Thursday, 29 March 2012
Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill 2011: Committee Stage
This amendment expands the definition of the word "award" to include the phrase, "an award for education or training, or both". This accords both with the inclusive vision of learning in the Bill and with specific provisions on programmes leading to awards, which are described as programmes of education and training. It is to ensure that this inclusivity is contained and expressly mentioned within the Bill.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 9, subsection (1), between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
" "recognised within the Framework" includes being recognised within, aligned to, included in, or referenced to, the Framework, following adjudication or validation in that regard by the Authority;".
The term, "recognised within the Framework" is used quite a lot within the Bill and obviously is a significant phrase. In common with other Members, I have been contacted by City & Guilds, which expressed concern about the need for the term, "recognised within the Framework", to be defined to facilitate a clearer definition throughout the Bill as to what is meant by the term. Consequently, the amendment proposes to change the definition to limit it to the allocation of awards that have been subject to a formal process of the authority, such as alignment of awards.
The term, "recognised within the Framework", arises from the policies and procedures the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, NQAI, has developed to underpin the national framework of qualifications. Initially, the focus was on including and recognising the awards of Irish statutory awarding bodies but the focus was broadened under the policies to encompass areas such as professional awards, awards of international awarding bodies such as City & Guilds and even industry awards such as those made by Microsoft. This open approach is relatively unusual in framework development internationally and would be regarded as quite innovative. It extends the possibilities offered by the framework to a much broader set of award holders.
Much of this has been possible because the legislative underpinning for the framework in the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999 was simple. The Act allowed the framework to be elaborated through the policies and procedures of the NQAI and this is being continued in this Bill. Including this definition in the Bill might limit the capacity of the authority to develop new forms of recognition or adapt to international developments, which take place daily. The new authority will continue to work with partners to ensure and enhance the inclusive nature of the framework. That is important.
I accept the Minister of State's response on amendment No. 4. I will speak about the rationale for amendments Nos. 77 and 124.
Amendment No. 77 is concerned with the recognition of awards granted outside the State. While I accept that section 73 is capable of giving some recognition within the State to international rewards, such recognition does not appear to be as robust as that given within the framework; there seems to be a distinction between the two. There may be a need, therefore, for specific implementation powers for the authority to receive and adjudicate on applications from awarding bodies outside the State for the recognition of awards within the State. Such awards should end up with the same status as those which have gone through a similar validation process.
With regard to amendment No. 124, again I appreciate that there is no intention to take away from or diminish the status of international awards already aligned with the framework. That is clear and the Bill deals with awards already aligned with the framework following a formal process involving the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland. It might be necessary, however, to amend the legislation to confirm in law the continuity of that recognition.
I would appreciate it if the Minister of State outlined the reasoning these issues do not appear to have been addressed in the Bill. Does he consider amendments are needed to ensure clarity and the status of international awards, in particular.
The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland has used the flexibility offered by the 1999 Act to work with international counterparts. We have seen a number of examples of this happening. Section 9(1)(m) sets out as a general function of the authority that there be co-operation with international bodies. A similar general function in the 1999 Act allowed the authority to develop partnerships and a memorandum of understanding with peer regulators in other jurisdictions. For example, an agreement has been put in place with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in the United Kingdom to assure the activities of UK awarding bodies operating in Ireland. This has enabled bodies such as City & Guilds to align awards with our national framework of qualifications. It is only when this arrangement remains in place that recognition through the framework can take place. The exercise of this function is most flexibly covered through the policies and procedures of the authority. On that basis, it would be difficult to support the inclusion of a separate process in the Bill. The framework as a whole is continued in the Bill and includes all existing awards, including those of international bodies. Any agreements in place will not be compromised in any way by the provisions of this new Bill.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 12, line 27, to delete line 24 and substitute the following:
"(1) The general functions of the Authority, other than in relation to the previously established universities, shall be to--
(a) comply with section 14 of the Act of 1997,
(b) perform its duties without prejudice to the principles of academic freedom and academic tenure,".
I welcome the Minister of State. We had a significant debate on this issue in July and I was disappointed that so few of the elements we had discussed were incorporated into the Bill. The functions in respect of quality assurance in the university sector are best exercised by that sector. If we are to abolish the Irish Universities Quality Board, as intended in the Bill, in order to transfer its powers to a new super-quango, it will add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. With this amendment I am trying to preserve the powers for universities to take responsibility for the courses they provide. They already have an international trademark and publish research and recruit staff internationally. They are better known than the Irish quality mark it is proposed to introduce.
In assessing layers of bureaucracy in the education sector the Government should have given responsibility for the qualifications they award and have been awarding, in our case since 1592, to the institutions. It is completely unnecessary to have a new layer of bureaucracy inserted in this fashion. If we wanted to abolish the Irish Universities Quality Board, there should have been consultation. When the Comptroller and Auditor General considered this issue in his report, he indicated that it had been founded in 2002 as an independent body with a board comprising the nominees of the HEA, employer and trade union bodies, national and international education bodies, with one third of its members being nominated by the universities. It is funded by subscriptions from seven Irish universities and an annual grant from the HEA.
The idea that there be one national quango to validate everything from PhDs and post-doctoral work down to short courses in hairdressing, etc. seems to be completely bizarre and ignores the debate we had on the issue. It also ignores what is happening in Irish universities. One of the results has been the creation of a layer of bureaucracy in respect of quality assurance, which means nothing to the man or woman giving lectures, as they are evaluated by external examiners and the quality of graduates. I am delighted to tell the House that at a board meeting yesterday I heard that the level of unemployment among TCD graduates was 5%; therefore, we are three times better than in the economy as a whole, in which the unemployment rate is nearly 15%. Internationally accredited external examiners validate courses, questions and the marking. Students who apply to universities across the world may be accepted in the likes of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge universities. As Ireland has a small home market, research must be published internationally.
An bord snip nua recommended the abolition of the Higher Education Authority, but now we will also have Qualifications and Quality Assurance Ireland, which will divert money away from education and the lecture hall. I am proposing that the university sector not be a part of this. If there is dissatisfaction with the Irish Universities Quality Board, shunting it to another board is not the solution. We should consider whether we need it and, given that the international standing of Irish universities has been at such a high level for decades or centuries, whether we need a State body in charge. How will the eight people appointed by the Minister know if somebody is good in the fields of thermodynamics or advanced econometrics? They will not; they will rely on the university concerned for such information. Therefore, the exercise is flawed as it is applied to universities.
The aim of the quality control process is not to validate courses in thermodynamics or PhDs in nanotechnology. Section 9 sets out specifically that the general functions will not necessarily apply to all providers in the same way. For example, the authority will not be obliged to validate programmes of education and training in a provider which has its own awarding powers such as a university. It is not necessary to specify which functions will apply to different providers at this point, as the relevant sections of the Bill set out the precise requirements for the different providers.
I concur with Senator Barrett that we have a successful and effective third level sector and structure. Last year, a survey carried out by EU Finance Ministers concluded that Ireland has the most employable graduates in the European Union. There is no question that the university sector is performing exceptionally well in this area. What we are not seeking to do is allow or require the new authority to validate the efficacy of any course in a university. We seek to ensure that we, as a nation, can stand over the efficacy of the universities' own quality assurance process. That alone is what we are doing.
