Dáil debates

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Higher Education Authority Bill 2022: Report and Final Stages

 

4:42 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendment No. 1 is out of order as it is outside the scope of the Bill.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 2, 5, 6, 13, 16, 22, 28, 29, 35, 37, 39, 40, 58, 59, 62 and 130 are related and may be discussed together.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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My colleague will take the amendment as Gaeilge.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 2:

In page 11, line 28, to delete “the Higher Education Authority Act” and substitute “Údarás um Ard-Oideachas Act”.

Tá na leasuithe seo faoin nGaeilge. Rinneamar leasuithe ar an ábhar seo a phlé ar Chéim an Choiste agus chuir mé iad arís toisc nach raibh leasuithe ón Aire feicthe agam. We made a number of proposals on Committee Stage. I resubmitted most of those amendments because I had not seen the Minister's amendments, some of which are in this large grouping. The primary aim underlying amendment No. 2 is to ensure that the provision of Irish-medium higher education is explicitly referenced in the objective functions and strategies the údarás would have in the future. We propose that "Údarás um Ard-Oideachas" be included in future Acts and that the institution or body currently known as the Higher Education Authority be known as the Údarás um Ard-Oideachas in future. In addition, it would have as part its functions those that have been set out in the amendments we are discussing.

As I said, the amendments in this group specifically deal with the Irish language. Since it is a big group and it appeared so late, I do not know whether these amendments also cover the conditions for appointments to boards and so on. We expect that might be dealt with in a later group. The conditions relate to the ability of cathaoirleach an údaráis to be able to converse as Gaeilge and proper representation on the various boards that will be set up by an t-údarás.

I will listen to what the Minister has to say because, as I said, he has a number of amendments in this group that attempt to address the concerns raised by me and others. Conradh na Gaeilge in particular has been in contact with the Minister and other Deputies. It seemed on Committee Stage that the Minister was quite willing to go a lot of the way we were hoping for with these amendments. I do not know whether others want to contribute, but I will be happy to hear what the Minister has to say and whether his formulation of words for these amendments would deal with my concerns.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I am speaking specifically to amendments Nos. 5, 6, 16, 37, 39, 58, 59 and 62. The reason I list them at the start is to indicate that I am now bringing forward a further eight amendments on Report Stage in order to strengthen the provision relating to the Irish language in the Bill.

6 o’clock

I am sincere when I say that I enjoyed our Committee Stage discussion, particularly with Deputy Ó Snodaigh. We have made cross-party efforts to strengthen the provision, support and promotion of the Irish language in the Bill. It has been a good example of committee work. If I remember correctly, we may have agreed ten Government amendments and one of Deputy Ó Snodaigh's on this matter on Committee Stage. I am proposing a further eight now. Of all the various changes that have been made to the Bill through the various stages in the Dáil, the most substantial number by a long way have related to the Irish language.

I am tabling eight amendments in this group to strengthen further the Irish language provision in the Bill. These were all requested by Conradh na Gaeilge or agreed with the director of Irish in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. To correct myself immediately, I actually made 12 amendments to strengthen the Irish language on Committee Stage, bringing to 20 the number of amendments that we have proposed on Committee and Report Stages.

The amendments in this group are to include up-to-date definitions and references relating to the Gaeltacht Act 2012, among other matters. I will address some of their details, starting with amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 16. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are proposed to be included in section 2, which is the interpretation part of the Bill. These are definitions to clarify the meaning of phrases and to provide that, where the phrases are used in the other amendments, the reference to Part 2 of the Gaeltacht Act 2012 does not have to be included. Amendment No. 16 to section 9, which relates to the functions of the Higher Education Authority, HEA, is at the suggestion of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and provides a more up-to-date reference to the 2012 Act.

My amendments Nos. 37 and 39 are to include new provisions to strengthen requirements relating to the promotion of the Irish language in the planning for provision of higher education. If I remember correctly, we discussed on Committee Stage whether we could be more explicit about or beef up the role of promoting the Irish language when planning for the provision of higher education.

Amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 62 amend two sections, namely, section 43 on the engagement with students and section 44, which is the national student engagement piece. These amendments specifically reference as a priority group representatives of students who are competent to speak the Irish language, which was sought on Committee Stage.

I do not do it to be negative towards the other amendments, but it would be useful for me to go through them and explain my rationale for proposing my eight amendments and not proposing to accept more. Amendments Nos. 2 and 29 relate to our debate on whether we should use the Irish or English phrase when referring to the law. I am satisfied and of the view that "An tÚdarás" is defined clearly in the Bill and that the Higher Education Authority is generally known as the HEA. I understand the Deputy's point, but I am satisfied with the naming of the Bill.

The reason I am not proposing to accept amendment No. 13 is not out of a policy difference, but because we made similar amendments on Committee Stage that achieved the same aim. Section 8(1)(b) already reads: "to support designated institutions of higher education in contributing to social, economic, cultural and environmental development and sustainability ... such support shall include the promotion and use by those institutions of the Irish language". We may have achieved what Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Conway-Walsh are seeking through amendment No. 13. I am satisfied that we addressed this matter together on Committee Stage.

Amendment No. 22 proposes the inclusion of a specific provision on gathering statistical information on the funding for, and numbers engaged in, study and research through the medium of Irish. I looked into this matter because I see what the Deputy is trying to do. Section 9(1)(u) provides an ability to do this because it relates to a general function to "collect statistical information and maintain an evidence base in order to provide high-quality evidence-based policy advice". Therefore, there is no requirement for the amendment.

Amendment No. 28 proposes a review after four years to examine the representation of the Irish-speaking community among the ministerial appointments on the board. This review would be published. We had an interesting debate on this matter on Committee Stage, but I am concerned about the setting of particular quotas of members of the HEA board who must be proficient in the Irish language. I outlined my rationale. The HEA is a competency-based board and there are a range of competencies on it. I have moved to ensure that those competencies include the promotion and use of the Irish language. This is something that has come through our discussions. When the Minister of the day is selecting members of the HEA board, the competency regarding the promotion and use of the Irish language is a qualifying and sought after competency.

I am not accepting amendment No. 35 because I have addressed its point in amendments Nos. 37 and 39.

Amendment No. 40 is too specific. I am of a similar view as regards amendment No. 130 on the strategic development plan of the National College of Art and Design, in that it may be overly specific and unnecessary.

My proposed amendments in this grouping address much of what Deputy Ó Snodaigh has raised. When read with the changes that we made on Committee Stage, we have done a good job together on strengthening the Irish language provision and promotion in the Bill.

4:52 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as na leasuithe a mhol sé. We have come a long way and I acknowledge the large amount of work that has been done in moving towards a Bill that is much more acceptable in terms of promotion of the Irish language. However, there are areas where I still disagree with the Minister. Even at this stage, he could go a little further in line with the provisions of the Official Languages Act, as amended. In amendment No. 29, for example, I am asking that the title of a new institution - the national apprenticeship office - also have its Irish-language title. That this should happen when a new body is being set up is a provision under the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021, so I am not asking for something that should not be done. The Act is new and has not been fully triggered, but it has been passed and enacted and it has been signed by the President. It will be started fully this week, though. Last night, the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs announced that An Coiste Comhairleach would be set up this week. It is a little late, but we will accept a day or two. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, has also accepted this provision. He has moved to recognise "An Coimisiún Toghcháin" for the electoral commission in line with the Act. However, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, has not accepted it, stating that the Act has not been commenced. Her legislation, which is before us on the same Stage, has to do with a commission for judicial appointments, in respect of which I have set out the terms. These are just a few examples.

