Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Institutes of Technology Bill 2006: Second Stage.
I am pleased to bring the Institutes of Technology Bill 2006 before the House. I am also pleased to say that during its passage through the other House, there was widespread acknowledgment of the success of our institutes of technology, as well as cross-party support for this legislation.
The Bill is being considered at a period of profound change and importance for higher education. A fortnight ago, the Government launched the strategy for science, technology and innovation and our higher education institutions will have a key role in delivering that strategy. Last Monday, the Minister for Education and Science authorised the Higher Education Authority, HEA, to issue a formal "call for proposals" from universities and institutes of technology under the strategic innovation fund. Together, these initiatives represent an investment of more than €4 billion.
In making these major investments, the Government recognises the imperative of high-quality third and fourth level education if we are to succeed in today's highly-competitive, global knowledge environment. Our future economic and social prosperity will undoubtedly depend on the strength of our research and development base and on our ability to produce new and better products and to provide highly educated creative people. This is the context for this legislation. It is an explicit recognition of the importance and value of the institutes of technology to our citizens and our overall education system.
To maximise the contribution of higher education to the social and economic progress of our nation, the institutes of technology must be supported to achieve their full potential. Under this legislation, they will have greater autonomy to fulfil their missions. They will also be brought within the remit of the HEA, which will provide for a more integrated and cohesive strategic approach to the development of higher education in line with national priorities.
While the institutes of technology are a relatively recent addition to higher education, they have been a major success story. It is only in recent decades that they first appeared on the education scene and even more recently that they were put on a statutory footing with the 1992 enactment of the Regional Technical Colleges Act and the Dublin Institute of Technology Act. The separate legislative instruments reflect the difference in genesis of the Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, to the other institutes.
A brief consideration of the history of the institutes is useful in illustrating how far they have come and how rapidly they have attained their current position in higher education. Several appraisals of Irish education were carried out in the 1960s. Two of these, a 1964 OECD study, Technician Training in Ireland, and the Investment in Education report of 1965, concluded that urgent attention was required in the area of advanced technical education to produce technically qualified people against a backdrop of new planning for industrial development.
The response of the Government was to announce the establishment of several regional technical colleges, RTCs. The Minister of the day then set up a steering committee on technical education to advise him on the role of these new educational establishments. In its 1967 report, the committee concluded that the brief for these new institutions should be to educate "for trade and industry over a broad spectrum of occupations ranging from craft to professional level, notably in engineering and science, but also in commercial, linguistic and other specialties". The first regional technical colleges commenced operations in 1970. There were 11 of them when they were put on a statutory footing with the 1992 Act and that number has since increased to 13.
In 1977, the City of Dublin VEC established the DIT, bringing together six colleges located across the city into a single entity. These colleges focused on applied education and training in a wide range of occupations, trades and skills, and were, up to the 1970s, almost the sole provider of technician and technological training and education. In the early days of the DIT, much of the activity was at second level, continuing the work of the previously separate colleges. Gradually, however, an increased third level provision evolved. Uniquely among the institutes of technology, the DIT has statutory power to make its own academic awards.
Following the enactment of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999, the establishment of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, NQAI, and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, the development of a national framework for qualifications by the NQAI and the provisions facilitating delegated authority for making academic awards provided institutes with the means to make their own awards. The majority of institutes can now make awards up to masters level — level nine on the national framework of qualifications — while four institutes have authority to make awards at level ten, which is doctorate level. This is indicative of the progress the institutes have made and is a clearly validated statement of the excellent academic standards in the sector. I am sure Members join with me in commending the institutes for these achievements, as well as acknowledging the critically important role played by the various VECs in the establishment and operation of the institutes.
A characteristic of the institutes that has remained strong is their regional focus. It is evident in the original title, regional technical college, that this focus was central to their mission. It is important to note that it has been retained through the significant developments that have taken place in the sector. As an example, the regional focus is expressed in the local representation provisions for governing bodies in the existing legislation and this is carried through into the Bill now before this House. The institutes have forged strong community and commercial links in their regions and this has been singularly successful. Examples of collaboration with industry based in an institute's region are many and have proven to be very successful and mutually beneficial. These collaborative activities help the institutes to develop and refine core strengths that, quite often, are unique and will help to develop centres of excellence comparable with any in the higher education domain. These links are critically important for industry, for institutes of technology, for regions and for the country's social and economic progress.
One of the most obvious features of the higher education system in Ireland is what we know as the binary system, a university sector and an institute of technology sector. Successive Governments have made it a policy to maintain the system, recognising the importance of the distinctive role, mission and provision in both sectors. However, it has become apparent relatively recently that while preserving and valuing the differences of both, there is a need to better integrate the two components. As things stand, the strategic management of the universities differs from that of the institutes of technology in that the Higher Education Authority, HEA, operates as the funding and overseeing agency for the universities while the Department of Education and Science has very substantial statutory functions with regard to the operation of the institutes.
The House will be aware of the OECD Review of Higher Education in Ireland which was published in 2004. The review supported Ireland's strategic ambition of placing its higher education system at the front rank of the OECD in the context of the wider national objective of developing a world-leading knowledge economy and society. A key recommendation in the resulting report was that the differentiation in mission of the university and institute of technology sectors should be retained but that both sectors should be brought within the remit of a single authority in order to achieve a unified higher education strategy. A further recommendation stated that the extent of external regulation of the institutes of technology should be eased, which would give them greater managerial freedom to respond to the opportunities and challenges of supporting regional and national social and economic development.
Without doubt, the primary purpose of education at all levels is to help people to reach their full potential as individuals. However, it is also clear that a great benefit to society and societal well-being derives from education. Developing and enhancing our educational system in its entirety, particularly among marginalised groups, will serve to enhance that societal well-being, help to build a more inclusive society and be a key driver of our social and economic progress as a nation.
The OECD review summarised the importance of the economic dimension of education where it stated "Ireland was one of the first European countries to grasp the economic importance of education and economists suggest that this upskilling of the economy accounts for almost 1% of additional national output over the last decade or so". The Minister said in the other House that to acknowledge this fact is not, as some would represent it, to advocate a utilitarian approach to education. Instead, I regard it as clear evidence of the impact of investment in education. It is a virtuous circle. Investment in education generates economic growth which in turn provides us with more resources to invest and, in doing so, helps us to empower people and enhance their lives.
As greater numbers of people progress through the system to third level and beyond, the level and quality of the national skill set rises commensurately. This, in turn, serves to attract and retain those high quality, high skills and high value-adding jobs that are vital to our progressing to become a high technology, knowledge-based economy.
The rate of participation in higher education has increased consistently over the past 20 years. The most recent participation study confirms the continuing trend. It shows that the national admission rate was 55% in 2004 — up from 44% in 1998.
The Government has recognised that, collectively, our higher education institutions represent a highly valuable national resource. It is vital that we ensure that all the component parts of higher education are working together on a system-wide basis so we can build world class quality and strength in the system and, in doing so, leverage the resource that is the institutions to realise the full potential of the system.
In investing in the development of third and fourth level education to support wider social and economic goals, a central Government objective is to ensure that all our citizens have a fair and equal opportunity to share in the considerable personal benefits of participation at these levels. Improving access for societal groups that, for one reason or another, have not traditionally participated in higher education is one of our key objectives. The institute of technology sector has a strong record of opening up opportunity and this progress needs to be built on throughout the higher education system.
Recent surveys indicate significant improvements in participation rates from young people in the lower socioeconomic groups and from areas that traditionally have been under-represented. This is the result of a number of key targeted programmes and interventions. The goal of first, second and third level educational disadvantage and community education programmes funded by the Department of Education and Science has been to achieve tangible improvements in participation, progression and successful completion among both younger and older age cohorts from disadvantaged groups. A recent study completed for the institutes shows very substantial improvement in retention and completion rates in the institutes and I want to acknowledge the efforts made to achieve that progress.
The Action Plan 2005-2007, published in December 2004 by the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education, identifies a number of practical goals which will help to achieve further progress. Support for these innovative measures will be an important priority. Increasing numbers of students are also being encouraged and supported in making the choice to participate in higher education by improvements in the higher education grant scheme with priority for funding being given to students eligible for the top-up grants.
The changes introduced by this Bill are an essential element of this approach. The development of the Institutes of Technology has been governed by the various regional technical college, RTC, and Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, statutes since 1992. Prior to that various vocational educational committee, VEC, statutes applied. These statutes provided a tight prescription of what the institutes could and could not do and required the close involvement of the Department of Education and Science and the VECs in institutes' activities. I think it is fair to say that the legislation governing the institutes was of its time and appropriate. However, the evolution of the institutes as providers of third and, in some instances, fourth level education means that they have outgrown these rules. To further develop and to allow them to contribute to their full potential, new rules are needed.
While the Bill is a technical Bill, primarily amending previous legislation, its effects are far reaching. When enacted, it will have a very significant impact on the system of higher education in Ireland. Many of the amendments concern replacing the respective roles of the Department of Education and Science and the VEC with the HEA and there are improved governance provisions which will support the institutes in developing within the ambit of the HEA. I would like to outline some of the important features of the new Bill. Parts 2 and 3 contain similar provisions relating to the Institutes of Technology governed by the RTC Acts and the DIT Acts, respectively.
The Bill provides for the designation of the institutes of technology as institutes of higher education under the HEA by amending the Higher Education Authority Act 1971. This designation, and the amendments to the RTC Acts and the DIT Acts in the Bill mean that, in practice, the HEA and the institutes will engage and relate in a way that is very similar to the way the HEA and the universities engage.
There are a number of areas where the current operation of the institutes will alter as a consequence of the role of the HEA. One of the main areas where the Bill will impact is on budgets and finances. To date, the practice has been that the institutes' proposed budgets were submitted through the relevant VEC to the Department of Education and Science. The Department of Education and Science then determines a provisional allocation following examination and subsequently, taking any appeals into account, a final allocation. This Bill provides for new arrangements whereby the HEA, rather than the VEC and the Department of Education and Science, will approve an institute's budget and allocate money to the institute from the overall allocation made by the Department of Education and Science. The HEA will therefore determine an institute's budget in line with the funding relationship between the HEA and the universities.
The HEA will also assume a role in establishing formal arrangements to permit institutes to borrow or to underwrite borrowings, again in a manner similar to that prevailing in the university sector. This is an important managerial freedom in achieving a greater level of institutional flexibility and responsiveness.
The authority will approve the format of accounts maintained by the institutes. This removes the Department and the VEC from their existing roles, but the provisions relating to the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the laying of the accounts before the Houses of the Oireachtas remain. The Department's role with regard to the approval of research, consultancy or development work or the acquisition of land will devolve to the HEA. The HEA will now determine the procedures to be used for selection of a new director of an institute or president of the DIT when the post falls to be filled. It will consult with the governing body where a temporary appointment is to be made.