Universities will continue to regulate their own affairs and their academic staff will continue to work in an atmosphere of free inquiry as provided for under the Universities Act 1997. We have proposed amendment No. 39 to make clear that the authority's power of direction is limited to the effectiveness and implementation of quality assurance procedures. It does not extend further than that. This would only follow a review of effectiveness which would be undertaken by an external, expert panel in the area of quality assurance.
I thank the Minister of State most sincerely for his response, which is good to hear. As he will be aware, the Comptroller and Auditor General examined all these matters in his resource management study. What he found was that the funds provided for this purpose were top-sliced from the teaching budget. Top-slicing is a word I hate and is regarded in golf as ending up in a bunker. Much of the quality assurance work in universities ended up in a bunker because the Comptroller and Auditor General found that bureaucracy in universities had vastly increased. One has people watching over those who are giving the lectures the Minister of State indicated he appreciates this. I applaud the finding that standards were adhered to but money was being diverted into layers of bureaucracy.
Interestingly, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report noted that the "quality office" supplies information to "important strategic enablers" and "has provided better management information for senior institutional management, and better feedback mechanisms for institutional governance." Moreover, it notes that "significant restructuring" has taken place "in terms of academic structures and in terms of administration and management structures." This is all managerialism. The important issues are whether lecturer X knows enough, has reached the top international standards and communicates this to students. We have a structure in the universities that measures things that do not count, namely, improving management structures and so forth. A university is not a managerial institution but a collegial institution based on the Irish tradition of the muinteoir who must communicate with students. The layers of bureaucracy already associated with this process are taking money away from where it is needed in education. This is confirmed by my reading of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report.
While I appreciate the clarification provided by the Minister of State, I wonder whether the exercise is worthwhile. As he noted, the academic side is not part of the process. As to the institutional side, why can we not take a lecturer's salary, divide it by a number of students and add a certain amount for overheads. In 2010, when the Comptroller and Auditor General examined how the accounts were prepared to qualify for quality assurance standards, the most recent accounts he could find for the sector were from 2002. The legislation will impose an additional burden on the educational budget and take resources from the classroom and lecture hall to perform an administrative exercise which could be done in a much more simple manner. It may not deliver any return and will divert resources. Those are my concerns.
While I welcome amendment No. 39, there is serious concern that quality assurance, as practised in Irish universities, does not measure anything important and results in the waste of large amounts of money on the performance of administrative and managerial tasks that could be done in a much more simple manner. A university is not a managerial system. One needs good lecturing and one must attract good students. One also needs an international reputation and one must keep down costs. The new quango established in the universities has cost money and created problems, as the Comptroller and Auditor General has found. What are we measuring and why are we spending money on it when we need this money in the education system, particularly at this time of difficulty with the public finances? This process is entirely bureaucrat driven and will not improve the standard of poetry, engineering, music or any of the other subjects taught in Irish universities. On the contrary, it will make life more difficult for those who are trying to teach in the face of such administrative burdens, time wasting and interference.
I have just returned from a visit to China where I visited nine universities and met the minister for education who has responsibility for 166 million students. While I may like to believe this little island on the edge of Europe is foremost in everyone's mind in China, Singapore, Malaysia and India, that is not the case. People in the countries I have visited or am about to visit regard Irish education as a brand. It is a valuable brand internationally. Ireland's biggest export to China is education. If we are to stand over this brand internationally, we must have some form of quality assurance process that we can all stand over. In selling the brand internationally to Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean students we need to be able to state that, as a nation, we are proud of what we have achieved and can trust the quality assurance process underpinning educational provision.
Why would the universities have collectively established the Irish Universities Quality Body, IUQB, if they did not see merit in the quality assurance process it provides. I reiterate that it was never proposed that members of the new quality assurance body would sit in on lectures.
Significant savings will accrue from the amalgamation of the various quality assurance bodies. In 2008, for example, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC, Further Education and Training Awards Council, FETAC, and the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, NQAI, had a combined staffing level of 110. This figure that has since reduced to 88. It would not have been possible to maintain an acceptable level of service to learners and providers with a 25% reduction in staff had it not been for the pooling of resources and integration of corporate supports underpinning the institutions in question that occurred in preparing for the amalgamation of these institutions. The annual Exchequer allocation to the various bodies has declined from slightly more then €13.5 million in 2008 to slightly more than €7.5 million in 2012. This has been achieved with major co-operative efforts between all the bodies in preparation for amalgamation. The amalgamation will, therefore, deliver significant savings and I hope these savings will be channelled into precisely the areas Senator Barrett suggests.
No. I thank the Minister of State for his clarification. The key issue is that an external examiner from outside the country who is qualified in engineering, economics or whatever in the relevant subject already assesses university courses. It is the fault of the universities that they do not stress to the Minister and his officials that they already undergo external examinations. The external examiner is rarely mentioned in such discussions and the more is the pity. If a course is not good, it will not attract students, its graduates will not be employed or be accepted in the best graduate schools worldwide and the research published by departmental staff will not secure widespread international recognition.
While I appreciate the context in which this intervention is being made, I would have abolished the Irish Universities Quality Body. Trinity College Dublin has a reputation in China and has a sizeable number of graduates in Hong Kong who did not need a QQAI rosette stuck on the end of their degree because the quality of their qualification was known. While it is not attributable to the Minister of State or the Minister, an immense layer of bureaucracy grew up in the past decade which took more and more money out of education. I would be more radical and return responsibility for quality to those who are best qualified and have the best international contacts. A mega-quango of the size suggested would be a cost base. As someone who has been at the coalface lecturing to students, there has been no valued added from the exercise to date and I see little value in transferring this exercise to a body which has such a wide range of responsibilities. The IUQB staff should be reassigned to other duties and universities made responsible for the work done by these staff. The Comptroller and Auditor General pointed out to the Public Accounts Committee that those with the administrative and managerial titles, which are unnecessary in a university, were the ones who went on to earn more than €200,000. That was three times as much as those doing the work got and those who do the work are delighted to do it and have the contact with the students to meet all the standards the Minister sees as desirable. To have some kind of nebulous checking of irrelevant detail by people costing three times as much per head seems pointless. Quangos also develop regulatory creep so they will be back for more as they attempt to extend their powers, which is what happened in this case. In the case of the universities, the exercise was not necessary and I thank the Minister for his reassurance in that regard.
This Bill has been around for years. It predates this Minister and probably two or three others given the rate of turnover that existed. It should have been re-evaluated at even the most basic level. I cannot see the need for it and in that context I am tabling these amendments. I am glad I am ad idem with the Minister and I hope public policy in general would recognise that having people supervising people who are already doing an international job and giving out a national qualification is a redundant exercise. The universities must operate internationally or they will sink. Setting up a national bureaucracy to supervise international institutions will not work. It has not worked to date, that is my complaint. The IUQB has cost too much. It was a silly exercise to begin with and it has not accomplished anything because the quality of an English department, for instance, in an Irish university depends on those in it and their international reputation. Someone from the IUQB lurking in the background pretending to understand English literature to a greater extent than those who work in the field does not add any value to what we want to do.
I thank the Minister of State. These were my concerns. This measure was not driven by educational considerations, certainly as far as the universities were concerned. That was a pity because this kind of measure causes demoralisation of staff, with yet another set of bureaucrats to report to. The best part of what we do is when we relate to our students and the academic world in other countries. Relating to bureaucracy simply wastes a lot of time and money.
In tabling amendment No. 9, Senator Barrett has identified a particular problem. He is saying we should not give responsibility to a State body for the formulation of national policy and that such a role should be one of guidance and advice. We will consider this further and bring forward an amendment on Report Stage to work with the Senator to address the problem.