Regarding amendment No. 22, the Minister is correct that statistical information can be gathered. We are just trying to ensure that it was not forgotten about. I was specific with this amendment because we recently tried to gather information on Irish language courses and the number of pupils engaged in them, but it is not available. We want to ensure that when statistical information is gathered in future, it is also gathered on the Irish language.

I am happy with the Minister's amendments.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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These amendments are being discussed together. If Deputies do not discuss them now, they will not get a chance to do so later.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I ran out of time.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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No, the Deputy had a few seconds left. In case there is a misunderstanding, all of these amendments are grouped and have to be discussed now. If the Deputies do not wish to discuss them, that is fine, but when we come to them later, we will simply be deciding on them.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for the work he has done on this matter.

I assure the House that we as a Department have liaised closely with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, including the director of the Irish language in the Department, on bringing forward our amendments to ensure we are in line with the policy of the Government and our collective policy on the promotion of the Irish language. I am satisfied that the eight further amendments, on top of the 12 amendments we made on Committee Stage, have come a long way and I want to record my gratitude to Deputy Ó Snodaigh and Conradh na Gaeilge for their work on this. My decision on the amendments remains as outlined.

5:02 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I will not delay the proceedings. I just want to ask that the Minister look again at amendment No. 29 on oifig na bprintíseachtaí before the Stages in the Seanad to make sure that fully complies. The understanding I had was that the names of any new State institutions being set up would first have the Irish-language version. It was not that they were exclusively so but it was first. It is a minor change but as we know, once the title of an institution, or even the abbreviations, get into people's parlance it is hard to change it. People remember Córas Iompair Éireann, CIÉ. It was easy and it made no major difference to people who said it, especially when there was an abbreviation, but the HEA is the HEA and people will not use the Irish version. There is a reasoning behind some of this and I ask the Minister to bear that in mind.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 3, 112 and 117 and will be discussed together.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 3:

In page 11, line 29, after “Act” to insert “, other than sections 85, 86, 87, 95, 97, 98, 99, 100,101, 102, 103* and 105**".

This point will not come as any surprise to the Dáil because it arises from our discussions on Committee Stage. Amendment No. 3 is on the provisions relating to the incorporation of educational institutions into technological universities, TUs. A consent for research companies established under TUs will be commenced upon the enactment of the Bill rather than by ministerial order. Section 1 of the Bill provides that the Act:

shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister may by order or orders appoint either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision and different days may be so appointed for different purposes or different provisions.

It is planned that the majority of the Bill will be commenced by ministerial order. However, due to their importance it is proposed that the provisions relating to the incorporation of educational institutions into TUs, and the consent for research companies established under TUs, will be commenced upon the enactment of the Bill. We discussed St. Angela's College at great length on Committee Stage and nobody in this House wishes to see any delay in that process. It would be too simplistic for me to call these the St. Angela's provisions but that is how I think of them.

Amendment No. 112 is a technical amendment to the incorporation provisions to include linked providers under the Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, legislation. This technical amendment was identified by QQI and is similar to an amendment made on Committee Stage to section 55(1)(f).

Amendment No. 117 provides for the insertion of a new section amending section 62 of the Technological Universities Act 2018, dealing with the suspension or dismissal of a member of staff of a dissolved body following incorporation into a technological university. Again, this is a technical amendment.

There are two technical amendments in this section: Nos. 112 and 117. Amendment No. 3 is a substantive amendment to make sure we can commence those provisions upon enactment of the Bill, rather than by ministerial order.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I support these amendments and they provide for flexibility for an institute of technology or a college to join an established TU. It is important that all colleges and institutes of technology have a pathway to be included in the TUs. I am mindful of St. Angela's College as well as it is in my geographical area.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 4 and 132 to 136, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 4:

In page 12, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following: “ “Act of 2011” means the Student Support Act 2011;”.

All of the amendments in this grouping are in my name. Amendment No. 4 is a technical amendment to the interpretation of the Student Support Act 2011 into the Bill.

Amendment No. 132 provides the Minister with the power to assist with the administration of bursaries and scholarships for the purpose of assisting students to pursue approved courses at approved institutions.

Amendments Nos. 133 to 136 amend the Student Support Act 2011 to provide that an awarding authority, Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, may assist in the administration of scholarships and bursaries to facilitate persons from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue approved courses at approved institutions. These amendments include amendments to the Student Support Act 2011 to provide the awarding authority with the powers to process data for the awarding of scholarships and bursaries. In basic English, with the establishment of my Department it was important that we used this legislation to provide an opportunity to ensure we can continue to support scholarships and bursaries and to empower SUSI to assist in the administration of such. That is effectively what these amendments are doing.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 5:

In page 12, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following: “ “Gaeltacht Language Planning Area” has the meaning it has in Part 2 of the Gaeltacht Act 2012;

“Gaeltacht Service Town” has the meaning it has in Part 2 of the Gaeltacht Act 2012;”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 6:

In page 13, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following: “ “Irish Language Network” has the meaning it has in Part 2 of the Gaeltacht Act 2012;”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 7, 12, 36, 38 and 65, are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 7:

In page 13, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following: “(3) In this Act, references to environmental development and sustainability shall be construed as references to development and actions that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, including actions in respect of social, economic, cultural and environmental development, climate and biodiversity.”.

This is the section of the Bill on environment and sustainable development. I want to acknowledge that Deputies Ó Cathasaigh, Ó Ríordáin and Conway-Walsh had amendments in this regard. We had a good discussion on Committee Stage on this matter. In this amendment, I am endeavouring to respond to the Deputies' requests. A number of amendments had been submitted to the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022, which relate to sustainable development and climate change.

Amendment No. 7 includes a new subsection 3 to section 2 of the Bill, which provides a definition of environmental development and sustainability as: "including actions in respect of social, economic, cultural and environmental development, climate and biodiversity." This is quite important and I clearly heard from the Deputies the importance of defining what we meant on environmental development and sustainability. We have done that through this amendment and this will ensure that all references to environmental development and sustainability throughout the Bill are understood within the same context as they are in national policy so that there is no ambiguity on our understanding of this concept.

Amendments Nos. 36, 38 and 65 amend sections on planning for provision for higher education and lifelong and flexible learning to include the term: "environmental development and sustainability". This will ensure that these provisions are captured within the new proposed definition in amendment No. 7. It is noted that section 8, on the objects of an t-údarás, already includes the term "environmental development and sustainability". It is also noted that section 33, which is the strategy for tertiary education, already includes the term "environmental development and sustainability".