The net effect of these provisions will be to loosen the restrictive statutory controls under which the institutes currently operate. The new arrangements will provide for a more autonomous and strategic relationship with the Government through the HEA, reflecting the dynamic and competitive nature of the environment in which the institutes are now operating.
In terms of internal institutional governance and management, the Bill clarifies the respective functions of the governing body and director or president. It includes a specific provision requiring the institutes to contribute to the promotion of the economic, cultural and social development of the State and to respect the diversity of values, beliefs and traditions in Irish society.
The governing body will be empowered to require the director to prepare a strategic plan for the college, to approve this plan and to provide a copy of it to the HEA and the Minister. It will also require the director to prepare a statement of the policies of the college on access for underrepresented, disadvantaged and disabled persons and on equality, including gender equality. The governing body will be required to approve this statement of policies. It will also be obliged to establish written procedures for dispute resolution, other than industrial relations disputes which would fall to be dealt with under existing structures, following consultation with staff and student representative groups.
The director will manage and direct the academic, administrative, financial, personnel and other activities of the college. This will be carried out subject to the policies determined by the governing body and the director will be answerable to the governing body for the efficient and effective management of the college and his or her performance. The Bill designates the director, appointed by the governing body, as the accountable person. This means the director is the person who, when required, will give evidence to the Committee of Public Accounts of the regularity and propriety of college accounts, the economy and efficiency of the college in using its resources, the systems and procedures in place for evaluating the effectiveness of it operations and other matters.
Overall, these elements of the Bill provide for improved institutional governance at governing body level and give greater clarity to the oversight role of the governing body and management role of the director and president.
In addition, the Minister introduced an amendment on Committee Stage in the other House which provides for the tourism college in Killybegs, currently operating under the auspices of the County Donegal VEC, to be designated as a constituent school of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology. This has been agreed with the tourism college staff, the County Donegal VEC and the governing body of Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
I wish to refer to two issues that generated debate on Second and Committee Stages in the other House. The first of these is the request that the notion of tenure be introduced with regard to the academic staff of the institutes. Tenure is a concept which had its place when there was doubt over academic freedom and there was little in the way of employment protection legislation. Section 7 of the Bill introduces the principle of academic freedom to the institutes of technology for the first time and states that a member of the academic staff of an institute will not be disadvantaged for the exercise of that academic freedom. Given the strength of this provision and the substantial and progressive employment protection legislation available in this country, I am satisfied that these provisions represent robust protections for institute staff.
The second issue relates to the appearance of the accountable person, that is, a director or president of an institute, before the Committee of Public Accounts. The Bill contains a provision which prevents that person offering his or her opinion on the merits, or otherwise, of Government policy. It is important to emphasise that this prohibition exists solely with regard to appearances before the aforementioned committee and the director or president is free to give his or her views in any other forum. It is standard provision in legislation and reflects the role of the Committee of Public Accounts in investigating matters of financial probity and propriety.
In moving forward on these various fronts, the Government is taking a system-wide approach to the development of higher education. The various elements are interlinked and interrelated. In a country of Ireland's size, to produce maximum gain for society and the economy, the focus must be on aligning the various elements to achieve the system-wide quality improvement that will support our wider national goals.
The Institutes of Technology Bill 2006 is about modernising our approach to the governance and the strategic management of higher education. It presents new challenges and opportunities for the institutes of technology and for the HEA. We are charting a new course for higher education. I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by past and present students, staff, management, governing body members and VECs to bringing the institutes to this stage in their development. They have done the sector and the nation proud.
This legislation is a major milestone for the sector and for the development of higher education in Ireland. By bringing the institutes of technology and universities together under the remit of the HEA, we can achieve a more cohesive strategic approach that draws on the diverse strengths of all of our higher education institutions. The new managerial freedoms and supports provided for under this Bill will allow the institutes of technology to make their full contribution in that next stage of development. I trust the House will agree with me regarding the very positive benefits of this Bill and look forward to listening and to debating the various provisions with the Members of this House.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome this legislation on behalf of the Fine Gael group. We warmly embrace the concepts outlined in the legislation because of what they do for the institutes. It is important to realise that for the first time we have a recognition of the importance of the institutes vis-À-vis the universities. Under this legislation, they will be on a par with the universities and operate under the umbrella of the HEA. I hope they will be treated equally with regard to budgetary provision.
The most important provision in the Bill is the fact that the institutes of technology sector will no longer be the Cinderella of higher education, as it was in the past. Very often the universities had a strong arm, the ear of the Minister for Education and Science and managed to obtain a disproportionately higher level of funding compared with the institutes of technology. This meant that the institutes were restricted to a degree in their operation and their flexibility was often curtailed.
I welcome the fact that during the debate in the other House, the Minister of State accepted an amendment concerning people with disabilities. When one looks at the detail regarding the allocation of funding for people with disabilities at university level and at institute of technology level, the grant for the former sector was ten times greater than that for the latter, at €500,000 as against €50,000. It is important that the Minister of State agreed to incorporate the amendment into the Bill. The Bill as originally drafted made reference to the needs of those who are "economically or socially disadvantaged" but left out those with disabilities.
I welcome the fact that the Minister of State has agreed to accept the inclusion of people with disabilities and hope the follow-up to that will be a greater allocation of funding to the institutes to make provisions for such people. When one looks at the variation that applied between one institute and another, it is clear that some institutes were unable to respond to the needs of people with disabilities. For example, the figure for the percentage of students with disabililities was 0.5% in the Cork Institute of Technology compared with 2.5% in the Institute of Technology, Tralee. The latter had the best record of all the regional technical institutes in that respect. Therein lies a story. I hope this legislation will present an opportunity to the colleges to respond in a positive way to the need for such provision.
The Minister of State referred to the question of the use of the title of director or president of an institute and went on to refer to the title of president of an institute. Will she give institutes an option to adopt the title of president of an institute rather than that of director? The title of president would improve the position for identification purposes. In that respect, it would put third level institutions, whether institutes of technology or universities, on an equal par. It would also level the playing pitch in terms of the title of the head of a university or of an institute. Such a change of title would be an important recognition for institutes.
The Bill is the most important legislation affecting the institute sector since the Region Technical Colleges Act 1992. It represents the culmination of a long process over three years, which began with the publication of the expert working group's report on the further position and roles of institutes of the technology and continued with the 2004 OECD review on higher education policy in Ireland. Both reports recommended many of the measures already incorporated in this legislation. It is welcome that the Minister adopted many of the recommendations in those two reports.
The legislation proposes that the Higher Education Authority should have responsibility for universities and institutes of technology. This should be the basis for the development of a more coherent national higher education policy. It is critical that we draw on the reserves and strengths of all higher education bodies if the full potential of higher education is to be realised at regional and national level.
The regional institutes have played an important role in contributing to the development of employment, industry and social structure. I refer particularly to the institutes in Galway and Athlone and to the extension of the institute in Galway to incorporate education provision in Mayo, with the institute now known as the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. I welcome the development announced by the Minister of State of the extension of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology to include a college in Killybegs. It is a clear indication that the institutes have an important role to play in the future development of industry in those areas. This is particularly important in Donegal which has suffered significant job losses in the past two years. I am sure that not only the institute in Letterkenny but that the college in Killybegs can support the attraction of industry to that county, which has been an employment blackspot in recent years.
Before universities recognised their potential in this area, the institute in Galway, which was known initially as the Galway Regional Technical College, developed the first link between industry and education. That college developed such co-operation quietly and successfully over the years. Hence, today Galway is the hub of many specialised industries and has given great employment in specialised areas, particularly the medical care area. The university in Galway has also supported and developed that link. There has been great co-operation between the institute and the university in Galway for the continuing development of such industry in Galway, which has given great employment.
Institutes of technology have also played an important role in research and development in social areas of disadvantaged. Such work has assisted industrialists, the Government in terms of developing social policies that could and should be implemented, the education sector in terms of educational needs, and other areas.
The recently published strategy for science, technology and innovation recognised the importance of the institutes of technology in working with industry. That strategy will ensure the continuation of the work undertaken in this area by many institutes in the past. It is important such co-operation is recognised and given greater emphasis in this strategy. In recent years many directors of the institutes were uncertain as to their role in and recognition of this work. Like the universities, although to a lesser extent, the budget they were given was often restricted. The strategy under this legislation will improve matters compared to the position in the past and it will give greater impetus to the role of institutes in engaging in research and development.
A major difficulty is the low proportion of mature students who can access third level education. The OECD report clearly identifies our dismal response in this respect. I hope the new structure will increase flexibility in the governance of the institutes to allow them to have a far greater intake of mature students which would clearly advantage industry and social development in any region. Our past record in this respect has been dismal. I hope the new structure will redress this problem.
Many of the institutes are already co-operating with local industries in the area of applied research and technology. For example, Athlone Institute of Technology is central to the promotion of economic and industrial development in Athlone. It is a process that delivers national benefits through employment and industrial output and engages with industry through the external services unit. Where colleges and institutes have established external service units, they have greatly benefited industry, particularly small and indigenous industries that do not have the scale of budgets to fund such expertise, management or other resources. Through the auspices of the institutes, small industries can tap into the expertise available that will lead to the development of research and development that will guide them into new markets and new marketing techniques apart from advancing their product output. I note that those involved in industries in Galway and Athlone always remark on the importance of the support they received and the success they achieved form these external units.
The number of students who dropped out of institutes was high in the past. That problem has now been largely redressed and the institutes have a higher retention rate than that of universities. That increase in the retention rate is welcome. However, it could be improved in the institute sector by the provision of a guidance counsellor service.
The Minister of State's professional experience as a guidance counsellor would indicate that there is a great need to provide guidance to students in institutes of technology. Given that so many people wish to change courses or become lost to third level education, perhaps there is a need to allow them to access it as mature students on a temporary basis. I have continuously found that guidance and the provision of an identifiable individual to whom students can relate the difficulties they are experiencing are aspects that are lacking. From first-hand experience, I realise that there are people within the structure and personnel of the institutes of technology who would be only too willing to listen to students' problems if these were brought to their attention in time. The problems could be resolved and these students retained in, rather than lost to, education. Perhaps there will be time later on to mention other difficulties when amendments are tabled on Committee and Report Stages.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I could not agree more with the final remarks of Senator Ulick Burke. They are extremely relevant and I know the Minister will examine them closely. I have seen many examples down through the years which illustrate what the Senator spoke about.