This amendment removes the function of the authority to promote its awards. The authority will be responsible under section 9(1)(a) for maintaining and promoting the national framework of qualifications. The framework contains the awards of a range of awarding bodies and it is not considered correct that the authority should promote its own awards over others in the framework. The authority should focus on promoting the framework as a whole.
Amendment agreed to.
These amendments to sections 12 and 13 have the effect of including bodies authorised by law to make awards in the State in assisting and providing information to the authority as far as this relates to the functions of the authority and the awarding body's function. The key functions of the authority regarding these awarding bodies are those relating to the NFQ set out in section 38. It should be noted most bodies authorised by law to make awards in the State are also relevant providers to which these sections already apply, and this would include the universities, DIT and RCSI. Neither the National University of Ireland nor certain professional awarding bodies fall under the definition of "relevant provider".
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 15, subsection (2), line 16, to delete "the Minister" and substitute "Seanad Éireann".
All of the eight person body will be appointed by the Minister. I am trying to find a role for this House similar to the idea that appointments to State boards in other Departments would come before the Oireachtas. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was one of the proponents of this practice. It would enhance the role of the Seanad. It is undesirable for so much power to rest with the Minister, to appoint the entire board without representation from the provider bodies. I would prefer something more representative. This could be a role for the Seanad that would be important as we try to play a constructive role in the task the Government faces in putting back together a country that had to be rescued by the IMF not that long ago. That is the purpose.
On the Order of Business this morning I raised a report that appeared in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times about lobbying that took place for certain measures to be inserted in the Finance Act. We must stop bypassing parliament in the governance of this country and this is an attempt to change that policy.
I second the amendment. This House could play a very useful role in approving appointments to governing bodies and State agencies in general. It is one of the key ways in which the role of the House could be reformed. I accept that this could occur on the recommendation of the Minister. For example, the Minister could put a candidate's name before the House and allow Members to discuss it and have the person vetted prior to appointment. That procedure is followed in other jurisdictions and it appears to work well. I urge the Minister of State to consider the amendment.
The Bill provides that the chief executive officer, CEO, shall be appointed by the authority with the consent of the Minister. I do not understand the assertion that a ministerial appointment is somehow bypassing the parliamentary process. A Minister's role is at the heart of the parliamentary process.
This is a standard provision regarding the appointment of a CEO of a non-commercial State body and I do not support giving this executive power to the Oireachtas. It is important that CEOs are accountable to the Oireachtas and they must appear before Oireachtas committees. This is covered in sections 17 and 18. The subsection that is proposed to be deleted provides for the Minister to designate a person to be appointed a first chief executive of the authority. This will ensure the chief executive is in place to head the authority from the day of its establishment. A CEO-designate who was a CEO of the Irish Universities Quality Board, IUQB, was recruited in October 2010 and he currently acts as CEO of the NQAI, HETAC, FETAC and the IUQB. He is a very busy individual. The CEO-designate is overseeing administrative preparations for the establishment of the authority and the Minister intends that he will serve as its first CEO. The CEO appointments thereafter will be made by the authority with the consent of the Minister.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 17, lines 13 to 33, to delete subsections (3) to (5).
Subsection (3), which I am seeking to delete, provides that the chief executive shall not be required to give account before a committee for any matter which has been or may be the subject of proceedings before a court or tribunal in the State. It is almost the negative version of what the Minister of State just said, that the chief executive would appear before Oireachtas committees and be answerable to them as an alternative to the chief executive being appointed by the committee. The Minister of State said that a few minutes ago and I agree with it.
These subsections inhibit the ability of the person to speak. They are extremely strange. This goes back to something the Minister of State and I agreed earlier, that in education there is discussion, dissent and contrary ideas. That is its lifeblood. It is not a branch of the Civil Service. Why can this executive not join in the discussions? Everybody else does. Why is he muzzled? It is very strange. There are provisions in general law that people cannot speak on proceedings that are taking place in the courts, but we have discussions when the verdicts are handed down. The Members of the Oireachtas are currently reading the final Mahon report.
I cannot understand the motivation for this section and why we would choose somebody to take an important role in education and then tell him he is not allowed to talk. I understand there were some health provisions which sought to do the same thing, whereby people who were dissatisfied with the health service would not be allowed to speak out. They were not very desirable either. However, such provisions are particularly undesirable where education is concerned. It is not a body of knowledge that is frozen and passed down by order of the Minister, the QQAAI or anybody else. It is constantly evolving and it evolves better if there is full and frank discussion at all times, with everybody participating. I cannot imagine an education system operating in any other way.
I propose that these muzzles be removed from the chief executive. I am at a loss to figure out why they are there in the first instance. Education must be open and have plenty of discussion, involving Ministers, Senators and others, as well as this chief executive.
I support this amendment. Section 18(3) provides that the chief executive shall not be required to give account before a committee for any matter which is, has been or may be the subject of proceedings before a court or a tribunal in the State. Whatever about a matter that is sub judice, it is extraordinary to rule out discussions afterwards on issues that have been subject to court proceedings or to be able theoretically to rule out anything on the basis that is may later be subject to court proceedings. It appears to give huge scope for lack of accountability to a committee. It is entirely unnecessary. There are already legal protections regarding how committees do their business and if there is a genuine legal problem, there are mechanisms for dealing with that. However, to remove completely any role for the committee in this respect is entirely disproportionate and unnecessary.
The subsections proposed for deletion by the amendment are standard provisions found throughout many legislative measures dealing with the accountability of the chief executive to Oireachtas committees other than the Committee of Public Accounts. The provision exempting CEOs from being required to give account of a matter before a court or a tribunal is important to ensure the integrity of such proceedings is protected.
On the issue of CEOs expressing views on the merits of Government policy, it is very important that CEOs are only required to account for the performance of their own organisation in carrying out Government policy and the various functions given to it by the Oireachtas. I agree with Senator Barrett that it is healthy and wise to have ongoing and effective debate, and indeed dissent, as to how we should implement education policy in this country. However, it is not the role of the CEO to get involved in that process in a public manner. Perhaps the CEO, and I am sure this is the case, will have the opportunity to have internal discussions with the Minister on a regular basis. The forum and opportunity for that debate and dissent is the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is where that type of discussion should take place. Once we arrive at a conclusion as to what policy direction we should take, it is the role of the CEO to move his organisation along that path, not to question it any further.
I thank the Minister of State. The reply shows that the CEO is regarded as the Minister's preacher and public servant. That is not what education is about. Under further provisions in the Bill he is not allowed to discuss the merits of any policy of the Government or of a Minister of the Government. Imagine what an extension of that into the university sector would do. It would destroy universities and society. My predecessor, Dr. Owen Sheehy Skeffington, became a Member of the Seanad at a time when society regarded the beating of children in schools as normal. He fought against that. Consider all the things Dr. Mary Robinson challenged as a Member of this House. She is now chancellor of the university. Women were not allowed to serve on juries. Presumably, their brains were too small to understand cases. One must allow people in education to participate. What kind of Easter teacher conferences will we have otherwise?
I have always abhorred the Nuremberg defence that this was an order. This provision is an order that one shall avail of the Nuremberg defence and which turns a man or woman into some kind of dumb creature of the Minister who has no views on any Government policy. He will be the only person in Irish education who has no views. It leads to things like the banking collapse. What people in the Central Bank knew what was going on? It contradicts the whistleblower's charter, which I will be supporting fully when the Minister of State's colleague brings it before the House. I do not want somebody operating this key position in Irish education who will say nothing.