Amendment No. 12 is also in this section. I do not propose to accept amendment No. 12 on the basis that I believe we have covered it in amendment No. 7, which I am bringing forward and which provides the new definition.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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It is vitally important that the HEA and the higher education sector have a clear role in taking climate change and biodiversity action. I recognise the progress that has been made in amendment No. 7, as well as in the other amendment, and as such I will not be pressing our amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 8, 142, and 149 to 154, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 8:

In page 14, to delete lines 13 and 14 and substitute the following: “5. (1) The enactments specified in Part 1 of Schedule 1 are repealed to the extent specified in column (3) of that Part of that Schedule and the enactments specified in Part 2 of that Schedule are revoked to the extent specified in column (3) of that Part of that Schedule.”.

Amendment No. 8 seeks to enable the inclusion of Part 2 of Schedule 1, which revokes certain enactments.

Amendment No. 142 is a technical amendment to revoke statutory instruments made under the Higher Education Authority Act 1971.

Amendments Nos. 149, 150 and 154 seek to amend the definition of an institution of higher education within the meaning of the 1971 Act to an inappropriate reference to a designated institution of higher education within the meaning of this Bill in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, the Charities Act 2009, the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018.

Amendments Nos. 151, 152 and 153 seek to amend the consequential amendments to the Technological Universities Act 2018 to ensure the cross-referencing of provisions is correct. These are consequential amendments to Schedules of the Bill.

Amendment put and agreed to.

5:12 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendment No. 9 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 9, 14, 15, 17, 18, 50 and 94 are related and may be discussed together.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 9:

In page 14, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following: “Autonomy of institutions of higher education

7. For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act shall be construed as impinging upon—
(a) the autonomy of a designated institution of higher education,

(b) the continued operation of the comply or explain principle which shall operate in respect of the compliance by each designated institution of higher education with any guideline, code or policy issued under section 139as a precursor to the exercise of powers provided for under Part 8.”.

The amendment is to do with institutional autonomy. These amendments speak to the need for autonomy of higher education institutions and what needs to be done to achieve that. The Minister has the amendments. They have been submitted by the HEA. We need to take cognisance of them. Is that the right word?

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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My amendments are Nos. 14, 15, 17, 18 and 50. Amendment No. 14 states, under the broad heading of "Academic freedom", that "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as modifying or restricting the principle of academic freedom as provided for in section 14 of the Universities Act 1997.” Amendment No. 15 inserts on page 16 between lines 3 and 4 "support and recognise the application of the principle of academic freedom", and we feel strongly that the principle of academic freedom needs to be implicit throughout the Bill. Amendment No. 17 attempts on page 17, line 4 after "frameworks" to insert “support the autonomy [as has been said previously] and decision-making capacity of designated institutions of higher education". Amendment No. 18 is to insert the line "to freely express its views on matters concerning the higher education sector". The principle of autonomy and academic freedom is central to what we are trying to achieve in the language we want to insert in the Bill. We spoke a lot about this on Committee Stage, where, as the Minister said, we had a progressive and constructive interchange. Amendment No. 50 inserts:

(6) Nothing in this section shall be construed as permitting an interference with the autonomous capacity of each designated institution of higher education to determine— (a) which courses and programmes it develops and maintains, or

(b) the number of students that will be accommodated on any course or programme or within each designated institution of higher education.”.

Again, the autonomy of individual institutions and academic freedom are the main points in all those amendments.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies Conway-Walsh and Ó Ríordáin for their engagement on this topic. I am not in a position to accept the amendments but I will clarify why and let the Deputies know of the work we have done. This Bill does not affect the autonomy or academic freedom of universities or any other higher education institution. I would defend to the death the importance of academic freedom in any democracy. It is a cornerstone of higher education and at all times during the development and drafting of the legislation the autonomy and academic freedom of institutions has been and remains a key principle. This has been considered, checked and double-checked on each Stage.

Academic freedom is provided for under section 14 of the Universities Act, section 10 of the Technological Universities Act and section 5A of the Institutes of Technology Acts, 1992 to 2006. The Bill does not amend those provisions in relation to academic freedom.

The objects of the Bill include a specific provision on academic freedom, stating: "An tÚdarás shall have regard to the following objects in performing its functions" and then subsection (f) states: "to respect the academic freedom of higher education providers and academic staff in those providers". Given that the provision exists clearly in legislation and in this Bill relating to academic freedom, I do not believe, having had discussions with drafters as we put together the Bill, there is a requirement for any other provision on that subject. Academic freedom will not be in any way adversely impacted by any element of this Bill.

There is also a provision in the objects of the Bill, it is important to say, regarding autonomy of designated institutions of higher education. The Bill states: "to acknowledge the responsibility of designated institutions of higher education for the performance and governance of those institutions".

Amendment No. 18 proposes to include a new function of the HEA "to freely express its views on matters concerning the higher education sector”. It is important that the HEA can freely express its view and there is nothing in the Bill to preclude the authority freely expressing its views on matters concerning the higher education sector. Section 14 provides that the HEA may provide advice to the Minister on any matter related to the performance of its function. This section also provides that the HEA shall provide advice as requested by the Minister. The functions of the Bill, in section 9(o), provide that the HEA shall advise the Minister on national policy on higher education, in accordance with section 14.

I have given strong consideration to this because these are issues we have a shared commitment to. I do not think anyone would question anybody's bona fides on this. We have given a lot of consideration to this in drafting this legislation and in advance of Report Stage and are satisfied that academic freedom and autonomy, as envisaged by the Deputies, are protected explicitly in the Bill and in all relevant sectoral legislation.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I appreciate the point the Minister makes on amendment No. 18. There is nothing in the Bill that precludes an institution expressing its view but we are trying to say here that having it explicitly referenced in the Bill gives more cover to somebody who was minded to express their views.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 10:

In page 15, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following: “(b) to protect and enhance the public nature of the higher education system;”.

This is about protecting the public nature of higher education, which we have often spoken about. The principle behind this amendment is the most important point that we would like reflected in the Bill. The Bill makes no reference to the public nature of our higher education system. The value of having a public education cannot be overstated. The public nature should not be taken for granted. We have seen the wholesale commercialisation of higher education over the past ten years and, in some cases, piecemeal privatisation. Most people would be shocked to know that more than one third of primary school teachers now trained come from a single for-profit college and the same college is moving into nursing this year.

This represents an opportunity to draw a line in the sand. However, the limited reference to the public sector in the general scheme was taken out. We want the public nature of our higher education system referenced and protected by the Bill. To remove that ambiguity and place strong emphasis on the importance of maintaining a public higher education system, I firmly believe that protecting the public nature of our higher education should be included in primary legislation. Of course, it should be up to the Government of the day to set out the strategy for tertiary education in partnership with the sector. However, this should not, as the Minister implied on Committee Stage, extend to privatising higher education without even having to bring legislation before the Dáil. That is my rationale for the amendment.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I support the amendment. The point about teacher training is well made. Most teachers are now trained by a private online training college, which is owned by a book company. The Minister was in my part of the world not long ago at the Marino Institute of Education. When we are trying to change the nature of teaching and teachers, ensure the teaching profession is reflective of the children being taught and encourage those from different backgrounds, including disadvantaged, Traveller, migrant and disability backgrounds, to provide that public service remit, having most of our teachers coming from a college outside of the public sphere is not something we should welcome. The amendment tabled by Deputy Conway-Walsh is deserving of support.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I said on Committee Stage that, implicitly or explicitly, I have no interest whatsoever in the privatisation of the higher education system.