When I read the Minister's speech on Second Stage in the Dáil, I was reminded of the 1980s, the times we served together on the City of Dublin VEC and the DIT and the crusade or voyage we embarked upon in 1985 and onwards. I am telling a little secret but the Leader of the House was the main Opposition spokesperson on education and I was her deputy. I am letting the cat out of the bag by saying that from time to time, I had reason to consult her about various measures I was taking in my capacity as chairman of the City of Dublin VEC, which was responsible for the DIT. We will say no more about this.
Some of the things that encapsulate what we are talking about here are innovation, a pioneering spirit, pushing out the frontiers and application. When I think about these words and terms and the significance and rich symbolism attached to them in terms of education, I think of the work done by the Department of Education and Science, St. Patrick's College, where I spent a number of years, University College Dublin, where I spent four years and the DIT.
I wish to focus in particular on the DIT because it is where I cut my educational and political teeth during the six years or more I spent there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I was delighted to hear in the last few days about another pioneering and innovative initiative, namely, the provision of a master of arts in public affairs and political communications at the DIT from next September. This new course involves an internship in a number of significant public and private bodies, including Seanad Éireann. The DIT is making this course available to young postgraduates to enable them to have a greater understanding of the affairs of State and how they work. This is a pioneering, innovative and creative initiative and I salute once again the great spirit with which the DIT has been imbued throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, during which I had the privilege to be a part, albeit a small one, of this institution.
I must revisit my recollections because they are many, varied and very rich. Some of them are slightly negative in respect of measures I took as chairman of the City of Dublin VEC which I did not get away with. My recollections include discussions that took place at meetings of the City of Dublin VEC and the governing body of the DIT. It is only fair to admit that, from time to time, I had reason and opportunity to consult with certain people outside the general structure, which benefited me as it provided me with guidance on how to move the entire structure forward. We must remember that at that time, the City of Dublin VEC-DIT was the largest educational institution in the State. To the best of my knowledge, the DIT is probably the largest third level institution in terms of student population, although I am open to contradiction. However, if I am wrong, I am only marginally so.
Referring back to the speech made by the Minister on Second Stage in the Dáil, it is quite clear that most of us share a common vision with the Minister and Minister of State. I previously spoke about this vision when I spoke about adult and further education in this House a few weeks ago. First of all, we believe that in respect of the future of third level education and the merits and the significance of the binary system of higher education, the diversities in the binary system are complimentary, rather than adversarial. This view has been endorsed by all parties in this House, successive Governments and the OECD.
Back in the 1980s, we knew, as members of the City of Dublin VEC, that we had a considerable challenge on our hands in respect of the DIT and its position and that we had to turn that challenge into an opportunity. Every member of the City of Dublin VEC knew that the DIT had grown as a kind of a hybrid, if this is the correct expression, that it had reached its full potential within the organisational structures under which it had operated, and needed a new sense of freedom. I was unsure as to whether I knew exactly where it should go. On one occasion, I passionately but unsuccessfully tried to turn the DIT into some form of new university or polytechnic but my hand was stayed by stronger forces. I was the only individual who supported this course of action and one man cannot always do everything even if he is chairman.
The Minister's closing remarks on Second Stage in the Dáil referred to the legislation she is bringing before us, which the Minister of State has brought before this House today, as a major milestone for the institutes of technology and the higher education sector in general and for the development of higher education in Ireland. I would go further and say that the legislation the Minister of State is bringing before us today is a major milestone for education in general in Ireland. This is because both the Minister's Second Stage speech and the Minister of State's speech here today contain very apt references to the totality of the educational journey, of which the institutes of technology form one constituent part. There is no doubt as to the great strategic importance of technological education in Ireland. It was of great strategic importance throughout the 1980s and 1990s and it is even more so today.
Even though it was not formally recognised by the Department of Education at that time as the DIT, the institution was known as the DIT before 1985. We must acknowledge that the generation before us, who were part of the forming of the DIT and its sister RTCs, had a clear vision for the future of Ireland. It was clearly articulated and expressed throughout the development of technological education and the manner in which it was an offspring of many different strands of educational experiences that had preceded those structures in the educational journey.
When I spoke recently about adult and further education, I quoted the vision to which I referred. I will quote it again because it is as relevant today as when I first quoted it in the debate on adult education a few weeks ago. According to the document, "our vision is of an inclusive Irish educational education which provides equal access to lifelong learning opportunities for all adults". While this vision might appear more relevant to adult education, it applies to the totality of the educational experience from the age of four to the age of 90 and beyond. I am aware that this is just one of many ways of articulating it.
Partnership was one of the themes mentioned by me during the debate on adult education. I must revisit it today because it permeates the speeches of both the Minister and Minister of State. I constantly stress partnership, not merely in education, but also in many other areas because it works. It is necessary to bring all the stakeholders and partners along with one when one has a vision, target or set of objectives, irrespective of whether they are national, regional or local. One must bring all the partners with one if one is to be truly successful.
I will be consistent and set aside that famous phrase of the late, great Brian Lenihan regarding the futility of consistency because it was a tongue-in-cheek remark. Consistency in respect of the journey here is very important. If he were alive today, I know that the late Brian Lenihan, as a former Minister for Education, would warmly and enthusiastically embrace this view. Both the Minister on Second Stage in the Dáil and the Minister of State here today have spoken about bringing all the constituent parts of Government together in this partnership. It is not simply a matter for the Department of Education and Science. The Minister and Minister of State are not being exclusive in respect of this journey. The process involves the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Agriculture and Food, as well as other Departments, all of which affect research. It involves bringing the educational journey forward to the next milestone.
In the same way, the constituent parts within education, from primary through to secondary and into third level and fourth level, can no longer be fragmented entities because education in the present and future has to be seen as a partnership of equals with everyone contributing their own professional input. In this Bill, the Minister has correctly gone to great lengths to emphasise that when it comes to talking about institutes of technology, one is talking about education itself in its totality and the role played by the institutes of technology in the total educational experience. They are part of what must become an even more integrated and inclusive journey. Nothing else will work if education is to take on the economic and social challenges of the future.
The White Paper on Adult Education, the only such White Paper ever produced, elucidated that adult education must be viewed differently. The OECD report, when completing its review of higher education in Ireland in 2004, complimented Ireland on its binary system of third level education. However, one of its key recommendations, to which the Minister of State and the Minister referred, was that while we retain the difference between universities and institutes of technology, they must be brought under the remit of a single authority for the purpose of a unified higher education strategy if all of the adversarial silos are to be cast into the dustbin of history, as education is an empowering factor in society and the economy. The Bill will do such, as it rightly implements the recommendations.
The central purpose of the OECD report was to support the strategic ambition of placing our higher education system at the top of our wider national objective of developing a world leading economy and society. The report recommended that the extent of external regulation of the institutes should be lightened, which is provided for in the Bill. As we recommended but did not clearly articulate in the 1980s, the report called for DIT and the institutes to be given greater managerial freedom in responding to their opportunities and challenges to support local, regional, national, social and economic developments. We are not discussing challenges and opportunities for the sake of DIT, which was only an instrument.
Recently, there have been many exciting initiatives in this area. In recent decades, there have been futuristic developments in education that have brought Ireland to where it is today. Due to the emphasis on technical and scientific education and research, the few critics still standing would have us believe that we are passionately in pursuit of a utilitarian approach, to which the Minister of State referred and of which we learned years ago in economics classes. I reject that assertion completely for a number of reasons. For example, the inclusiveness and extent of access to and support for participation in education at all levels is a wonder to behold in terms of structure, money and front-loading, but we all accept — the Minister and Minister of State included — that a great deal remains to be done.
People who were traditionally excluded, both formally and informally, from the education system due to being disabled or opting out due to a lack of money or where they lived are now being invited to participate. We are providing them with guidance on how to join and ladders through the various structures, such as secondary schools, plcs and so on. We will help them to travel the whole journey by providing financial supports or, in some cases, by using wide and innovative methods.
While I am testing the Cathaoirleach's patience because I am running out of time, I want to commend the important objectives of the strategic innovation fund. Not only are they at the centre of a significant reform programme, they form part of the catalyst to bring the apparently adversarial sectors of third level and higher education together to focus on a common strategy, for which purpose those sectors were established and should remain.
I wish to refer to the PRTLI and the national research plan. I understand that the Minister has advanced the latter by introducing the agenda for its establishment, which will shortly be announced. It is consistent with her approach that the plan will integrate research activities across the relevant Departments, institutes and agencies, educational and otherwise, involved in research. I want to invoke the sentiments of a former critic of the Minister and the Government, Mr. Danny O'Hare. Not everyone shares his views, including me, but it is appropriate——
I want to quote him on the last budget, the Ministers for Education and Science and Finance and the Taoiseach. Regarding the interpretation of the budget by the Higher Education Authority, universities and institutes, he stated:
The signal this budget gave is a seismic shift of Government strategy. In clear and unmistakable terms, the Minister, her Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach are putting higher education at the very centre of our national economic development strategy.
Need I say more?
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome this legislation, for which I have often called. During our debate on the OECD report, I trenchantly spoke about some of its pluses and minuses. It is important that the issue of which I was most in favour has been addressed by the Bill and the issue to which I was most opposed in the OECD report has been ignored by the Government.
The Bill brings the institutes of technology under the remit of the HEA by removing the Department's power in that regard, as other speakers have said. The most negative aspect of the OECD report was that it recommended doctoral level research to be confined to universities, which was an appallingly bad call. I welcome that the Government ignored it and that, in his Budget Statement, the Minister for Finance announced that such research would take place throughout the third level sector. I look forward to that crucial provision. Why is it important? Through it, we can tie research, technology and development to the commercial world. We can take research and apply it, particularly to the marketplace. The value of such research is that it can be advanced to the point at which it can be commercialised. This should be done in universities and institutes.
For 15 years I have been complaining about how little we spend on research and development. While the figure has been improved time and again, our spending remains low in European terms. The seed capital provided by the Government to third level education is important, but approximately €200 million of that is provided to universities while only a couple of million euro is provided to the institutes of technology. This is unfair and lacks equity. Will the Minister of State address this matter?
If we are to translate research to the marketplace, we will do so here. If we are to progress the innovation agenda, it will occur in the institutes of technology. Creating products from ideas is crucial. I referred to this issue yesterday morning, that is, how we must move from call centre-type employment to added value-type employment. Adding an intellectual capacity to what is happening in the field of research would accomplish that. Currently, companies approach institutes seeking help to develop their ideas into products, but the institutes do not have the space or facilities to provide that help. We are all losing out as a result, for which reason the institutes should receive more support.
Each institute of technology has an incubation section. While there is collaboration across that sector, it requires greater investment. This money will grow. It is the parable of the talents, namely, instead of burying talents, we are allowing them to be invested in and to develop. The importance of such nurturing is crucial. What does it give us? I have discussed the proposals with institutes of technology and have read their documentation and the research they have carried out. I have seen their plans and witnessed their innovation and vision. If we allow them to develop along the lines they have suggested a lot is to be gained by our economy.