The saying goes, "Whatever you do, say nothing at all", but that is what has a large part of this society the way it is. To bring it into education confirms to me that this is just another bureaucracy. This person will be so unrepresentative in Irish education that he will have no views on Government policy. It is utterly bizarre and totalitarian. I hope the Minister of State will reconsider this matter on Report Stage and take the muzzle off the man in some way because we need a wide-ranging debate on Irish education.
He has been there since 2010, unfortunately, so Senator Power will have to accept that situation. Who drew up the merits and objectives of this policy, and what kind of Ireland do they envisage? It is appalling. The essence of education is that there are differing views and we discuss them. Nobody has all the wisdom, yet in this case he does not need to answer to anybody or take part in any discussions because he knows he has the power and everybody else can go away, as it were. It completely contradicts the way in which Ireland projects itself as a country with free debate and free elections. If we bring in any more of these measures I really worry about the future of Irish democracy. These people are paid highly from the public purse. At the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform recently, I supported Deputy Peter Mathews's point that the Central Bank governor is subject to a parliamentary democracy. He came in and eloquently and brilliantly explained the position. He had to be summoned but it was good for the country in that he tried to get the €3.1 billion problem solved by the end of the month. However, it strikes me as bizarre in this day and age to create another post where somebody is not allowed to discuss the merits and objectives of any Government policy. When a country has to be rescued by the IMF, we have to reform the entire governance and see where the faults are. People who sing dumb, as required by this legislation, are no asset to the country. I ask the Minister of State to rethink this matter for Report Stage. Let us have all the debates we want and take the muzzles off.
I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment. Although it has been a pleasure to listen to Senator Barrett's breadth of knowledge, in this case the CEO would be in the same position as the CEO of a VEC or a county manager. They implement policies and one must have a separation of powers. It is not about muzzling anybody. I have learned a lot from many CEOs and county managers in my time. There is a separation of functions and powers, however, and it is not an educational matter. I am sure the CEO can chat about educational matters but he must see that policies are implemented correctly. In that regard, I will not be supporting this amendment.
In his earlier contribution, Senator Byrne mentioned the former President Mary Robinson and how she used this Chamber to inspire debate and significant policy movements in a number of areas across the body politic. These are the fora where such discussions take place. Once they have taken place and we decide on the direction, it is the CEO's role to implement that direction. Can the CEO form part of those discussions? I would say that he or she most certainly can and should. If they are involved in the day-to-day running of an organisation which is there to ensure the very highest quality in educational provision, they must engage, and I am sure that the existing CEOs of the former quality awarding bodies already are engaging, regularly with the Minister. They must have discussions on the direction in which the organisations should be moving.
I do not think it appropriate, however, that the CEO of such an organisation should comment publicly about his or her support, or lack of support, for a particular policy direction. That would lead to a lot of disorder and dysfunction in administering the quality awarding authority. I do not think it is manageable or acceptable and it would not work on a day-to-day basis. The CEO is there to implement the policy once established, and while that is not to say that the CEO cannot have a role in discussing and formulating that policy, it should not be in the public domain where he or she could appear in the national news media questioning the very raison d'être of such a policy. I do not think that would be acceptable. It would lead to a disorderly functioning of that organisation and any other organisation where such a CEO was in place.
I will not press it for the moment. We are really intruding at this stage into the way Ireland's education operates. I thank the Minister of State for his reference to the work of people like Mary Robinson. She grew up in a system where, for example, the provost of Trinity College would never say he was the CEO and that others should stay quiet and touch the forelock. That is the nature of education. In my own case, I never believed in national airlines but that was Government policy. I would argue against requiring people in education to touch the forelock to Government policy and not use their brains. Like many others, I do not believe the banks should have been bailed out. Why can people not express opinions on public policy? It is too totalitarian for people in education. We need more ideas around the system. I appreciate what the Minister of State says about the administrative requirements, but it will make this person a complete administrator and utterly out of touch. Nobody in the education system can pull rank like that, claiming to be the one who is right and telling others not to criticise public policy because they know it all and the others do not. The nature of education is that these discussions should take place. To make it as rigid and regimented as this, with somebody operating in the way that is envisaged in this Bill, is bizarre to my mind. Maybe the person in question will have to get rid of his television because Government policy is criticised all the time. That is how we advance towards better policies. That is what we are trying to do at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. That is why I opposed national airlines and the rescue of banks, and will continue to do so. It is the role of education to have that level of questioning. It is not supposed to be totalitarian as envisaged in this legislation.
We will see if something can happen on Report Stage. The Minister of State might consider that. The president of the University of Limerick has views on everything. Should we put a muzzle on him? I do not agree with most of his views but that is what education is about. It is great and I would hate to see the alternative system. I do not think anybody in the country wishes to see senior people being muzzled. To say one is an administrator and does not take part in discussions is not really a good defence in this day and age. We have gone to the brink of bankruptcy and are trying to rescue the country, so any ideas people have should be welcomed. People should participate in such debates. I am delighted previous Members of this House, such as Ken Whitaker, were not bound by those constraints and did a huge amount of good for the country. This is traditional, but I do not know why it is in place in this day and age. I will allow the Minister to move on and we may discuss the issue at a later stage to see if it is possible to have a more liberal regime.
", the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2007, the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term) Work Act 2003, the Parental Leave Acts 1998 and 2006, the Carer's Leave Act 2001, the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 and 2001, the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004 and the Adoptive Leave Acts 1995 and 2005.".
This is a technical amendment that extends the list of enactments wherewith the time served by staff in the bodies to be dissolved, the NQAI, HETAC and FETAC, will be reckonable. It mirrors similar provisions in other recent enactments that cover staff transfers such as the Nurses and Midwives Act 2011 and the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 21, subsection (3), line 25, after "with" to insert the following:
"the Governing Authority and Academic Council of the".
This amendment is in the spirit of consultation about which the Minister of State spoke. It proposes that the authority should also consult the governing authorities and academic councils of the relevant providers. There is an unfortunate recent tradition, also manifest in the Bill, of the Department ringing officers in a university to get a yea or nay answer. Matters are not being discussed and this is adding to the problems. That system must be circumvented by the proposed amendment. The provosts and presidents of universities are not chief executive officers to be asked what they think of this or that. They are required to consult the bodies which elected them. A university is a collegiate institution, not a managerial one. I am, therefore, seeking to extend participation rights. Let matters be brought before governing bodies. If the Bill had been placed before governing bodies, we might have received many interesting proposals. I am seeking to extend discussion within the functioning bodies to include representative interests, elected persons and those directly involved, rather than accepting a yea or nay answer from a narrow administrative elite.
I cannot support the amendment because it would introduce references to structures not shared by all providers. The authority must consult relevant providers, but the internal bodies through which institutions engage in consultation are the responsibility of each of these bodies. I expect and hope universities will bring these matters to the attention of their own governing authorities and academic councils, but I do not believe this needs to be specifically provided for in the legislation.
I welcome the Minister of State's response. The Bill was not placed before internal consultative bodies. I do not know if such constultation was asked for or if the Department went ahead with the legislation unilaterally. However, it has become a recent tradition, in some Irish universities more than others, that the opinions of those who actually do the work do not count. That is why I ask that the Bill insist on indicating that what a provost or president agrees in his or her personal capacity is irrelevant. He or she, typically, does not give lectures. There should be consultation with bodies which may have different names in different universities. The Irish Federation of University Teachers, IFUT, should also be consulted. Consulting front-line staff, as they are called in other areas of public life, should be a part of legislation. The culture of managerialism which has been promoted under the 1997 legislation has been to the detriment of education. One might obtain some good views if one consulted people rather than having a narrow closed circle between the HEA, the Department and the heads of Irish universities.