We have recently taken decisions in respect of funding higher education recognising that it is a public good. The absolutely clear policy agenda is to support and enhance publicly funded higher education institutions. As the Deputy, in fairness, acknowledged, there is nothing in this Bill that would alter that reality in any way, shape or form. My concern about this amendment, which I tried to state on Committee Stage and which has arisen after further reflection, advice and discussion, is that there are times at which we utilise not-for-profits and smaller private colleges, perhaps in regional Ireland, to meet various educational needs in a region with regard to a specific skill set. We all know about this and we have probably all made representations about these providers at various stages. Our concern is that the amendment does not recognise that reality. I know this is not the Deputy's intention and I am not suggesting that it is. As she will know, the Bill will provide for the ability to decide on the strategy for tertiary education, the ten-year policy and vision for higher education. It is not my intention to include a provision in the Bill that would inhibit the development of any innovative or local solution that may be required. Even when trying to define smaller colleges, one of which the Deputy referred to, one will see that there is quite a wide array of constructs with regard to the ownership of different institutions. This is not about privatisation, far from it. Higher education is absolutely a public good. We want to support and publicly fund the public higher education institutions but, from time to time, there will be collaborations at local level involving the not-for-profit sector in particular. That is the only nuance, rather than area of disagreement, that I will point out.

5:22 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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We would not want to inhibit local solutions with regard to education provision. My concern is that higher and further education is very valuable and that lots of money can be made from it. We often find that organisations and companies follow the money. With amendment No. 20, as with No. 10, we sought to explicitly recognise the public nature of the higher education system, which should play a role in determining how we fund this sector. The Minister knows that we need more places on courses that are in high demand but we need them within the colleges and institutes of further education. I appreciate that Deputy Harris may not always be the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and may go on to higher things. I will not call it the easy way out but we should not go down a path of providing courses privately rather than providing proper core funding for our third level sector.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I will respond on a point of agreement. We need to be much better at workforce planning in the public sector. Very shortly, the Minister for Health and I will jointly bring forward proposals with regard to workforce planning for the number of medical graduates we need. I take the point Deputy Conway-Walsh initiated with regard to teacher training and recognise Deputy Ó Ríordáin's expertise in this area. I wrote to all Departments quite some time ago, and will do so again, about the importance of line Departments and their agencies outlining their needs in respect of training places, whether for teachers, doctors, nurses, speech and language therapists or occupational therapists, to my Department and our sector. I will be critical of myself here and acknowledge that there is work that needs to be done which my Department can usefully do. However, it does require the line Departments to identify the number of teachers, speech and language therapists or occupational therapists that need to be trained. We will not be found wanting. I do not believe the publicly funded higher education sector will be found wanting in terms of meeting that demand either. I do not believe there is any need for a move towards the private sector to meet those demands if we can get the workforce planning right.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 11, 19, 20, 33, and 42 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 11:

In page 15, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following: “(e) to ensure decent pay and good working conditions for academic (including PhD researchers) and non-academic staff in designated institutions of higher education;

This amendment is on working conditions within the third level sector. Alongside protecting and enhancing the public nature of our higher education system, the other key role of the Higher Education Authority, HEA, should be to promote good working conditions in the sector, including for PhD researchers. Precarious employment has been allowed to spread throughout higher education and this needs to be specifically addressed by the HEA. Governance of the sector needs to relate to the working conditions of all workers in this sector. According to the OECD, Ireland's student-staff ratio is 23.4:1, which is far out of line with the OECD average of 15:1. This can only be addressed by a sustainable new model. We need to look at the working conditions within the sector. These amendments seek to do that.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I will address amendment No. 19. We suggest that, between lines 9 and 10 of page 17, it be included that one of the functions of an tÚdarás shall be to "advise the Minister in relation to the adequacy of the level of public funding that is made available for higher education and to advise on future funding requirements". All of these amendments are on a similar theme. Amendment No. 33 speaks to the same thing and proposes to insert "the funding status of individual designated institutions of higher education". Amendment No. 42, which is also in this grouping, is similar and refers to "the funding status of individual designated institutions of higher education". They are all on funding, which has been the subject of the overarching debate we have had over many years since the Cassells report and before it. The public funding of higher education is absolutely key and the Bill has to reflect that. That is why we have proposed these three amendments. If passed, an tÚdarás would have a function in this area. The other amendments speak to that issue as well.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I am not in a position to accept these amendments. I will take the opportunity to outline why. With regard to No. 11, in the name of Deputy Conway-Walsh, I will be really clear that I too want to see a dramatic improvement with regard to precarious employment in the sector, as do the Government and everybody else in this country. We have to acknowledge that it is a real issue and I do. Similarly, we want to see improvements in the way we support our PhD researchers. It is a question of the mechanism under law through which you set about doing that. Working conditions for staff in designated institutions are covered by employment legislation. We do not believe it appropriate to cover employment matters and the various mechanisms available with regard to employment law and the industrial relations mechanisms of the State in this Bill on higher education. However, the Deputy will know of the funding proposals we have brought forward in Funding the Future, which we will no doubt be debating in the weeks and months ahead. These set out to properly and sustainably fund higher education and will see a very significant improvement in the student-staff ratios that the Deputy was right to highlight as a real issue because they are a real issue. They will also see a fall in precarious employment. I am very satisfied that we will make good progress on that issue through this funding model. If the Deputy holds the policy view that further improvements need to be made, employment legislation is the place to do so rather than in this Bill because any issues arising should always be dealt with through the normal industrial relations procedures in designated institutions. It is very clearly noted that universities, technological universities and institutes of technology are required to have industrial disputes mechanisms in place in accordance with the relevant sectoral legislation.

Amendment No. 19 proposes to include a provision in the functions section that an tÚdarás would "advise the Minister in relation to the adequacy of the level of public funding that is made available". This provision is already covered in section 9(1)(o), which reads:

(o) advise the Minister in relation to national policy on higher education in accordance with section 14, including in relation to the funding required for higher education,

I do not disagree with the Deputy on this matter but I believe it is addressed in the section I have referenced.

Amendment No. 20 proposes to include a reference to “a well-resourced public higher education system” in section 9(1)(o). This is already covered by the wording in this section, which we amended on Committee Stage. I suggest with great respect that the Deputy and I dealt with this issue on Committee Stage when we amended the provision to add the clause "including in relation to the funding required for higher education". We made an improvement there on Committee Stage.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 42 propose to include provisions relating to the funding status of individual designated institutions of higher education in section 33, which is on strategy, and section 35, which is on the performance framework.

Amendments were included on Committee Stage referencing the further and higher education system and the diversity of functions, objects and priorities of different higher education providers. This was considered a more appropriate place to amend Bill.