One sentence in the Minister of State's speech summarises the proposals. She said the Bill would allow greater managerial freedom to respond to the opportunities and challenges of supporting regional and national social and economic development. The rest of the speech was not necessary because that sums up how the institutes of technology can be developed. If that is allowed to happen they can provide a constant output of doctoral level graduates, which is crucial to the world of research and development. We do not yet understand that research must take place at every level. While solid research has been carried out in colleges and universities in recent years the level of research must grow. Most has been at graduate or post-graduate level but our economy now needs doctoral level research to progress and the institutes of technology can give us that.
The institutes of technology can also strengthen the regional and sectoral involvement in the innovation infrastructure of the country, which is crucially important. They can enable industry-led technology to guide the collaboration of industry-led technology and to focus on medium-term research and technology issues. People can come with an idea and it can be progressed to the point where it can be brought forward to the market place.
Institutes of technology can also establish themselves as drivers for cluster-based research, involving institutes, universities and industry, which is almost exactly what the Minister for Finance said in his Budget Statement last December. They can also create a focal point for the innovative integration of research, teaching and industry. When they are tied together there is extraordinary synergy and innovation, giving them the opportunity to move things forward.
They will also maximise the commercialisation opportunities for publicly-funded research programmes, for which we, as taxpayers, pay. The programmes I mentioned were mainly commercial and industry-led. They are hugely important but would it not also be excellent if State-led, publicly-funded research programmes were also developed? The opportunities in this sector are boundless. There is no limit to the march of the institutes of technology, if we give them the space and the necessary seed capital. We should allow them to flourish by integrating their work with other institutes, with industry and with local initiatives focusing on social and economic needs.
I have studiously avoided talking about the Bill because it is, in the main, something with which we are all in agreement. I want to look beyond the Bill and consider the next stage in the process. We must allow it to bridge the gaps among research, education, teaching, knowledge and epistemology and tie them all together in a pragmatic way, as advocated by Senator Fitzgerald, and in a way that is academically based.
I will finish by referring to two issues of concern to which the Minister of State referred. I read through the legislation and share her concern over security of tenure, about which a number of people have spoken to me. The Minister of State said they did not have anything to worry about. I have carefully examined sections 13 and 14. Section 14(3) makes it clear that the appropriate sections of the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act 1944 shall apply to all those in a college who were appointed prior to the commencement of the subsection. Section 13 states that new appointments will also be covered. Can the Minister of State confirm that for the record? People are concerned about it. I want to be sure that if there is any problem afterwards I can point out those sections and tell people I was given assurances that they had nothing to worry about. I would not want academic appointments to institutes of technology to be less well-protected than those in the university sector.
I thank Senator O'Toole for allowing me to share his time. I welcome the Minister of State and the Bill.
I have spoken previously on these issues and remember being briefed some years ago by the Dublin Institute of Technology. I have a certain selfish interest because Trinity College, Dublin, conferred degrees for a number of years so I still have a residue of voters from that background. In addition, despite my family's long connection, my nephew and nieces did not attend Trinity College, Dublin. My nephew gained a very good degree in electronic engineering, the conferring of which I attended just a few months ago. It was a very happy occasion for all the family.
I was briefed by people in Waterford about Waterford Institute of Technology's attempts to achieve university status. I believe it would be a good idea, though I am aware there are various views on the issue. Some people said it represented a type of intellectual snobbery, which I do not believe to be the case.
There has been considerable growth in this area, which is very important for the continuing strength of our economy. Some 50% of all students entering higher education now attend an institute of technology, which is an astonishingly high figure. In addition, more than 20,000 study part-time each year and gain credit towards internationally recognised qualifications. The range of subjects available has broadened significantly in professional areas in the institutes of technology, which is welcome.
The Minister of State indicated that the Bill had two principle aims. It will give greater autonomy to the institutes of technology and will also bring them under the HEA. I welcome that because it will give them a closer association with the intellectual ethos and administration of universities. It is a mark of ministerial generosity that there appears to be no territorial or proprietary motivation to the proposals. The Minister of State appears pleased that the institutes of technology will achieve this objective.
Senator O'Toole's last point was on security of tenure and academic freedom. I have discussed it with him and have also been approached on the issue. The Minister referred to the request that the notion of tenure be introduced with regard to the academic staff of the institutes. She talked about the historical place of tenure in academic circles, particularly with regard to academic freedom. If I am correct, she expanded from her text by referring to protections provided by other forms of legislation, particularly employment law, and appeared to give a clear guarantee that there would be no threat to the jobs of people in this area. I received a number of submissions from people, all of which were similar. I will put on record three paragraphs which were contained in almost every letter:
Section 7 of the Bill enshrines the principle of academic freedom, a fundamental principle essential for healthy debate and independent expression in a civilised, democratic society. However, this very principle is completely undermined through the removal of job security for future institute of technology academic staff by section 13 of the Bill.
To separate the concept of academic freedom and security of tenure is entirely wrong. They are intrinsically linked, since it is through security of tenure that academic staff may exercise their academic freedom of expression, without fear of being disadvantaged or subject to less favourable treatment by the institute for the exercise of that freedom.
The removal of job security is in contrast to the situation of academic staff in universities, where they are rightly provided with both academic freedom and tenure.
In other words they make the distinction between academic freedom on the one hand and the capacity to retain tenure on the other. The Minister seems to have made a good case that they are, in fact, secure. However, I have some questions in this regard. I am grateful that section 7(2) states:
A member of the academic staff of a college shall have the freedom, within the law, in his or her teaching, research and any other activities either in or outside the college, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions and shall not be disadvantaged, or subject to less favourable treatment by the college, for the exercise of that freedom.
Hear, hear. That reads very like the amendment concerning academic freedom which former Senator Joe Lee and I put down on the Universities Bill some years ago, which was the subject of a positive editorial in the Irish Federation of University Teachers' magazine and was adopted by the Swedish Government in its educational proposals.
Section 13 states:
A college may appoint such and so many persons to be members . . . subject to the approval of . . . [they are] employed on such terms and conditions as the college (subject to the approval of the Minister . . . ) from time to time determines.
Section 13 also states that a college may suspend or dismiss a staff member, but that is controlled. However, section 14 states, "A college shall not remove any of its officers to whom this subsection applies from office without the consent of the Minister". Will the Minister of State explain what is meant by "officers"? Does it refer to particular persons within the university administration or does it cover all academic staff? It is important for the peace of mind of academics in these institutions that they are given reassurance that by the expression of unpopular views, which is guaranteed in section 7, they are not subsequently undermined by being subject to the threat of dismissal.
I am honoured to speak on the Bill in the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, and her officials. On Second Stage in the other House, my party colleague, Deputy Fiona O'Malley, set out the broad view of the Progressive Democrats on this welcome legislation. As a result, I will focus on specific points.
I often hear reference to international comparisons as to how Ireland is faring versus what is happening abroad. Regularly, for example, OECD comparisons are mentioned on the Order of Business and I am reassured that we are modernising and reforming the higher education sector on the basis of the OECD review of higher education in Ireland. That reform process means transferring responsibility for the day-to-day management of the institutes of technology sector from the Department of Education and Science to a reconstituted Higher Education Authority.
Few, if any, will oppose the objectives of the Bill. It is right that we develop a strategic approach to higher education within a unified policy. It is also desirable that we gradually increase the academic and managerial freedom given to our excellent institutes of technology. It is on the issue of academic freedom I wish to concentrate. I am aware the Minister will have heard on Committee and Report Stages of concerns regarding section 13. For the benefit of the House, I will summarise the issue.
Section 13 refers to security of tenure for staff in the institutes of technology, specifically to future employees. Under the Bill, future institutes of technology staff will no longer have the precise measures of secured tenure enjoyed by, say, staff in universities. The fear is that, as a consequence, institutes of technology staff will feel downgraded vis-À-vis university staff, will feel their academic freedom is curtailed and will feel impeded in speaking out on specific issues, particularly in an era of increased private funding of third level education.
The decision to resist amendment to this section is based, as I understand it, on a combination of the following points — that adequate protection exists in the wider context of employment legislation; that section 7 provides institutes of technology not just with the right but with the responsibility to preserve and promote the traditional principles of academic freedom in the conduct of its affairs; and that section 7 provides institutes of technology staff, irrespective of their tenure, with the freedom, within the law, to question and test opinion or practice, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions without fear of disadvantage or less favourable treatment by the college for the exercise of that freedom.
Notwithstanding these issues, I have committed to asking the Minister to set out to this House the Government's explicit assurance that section 13 cannot and will not have the negative consequences for institutes of technology staff that I outlined earlier. Perhaps section 13 could be amended to ensure it is subject to section 7. I respectfully invite the Minister to provide that reassurance or otherwise.
The institutes of technology, their staff and students continue to play a massive role in sustaining and progressing Ireland's renowned educational status. The Progressive Democrats have special regard for their role and contribution. As a party dedicated to the pursuit of system-wide collaboration and maximising potential by applying the collective strengths of our third level institutions, we welcome this reforming legislation.
I join with other Senators in welcoming the Bill and in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, to the House. I welcome that all of the institutes of technology will come under the umbrella of the Higher Education Authority, which is timely and could not happen quickly enough, as I learned from speaking to staff at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, LYIT, who also welcome the measure. To be parochial, LYIT also welcomes that Killybegs will have functional linkage with the institute, which may set a precedent in the consideration of satellite and outreach facilities as opposed to having a critical mass centrally located in a particular building or centre.
LYIT is also bridging out into north Inishowen, where courses are available at Serenity House in Moville through a satellite link. Outreach possibilities exist and it is important they are further explored. As Inishowen is larger than County Louth in land area, we should consider a permanent functional centre there, such as that at Killybegs. There has been a severe haemorrhage of jobs in the region in the past ten to 15 years and many highly educated, articulate and qualified local people feel there is a constant brain drain from the peninsula.
There are constant references to the fact that merely having LYIT centred in Letterkenny creates a critical mass of intelligence and knowledge, which attracts industry. The prime example of this in Letterkenny is the American company, Primerica, which is successfully operating in the area. Its chief executive officer repeatedly states that the company was attracted to the area by the availability of the highly educated workforce in Letterkenny, which was produced by the institute of technology.
The people of Inishowen constantly suggest that some sort of permanent third level educational infrastructure should be established in the peninsula, perhaps acting as a bridge between the University of Ulster, Magee Campus in Derry and LYIT. This could be explored on a cross-Border basis, specific to the needs identified in Inishowen, given the brain drain and the haemorrhage of jobs. The current buzz words refer to cross-Border relationships and interrelationships. We should consider some sort of permanent educational infrastructure in the Inishowen peninsula, possibly in Buncrana.