The Irish Universities Association is not an association of Irish universities but of the heads of these universities. It is the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities with a new title. The vast majority who do the work are not consulted. In the amendment I am trying to get for them a right of consultation. Some heads of universities may be more democratic than others. Some have a strong totalitarian tradition and I do not think they will consult unless the legislation requires them to do so. If the Minister of State considers he can use other forms of suasion, I will accede.
The 1997 Act required Trinity College Dublin to remove the seven senior people from the board, people who had talents that would have been recognised on boards anywhere in the world. However, as it did not suit the administrative system to have them there, they were removed by legislation. That makes for dictatorial behaviour. If one is dealing with people who do not like to consult, it may be necessary to enact legislation to compel them to do so, or to oblige them to clarify whether they consulted with themselves or the wider community. The amendment attempts to have the latter method understood.
It is important to point out that there was a significant consultation process before the legislation was drafted. Universities, many entities within universities and many other groups and individuals responded during that consultation process. I agree with the Senator that such consultation should be ongoing. If there are internal governance institutions within particular institutions in which the opinions and wisdom of front-line staff are not sought or valued, that is an issue for the institution in question. There is a provision within the legislation for the new authority to develop procedures with institutions to ensure the relevant arms of each body are consulted. If we are to stand over the quality assurance procedures in each institution, we must ensure those procedures have a strong consultative process built into them. We will seek to have that consultation with institutions on an ongoing basis.
I will not press the amendment, but I am halfway through a four year term as a member of a university board and can assure the Minister of State that the Bill was never discussed. I previoulsy served a half term on the same board and the Bill was not discussed during that time, which is most regrettable. However, I thank the Minister of State for his sentiments in that regard.
We must reinvent Irish universities as places where ideas are discussed, as that is what they are about. One cannot have people saying they made a deal with the Minister or the chief executive. The nature of a university is to have some of the finest knowledge in the country at its disposal. The people in question must have a say on education policy, otherwise they might as well go and work in research institutes. As we look for the education sector to do so much to develop the country, it is important that people participate and their wisdom is brought to the table.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 22, subsection (4)(a), line 23, to delete ", research".
Reference was made to research. We have heard from the Minister of State that it is not a function which this body can exercise because it does not have the expertise in thermodynamics, nuclear science or whatever other area. Research is evaluated by the editors of international journals. The idea that the QQAAI would take on the task raises the problem to which I referred of regulatory creep. How could the QQAAI evaluate the research that is currently evaluated internationally? It does not have the competence so to do.
Research internationally is validated and authenticated by panels of international experts in the world's leading universities. If an article from an Irish researcher or academic is accepted for publication, that is a cause for celebration. Whether the QQAAI approved the research is completely irrelevant. It is not qualified to evaluate the quality of international research when others are there to perform the task. It would be impossible to implement the measure because, as the Minister of State indicated, the members of the QQAAI will not have qualifications in advanced subjects, and the work is being done already, which is one of the problems I have with the Bill. It creates an extra layer of bureaucracy to do jobs which are being performed perfectly satisfactorily already.
Perhaps there is a misunderstanding as to what exactly we mean by research activities. It does not mean that the QQAAI is going to measure the effectiveness of research in areas of expertise in various faculties. One might question the propriety of certain international ranking procedures whereby our universities are ranked against others internationally, but they exist and they are used by other jurisdictions to decide on international education policy. The aim is to ensure the level of research one might require to score well in comparison with other international institutions is being researched. It is not intended to measure or quantify the quality of the research. As Senator Barrett indicated, that comes within the remit of the people carrying out the research who have expertise in those particular areas.
Research is a key function of many education and training providers and, as such, must be subject to quality assurance procedures. For example, in the area of further education and training, it is critical that we carry out in-depth research of current labour market shortages and future shortages in the next five to ten years in order that we can drive further education and training provision in the right direction. If such research were not to take place, one would have serious questions about the quality and effectiveness of the training and education being provided. Senator Barrett and I agree that the QQAAI will not sit in laboratories measuring the quality or effectiveness of in-depth research in particular fields of study, but it is important that all institutions carry out a standard of research that allows them to measure up well internationally against other institutions.
I thank the Minister of State for his response and reference to the league tables. Trinity College Dublin, TCD, is 15th in the world in terms of citations of research. That is the constituency I represent. I do not denigrate the work carried out anywhere else. The equation of the decline in the league tables with so-called reputational damage is linked to the collapse of the banks and the public finances and the need for the IMF rescue. I recognise that the Government is doing its level best to correct the reputational damage. Reputation is one part and the other part is due to the necessary adjustments in the public finances. Staff numbers have been cut back, which I support. Saying that will not make me popular with my colleagues but I recognise the situation this country is in. The problem is once one does that, as the Minister of State is aware, it is registered in the international tables as a decline in the staff-student ratio. Other people might say it represents an increase in productivity. One is caught in that if one does the right thing for the country, one goes down in the international rankings.
It is apparent from the college calendar that the research section expands every year. It is much bigger now than when I first went to TCD. There is no secret about the research. It is validated internationally because that is where it is published. Some research attracts international funding. If the QQAAI is not set up to evaluate research, one could ask why it would intervene in an area in which it has no expertise. The responsibility lies with individual academics who work in colleges. If we had to transfer responsibility to any other bureaucracy, it would be to the Higher Education Authority. There is no benefit in having an extra layer of bureaucracy outlining that a college was doing research. We know that; it is widely published internationally. That is the reason we were high in the rankings and why we are still high in many of the rankings in terms of research.
The legislation might work given the Minister and his liberal attitude to what we have before us, but it gives the next head of this quango and the next Minister unnecessary powers to meddle where none is needed at a time in this country when my strong view is that money should be invested in primary education. I am sure that is the view of the Minister as well. All the evidence is that this is where the important decisions are made. Research shows that spending in the primary area does not add to inequality.
The quango is required to ascertain, maintain and improve the quality of education. I maintain it has had no function in that regard to date. Reference is also made to training, research and related services provided by the provider, namely, universities. The body is virtually redundant. This is an unnecessary function which has no return for the taxpayer. I will not press the amendment. However, it is wrong in this country's current circumstances to pass documents around to allow bureaucratic expansion to take place and for people to put functions into legislation which they have no ability to carry out and which there is no need for them to carry out. Research is carried out and evaluated internationally. There is no need to have a quango doing it. I hope that when such Bills go before the Cabinet, the Minister for Finance asks for the justification for spending money on them. The work is being done already and if in future we get yet more monitoring of research that is already monitored internationally, that is just duplication and triplication, for which much of the Bill provides. I will withdraw the amendment.
As Senator Barrett is aware, all external reviews are undertaken by expert panels and it is not proposed that they would be undertaken by the authority itself. The section applies to the quality procedures of universities and ensuring they are of the highest standard.
The amendment proposes to remove research activities from the quality assurance provisions of the Bill, and that is not a wise move. It is not one which I would support.
