Seanad debates

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage


10:30 am

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am glad to be here and am delighted to bring this Bill to Committee Stage. I appreciate the consideration and have taken on board who has said what. I will try to answer some questions but there are other aspects where I will have to revert to my officials and work through what has been brought up today. I apologise, therefore, for not addressing the speakers in the order in which they spoke but rather by theme.

In regard to the point about the RCSI that Senators McDowell and Reilly raised, the RCSI wrote to me requesting that the Bill contain a provision that would allow the RCSI to describe itself both in Ireland and overseas as a university of medicine and health sciences. I will return to this matter on Committee Stage. As many Senators know, the RCSI also made this request to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills.

Senator Ruane raised the issue of the joint committee meeting stakeholders and said that we should not wait until after that happens before we proceed to Committee Stage. This is priority legislation that we need to progress. The IEM, for example, was promised five years ago and we do not want to delay it further. Committee Stage of this Bill is expected in November. I understand the joint committee is meeting the stakeholders in the next two weeks, which will allow it to conclude its consultation process before November.

Senators Mac Lochlainn, Ruane, Reilly and Ó Ríordáin mentioned conditions of employment. I note their concerns about the employment practices in the English language education sector. While the IEM and the associated code of practice for this sector will greatly help to improve standards, there are a number of other regulatory activities that are outside the remit of the QQI's intended functions. The majority of the English language schools in Ireland are privately run and do not come under the remit of my Department. They are typically registered for business purposes as private limited companies. Consequently, the terms and conditions of individuals who are employed as teachers by these companies are a matter for their employers.

Given the extensive range of legislation in Ireland on unfair dismissals, payment of wages and related matters to protect the employment rights of workers, including English language teachers in fixed-term work, it would not be appropriate to duplicate or undermine these statutory schemes through affording QQI powers to regulate ultra vires. It is proposed, however, that a code of practice for the IEM will ensure that providers authorised to use the IEM will be compliant with their statutory obligations, such as employment law. The Bill will also provide QQI with the powers to examine the robustness of a provider's bona fides in its governance practices, ownership and financial sustainability. This will ensure providers which are awarded IEM are regarded by QQI as legitimate providers which operate in accordance with good corporate governance practices.

Senator Ruane also referred to the impact of the learner protection fund on smaller community education organisations.


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