I agree with Senator O'Toole that we must seek added-value jobs. We cannot ignore the fact our economy will not be sustainable if it continues to create call centres and expand the low skill sector. We must consider high value, high-tech, value-added jobs, for which opportunities exist in locations like Inishowen.
As to the HEA becoming an umbrella organisation for the institutes of technology, I would like to emphasise the issue of disability. Statistics are available on the low take-up of third level places by people with disabilities and we cannot ignore them. We must encourage the inclusion or participation of disabled people. The internal postman in Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Mr. Raymond Gillespie, is confined to a wheelchair and this sends a positive signal in the educational establishment, is a symbolic feature of the college and is something to which we should aspire.
The Minister mentioned that the title of directors will be "director", but said there will be a choice whether they will be called president or director. I take it that each institution will make that choice.
County Donegal has a 144 km geographical tie to Northern Ireland. LYIT services a large land mass and is the only third level institution serving that population base. With the manufacturing sector under so much pressure, Donegal is going through a significant transformation in direction regarding industry and jobs. The future for places such as Donegal is that education will provide the primary blocks of any future sustainable job. There is a worry in Donegal that we are too reliant on the construction industry. That is a feature of everyday life. While we still have high unemployment in Donegal, the construction and service industries have the monopoly on jobs. We should think in the long term and any investment that can go to a college such as LYIT should go there. It has the capacity and the degree programmes, including general nursing, business and electronic and manufacturing engineering. It has the capacity and potential to serve the educational needs of Donegal and to serve as a centre for the creation of a critical mass of knowledge and skills to attract sustainable, value-added jobs to the county.
I would like to put on record the need for more emphasis on the IT sector in Letterkenny. I mentioned Primerica. LYIT has advanced singularly in producing a highly-educated IT skills base. We should go a step further. We must create the necessary infrastructure. We should seek solid linkages between LYIT and the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster in Derry. We have numerous examples of cross-Border associations and we are examining cross-Border roads infrastructure. People talk about potential cross-Border rail infrastructure between Derry and Donegal. There is potential for cross-Border health liaisons between Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry and Letterkenny General Hospital. We must seek cross-Border co-operation in education. It happens from an industry point of view. A large percentage of people working in Primerica in Letterkenny come from Derry. Likewise a large percentage of the Donegal workforce goes across the Border to Derry. From an educational point of view we should examine concrete parameters whereby we could underpin solid proposals between Magee Campus and LYIT. It happens, but we spend too much time talking about cross-Border linkages. The poverty industry has seen cross-Border activity. It is an opportunity where we could have something tangible, concrete and sustainable.
I also welcome the Minister to the House and acknowledge her interest and feel for this subject. The Institutes of Technology Bill 2006 is one of the most important pieces of education legislation to be brought before the House in recent times. It is a timely, forward-looking and progressive Bill. It reflects and recognises the environment in which higher education organisations are required to work. It recognises the challenges that lie ahead and must be supported to allow each institute to develop to its full potential.
It should be added that this legislation reflects exceptionally well on the institutes and their record of achievement since their inception over three decades ago. When they were first initiated in the 1970s they were run as a tight ship and were vocational in nature. Their links were with the vocational system and the framework in which they were governed was tightly controlled and centrally administered. The institutes were limited and did not have the flexibility to expand as they wanted.
Today the institutes are a success story. They have come a long way since they first opened their doors in the 1970s. Initially their brief was to educate for trade and industry over a broad spectrum of occupations from craft to professional level. From the time of their enactment in 1992, the number of regional technical colleges has increased from 11 to 13. At the same time the Dublin Institute of Technology was established. I remember when the Dublin Institute of Technology opened its doors through the six colleges, each with a specialist field. Bolton Street specialised in engineering, Cathal Brugha Street in catering, Kevin Street in science and Mountjoy Square in commerce and business. This is an example of how DIT has come into its own and the 13 regional colleges have expanded likewise to reflect today's facilities.
I congratulate the institutes and the DIT for opening their doors to allow students from all backgrounds to access third level education, particularly those from backgrounds that would not understand what third level education is. The VEC's insistence created the link with the institutes and facilitated the flow of students into third level. These students can move from certificate courses to diploma and degree courses and then to fourth level, postgraduate courses. I call it the scenic route. This is a significant achievement. I am glad the Bill allows the institutes to develop in such a way. Removing this binary system and bringing higher education under one umbrella is a great step forward. It gets rid of the distinction between the institutes which deal with trade and development and the academic orientation of the universities. This process must be further developed using the Higher Education Authority as the main management structure.
I also welcome the new fund that has been set up which will help to reform the internal management of the institutes to allow teachers, lecturers and learning to reform, to introduce new modules and programmes and create a dialogue between the institutes and universities. This will facilitate the movement of university graduates and lecturers across all third level colleges and to move on to fourth level, research and development, wherever they are needed.
It is an ambition of mine that Waterford Institute of Technology be designated a university. It has started the process and its pursuit of a university designation must be supported. Education contributes to prosperity and the south east needs a strong economic regeneration. Its economy is in transition from traditional agriculture and manufacturing to a need for developmental skill sets, to lay the foundation for a knowledge-based economy and the synergies of research, development and innovation. A university would instill a sense of pride in the south east which is neglected. The Waterford Institute of Technology is on its way to achieving this. The process we have begun here will give it a golden opportunity to pursue this status.
I welcome this legislation which has started something big. This will be a knowledge economy. Were it not for this process and the Government's major investment in education the Celtic tiger phenomenon would not have happened. This is a fine Bill and the money invested in reforming the structures, creating links with the universities and the economy is a success story. I hope that in the next few years the Waterford Institute of Technology will become a university having earned this status through research and development.
I must declare an interest in this Bill as a staff member of an institute of technology. I assure the Minister of State that my timekeeping in the Cork Institute of Technology is better than it was here today when I arrived late for my allotted slot.
Regarding Senator Ormonde's comments on the campaign to turn Waterford Institute of Technology into a university, I would prefer to have the status of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology than of any university. It is time we moved away from titles. The priorities are resources, range and achieving a high level of performance. To a degree the obsession with the name "university" holds us back. It is an increasingly difficult one to justify on the basis of any objective criteria. Apart from the very worthy and estimable work in the area of the liberal arts I am not sure what distinguishes a university from an institute of technology, or what should except perhaps the spectrum of courses.
I welcome the Bill but I want to make a few, hopefully pointed, remarks. The regional technical colleges, RTCs, which are now the institutes of technology showed an extraordinary level of imagination and flexibility. I bridle at private sector commentators, who talk about some imagined reluctance to change. This apparently applies also to Government negotiators, to judge by the contents of the proposed agreement, Towards 2016. The RTCs reinvented their remit two or three times over the past 30 years. They also responded with extraordinary flexibility to every new need and demand.
In regard to my subject area, engineering, I did not have a cosy public sector job in which one could do as one liked. This applies not only to my place of work but to others. If one teaches engineering one must get the expensive resources to do so. No private sector third level institutions run courses in science or engineering because that is too expensive and requires the input of the State. They do literary or other courses such as law and business that involve note-taking and writing.
To run an engineering course requires the faith of the job market and that into which most of the institutes of technology feed is the multinational one. The recruitment policy of this market is not based on the title or status of the institute from which one graduated but on the quality of what one knows and can do. The institutes and regional technical colleges have been remarkably successful in that respect. In addition, in engineering, about which I know, the college must achieve international accreditation. To achieve that a group of people from outside one's institute, not picked by the institute, and over whose numbers and names it has no control, conduct an extraordinarily rigorous evaluation.
In a nastier moment a couple of weeks ago I said I would lay odds that nobody in either the Department of Finance, which pulls all the strings or the Department of Education and Science, whose strings the Department of Finance often pulls, was ever subjected to the type of rigorous, external, transparent, publicly reported evaluation of his or her capacity to do his or her job that anybody lecturing in engineering in an institute of technology undergoes.
It is a bit rich for the Department of Finance to insert into Towards 2016 language about modern methods and flexibility, etc. We were doing flexibility before the Department of Finance ever heard the term. We did innovation before the Department of Education and Science knew what it was. The single biggest obstacle to the objectives listed in Towards 2016, like flexibility and new pedagogic methods, is the absence of resources.
I would be delighted, for example, to use computer-based learning, except that although we have a certain number of computers a level of computer equipment would be required in every classroom that nobody would dream of funding. I am supposed to teach by modern technological methods with 1990s technology. Where we have attempted in my workplace to introduce modern teaching methods, for example using computer-based projectors, the projectors are stolen because the Department of Education and Science refuses to allow the institutes of technology to have permanent night security.
The students of Cork have wonderful projectors for watching DVDs at weekends at the expense of taxpayers. We were told it was a great idea to invest in such equipment — I agreed it was a great idea — but we were are not allowed to have the equipment, however. I had been using e-mail for years before the Department of Education and Science was able to spell the word. The staff in the institute of technology, who have been most flexible and imaginative, are fed up because people are telling them they are not being flexible and they need to be more flexible. Their contracts state they must teach at any time between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., five days a week, and they must work at night, as appropriate, without any debate, although they get time and a half for such hours. They have been flexible. They invented flexibility. They taught the universities about flexibility. That is why they will vote overwhelmingly to reject Towards 2016. It is not about money per se.
I would like to talk about a few aspects of the Bill. A section near the end of the Bill relates to "hiring and firing", which is an awful phrase. The great illusion in the public sector is that the big problem with management in that sector is that people cannot be hired and fired in the way they can be hired and fired in the private sector. No well-managed private company would operate the system of arbitrary hiring and firing that some illusionists in the public sector seem to believe is needed. That is one of the reasons I am not as worried about the issue of tenure as are some other people. It is a pity that a target was put in place in this way.
Similarly, the nonsense of two equal and different sectors of third level education is denied by the experience of the staff of the institutes of technology. I have to relearn how I teach and what I teach on a regular basis. I have to counsel students. I am now supposed to do research, apparently, and I enjoy doing so when I have time. I am supposed to do all of that in an office that is no bigger than a chicken coop, which is in a second-hand prefab that is 25 years old and for which no replacement provision has been made.
I am supposed to persuade students to come to work in that environment, as opposed to the university down the road which seems to have limitless funds to provide ever improved faculty buildings and accommodation. I forgot to mention PMDS, which the Department of Education and Science loves. Given that we have reinvented our course four times and received international accreditation three times, it is nonsense to suggest we are falling behind in some way. Somebody invented terms like PMDS to try to justify inadequate management who cannot manage things properly.