I will not delay the House further because this is the amendment we have been discussing for much of the time. Section 28 should be deleted. It is entirely unnecessary. There are universities with degrees dating back hundreds of years which are internationally accepted, have high international status, attract international staff and have high rankings for citations, etc. I was not sure what problem the first Irish Universities Quality Board was attempting to address and I do not know what problem this section is attempting to address either. There is no problem.
On what is the quality of lectures, more people apply to get into the courses than we have places. On whether students did not turn up for lectures, if that were so 500 students would leave the Edmund Burke theatre and one would know immediately. It all happens satisfactorily. The external examiners validate it, the international referees of journal articles accept the articles, the employers employ the graduates and the ones who want to go internationally are accepted at Oxford and Cambridge. One of my colleagues left TCD to go to Oxford recently. His qualifications were accepted, as they say, ad eundum gradum by Oxford.
Why is it that, in addition to satisfying Oxford, Cambridge, etc., one must be responsible to a new quango set up by a country which badly needs to spend money on many other matters? I have spoken to section 28 in the course of the other sections, but it is utterly unnecessary when we need money. We are closing down small rural schools to implement section 28 and the section is entirely unnecessary because there is no problem.
Some within the sector have talked up a problem so they could expand their own bureaucracies. In the lecture theatre, in the academic journals and in the way we relate to students, which is an important consideration for Senators, there are people from the United States and from the Erasmus programme in Europe who tell us that the way lecturers in Irish universities relate to students is far superior to what they find in the European mainland. The quotations the Minister of State gave at the beginning that Irish universities are voted number 1 in terms of acceptability and recruitment are all cited in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report.
There are enough real problems in the country without setting up an agency to deal with matters which are not a problem. It is somewhat of a slur to those who have done the work up to now to see the Government setting up a quango to confirm what we know is fact. It makes one wonder why there is disillusionment with Government when one gets this kind of unnecessary meddling.
The Bill, as initiated, makes provision throughout for providers to make representations to the authority on a number of different matters such as: refusal by the authority to approve proposed quality assurance procedures; withdrawal by the authority of approval of quality assurance procedures; withdrawal of programme validation; determination of request for delegation of the authority to make an award; withdrawal or variation by the authority of delegated authority to make award; withdrawal by the authority of approval of access, transfer and progression procedures; and review by the authority of a provider's compliance with code of practice and the provider's use of international education mark.
A technical amendment is proposed to all of the sections mentioned above, to replace the term "representations" with the term "observations" throughout the Bill to remove any implication that these observations would be made through third parties.
31.—(1) Where a designated awarding body is a relevant provider to whom section 27 applies, and the designated awarding body proposes to make an award in respect of a programme of education and training of a linked provider, the designated awarding body shall, in establishing procedures under section 27, include procedures for—
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 25, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) In carrying out a review under subsection (1) of a recognised college the Authority shall consult with the University of Dublin.".
It is slightly different, that the authority "shall consult with the University of Dublin". The previous discussions related to Trinity College. That is a degree awarding body. We have referred to the lack of consultation in this.
As distinct from opinion, I disagree with the Minister that there has been much discussion on this issue. I am trying to get consultation with my university because the same rights are given to the National University of Ireland under section 5. My university can also contribute to that discussion.
There is agreement between the Minister and myself, particularly in education, that this process needs to be opened up and involve much more consultation, with ideas going back and forth. I am attempting to get the TCD or Dublin University section in as the NUI is provided for in section 5.
I wish the NUI the best of luck. I do not know why it got the consultation status and my university did not. I hope it is an oversight that might be looked at on Report Stage. I will withdraw the amendment subject to consultation with the Minister. It seems strange that my university is represented here, under the 1937 Constitution, on equal standing with the National University of Ireland but it is not in this legislation. I would ask the Minister to look at that.
"section 33, it may, following consultation with the relevant provider concerned, issue such directions in writing to that relevant provider as it thinks appropriate in relation to the effectiveness of the quality assurance procedures established by that relevant provider under section 27 and the implementation by that relevant provider of those procedures.
This amendment amends subsection (1) of section 34 to make clear that directions made by the authority should relate to the effectiveness of the procedures for quality assurance established by the provider concerned and the implementation of the procedures by the provider. This ensures that the authority does not make directions about matters not directly related to the effectiveness of quality assurance procedures and is an important check on the powers of the authority in this area. I hope this also goes some way to addressing Senator Barrett's concerns about the authority impinging on the traditional autonomy enjoyed by universities in the past.
I thank the Minister of State for that.
If it is not broken, do not fix it. If the external examination from abroad likes the course, if people want to study it, if people come from abroad to study and the lecturers are publishing research, that is the quality assurance procedure in a two-minute nutshell. There is no need to have anything further using up public money and people's time. I welcome the Minister of State's clarification on that point.
These amendments are of a technical nature and provide for the replacement of the term "the proposed withdrawal" throughout the Bill with the term "the reasons for the proposed withdrawal". This clarifies the subject of observations submitted by providers when the authority proposes to withdraw its approval of their quality assurance of access transfer and progression procedures.
These amendments are of a technical nature and provide for the replacement of the term "may withdraw" throughout the Bill with the term "shall withdraw" to clarify that the authority must do so if it considers that approval of quality assurance procedures, programme validation, delegated authority to make an award or the access, transfer and progression procedures and use of the international education mark should be withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 50 and 123 provide for the payment to the authority where it is requested by a designated awarding body to assist in carrying out of a review of a linked provider. That is consistent with the approach to fees set out in the Bill for other services of the authority. Perhaps Senator Barrett wants to speak to amendments Nos. 122 and 125 or will I continue?
With regard to amendments Nos. 122 and 125 submitted by Senator Barrett, while all other fees in the Bill are paid by providers, there is provision for a fee payable by a learner for the making of an award by the authority and learners already pay fees to HETAC and FETAC for this service. It is proposed to retain this and I cannot support the amendment on that basis. It should be noted that there is no provision for tuition fees for learners as that is not a matter for the authority.
With regard to amendment No. 126, the section contains standard legislative provisions relating to the consumer price index. On that basis, I cannot support the proposed amendment.
"(8) The relevant designated awarding body shall provide a copy of the final report to the linked provider concerned and to the Authority and shall publish that final report (including the observations of the linked provider concerned) in such form and manner as it thinks appropriate (including on the internet)."
This amendment amends subsection (8) to ensure designated awarding bodies provide to the authority a copy of reports they prepare following a review of a linked provider. The reports are also provided to the linked provider concerned and are to be published.
Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed. Government amendment No. 58:
In page 28, before section 37, to insert the following new section:
37.—(1) Where a relevant designated awarding body has carried out a review under section 36, it may, following consultation with the linked provider concerned, issue such directions in writing to that linked provider as it thinks appropriate in relation to the effectiveness of the quality assurance procedures established by that linked provider under section 27 and the implementation by that linked provider of those procedures.
(2) Where a direction is issued under subsection (1) to a linked provider, the linked provider shall comply with the direction.
(3) A linked provider shall provide the relevant designated awarding body which issued a direction under subsection (1) with information when requested to do so by the body regarding the compliance by that linked provider with the direction.
These amendments insert new sections before the existing section 37 and relate to the quality assurance relationship between designated awarding bodies, the universities NUI, DIT and RCSI, and their linked providers. The new section 37 provides that relevant designated awarding bodies may, having carried out a review of a linked provider, issue directions relating to the effectiveness and implementation of the quality assurance procedures established by the linked provider concerned which the linked provider shall comply with, and the linked provider is required to provide relevant information to the relevant designated awarding body. This is similar to the power available to the authority in respect of its relevant providers.
