located.
Amendment No. 12 broadens the range of organisations with whom a technological university shall foster close and effective relationships. I am now including a reference to creative interests in order to ensure the broadest sweep of artistic and creative community interests are encompassed in this provision.
Amendment No. 28 provides for the development of strong social and cultural links and links supporting creativity between the technological university and the community as part of the strategic development plan of a technological university. I am also seeking to ensure that the links are strengthened to ensure creative influences are involved in this provision.
Amendment No. 40 also results from the discussion with Deputies at Committee Stage. This amendment provides that applicant institutes have procedures in place to develop further and promote as a technological university not alone strong social and cultural links but also links supporting creativity.
I move amendment No. 12:
"(V) organisations representing the social, creative and cultural interests of the community in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located,".
I move amendment No. 13:
"In page 13, line 9, to delete "where practicable" and substitute "in so far as possible".
Amendment No. 13 seeks to delete "where practicable" and insert "in so far as possible" in its place when it comes to critical thinking and diversity in technological university education. I believe this would strengthen the commitment of the university to contribute to the promotion of the economic, cultural and social development of the State, to respect diversity of value, beliefs, traditions and all other aims listed in subsection 1(K)(iii). It seeks to bring the language of section 9(1)(k)(iii) into line with the language in section 9(1)(h)(ii). I raised this issue at Committee Stage and I would like to thank the Minister. She gave a commitment to engage with me and she did, as did her officials, and I thank her for doing that so constructively.
Our amendment simply seeks to ensure that life-enhancing skills, such as analytical, critical thinking and diverse views, are protected and promoted as part of the university experience have a role in wider society.
Amendment No. 15, by deleting "or" and substituting "and" in line three of page 14, will ensure that in the formulation of procedures for dispute resolution the technological university must consult with every trade union and staff association recognised by the university.
This just tightens up the current language which leaves open the possibility that the technological university could consult with a trade union without consulting the staff association.
I welcome amendment No. 14 from an tAire Stáit. Deputy Thomas Byrne and I had proposed similar amendments prior to Committee Stage. In particular the amendments sought to broaden the definition beyond cultural and social and to include scientific and technological advances within the remit of the university. It seems to be a core function of a technological university to contribute to that advancement in the State. I was recently privileged to visit the Fraunhofer Project Centre in DCU, which is a very good example of scientific and technological advancement within the model envisaged for technological universities. It is a core function of a technological university and it makes perfect sense to include it in the Bill. I thank the Minister of State for making that amendment, as suggested by Deputy Byrne, and I support the amendment.
I can accept amendment No. 13, proposed by Deputy Martin. The advice from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel is that the words "where practicable" have no substantive difference from the words "insofar as possible". I appreciate the Deputy's preference for standard terminology and the phrase "insofar as possible" so I am very willing to accept that amendment.
On amendment No. 15, which is also proposed by Deputy Martin, the aim of this provision is to ensure that procedures are established by the technological university for the resolution of disputes and that each trade union, staff association and student union shall be consulted. The key issue is that staff and students are consulted on the procedure. I accept that amendment.
On amendment No. 14, following discussion on Committee Stage, I have reflected on this amendment which was withdrawn by Deputies Lawless and Byrne. I now consider the expansion of the provision so that in the performance of its functions a technological university shall, where practicable, also contribute to the promotion of the scientific and technological development of the State, as well as the economic and cultural development, as reasonable and appropriate. I thank Deputies Byrne and Lawless for engaging.
Amendment No. 16 is in the joint names of Deputies Catherine Martin and Kathleen Funchion. It arises out of proceedings on Committee Stage. Amendments Nos. 16 and 23 are related and will be discussed together.
I will very briefly speak on amendment No. 16. This amendment basically seeks to extend the protection currently awarded to staff under this section to students. We had a detailed discussion on this on Committee Stage and unfortunately our amendment was not agreed at that time so we are raising it again today. It is important to ensure that students are given the same protections. As I said earlier, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, a lot of this relates to students. We have heard a lot of talk about staff but not so much about students.
On amendment No. 23, it is currently at the discretion of the institution whether it chooses to involve students. We are calling for a legislatively set minimum level of student input into the academic council. Unfortunately, as the provision is currently worded, there could be a situation where a university decides that it is appropriate not to have any student involvement on the academic council. While people will say that will not be the case, one always comes across one or two scenarios where it might. I do not think it is too much to ask that we have not less than four representatives or 10% of the membership of the council, whichever is greater, nominated by the students' union in accordance with its own procedures. That is more than reasonable.
Amendment No. 16 will ensure that both students and staff will have their academic freedom protected. This is especially important for doctoral students, who are working on the cutting edge of scientific, cultural, social and technological development and who should feel free from discrimination or pressure to conform. Universities are about more than jobs. They are also about creating hubs for the development of innovative ideas and concepts which advance our world and culture as a whole. International recognition is also more likely to come to a university if it does not put a brain freeze on its students and academics.
I do not accept amendment No. 16. The principle of academic freedom is a defining characteristic of high quality higher education and research throughout the world. This Bill rightly ensures that academic freedom shall apply in technological universities in the same way as it applies in universities. It is understood internationally that academic freedom applies to the academic staff of higher education institutions. Extending academic freedom to students would put technological universities in a different position from their peers, both within the State and internationally.
In addition the whole doctrine of academic freedom is based on protecting the security of employment of tenured academics. As students are not employees their time within the institution is, by definition, limited and there are appropriate policies in place within institutions to protect students.
I thank the Minister of State. We now proceed to consideration of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. We are awaiting the arrival of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath. Tá sé ag teacht.
Are Members amenable to continuing until such time as the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, arrives so that we are not wasting parliamentary time? Would the Minister of State like to conclude on these amendments?
I am ready to continue. We were talking about tenure. I had said that as students are not employees their time within the institution is, by definition, limited. This issue includes the right to free expression. Any claim that this right has been restricted, or any fear that voicing a contrarian opinion would invite academic retribution, can be better challenged through the existing charters and policies, which set out a detailed process for consideration and redress where necessary. I understand that such policies and processes have been already agreed with student representatives at local level and that they have been formally adopted by each of the academic councils.
Amendment No. 23, tabled by Deputy Funchion, proposes changes to section 15 of the Bill, which provides for the composition of the academic council of a technological university. As I outlined during the Committee Stage debate, section 15 provides that the governing body of each technological university, including its student members, shall have the flexibility to decide the overall number of members the academic council should have, including the number of students.
The concept of academic freedom - particularly for the staff of a third level institution, a university or a technological university - is so crucial and so important for democracy, freedom of thought, the development of ideas and social progress that to dilute the concept of academic freedom for staff by inserting student academic freedom, as the Members propose, would be wrong.
We should vote against the amendment to ensure that the academic freedom of staff is not diluted. However, as I have said, Fianna Fáil will support legislation on the recognition of students' unions. The concept of student academic freedom could be explored in that context and I would have no objection to it being done. However, academic freedom is so crucial to society that it should not be subject to a different regime in our technological universities than in the remainder of our third-level institutions. It is probably premature to pass the amendment. The matter should be the subject of separate legislation.