I will raise an issue that I would like the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, to take up. I work in an institute of technology that is in the vicinity of a university. The institute was refused permission to apply to offer nursing degrees, for example, because it was too close to the university in question. The same argument was also used in the case of Limerick, even though the university there does not have a medical faculty. Somebody in the Department decided it was better to offer nursing degrees in universities. The institute of technology where I work has to live with a predatory university that sees what is successful in the institute, and then copies and undermines it. This is going on all over the country — institutes of technology are being blamed when universities copy and undermine their successes.
If the Minister wants to do something about the concept of equality, she needs to ensure that all campuses look equal and feel the same, and that the good ideas which are developed in third level institutions are treated in accordance with the OECD report. The OECD recommended that when good ideas evolve in a certain area, predatory institutions which have more flexibility because they are nominally private should not be allowed to cream off the most attractive of them. Universities should not be allowed to undermine well-established courses in institutes of technology.
I will conclude by simply saying that the words which are used in Towards 2016 are offensive to people who, in my view, showed a level of flexibility long before the Department of Education and Science discovered the word.
I will not take much of that five minutes. I would like to reiterate, in the presence of the Minister, that if we are to have genuine equality, somebody has to make sure that it is manifest and visible on the campuses, in the student facilities and in terms of staff accommodation. Like most staff members in institutes of technology, I am based in office accommodation that is worse than that available to a postgraduate student in a university. There is no way around this — the two sectors should either be made equal or they should be defined as being unequal. The manifest inequality to which I refer has caused places like Waterford Institute of Technology to look for university status. They believe that such status will draw with it the funding and resources which will give them the appearance of being different and better. If we want to maintain the current differences, so be it.
It would be no harm for the Department of Education and Science or the Higher Education Authority to examine the accreditation of engineering degrees across the entire third level sector. Do the Department and the HEA wonder about the capacity of the underfunded and poorly-built institute of technology in Cork to achieve a level of accreditation that is in excess of that of a neighbouring institution that has vastly greater access to resources and much more tradition and history? Do they wonder why the more maligned sector, which has been accused of inflexibility, a lack of imagination and a failure to use modern pedagogical methods, is more successful?
If the Department and the HEA reflect on such matters, perhaps they will decide to develop a new structure in which the two existing sectors are genuinely equal. It is not just about paying people. If the two sectors were genuinely equal, a student who walks into a campus would not notice whether it is a university or an institute of technology. They do notice such things, however. I can say that because if one compares the geographical origins of students in Cork Institute of Technology with those of students in the neighbouring university, one will discover that one is heavily loaded in the direction of Cork city and the other is heavily loaded outside Cork city. While that pattern is not overwhelming or universal, it undoubtedly exists. I would like to appeal, even before the HEA takes over this matter completely, for criteria to be established to ensure that nobody can tell the difference between the facilities, resources, staff, equipment and student support of an institute of technology and those of a university.
I welcome the Bill, in principle. I look forward to a reasonably imaginative working out of its implications in a manner that does not consign the institutes of technology to a continuing perceptible second place in the pecking order.
I welcome the legislation. I also welcome the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, to the House. I thank her for the dynamic approach to education she has adopted since she was appointed as Minister for Education and Science. The new dynamism she has brought to the Department was needed and is welcome. The Bill under discussion is a technical measure that will have a great overall impact in the longer term. It brings together the colleges, schools and universities which were previously fragmented and were going their separate ways in some cases. Perhaps we need to examine the overall scene at national level, as we did in the case of the health system when various boards and organisations were brought together under the direction of the Health Service Executive. While there have been some complaints about the new structures in that instance, we are still in the initial stages. When those structures begin to become established over the longer term, they will have a major impact on the delivery of health services. There is a need for such an approach. I welcome the decision to bring together the universities and the colleges under the aegis of the Higher Education Authority.
I find it difficult to follow this legislation. The Minister said this Bill is a technical measure. I wonder whether it would more desirable to have a separate Bill rather than introducing amending legislation. I have never seen so many amending sections in a Bill.
I welcome the recent announcement of the €4 billion innovation fund. It has been necessary in certain cases to make such funding available to the universities. I am aware of the work done by the University of Limerick in its case for the establishment of a medical college attached to it. When the process for allocating the innovation fund process is undertaken, there will be competition between the various medical schools and colleges. The University of Limerick's proposal for a medical college would address many of the urgent shortages in medical specialties in the region. I hope that type of institution can be funded from the innovation fund. The sooner it is established the better.
As highlighted by the Minister of State, the colleges and education system can have an impact on the economic and social progress of different regions. The investment in higher education over the years has been a major contributory factor in the State's economic performance. The high level of skills produced by the institutes of technology attracts foreign direct investment.
Some people with PhDs and other high qualifications have spoken to me about the difficulties in getting start-up employment. This is different to the message coming from the colleges and universities, that there is a significant demand for graduates and highly-qualified professions. The employment agency FÁS could assist these graduates. There should be a facility to cater for highly-specialised graduates who have problems, due to the lack of work experience, in getting employment. Many graduates are disillusioned with the system after spending so much time getting their qualifications. For many of them, the job offers they receive are below their qualifications. It has been suggested to me that it has more to do with the pressure on the third level colleges to get into higher levels than the best interest of students.
The achievements of the colleges at Killybegs and Letterkenny were earlier highlighted. I want to draw the Minister's attention to the Shannon College of Hotel Management, recognised throughout the world. Many of those who hold key positions in the international hotel trade trained at the hotel school. Although Limerick university is near to the school, it is linked to NUI, Galway. To me, that does not make much sense. I would prefer to link it to a university within a ten-mile radius.
Senator Ryan can argue that with the people in Limerick and Cork. I would also like it to be linked to the Great Southern Hotel in Shannon. Aer Rianta — or whatever has taken its place — is proposing to sell off the Great Southern Hotels. A sensible proposal would be for the hotel school to purchase these premises which are next door to it. However, it does not have the funds to do so. As these are State institutions, it should be possible for a property transfer arrangement without using up a large amount of cash. Having these premises would give the hotel school an opportunity to have a practical training facility in an international hotel next to an international airport. It would further enhance the status of the school and keep it in the top range of international hotel schools.
The Tralee and Galway institutes of technology and the higher education school in Limerick have worked together in providing outreach programmes in Ennis. With the development and expansion of the town, it is an opportune time to have a college in Ennis. It would provide a service to County Clare and eliminate the necessity for young people from the county to travel to Dublin, Cork and elsewhere to avail of education services.
As a long-time supporter of the institutes of technology sector, I welcome this Bill because it will in some ways improve their lot and guarantee their survival as a distinct and separate contributor to our third level system. Five years ago, when I was the chairman of a committee in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, I learned of the theories of Howard Gardner and Charles Hanly. Gardner claims there are seven different intelligences while Hanly reckons there are 11. I was warned not to use the word "talent" but the word "intelligence". These were different terms than I had been in the habit of using. A criticism made against the leaving certificate is that it only measures the traditional academic intelligences and not the others. This has not been taken into account in second and third level education.
The Bill, however, has serious shortcomings which make me welcome it with reservations. I regret it will fail to create parity of esteem between the universities and the institutes of technology.
I consider that to be both highly desirable and easily achievable. What I welcome in the Bill is that it re-affirms and copperfastens the binary system in our third level education. Under a binary system, universities are one entity and institutes of technology are another. Universities are not jumped-up institutes of technology. Institutes of technology are not failed universities or would-be universities. Under a true binary system, each type of institution has its own distinctive role and, ideally, is held in the same high regard, both by the State and the public. I hope the Bill will put an end to the counterproductive posturing that has dogged the institutes of technology sector over the past few decades.
Many of the institutes have mounted campaigns to be given university status, about which we have heard today, and this has often been vehemently supported by public opinion in their own local areas. The case that comes to mind in particular is that of Waterford. I believe this activity has been counterproductive, because it has prevented the institutes developing to the full their own identity. It is important to understand why people would seek to undermine their own status in this way. I believe it is because of the way the institutes of technology were always treated as the poor cousins of the third level system. Senator Ryan referred to this matter. In particular, they were not administered as independent entities like universities but were ruled directly — even down to the smallest matters — by the iron hand of the Department of Education and Science.
This is not just a question of headstrong people wanting to do their own thing. If we are to understand third level education, we must appreciate that to realise its full potential this sector must be given the maximum freedom to manage its own affairs and in particular to pursue innovation in the face of changing circumstances. To the extent that we try to micromanage third level education from the top down we restrict its ability to serve the community to the best effect.
It is understandable that many people in the institutes of technology sector came to the conclusion that the only way they would get this freedom would be by becoming universities. Accordingly, many of the institutes diverted some of their efforts from their real job and started to behave more and more like universities — in a classic example of mission drift. In other words, they headed in the wrong direction. This approach failed to succeed and the Bill puts the final nail in the coffin of that misguided campaign. From that point of view I welcome it.
We are entitled to congratulate ourselves that in this country we have not rushed to emulate the mistake the British made over the same two decades, when they turned all their existing polytechnics into universities.
The result was that they ended up with a raft of second-rate universities and downgraded the status of university education as a whole in that country. From that point of view, I understand what the Minister is doing and I welcome it. I believe we owe the credit for steering us away from making that mistake to the OECD, which strongly argued for the continuance of our traditional binary system in its report on third level education in Ireland, published in 2004. With all due respect to the Minister and her Department, it is the OECD which is the true father of the legislation we are now considering. I am pleased the Minister has grabbed hold of the idea.
The OECD argued that direct control of the institutes should be taken away from the Department of Education and Science and given to a buffer body that would also administer the universities. That is what this Bill will bring about. However, the OECD also argued for genuine parity of esteem between the two types of third level institution and in that area the Bill is less successful. In certain important respects, the new regime we are now creating will leave crucial differences between the universities and the institutes of technology. For instance, whereas universities can appoint staff subject to their overall budget, in the case of the institutes, the HEA and both the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Finance must approve any new staff. The recruitment of an institute's staff must be what is termed "as determined by the Minister", unlike the universities which are free to determine their own selection processes. Again, if an institute wants to appoint a temporary director, the HEA must approve it. This does not apply to universities and is most intrusive.
On another crucial issue, the Bill provides that an institute's private income will be reckoned as part of its overall budget. I do not understand this provision. We all know that what this will mean in practice is that if an institute raises private income, its public grant will be reduced accordingly. I hope the Minister will correct me in this regard but that appears to be the situation.
Differences also prevail in regard to accountability, in that the proceedings of every meeting of an institute's governing body must be published. This is excessive intrusion in the day-to-day affairs of an institution and will make it very difficult for it to discuss anything at all in private. I accept that difficulties arise with freedom of information in other ways but I would hate to see it happen that one could not discuss anything in private as everything would be made public at that level. The proper level of accountability is through an annual report, one which is published promptly within three months of the end of the year.