The new section 38 provides for the withdrawal by a relevant designated awarding body of its approval of a linked provider's quality assurance procedures in a similar manner to that which is already set out in section 35, which relates to the authority and its relevant providers other than previously established universities. Furthermore, it also provides for the notification of the authority by the relevant designated awarding body of a decision to withdraw approval of a linked provider's quality assurance procedures. Where the authority receives such a notification, it shall, where applicable, withdraw the linked provider's authorisation to use the international mark. It also provides for the reversal of such a withdrawal where the linked provider successfully appeals against a decision to withdraw approval of its quality assurance procedures.
(3) Where, after consideration of any observations submitted to the relevant designated awarding body under subsection (2), that body continues to consider that paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) applies, it shall withdraw its approval of the procedures established by the linked provider under section 27, by notice in writing addressed to the linked provider, from such date (not earlier than the date of service on the linked provider of the notice of withdrawal) as it considers appropriate and as is specified in the notice.
(7) Upon receipt of a copy of a notice under subsection (6), the Authority shall, where the linked provider concerned is authorised to use the international education mark under section 55, by notice in writing to that linked provider, from such date (not earlier than the date of service on the linked provider of the notice) as it considers appropriate and as is specified in the notice having regard to the interests of enrolled learners concerned, withdraw such authorisation.
(8) Where an appeal by a linked provider under subsection (5) is upheld, the relevant designated awarding body concerned shall notify the Authority of that fact within 14 days of the decision being made and upon receipt of that notice, where the Authority had withdrawn that linked provider's authorisation to use the international education mark under subsection (7), the Authority shall authorise that linked provider to use the international education mark, subject to the same conditions as applied to that authorisation before its withdrawal under that subsection.
40.—(1) Where the Authority has carried out a review under section 39, it may, following consultation with the National University of Ireland, issue such directions in writing to the National University of Ireland as it considers appropriate in relation to the effectiveness of the procedures established by the National University of Ireland under section 31(2) and the implementation by the National University of Ireland of those procedures.
Amendment No. 62 is a minor technical amendment to replace the work "framework" with the term "framework of qualifications" for clarification purposes and for consistency with the title of the section.
I cannot support amendments Nos. 63 and 64. The Bill requires each awarding body and each provider, including previously established universities, to ensure learners acquire the necessary standard of knowledge, skill or competence associated with the level of the award in the framework. If a university has an award placed on the framework, it is reasonable to expect it will ensure the relevant learning outcomes and standards have been achieved. The integrity of the framework would be compromised if the specific learning outcomes in regard to awards are not at the level of general outcomes associated with that relevant level of the framework.
Section 38(4) states:
Each awarding body in the State shall, in respect of each award the body makes that is recognised within the Framework, ensure that a learner acquires the standard of knowledge, skill or competence associated with the level of that award within the Framework before an award is made.
It is being done already. That is the point I have been making since the debate began. The degrees, the lecturers, the research and the graduates are all internationally recognised. There is a conflict here. That is what I am trying to do on behalf of the students and that is what we are accomplishing. What the Comptroller and Auditor General found the exercise trying to do is completely different. It is promoting managerialism. The heads welcome this and want more meddling, more bureaucracy and so on. It is stated on page 124 of the report that it "has resulted in better management information for senior institutional management [The important people are those who teach the courses, not the senior institutional management] and better feedback ... for institutional governance". No governance is necessary. One needs a good lecturer and attentive students. The rest is overhead and gobbles up money because the average pay is two or three times that of those who do the lecturing.
The report goes on to say: "In addition, significant restructuring has taken place in each university both in terms of academic structures and in terms of administration and management structures." The quality of the lecture and the relationship between the lecturer and the student are not being monitored, and the gobbledygook of managerialism is being promoted instead. The report states further: "As part of this, information from the quality review process is being brought together with other evidence such as that from institutional research offices to ensure these feed into the strategy development and change process." Managerial gobbledygook has no place in a simple transaction of transmitting knowledge from one person - we hope the lecturer has more than the people in the class - to another. If they are doing that already, there is no need to have people intervening. Of course, the bureaucrats in the universities want better institutional management and all the things the Comptroller and Auditor General found, but it is a waste of money because it is aside from the exercise. Are Irish degrees are acceptable worldwide? Yes is the answer, overwhelmingly so. Therefore, why not reduce the expenditure on the public purse by accepting the amendment?
Everybody involved in education would accept that quality assurance has a role to play in education provision. The universities collectively would take that view as well. Each university has a quality office. The universities saw fit to establish the Irish Universities Quality Board. Those offices in each institution review each school and faculty on a cyclical basis and examine student involvement, course review, quality of design and delivery of programmes and the alignment of programmes with the learning outcomes associated with the relevant level of that programme and where it is at on the national framework of qualifications. As a country, if we are to stand over the NFQ as a framework, we must ensure that every course we place on that framework, from level 1 to level 10, satisfies the requirements of that particular level of the framework with which it seeks to align itself. Once we move away from the NFQ, we begin to compromise on the quality of the framework and its international reputation, and that is not good.
I thank the Minister of State. I believe we have gone completely the wrong way. The important part is the lecture hall, not the quality office. I do not know what the quality office is supposed to do in each place; it is irrelevant. I heard a description of one of the quality offices recently as a self-licking ice-cream. It is an múinteoir who is the important here. That is what counts. One can have hundreds of bureaucrats counting things outside but what happens in the class is what counts. Of course, the bureaucrats will recommend more layers of bureaucracy, but this is a blatant waste of money and a straitjacket for the future, that all new courses are to be validated by somebody who will have no expertise in the subject and a quality officer who does not know what it is about. This was a fad in education which should be dispensed with, like other fads, and get back to putting the money into education. Teachers are being taken out of small schools and also special needs assistants to set up quality offices and this kind of nonsense. The Minister of State has been very patient and I promise not to engage in any more hyperbole on the issue. It is unnecessary and dangerous for the future. We will go on giving the lectures but the bureaucrats will be reading the legislation and extending their powers and meddling more in the actual productive and working part of Irish education. That is the danger.
I appreciate where Senator Barrett is coming from in terms of a Trinity College perspective and the fact that the college has good places. I served on the board of the academic council and I know the structures have been improved since then. However, I consider external review of the procedures in place across all the universities to ensure the procedures in place are right and there is some oversight and sharing of expertise at a national level to be a positive thing. As I understand it, the main function of the authority will be to support self-evaluation. I do not think it was contemplated by the previous Government or this Government that people from the authority would inspect what is taking place in individual classrooms. Its concern is to ensure that the quality control process within each institution is up to standard and continually improved. That is a positive thing because we cannot stand still on these issues. We should look at everything again in five years' time and ensure the authority has a function in disseminating what is being learned elsewhere in the world and constantly checking the processes in place.
I would be concerned if I felt the authority would meddle at the micro level implied by Senator Barrett because I appreciate the need to give people within colleges the tools to do their job instead of constantly worrying about micro-management. I genuinely do not believe that is what is contemplated. The Bill has been strongly welcomed by the Union of Students in Ireland for the reason that the processes in some institutions are very good while they could be improved in others. The authority provides the opportunity for learners to have an input into the national level. That is positive and I think it strikes the appropriate balance.
As this body is set up, others will be dissolved. There could be a saving of money by setting up this body because other awarding bodies will be replaced. Therefore, the economic argument does not hold up.