Reference was made to the Cassells report. The Deputy was right to make reference to the report. Peter Cassells did a wonderful job and did the State service in the job he did. As the Government, we recently made decisions on how to fund higher education. The Cassells report rightly set out the options. Sometimes the Cassells report is portrayed as saying, "Do this and do not do that". It actually did not do that. It stressed that higher education needed to be funded and outlined the different ways it can be done. One of those ways was through student loans. That would be an appalling way to do it. The Deputy and I agree that would be a disgraceful way to do it. It does not work in any jurisdiction and we will not do that.

Another way would be to hike the levy on employers. We will not do that either.

5:32 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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The Minister was doing so well.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy might do that, but that is for a different debate.

I think we agree on this. I know we both believe education is a public good which means it should be funded through the public purse. We already have a levy on employers who pay into the national training fund. We have a contribution fee which I want to see reduced. My thoughts on that are well known and I am working through that process now. We have made decisions. While I am not referring to the Deputy, some had this romantic notion that the Cassells report was sitting there and why could someone not just do something about it. The Cassells report set out options. We picked our option, which is a publicly funded higher education system with lower student charges.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the Deputy pressing her amendment?

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I will not press this on the basis that the Minister is willing to commit to working with his Government colleagues to deliver the reforms in employment legislation or employment framework for the sector. I will take that at face value and not press it. I think the Minister fully recognises the enormous problems we have and which need to be fixed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 12:

In page 15, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following: (e) to support designated institutions of higher education in contributing to sustainable development, climate and biodiversity action, through research, innovation, leadership and governance;”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 13:

In page 15, after line 39, to insert the following: “(h) to promote the attainment of the national aims of restoring the Irish language and preserving and developing the national culture, including by promoting teaching, learning and research across the wide diversity of disciplines at higher level through the medium of Irish.”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 14:

In page 16, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following: “Academic freedom

9. Nothing in this Act shall be construed as modifying or restricting the principle of academic freedom as provided for in section 14 of the Universities Act 1997.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 15:

In page 16, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following: “(c) support and recognise the application of the principle of academic freedom,”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 16:

In page 16, to delete lines 21 and 22 and substitute the following: “Language Planning Areas, Gaeltacht Service Towns and Irish Language Networks, and outside of such Areas, Towns and Networks, with regard to the promotion and use of the Irish language.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 17:

In page 17, line 4, after “frameworks” to insert the following: “and to support the autonomy and decision-making capacity of designated institutions of higher education”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 18:

In page 17, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following: “(n) to freely express its views on matters concerning the higher education sector,”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 19:

In page 17, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following: “(o) advise the Minister in relation to the adequacy of the level of public funding that is made available for higher education and to advise on future funding requirements,”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 20:

In page 17, line 10, to delete “higher education” and substitute “a well-resourced public higher education system”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 21:

In page 17, line 17, after “the” where it secondly occurs to insert “promotion of cross border”.

This amendment relates to the cross-border student enrolment. We need a very clear role for the HEA in promoting cross-border enrolment. We have spoken about this several times. I acknowledge the work of the Minister and his departmental officials in trying to get agreement that student enrolment across the island and opening up student opportunities across the island are vital. That is why we want to see it explicitly in the Bill.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I sincerely thank the Deputy for the good work we have all been doing together on the promotion of cross-border education and viewing the island of Ireland in relation to student mobility and opportunities. The establishment of the technological university in the north west, the Atlantic Technological University, ATU, presents a great opportunity in relation to Magee Campus of the University of Ulster and the commitments of the Irish and British Governments under New Decade, New Approach. We are certainly working on that. Tomorrow I will be in Queens University in Northern Ireland, continuing to promote the message that we believe it simply makes sense to work on some issues together. Education provides a great opportunity to embed peace, advance progress and provide opportunities to the next generation to work together on some big solutions to big issues that do not care about day-to-day politics. I think we all share that view.

I cannot accept the amendment. I worked with the Deputy on Committee Stage and we expanded section 9(1)(o) relating to co-operation and collaboration with the higher education sector to include the provision of student places and the enrolment of students. The Deputy made a compelling case that when talking about cross-border we should not just talk about it at a high level but we should also look at it specifically in relation to success, having a metric around provision of student places and enrolment of students. We expanded section 9(1)(o) to include that reference on Committee Stage and therefore I do not deem the new amendment necessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 22:

In page 17, line 32, after “information” to insert the following: “, including specific information on the funding for, and numbers engaged in, study and research through the medium of Irish,”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 138 are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 23:

In page 18, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following: “(4) The Minister may publish guidelines issued by him or her under subsection (1)in such manner as he or she considers appropriate.”.

On Committee Stage, I stated that I would table an amendment on Report Stage on the publication of guidelines under section 12. Some Deputies, particularly Deputy Ó Ríordáin, made a compelling case. He tabled his own amendment to try to advance the issue this evening. I looked at it in light of his comments and therefore I have introduced my own amendment to section 12. The amendment provides that, "The Minister may publish guidelines issued by him or her under subsection (1)in such manner as he or she considers appropriate". The provision is that the Minister may publish guidelines rather than shall publish guidelines.I often have these debates about "may" and "shall". As our President says, words matter, and they do. I am aware of the difference between "may" and "shall". We sought legal advice on this.

We believe that making this amendment will enable the publication of guidelines issued by the Minister to the HEA as appropriate while providing that not all guidelines need to be published. My Department issues a large number of emails and letters to the HEA. They could be considered to be guidelines and some may not be appropriate to publish. We can all think of scenarios where something is not appropriate to publish. The policy intent is to publish all important guidelines. The addition to the legislation is to reflect that. Therefore, I understandably favour my amendment over the Deputy's amendment. I hope we have moved some way on this.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 24:

In page 18, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following: “Direction and guidelines to be published

13. The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and to be published on the Minister’s website⁠—
(a) any direction issued under section 11, and

(b) any guidelines issued under section 12.”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 25 to 27, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 25:

In page 20, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following: “(c) Not less than one of the persons appointed under paragraph(a)shall be a trade union representative of non-academic staff in the sector, nominated by the relevant trade union(s).”.

I will speak to amendments Nos. 25 and 27, both of which relate to the trade union representation on the board of the HEA, academic and non-academic, respectively. The absence of specific reference to trade unions in the Bill has been addressed by several amendments on Committee Stage, which is very welcome.

Trade unions will now be represented on this body. It is, however, important that they are represented on the board of the HEA as well as the governing bodies of the individual institutions. The inclusion of trade unions on the HEA governing authority is welcome but this Bill sets up the HEA with new legislation. It seems the HEA should also have the same trade union representation.

5:42 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I will speak to amendment No. 26. I mentioned earlier that the intention of this amendment is to ensure that "not less than one of the persons appointed ... shall be representative for the interests of the Gaeltacht [or the] Irish language speaking community". It is important that we give due recognition to that in any group of appointments, given what we are trying to achieve with this legislation, namely, the interests of the Irish language and the interests of education in the country in the future. It is particularly important given the passage of the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021 because there is now an onus on the State to ensure 20% of those who are recruited into the State sector by 2030 are able to speak Irish to a level whereby they can deal with the public. One might say that can be done through the secondary schools but for areas of specific expertise, we need graduates and students of every discipline who have the ability to speak Irish. Every sector of the public sector will have to attract people who have an ability to speak Irish that will allow them to deal with the public. We need those staff to be able to carry out their business in the public sector. That is why I believe it is important for any body or institution in the State to ensure a specific importance for the Irish language to ensure it is not set aside or sidelined as it has been over the years in some of the bodies which oversee the State sector. That has been the case to such a degree that we are now in the position where only 0.4% of those recruited into the public sector have a level of Irish that would allow them to deal with the public. Inniúlacht sa Ghaeilge atá i gceist. We require an ability and level at which they can communicate and interact with the public. That could be required of a doctor or teacher. We know there is a crisis in the numbers of teachers who can speak in front of a class to a satisfactory level in the Irish language. There are teachers who do not have the ability to speak to their students as Gaeilge, not only in Gaelscoileanna and Gaelcholáistí but also in English-speaking schools.