Many people have already raised the issue that while the Bill provides for academic freedom as a key virtue, it undermines that commitment by failing to guarantee the tenure of institute staff in comparison with their counterparts in universities. I am totally unpersuaded by the Minister's attempts so far to explain away this discrepancy.
I could continue but I think I have said enough to make the point that the Bill will not put the universities and the institutes of technology on an equal footing, which should have been one of the key goals of the exercise. Even after the passage of the Bill, the institutes, though somewhat better off than before, will still be in a second grade position when compared with the universities. I consider that to be a profoundly undesirable situation and one which will have a detrimental influence on the performance of the country in the years to come.
The institutes of technology have been the underdogs for so long that many people, including some in the educational establishment, appear incapable of thinking of them in any other way. To anyone who considers an institute of technology as an inherently inferior institution to a university, let me point to the example of MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is one of the world's leading third level institutions. I had the opportunity to travel through India a couple of years ago and I found institutes of technology were far more common there than universities. They are widely respected as a source of high-value graduates.
While the Bill is to be welcomed up to a point, it must also be criticised as a lost opportunity. I regret in particular the decision to rush it through this House without the proper scrutiny it deserves and to hold Committee Stage at a time tomorrow when the Dáil may already have risen for the summer. I am not sure of the up to date position for the taking of business. This indicates a highly cynical dismissal in advance of any amendments that this House might be tempted to propose. I welcome the Bill and the Minister's good intentions but I believe it needs more attention than it is likely to get.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business which I hope will be agreeable to the Minister, Deputy Hanafin. It has the agreement of the Labour Party which has tabled the Private Member's motion at 5 p.m. Given that we are stuck for time and other Members wish to speak, it has been agreed that we can continue this debate for a further 15 minutes. This will mean Private Members' business will commence at 5.15 p.m. and continue until 7.15 p.m., rather than from 5 p.m. until7 p.m.
I believe the Minister will reply to Second Stage at 5.05 p.m., ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate. The Acting Chairman should not start the clock for my contribution yet as I am giving an explanation. Senator Mansergh wishes to share my time——
——but perhaps he does not have to do so as he can have five minutes at the end. I apologise for having to go into the matter in a convoluted way. I thank the Acting Chairman for his patience and the House for allowing the change. We will of course not finish the Private Members' motion until 7.15 p.m. which will push everything on, as the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal (Amendment) Bill will then be taken.
I am pleased to speak on the Bill. While listening to the monitor in my office I was delighted to hear the many varied and learned contributions made on the Bill. It is right that it should be so. Everyone who spoke had his or her own take on the matter. I remember Senator Fitzgerald, Deputy Carey and the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, coming to see me in regard to the City of Dublin VEC and all of the other colleges involved. I am very au fait with the institutes of technology and the component colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology. In the 1970s I was the first chairman of the board of management of the then Athlone Regional Technical College. I was pleased to hold this position because it gave me a great insight into the operation of the colleges. They were building upon the recommendations in the OECD report and the Investment in Education report, published in the 1960s, which laid out what Ireland must do if it was to take its proper role on the world stage in terms of technical and other types of education.
As time moved on, the colleges continued to grow and I recall enormous efforts by the Department during my time as Minister to curb that growth. However, I always believed this expansion was positive. Step by step, they provided certificates, diplomas, degrees and eventually post-graduate qualifications. Regardless of any restrictions that the Department, acting according to its own lights, wished to put on their growth, the colleges, like Alice in Wonderland, "grew and grew".
There was great competition between the various colleges. As Senator Quinn remarked, the regional dimension was important. My late brother told me the story of how the facility at Letterkenny became an institute, even though it was not included in the original map of institutes. The worthy Neil Blaney kicked and kicked, however, and secured its status. This struck me strongly as Senator McHugh spoke. Athlone, on the other hand, was well provisioned in the middle of the country to acquire the status of institute.
I do not share Senator Quinn's view that the technical colleges had a sense of inferiority relative to the universities. I always considered them to be fine institutions. As a university graduate myself, it never struck me that the institutes of technology were in any way inferior in terms of the education they provided and the status of the qualifications they conferred.
All of them now enjoy startling success in fourth level education. I often wonder whether Ireland would have achieved the dominance it has in many areas of commerce if not for the institutes of technology.
It was I who formulated the earlier legislation in 1991. It had just been printed when I left the Department and it was for my successor to manage its progress. This legislation was important because it afforded freedom to the colleges to engage in research and development according to their needs. Before this they had an umbilical connection to the VECs, which saw them as shining stars in the context of their own sphere of responsibility.
This Bill builds upon that earlier legislation while, essentially, continuing to recognise the binary system that operates in the education sector. A ridiculous situation has arisen in Britain where every jumped-up polytechnical college became a university. I could not believe the authorities there were so stupid. Why did they not have pride in their own structures and in the roles performed by the different educational institutions? I never heard the management of Athlone Institute of Technology expressing a desire for it to become a university. It was satisfied with and proud of its role as an excellent regional technical college and, later, institute of technology.
I do not understand why the management of an educational institution should feel that university status is necessary if the facility is to be considered important. The existence of an institute of technology is of great importance to any town. In Athlone, for example, this is evident in the location of Elan, Nexans and other industries there. Industries feed off the institutes and vice versa. The institutes are empowered by the scholarships, trusts and other forms of financing and support they receive from local industry, as the provisions of the earlier legislation enabled them to do. The existence of an institute of technology gives a great boost to an area. Athlone was the first college to offer a course in plastics, an unknown technology at the time it was introduced. We were foremost in that field.
This Bill is excellent because it preserves the binary system without any sense of tuppence-half-penny looking down on tuppence. I never heard anything so silly. There should be a sense of confidence in one's institute. Not every educational facility is a university, nor is every facility an institute of technology with its wealth of ideas and people. Many of the institutes are now branching out and attracting students from abroad. In Athlone, Dr. Ciarán Ó Catháin has travelled extensively and has brought students from China and elsewhere to the college. These students bring a cosmopolitan air to the town and we have seen the establishment of China-Athlone and India-Athlone friendship societies. This expansion is positive.
I am pleased to support this fine legislation. What is the objective of those who constantly seek to acquire university status for their institutes? As Minister, I oversaw the transformation of two institutes, one in Limerick and another in Dublin, to universities. Interestingly, it was my brother, Brian, God rest him, who was responsible for securing their status as institutes from their previous status, whatever that was. Without naming names, some of the institutes seem to have notions about becoming universities for no particular good purpose. They seem to believe that such status will mean that everyone walking the corridors will constantly sport a mortar board and gown and reek of chalk.
I am unaware of any institute that has failed the test of being a good purveyor of quality education in diversified ways. They play an important role in providing a modular system of qualifications, allowing students to climb the ladder from certificate, through diploma and degree, as far as doctorate level, adding to the earlier accolades they have earned. Under this Bill, the HEA will oversee the funding of the institutes and they will report to it. The directors of the individual colleges will be accountable to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
I remember the sad days when hundreds of young women and men, delighted with the qualifications they received in the colleges, faced the prospect of being unable to secure a job. Instead, they were forced to go abroad with only their education as dowry. Their certificates and diplomas stood to them because most were able to secure decent employment in the countries in which they settled. When people speak of those forced to leave Ireland in the 1980s for work, I have visions of those delighted young people with their qualifications pouring out of Athlone. Many have now returned and set up businesses in the midlands. We had a good night in Athlone recently where some of these people spoke of their college days and how wonderful they were.
I praise the Minister for this wonderful legislation. I also acknowledge her departmental officials because I am well aware that no Minister simply wakes up and produces legislation out of his or her head. This legislation brings the institutes of technology forward the next step in their development.
I welcome the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, and broadly welcome this Bill. I agree with much of what the previous speaker said. Most of the amendments suggested by my colleagues seem to centre on the timescale for the implementation of the Bill and I know they will be dealt with on the next Stage. I am glad that the issue of people with disabilities seems to have been addressed by the Minister for Education and Science before the Bill came to this House.
I am a graduate of the Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, and I spent four of the best years of my life there.
I did turn out well. I graduated in May 2002 and in July I was elected to this House. I want to commend the record of the institutes of technology and the work they have done over the years in different parts of the country. There is an institute of technology in my Carlow constituency, a thriving institution like the Waterford Institute of Technology.
I wish to refer to what the Leader said about the status of the institutes. WIT has made an application to be upgraded to university status and there are justifiable reasons for that status to be sought. It is worthwhile examining economic indicators and third level attendance indicators in the south-east region. They will show that the region has the lowest rate of third level attendance in the country. It also has the highest unemployment rate, to my knowledge, outside Donegal. These issues are not unrelated to the fact that it is the only region that does not have a university. I take on board Senator O'Rourke's comments and recognise there is a necessity that the binary system remain. The universities and institutes of technology have complementary roles. I support WIT's application for university status and feel a university would be beneficial to the south-east region. WIT is the only institution in the region seeking this status.
In my own experience, staff in the institutes of technology tend to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of students and industry than staff in universities, who may adopt a more traditional approach. Senator O'Rourke spoke earlier on links with industry and I agree with her point. There are clear links between leading local industries and the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow. These links should be fostered and developed.
Senator Quinn spoke about parity of esteem between universities and institutes of technology and I agree with him. This parity of esteem has not yet been attained and this is something that needs to be addressed. There tends to be more student-focused education in the institutes of technology. Often universities are more traditional in how they approach issues and more formulaic in dealing with them.
I welcome the Bill and urge the Minister for Education and Science to strongly consider the submission she has received from WIT. Some say a university in Waterford would have a negative impact on the Carlow Institute of Technology but I do not think that would be the case. In fact, I believe the exact opposite would be the case — it would benefit and feed off a university located in Waterford. Whatever the Minister decides in the case of WIT, the economic indicators I mentioned suggest the region needs a university. I do not suggest this should happen immediately, but the Department of Education and Science should consider it seriously.
I have a strong background in the institute of technology sector. I graduated from a university but I gained a postgraduate diploma at the Dublin Institute of Technology and I worked there also. I agree with Senator Ryan's point that the institutes of technology have led the way on the issue of flexibility. When I worked at DIT Bolton Street a student there started on a trades course, transferred to a certificate, went from part time to full time and eventually completed a degree. This is an example of the flexibility that has been evident in the institutes of technology for years.
My father would have supplied the example of a person who started studying at the Institute of Technology Tallaght at certificate level and ultimately completed a PhD in Israel. There is parity of esteem, in practice, for universities and institutes of technology. I agree with the points made on the benefits of the binary system; they indicate that institutes of technology are equal to, but different from universities. That is how they should be resourced and promoted.
