Thursday, 7 February 2019
Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I cannot accept amendments Nos. 71, 73 and 76. However, in response to amendment No. 70, I tabled amendment No. 74 which will exempt Marino Institute of Education and Mary Immaculate College. Senator Byrne raised the issue of Mary Immaculate College on Second Stage. The institutions are principally publicly funded and amendments Nos. 72, 74 and 75 correct their omission from the original list of exempted bodies. However, I cannot accept amendment No. 71 relating to the IPA at this time, although there is merit to the proposal. In order to be consistent with the other bodies that are exempted from the fund, I ask Senator Ruane to allow me and my officials time to consider it further. It is my intention to return with an amendment in this regard on Report Stage.
I cannot accept amendment No. 73 which proposes to exempt not-for-profit community education providers from the learner protection fund because there is no obligation on providers to engage with QQI. It is only if providers wish to have their programmes validated by QQI that they may have to contribute to the learner protection fund. The community and voluntary sector is not a homogenous group. QQI currently has approximately 130 providers which have self-declared as community and voluntary. It is a very diverse group of providers with an equally diverse cohort of learners. Some self-declared community and voluntary providers operate on a for-profit commercial basis and charge fees to students for programmes. Protection for enrolled learner measures are necessary to ensure that the payments made by students are safeguarded in these cases. Some community and voluntary providers will automatically be exempt from paying into the fund. The QQI has advised that approximately 25% of its providers in this category only deliver programmes up to level 3 on the national qualifications framework. These tend to be short programmes of less than three months duration. Similarly, any programmes in respect of which moneys are not paid on behalf of a learner will be exempt from the fund. This would include, for example, programmes that are publicly funded by the Exchequer such back to work schemes or upskilling programmes offered by education and training boards. It is the intention that the protection of enrolled learners fund charge will only apply in circumstances where a provider accepts moneys from or on behalf of a learner in respect of a programme with a minimum duration of three months. The learner protection fund charge will be developed by QQI in consultation with all relevant stakeholders against a set of criteria, including the number of learners enrolled on the programme, the level of the fees charged by the providers and the risk weighting. I indicated earlier that QQI will specifically be asked to consult with providers before the level of payment into the fund is agreed. I assure Senator Ruane and other Senators that I fully appreciate and strongly support the valuable role played by the community and the voluntary sector in providing education and training opportunities to marginalised communities, as demonstrated by the very significant funding resources provided to the community and voluntary sector to undertake these important training and education activities.