We all know there is a crisis in hospitals, whether in Gaeltacht areas or elsewhere, in public health centres and in Garda stations in respect of the number of Irish speakers available to address a need that has been identified under the Official Languages (Amendment) Act. That is why the bar was set quite low, in my view, but it is realistic because it must be achievable. There is an onus on the State to achieve that 20% level by 2030. The work has to start now and where better to start than in bodies and boards belong to Údarás na Gaeltachta?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies and, in particular, Deputy Conway-Walsh, for the acknowledgement that we moved on representation for the governing authorities. That was an issue that the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, and others, pursued. I engaged with the TUI at its national congress in Wexford a few weeks previously on that point.

I am not minded to accept these three amendments. To be blunt, the HEA board must be competence-based. That is in no way to suggest that trade union representatives or people with a trade union background cannot contribute to a competence-based board because of course they can. I believe in a publicly advertised process whereby people apply to sit on the HEA board. If we start ring-fencing seats, there are many other sectors of society for which we could make similar cases. Why not require representation for people with a disability or people from groups that are under-represented in higher education? Perhaps people who are able to talk about progressions and pathways between further education and higher education should be represented.

It is absolutely open to members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions or other academic or non-academic staff members in higher education institutions to apply for board membership. It is similarly open to Irish-speaking community representatives to apply for membership of the HEA board once they, like any other citizen in the country, meet the competency required for membership. A better way to approach establishing a competence-based board is to publicly advertise the role. The Minister of the day can consider the balance of skills required on that board to achieve the necessary good governance and oversight that is required of the board membership.

The Deputy made a point about the Irish language. I made the following point earlier but it is worth making again. We considered and engaged on this issue, and made some progress, during earlier Stages of this legislation. The promotion and use of the Irish language is now included in the competencies that a Minister of the day considers when appointing someone to the board of the HEA. It is outlined that the Minister should appoint to the board persons who in the opinion of him or her are of sufficient experience or expertise relating to matters connected to education, teaching and learning, research, the promotion and use of the Irish language, organisation of financial governance, management of public administration or risk management. In the list of competencies a Minister is expected to consider when deciding whether he or she wishes to appoint someone to a board, the promotion and use of the Irish language is now included not implicitly but explicitly.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I acknowledge section 16(2)(a)(ii) where the Irish language is specifically mentioned and which requires the Minister to take cognisance of the section when appointing people to the 12-person board. I was initially of the view that a certain percentage of the board should comprise people who have competence in the Irish language but in the amendment we have tabled, we are asking that one of the 12 would be a representative for those interests, as we outlined, for the very reasons I have outlined. There is a considerable job of work coming down the track. I am not saying that somebody must have competence in the Irish language to have an interest and to understand what is required but over the years, we have found that people who have those specific interests and competencies are those who push to ensure, at least, that Irish is not sidelined.

I take the Minister's reassurance and commitment on board. It is reflected in the amendments he has tabled to date. It is not that I disagree with his argument. I do not disagree with what is in the legislation. The amendment is an attempt to ensure the legislation is strengthened. It does not try to undo what he has taken on board and inserted in the legislation.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 26:

In page 20, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following: “(c) Not less than one of the persons appointed under paragraph (a)shall be representative for the interests of the Gaeltacht, Irish speaking community, and Irish medium education sector, nominated by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media on the agreed advice of Foras na Gaeilge, Údarás na Gaeltachta, and An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

5:52 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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7 o’clock

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 20, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“(c) Not less than one of the persons appointed under paragraph (a) shall be a trade union representative of academic staff in the sector, nominated by the relevant trade union(s).”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 28:

In page 21, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“(11)The Joint Oireachtas Committee responsible for matters relating to the Irish language shall, no earlier than four years and no later than five years following the establishment of An tÚdarás, examine the representation of the Irish speaking community among Ministerial appointments to the positions on the Board of, and in other roles on, the Higher Education Authority, and prepare and publish a report on the benefits and feasibility of introducing quotas to ensure equitable representation for Irish speakers to such positions based on their findings.”

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 29:

In page 22, line 21, to delete “National Apprenticeship Office” and substitute “Oifig na bPrintíseachtaí”.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 30, 70, 79, 101, 113 to 116, inclusive, 125 to 129, inclusive, and 143 to 148, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 30:

In page 25, line 8, after “report” to insert “under section 23”.

I think there are 19 amendments in the group. I do not expect they will detain us for very long because they are very much technical or typographical. The group includes cross-referencing, grammatical and formatting amendments.

Amendment No. 30 amends section 21(9) regarding a reference to the annual report of an t-údarás as it is deemed correct to insert the reference to the section in this Act that sets out the report. Amendment No. 70 inserts a comma after the word "concerned". Amendment No. 101 inserts an "s" at the end of the word "subsection" and so on. They are typographical and technical amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 31:

In page 28, to delete lines 35 to 38.

This amendment deletes the part of the Bill providing that the CEO of the Higher Education Authority is specifically prohibited from commenting on policy. The Bill states he or she "shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such a policy". This phrase relates specifically to Oireachtas committees, not including the Committee of Public Accounts. Placing this restriction on the CEO is unnecessary and will negatively impact on democratic debate. I seek an explanation of the reason this provision is considered necessary. I do not like the idea of somebody not being able to comment on policy.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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We had a good discussion on this on Committee Stage and I further checked and cross-checked it. The reality is that I am accountable to this House on policy matters. What we are proposing here is a standard provision. Amendment No. 31 proposes to remove section 28, which is the accountability of the CEO to other Oireachtas committees. Section 28(9) states: "In the performance of his or her duties under this section, the Chief Executive Officer shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such a policy". Attending Oireachtas committees as a Member of this House, I have probably heard this phrase being read out thousands of times at the start of meetings. It is noted that the CEO is prohibited from commenting on policy only in respect of appearances before the Committee of Public Accounts or other Oireachtas committees. The CEO appears before those committees to give evidence on the use of HEA resources and the general administration of the HEA. If members of a committee wish to discuss policy or hold anyone to account for policy, it is me they must invite to the committee. This very much relates to a clear understanding of what the CEO and the Minister of the day are accountable for. I am satisfied with this provision, which I have checked. The Deputy is right to ask the question and seek to interrogate it more but these provisions are standard for State agencies. Nothing here deviates from that or is in any way a new development. It is simply a standard provision for State agencies.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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In that case, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 32, 97 to 99, inclusive, 109 to 111, inclusive, and 122 to 124, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 32:

In page 29, to delete lines 33 to 38, and in page 30, to delete lines 1 to 26 and substitute the following:

“30.Notwithstanding the repeal of the Higher Education Authority Act 1971 by section 5(1), a person who was an officer or servant of An tÚdarás appointed under section 14(1)of that Act, immediately before the commencement of section 7 shall be deemed to be a member of the staff of An tÚdarás⁠— (a) as if, on that commencement, An tÚdarás had appointed under section 29(1) the person to be a member of the staff of An tÚdarás for the remaining period (if any) that was left to run for the person to hold office as such officer or servant, as the case may be, immediately before that commencement, and

(b) on the same conditions (including those relating to termination of appointment) as the person held office as such officer or servant, as the case may be, immediately before that commencement, and the other provisions of this Act shall be construed accordingly.”.