I welcome a number of aspects of this legislation including some areas that were amended when dealt with on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil. The provision relating to the legality of institutes of technology taking part in the promotion and management of companies is welcome as is the requirement that the governing body must, in the performance of its functions, have regard to the attainment of gender balance, equality of opportunity and so on.
Institutes of technology have played an important role in offering access to college. They had a broad access policy, admitting a more accurate representation of the population and its various groups, than universities long before universities. The Labour Party covered this fact in a document which suggested this admissions policy was helped initially by lower fees and subsequently no fees under the European Social Fund, ESF, funding scheme.
I will propose an amendment to section 8 to insert the words "and the region served by the college". The college has a role in encouraging students from the local area to attend. This is evident when one examines the statistics on who attends which college. It is important that they encourage people from disadvantaged areas to attend. Unlike the University Acts there is no section in this Bill on the objectives of the institutes of technology. These should be included, particularly those relating to facilitating lifelong learning and the promotion of gender balance and equality of opportunity. This lack must be a discrepancy because on page 35, where reference is made to the Higher Education Authority, an allusion is made to institutes of education as bodies having regard to the objects and functions of institutes of higher education. There no section outlining objects in this Bill and I will propose an amendment to this end on Committee Stage.
I agree with other Senators who argued that parity of esteem is very important. Senator Ryan, in particular, hit the nail on the head in that regard. One way to ensure parity of esteem is to resource the institutes of technology adequately so that they have facilities which are on a par with those in the universities. I refer particularly to facilities that would be provided as student supports. At present, students do not have the space for all the activities that should take place in a college, including clubs, societies, as well as supports such as psychological services and so forth. The institutes should be given the resources to provide those extra facilities and amenities. I agree with all of the points made by Senator Ryan.
Another issue which nobody has mentioned and which relates to the issues of access and flexibility is the importance of the institute's role in education in the trade sector, which I hope will continue. It is important that the institutes retain that role because it is an aspect of education which relates directly to issues of flexibility and access.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Institutes of Technology Bill. Given that my time is limited, I will make a number of focused points. I was asked by a number of people who work in the area to raise an issue which may have already been dealt with in the Dáil — I have read the debate but am not sure — regarding section 13. Perhaps the Minister will be able to address it in her concluding remarks. Concern has been expressed that section 7, which enshrines the principle of academic freedom, a fundamental principle which is essential for healthy debate, is undermined by section 13 which provides for the removal of job security for future institute of technology academic staff. The fear is that not giving people security of tenure would make life difficult for those pursuing particular views which, at certain times, may not be acceptable to organisations, whether they be the institutes themselves or their member companies in their regions.
One of the great aspects of the institutes of technology sector has been the type of education it has given to people. It has always been recognised as being very focused, flexible and adaptable in terms of the needs of the regions and companies therein. My experience in Galway indicates that the institute's strategy of working with national and international companies, as well as organisations like Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, has ensured that it has been an important part of our economic growth and the sustainability of our economic competitiveness, as well as our ability to be able to provide people to do the types of work needed.
The Minister is very focused on the provision of integrated education for people with disabilities. We are now seeing children with disabilities who, having gone through mainstream primary and secondary education, are finishing their examinations and receiving FETAC foundation level 1 awards. They are receiving certain types of qualifications but at that point their education stops. There is nowhere for them to go in terms of an education. I am not referring here to training as there are many fine training centres dotted around the country, with an excellent focus.
An 18 or 19 year old child with a disability is perhaps entitled to an opportunity to go to a college and to pursue a liberal arts programme, be it drama, art, music or whatever. However, the only way that will happen is if it is introduced on a pilot basis. Those children may not have the academic capability to pass the examinations and to do business studies, commerce, science and so forth but there are many organisations that could provide them with opportunities to develop in other areas. I have spoken to staff at the institute of technology in Galway, who are interested in examining this issue further. It is only fair to the children, particularly when we are giving them the opportunity of pathways to education, to examine where they will go next. It is only becoming an issue now because of the success of the strategies that have been put in place.
I assure the Minister that Senators will do everything they can to support the institutes of technology. They are marvellous institutions and I look forward to them continuing to provide the type of service they have been providing throughout the country.
I welcome the Minister and what I regard as very progressive legislation. In handing over responsibility to the HEA, tribute should nonetheless be paid to the Department of Education and Science for the way it has built up these institutes over the past 25 to 30 years and made them the success they are today. The institutes are an important part of the attraction of this country to industry. Their geographical spread and the ease with which people can access them is also important because in the past it would not have been economically possible for people to travel vast distances to further their education.
In her speech the Minister noted the progress from what began as mainly second level education to third and fourth level. The Tipperary Business and Rural Development Institute is not included in the Schedule. That is probably correct because that institute may still need the special care and attention of the Department of Education and Science. It has not yet progressed to the stage where it could come under the remit of the HEA.
I must declare two points of interest. I have a sister who is a lecturer at the very fine Dublin Institute of Technology. She is currently co-ordinating a mathematics project, funded by the EU, with the ten accession countries. The consolidation of the DIT at Grangegorman is a very exciting prospect. I am a member of the Waterford Institute of Technology Foundation and like Senator John Paul Phelan, I support its impressive submission seeking university status. I hasten to add that I agree, broadly speaking, with the binary system and parity of esteem but that does not mean that there can be absolutely no progression from one to the other.
There is a very strong regional and educational case to be made in the case of Waterford, which having visited the Carriganore campus recently, reminds me more and more of the University of Limerick. The WIT aspires to provide a service similar to that provided by the University of Ulster. I recommend, notwithstanding this Bill, that the Minister gives sympathetic consideration to a case that has support across the south eastern region.
It is always a pleasure to allow the Senators extra time to praise legislation, particularly a Bill which is so welcomed by the House. We all acknowledge the work that the institutes of technology have done and continue to do in this country in reaching out to students from all backgrounds and of all abilities. We particularly acknowledge the work they have done for the regions. However, I absolutely reject the suggestion that they have, in any way, a lesser status or are held in lower esteem than any other colleges in the country.
Senators have spoken about the numbers of students attending the institutes. The students appreciate the work and role of the institutes, which is why they are attending in such high numbers. From the point of view of investment, one need only look at the level of investment in the institutes in recent years. Waterford Institute of Technology has been referred to by many Senators, which has the most amazing campus with the most beautiful buildings. It is a state-of-the art facility. Recently, when the Taoiseach and I launched the building programme of €900 million, as announced in the budget, the universities criticised us and argued that too much of that money was being spent on the institutes of technology.
In terms of future direction, the institutes and universities have been invited to submit proposals for the strategic innovation fund. Those proposals are being sought this week. The fund is worth €300 million and the institutes, on an equal par with the universities, can bid and compete for moneys. That is recognising, in ways other than through this legislation, the role of the institutes of technology.
I acknowledge the work which has gone into developing the institutes over a considerable number of years. When the Leader was Minister for Education she progressed the institutes of technology. She referred to the link between education and the economy and to the fact that the availability of skilled graduates in the regions meant that industry was willing to move to the regions. That link is one we need to continue to foster. Despite the fact that the institutes will be brought under the remit of HEA and will be given greater autonomy, it is crucial they should not lose sight of their mission and that they have always been good on progression. As Senator Tuffy said, one could enter an institute at the lowest level and progress to be a PhD graduate. The institutes had led the way on progression and shown good example. I hope they will continue to do that but we need to ensure that a mission drift is avoided.
On the point of the numbers attending third level colleges, what is significant is not that Waterford having fewer graduates. That is no longer the case. It had the largest increase——
It shows that the rising tide is lifting all boats.
On the matter of access to education for people of all abilities, Senator Cox asked about provision for people with disabilities. We addressed this area on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Senator Cox and others will be pleased to hear that I recently opened the Institute for Intellectual Disability in Trinity College, Dublin. It offers courses in contemporary living for young people with intellectual disability. They are able to walk through the gates of Trinity College and pursue a course in the same way as students who are studying for a primary degree, a masters or a PhD. That is the type of initiative to which Senator Cox was referring. I would like such an initiative to be emulated throughout the rest of the colleges. The opening of this institute is a start of what is needed in this area and it is greatly supported by a number of bodies. With determination, initiatives could be taken to reach out to students who are progressing through mainstream first and second level education.
With regard to sections of Bill dealing with the use of the title of director or president of an institute, I introduced an amendment to allow the governing bodies to call the head of the institute the director, president or any other title as long as the I approve it because I do not want those individuals to call themselves "high chief" or some other such title.
The legislation will give the governing bodies that flexibility.
It was timely to change the position regarding the removal of staff members, but protection is provided for the people who were appointed prior to the enactment of this legislation. Up until now an officer of an institute could not be removed from office by the Minister without a sworn inquiry first taking place, but such protection has been supplanted by strong employment legislation. Those appointments and all future appointments will be protected by that legislation.
Academic freedom is in no way diluted in this legislation. It strongly states that academic staff shall not be disadvantaged for the exercise of academic freedom. This is very important in all our institutions, and that is a mandatory provision in the legislation.
Whatever about the future of individual colleges, it is important that those in the colleges appreciate they are there to serve a particular mission, namely, their region and the broader needs of the students. They also have a strong economic mandate, as set out by Government, to make sure that we continue to meet the skills needs required. Those people in the colleges will benefit from the new strategy announced on science, technology and innovation worth €3.5 billion. That strategy will be largely targeted at the education sector in the first few years. I am confident that the institutes are well placed to gain from that, to develop it and to ensure that we continue to provide PhD graduates.
I accept the point made by Senator Daly that in the past some PhD graduates were not able to get employment. However, fortunately, with the development of fourth level education and the fact that many of the top companies that invest here carry out research and development here, which is what we have been trying to attract, there are opportunities for those holding PhDs that did not exist in the past.
Institutes having the status of being under the remit of the Higher Education Authority allows them greater freedom than they had in the past. Certainly they were well-minded and well looked after by my Department over the years but the fact that they will come under the remit of the authority will give them increased status.
Senator Quinn said that this would not have been done but for the OECD report, but that is wrong. I did not accept all the recommendations of the OECD report but this was one of its recommendations. Therefore, the OECD is backing what we are doing rather than our backing what it is doing.
I look forward to discussing other issues on Committee Stage and I thank the Senators for the interest they have shown in the legislation.
On a point of information, Senator Quinn said we would have no time to have a Committee Stage debate, but Committee Stage will be taken tomorrow. The Dáil is sitting tomorrow. If the Minister sees fit and if an amendment is worthy, she can act as did the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, when he accepted 33 amendments on the Criminal Justice Bill in this House.