Wednesday, 10 October 2018
Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome the Bill. I am very much in support of the legislation in what it sets out to do to regulate foreign language schools in particular, and the many other aspects of the Bill that have been touched on. I share the view that this is not just about protecting students, who we have all seen being exploited and victimised in the most awful way by unscrupulous operators of these schools. They could not be called anything other than cowboys because they do not have the interests of the students at heart and they are just there to turn a quick buck. There have also been stories indicating a use of this as a ruse to get around visa rules.
I share in the comments made by others with regard to the terms and working conditions of people who work in these schools and the lack of certainty and security around their terms and conditions. The Bill is also about protecting Ireland's international reputation as a safe place to come to a college that is, on the face of it, supported by Government, in a country that is part of the EU and has laws and regulations that people should feel would protect their loved ones when they send them so far afield for an education. English language schools are a huge international market. I spoke to the ambassador from India who told me that, at the time, there were more than 100,000 Indian students in the UK learning English but only 1,000 in Ireland, and that this was a massive market that Ireland had not fully explored or exploited. Ireland's EU colleagues, the Spanish in particular, certainly know the value of learning the English language in Ireland and the positive experiences those students have had.
While I want to use this opportunity to touch on an issue, I am aware that from her previous role as the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Minister of State would be very concerned about the working conditions of people and workers. I know that I am pushing an open door when I speak to that end, and when I speak on Committee Stage of the opportunities this Bill might present.
I want to emphasise a problem that I believe is grossly unfair, as it was explained to me, and I would like to get a fuller understanding as to why this situation pertains. I put my hand up to say that I am a graduate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, as was my mother before me and my son after me. The RCSI has been adjudicated in The Irish Times higher education tables as second only to Trinity College Dublin as an education facility in Ireland. That includes all of the other universities, but I will not mention them or upset them. The RCSI has been around for a few centuries and, indeed, UCD students got their medical degrees from the RCSI all those years back. Then the tables flipped and now I am one of those qualified doctors who has degrees from both colleges. The RCSI has a huge international reputation and has campuses in four countries. The college is seen as the greatest and largest western supporter of surgical training in sub-Saharan east Africa. The college has been held out by The Lancet as an exemplar for its work there. The college has graduates throughout the world and has huge influence. Despite this, it is only in this country, in the Twenty-six Counties, that it is not allowed to call itself a university. It is considered a university everywhere else. I do not understand the rationale for this. I am aware there is resistance to this in the Department. I would love that individual or individuals with those views to come before an Oireachtas committee to explain why they would single out the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and exclude it from calling itself a university in this jurisdiction. This has a very detrimental effect on the college. I travelled to China when I was a Minister and I promoted the idea of education, among other things, as we improve our trade links with that great nation. They said to me that it was not a university. They take these things very literally.
In this Bill, I hope the opportunity will be taken to have the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland considered a university in Ireland. I certainly intend to bring an amendment on Committee Stage in this regard. The RCSI has educated tens of thousands of doctors for Ireland and across the world. Those connections come back to us in spades. When I visited the Mayo Clinic, I found that the two gentlemen who set it up - the Mayo brothers - had received an honorary degree from this college. I make an impassioned plea on this matter because it seems to be in no one's interest to allow this situation to pertain.