These amendments are to provide that if the term of office of all or the majority of members of the governing body or the authority of a university, technological university or institute of technology expires during the transition period provided in the Bill of 12 months to form the new governing body or authority, then the term of office can be extended by the Minister. The extension would be at the request of the governing authority or body with the agreement of the relevant member and will be for no longer than the end of the 12-month transition period for the forming of the new governing body or authority. These amendments are to ensure each governing body or authority has the full one-year transition period in which to reconstitute. There is an additional amendment in relation to the Technological Universities Act to allow governing body members appointed to the first governing body of the technological university to complete their two-year term of office if they wish, even if they are not reappointed to the new governing body under section 12 or 12A. This amendment is necessary to ensure there is no conflict between the Technological Universities Act and the HEA Bill.

I consider this to be very much common sense. If somebody's term is due to expire in advance of a 12-month period that we in the Oireachtas give them to reconstitute, it seems sensible that at that stage their term could be extended to finish that period and therefore comply with the 12-month transition period.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 33:

In page 32, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following: “(c) the funding status of individual designated institutions of higher education,”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 34, 41, 49, 60, 61, 63, 64 and 137 are related and may be discussed together.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 34:

In page 32, to delete lines 24 to 36, and in page 33, to delete lines 1 to 6 and substitute the following: “(5) The Minister shall, for the purpose of preparing a strategy, consult with⁠—
(a) representatives of students attending designated institutions of higher education,

(b) designated institutions of higher education or their representative bodies, and

(c) such other bodies or persons as the Minister considers appropriate.”.

On Committee Stage, many of the amendments we and other tabled focused heavily on the student voice being implicit and present throughout the Bill and, likewise, that of trade union representatives.

Amendment No. 41 in the same grouping reads as follows:

In page 34, to delete lines 33 to 35, and in page 35, to delete lines 1 and 2 and substitute the following: “35.(1) An tÚdarás shall prepare a performance framework for the higher education and research system (in this section referred to as a “performance framework”) at intervals of not less that once every 5 years and may publish the performance framework in such manner as it considers appropriate.

(2) An tÚdarás shall, for the purpose of preparing a performance framework, consult with—
(a) representatives of students attending designated institutions of higher education,

(b) designated institutions of higher education or their representative bodies, and

(c) such other bodies or persons as the Minister considers appropriate.”.

Amendment No. 49 proposes that "In developing a funding framework under paragraph (a), An tÚdarás consult with the designated institutions of higher education or their representative bodies".

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Amendment No. 63 is my amendment in this group. It is grouped because this amendment is one I indicated I would make following on from Deputy Ó Ríordáin's representation and advocacy on Committee Stage. My amendment addresses amendment No. 64, if I may put it like that, because it amends section 46 to include provision for the HEA to consult "members of the staff of designated institutions of higher education or the trades unions or staff associations of those members of staff" on the preparation by the HEA of a draft plan for equity of access, participation and promotion of success. On Committee Stage, I gave the Deputy an undertaking we would do this. He has brought forward an amendment to ensure we do so and I have brought forward my own amendment. I believe they achieve the same outcome.

On the rest of the amendments that relate to the student voice, in a different section, which I will not speak to now, there is a substantial change coming which will enhance the student voice in respect of the membership of the governing authorities.

I believe the Deputy is right on that. I had a very impactful meeting with the Union of Students in Ireland and other student representative bodies, which led me to bring forward an amendment to strengthen their voice on the governing authorities. We will get to that in the last grouping, or thereabouts. I see the student voice being strengthened through Report Stage, in that context.

I looked at the Deputy's amendment No. 34, which seeks to ensure students and others are consulted. Having cross-checked the Bill, I believe that a more comprehensive list is included in it. I would worry that if I accepted this amendment, I would actually end up not naming other key stakeholders that are stated later in the Bill. Similarly, amendment No. 41 seeks to provide for consultation with students, designated institutions of higher education and other bodies. I am satisfied that we have covered this in section 35(2) of the Bill. There are a few amendments where I believe we have achieved the same objective in different parts of the Bill.

On the student training piece, amendment No. 60 suggests changing the word "may" to "shall". I looked at this again because I can see what Deputy Conway-Walsh is trying to do. I believe, however, that the flexibility of "may" rather than "shall" actually stands to the students' advantage. I believe that we want to achieve the same thing here. We have said that the institutions must report annually to the HEA on the training processes they have provided in order that it will be very clear to you, to me and to everybody if any institution is not providing the training to students. The word "shall" puts a compellability on the student in relation to training and I do not believe we want to do this. That is my sense of it.

We are satisfied that there is no need for amendment No. 61. Section 43 includes these provisions under the reporting process, under subsections (3)(a), (3)(b) and (3)(c). Amendment No. 121 seeks to include provision for consultation by the HEA with trade unions on the preparation by the HEA of guidelines, codes and policies. There is absolutely no issue with the HEA consulting the trade unions on the preparation of guidelines. It is probably appropriate. Depending on the guidelines, however, there may be some guidelines that are not relevant. It is appropriate that the HEA can consult on what is relevant and, therefore, I cannot accept the amendments.

In summary, I will make the point that we are strengthening the reference in relation to trade unions and staff associations in our amendment No. 63. We are bringing forward amendments later around strengthening the student voice, which I hope will go some way to addressing both Deputies' concerns.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 35 not moved.

6:02 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 36:

In page 34, line 6, after “environmental” to insert “development and".

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 37:

In page 34, to delete lines 9 and 10 and substitute the following: “(ix) social, economic and cultural requirements, including the requirements in higher education for the promotion and use of the Irish language of students who are enrolled in primary schools and post-primary schools which provide education through the medium of the Irish language, with particular regard to such schools in or serving Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas, Gaeltacht Service Towns and Irish Language Networks, and ”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 38:

In page 34, line 26, after “environmental” to insert “development and” .

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 39:

In page 34, to delete lines 29 and 30 and substitute the following:
“(m) social, economic and cultural requirements, including the requirements in higher education for the promotion and use of the Irish language of students who are enrolled in primary schools and post-primary schools which provide education through the medium of the Irish language, with particular regard to such schools in or serving Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas, Gaeltacht Service Towns and Irish Language Networks, and”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 not moved.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 42:

In page 35, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“(b) the funding status of individual designated institutions of higher education;” .

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 43 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 43. Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 46. Amendments Nos. 43 to 48, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 43:

In page 35, line 37, to delete “in consultation” and substitute “following engagement” .

I will first speak to my amendments in this group, amendments Nos. 43 and 46, which I have tabled in an attempt to respond to amendments from Opposition colleagues; namely, amendments Nos. 44, 45, 47 and 48. This is the debate around consultation, partnership and engagement. It is about how strong a wording we can put in. Amendments Nos. 43 and 46, in my name, delete the term "in consultation" and replace it with a phrase that we believe to be stronger, which is "following engagement". I believe that this better reflects the policy intent of co-operation between the HEA and designated institutions of higher education in the development of performance agreements. This is my suggestion as to how we would strengthen "in consultation". I propose, therefore, the deletion of "in consultation" and its replacement with "following engagement". I believe, therefore, that I have addressed the issues in amendments Nos. 44 and 45. They have been addressed by my amendment No. 43.

I note the debate around the word "partnership". I believe there is a preference from some colleagues for the use of the word "partnership or "collaboration", but we need to get the balance right with regard to the HEA's obligations. It is very clear that these things need to be done following engagement, and that people need to be consulted, but we also need to respect the role the HEA must play. I believe that the most appropriate phrase, following a significant amount of consideration and debate, is "following engagement". This is a stronger phrase than the phrase we had earlier, and it better reflects the policy and intent of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 not moved.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 46:

In page 36, line 1, to delete “in consultation” and substitute “following engagement” .

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 47 to 50, inclusive, not moved.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 52 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 51. Amendment No. 68 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 67. Amendment No. 103 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 102. Amendments Nos. 51, 52, 67, 68, 96, 102, 103, and 139 to 141, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 51:

In page 38, line 19, after “section 139” to insert “or to adequately explain non-compliance in accordance with section 139 (7)*,”.

Amendment No. 51 seeks to have "non-compliance" explained adequately. Any reference to "non-compliance" as dictated in the Bill needs to be explained comprehensively. This a reasonable suggestion. Amendment No. 67 would seek to insert "or the adequacy of any explanation for non-compliance provided pursuant to section 139(7)*”. Amendment No. 96 is in a similar vein and seeks to insert "in order to enable the provision of an adequate explanation for any non-compliance". Again, non-compliance cannot be something passive. It must be accounted for. Amendment No. 102 seeks to insert "in order to enable the provision of an adequate explanation for any non-compliance". Amendments Nos. 139 to 141, inclusive, seek to insert "Where a designated institution of higher education departs from guidelines, codes or policies prepared under subsection (1), the designated institution of higher education shall be afforded an opportunity to provide an explanation" with regard to the parts of the guidelines, codes or policies it departs from. Again, "shall" is that important word. Amendment No. 141 speaks to the same.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I would like to explain why I do not propose to accept the amendments in this grouping. I am not proposing to make amendments to the Bill around the inclusion of a specific reference to the comply-or-explain principle or references to the provision of an adequate explanation for non-compliance. It is considered that the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 at present reflects the comply-or-explain principle and is consistent with the autonomy of higher education institutions. The departmental policy intent is that of the principle of comply-or-explain. This issue received a good airing on Committee Stage. Legal advice has been sought on the issue and it has been concluded, following consideration of this advice, that it is not appropriate to make the changes as requested. The legal advice received from the Office of the Attorney General considers that the policy intent of comply-or-explain is adequately reflected in the Bill as currently drafted.

It is important to note that the Bill requires the HEA to consult designated institutions of higher education or the representative bodies in preparing guidelines codes or policies under section 139 of the Bill.

The designated institutions or their representative bodies, including the Irish Universities Association, can provide their observations on the proposed guidelines, codes or policies when they are being prepared and they can, at this stage, provide any observations on potential issues with compliance. That is worth noting.

Section 139(6) is a reporting provision and provides for the designated institutions to report to the HEA annually on the implementation of their guidelines, codes and policies. This reporting provision provides the HEI with an opportunity to explain any non-compliance to the HEA and for the HEA to have regard to that explanation. It is a matter for the HEA as an independent statutory body to assess the practicality of a proposed guideline, code or policy, having consulted the institutions as necessary, and to assess whether a specific institution has a valid reason for not being in compliance and whether further action is required. The HEA will be bound by constitutional fair procedures in adopting such policies and in its engagement with such institutions.

We made two amendments on Committee Stage to address concerns relating to autonomy and compliance with guidelines, codes or policies. We added to section 64(1) of the Bill, which is the section on the review of a matter and reporting to an t-údarás. We deleted the words "concerned about" and added the words "of opinion that there are significant concerns regarding". That was a strengthening or increasing of the threshold. We also amended section 76(a)(1A)(b)(iii) of the Bill by deleting the phrase "enable compliance with the policies" and replacing it with "implement, and report on compliance with, the policies".

The key points of the legal advice received are clear. This Bill already requires an t-údarás to consult designated institutions or their representative bodies. There is a reporting provision in section 139(6). It is an independent statutory body and the institutions have access to other legal remedies if they object. The clear legal advice available to me after reflecting on this matter between Committee Stage and Report Stage is not to make these specific amendments relating to compliance or explaining.

Amendment put and declared lost.

6:12 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 52:

In page 38, line 19, after “section 139” to insert “or to adequately explain non-compliance”.

I will withdraw the amendment on the basis of the legal advice.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 53 to 57, inclusive, 69 and 78 are related and may be discussed together. Amendments Nos. 56 and 57 are alternatives to amendment No. 55. I note that we have only two minutes remaining for this debate. Does Deputy Ó Ríordáin wish to make reference to his amendments?

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 53:

In page 38, line 21, after “requirements,” to insert “and”.

The final part of this section, relating to conditions of funding, states, "to comply with such other conditions as may be determined by the Chief Executive Officer.". We want that removed. We do not see the need for the CEO to have such influence in this matter. That is why we want the word "and" inserted at the end of section 38(2)(f) and the word "and" removed from the end of (g).

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I have an amendment in this grouping, amendment No. 56. It provides that the approval of the board is needed by the CEO of the HEA to determine such other conditions of funding a funded body must comply with. I am not proposing to accept amendments Nos. 53, 54, 55, 57, 69 or 78. There has always been a balance between the role of the chief executive officer and that of the board. Through the work we did on Committee Stage and my amendment this evening, I believe we are achieving that balance.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 54:

In page 38, line 22, to delete “thereunder, and” and substitute “thereunder.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 55 not moved.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 56:

In page 38, line 23, after “determined” to insert “, with the approval of the Board,”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 57 not moved.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 58:

In page 41, line 41, after “groups” to insert “and students who are competent to speak the Irish language”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 59:

In page 42, line 3, after “groups” to insert “and students who are competent to speak the Irish language”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 60:

In page 42, line 6, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 61:

In page 42, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following: “(d) a summary of engagement with the students’ union and any proposals put forward by students and representatives of students to address issues of concerns referred to in paragraph (a).”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Dáil of 21 June 2022: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and not disposed of, with the exception of amendment No. 93, are hereby made to the Bill, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and that the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad. I thank everyone for their co-operation on the matter.