The universities are outstanding institutions. I am disappointed that no Irish university ranks in the top 100 but I understand staffing ratios are a factor. There are other factors such as how one is perceived by one peers. External oversight of an award system was referred to, but Senator Power said that universities and other institutions can still be responsible for quality within their institutions. Even the universities are funded by the taxpayer.
While the universities, like other third level institutions, are outstanding, there should be some external validation of the quality of the teaching and learning and the research and other activities that take place inside those institutions. I acknowledge Senator Sean D. Barrett's fears and he is correct to express them, but they are, in general, unfounded. I support the Government on this issue.
I apologise for my late arrival, but I had the pleasure of attending Trinity College Dublin earlier to see my local primary school win the all-Ireland debating competition. My daughter is in the class and it was amazing to witness the debate. She was supporting, not debating.
I recognise how hard Senator Barrett has worked on this proposal on behalf of students to eradicate excessive bureaucracy and agree with him. My experience of teaching in universities and teacher training college was there were many excellent lecturers but also many poor ones. One of the key difficulties with the quality of teaching at third level is that while many lecturers are expert in their field, they have not been taught how to teach. I agree with Senator Jim D'Arcy that external validation of teaching and learning is needed. This should happen through self-assessment but also through spot checks. We are all in danger of becoming rusty if we are not subject to external examination. The external examiner should be up to speed and at the cutting edge, not into micromanaging. A line needs to be drawn in this regard that examiners should review substantive issues, not micromanagement issues, and ensure this distinction is made. We must be alert to the quality of teaching at third level.
Senator Barrett is correct to point out that Irish universities have fallen in the world rankings, which is a major concern. This issue was raised again at the Change Nation conference last weekend in Farmleigh. Our universities need to improve their ranking and the quality of teaching and learning, as well as the quality of research, will contribute hugely to this.
Furthermore, a serious and important debate is needed on the balance of teaching and research experience lecturers should be required to have. Our cutting edge researchers may only teach between two and five hours a week yet they are most up to speed with developments. When I lectured in Mary Immaculate College, I had just completed a PhD. I was hot off the press when it came to research, as I had spent five years researching my topic, before securing a post in the college. However, ten years later, if I took up a post lecturing without having conducted research in the interim, I would not necessarily be in touch, given the changes that have taken place in technology in the education sector.
Lecturers must also have good communication skills. People may teach all their lives and never engage in research. Research can ignite and enthuse an audience, but the delivery of the content is important. It is crucial that a balance be struck and that teaching be monitored, with guidelines given to third level institutions, to ensure the quality of teaching and the input of research.
I do not propose to add to the excellent contributions of the Senators who have a deep understanding of the sector.
To respond to Senator Barrett's comments on small schools, the Department has been challenged to find €350 million in savings between now and 2015. Part of the process will involve the savings that accrue from the amalgamation of the awarding bodies. A significant process of amalgamation is under way which has resulted in a budgetary reduction from €13.5 million to €7 million in the past four years, with 25% fewer staff. I expect the formation of the QQAI will lead to further savings in the sector, which will help us to reach the €350 million target in the next three years.
I thank the Minister of State and Senators Averil Power, Jim D'Arcy and Fidelma Healy Eames. I agree with the Minister of State that this debate makes the case for the development of the Seanad rather than its abolition. My degree is from TCD, with some validation by the State. If some people think they are better at this, why do we not have a QQAI university? We will take them on any day and will show who has the quality. I agree utterly with the Minister of State about saving money. That is why I propose to put the QQAI in the firing line, not a small school. Is it correct that, procedurally, I must withdraw the amendments?
They are not necessary.
With regard to previously established universities, the courses are up and running. If somebody says to my good friend, Professor Brendan Kennelly, that the quality board does not think he is good at poetry, he will say, "So what? Everybody else thinks I am good." The lecturing staff I know have to turn downs shoals of international invitations to give lectures; therefore, if somebody on the QQAI board thinks they are not good lecturers, they will be in a decided minority because international bodies invite them to speak all the time. The board is an exercise that has got out of control and is now feverishly searching around for something to do to justify its existence. It is doing things that have been done splendidly up to now and there is no need for it. If it was necessary to amalgamate HETAC and FETAC, I bow to the Minister of State's superior knowledge. However, I find the addition of universities a waste of public money and it adds nothing but cost to education.
The Senator has touched on an important issue. In assessing the quality of teaching and learning the feedback of students and peers must also be taken into account because, as he correctly said, if the board was to deem the poetry of Brendan Kennelly and his communication of same to be inadequate, it would not hold water because his record speaks for itself. The comments of peers and students and the issuance of international invitations to spread the word about Brendan Kennelly or another lecturer of equal repute speak for themselves. It is important to clarify that there will not be meddling to this extent. However, feedback from students which is rarely canvassed is critical and should not be underestimated. Does the Bill envisage the inclusion of such feedback in the assessment of teaching and learning?
With regard to the universities, all the authority will set out to do is to assess whether a university's internal quality assurance processes are in place and stand up to scrutiny. It will be incumbent on every university to ensure its processes provide for student feedback.
No. For example, between level 1 and level 10 under FETAC and HETAC, there is specific provision for student feedback to form part of the quality assurance process. It is provided for in section 27. I assume it would also apply in assessing the quality assurance procedures in universities.
That is a very important point. Student evaluations, from my professional experience, are subject to caveats. If one marks a class very lightly, one will score really well in the opinion poll. Health warnings have to be attached to them. Certain subjects, such as thermodynamics and econometrics, are incredibly complex and difficult, and not even a saint will get a high mark because they involve hard work. The old phrase was that people went to university to "read" economics or medicine. Learning is not all based on lecturers and the guy with the good jokes.
While student input is very important and I support Senator Healy Eames, caveats exist and people in university authorities have to be aware of what they will tell them. A very entertaining course was given which everybody thought was wonderful but no one employed any of the graduates because they were having a good time for three or four years.
As a member of the board, Senator Power, who was an elected student officer in TCD, gave student feedback on what courses were working and so on. If we did not do that, the CAO would record nobody wishing to do course X in institution Y because word would get out that courses did not conform to student expectations and employers' needs. Student feedback is vital and I support the Minister in that regard.
The point of the Bill is to ensure the student experience is as positive as it can be. I understand, from the debate on Second Stage, that it is the intention that standards would be set at national level for student consultation and there would not just be a broad requirement for it. Best practice should be set out at national level because while some institutions have good standards, there are differences between and within institutions. Some faculties within institutions have excellent procedures and others do not.
There are differences in respect of how students are selected to participate and how they are supported. Sometimes people are given one day's notice and asked to go to a review meeting without any proper documentation. Some students are hand-picked for that purpose while others are selected through student unions or student councils. A lot more needs to be done to ensure student feedback is a real process and not a box-ticking exercise.
Students should be empowered to make a real contribution. At the end of the process what comes from student feedback should be implemented. The end of the quality assurance process from a student point of view should not involve walking out of a review meeting and the results being sent to the Department. There should be real reporting to students, students unions and academic councils on the issues identified and steps being taken to address them.
I accept some of what Senator Barrett said about good procedures. I appreciate it is a few years since I was a student representative in TCD but I found some areas were better than others. I understand from my contacts with current student representatives that is still the case. There are significant differences between universities, and better processes are used in some departments within institutions.
Improvements can be made and I hope the authority would have a very strong function in promoting best practice and getting to the nuts and bolts of what is being measured and the actions that will be taken within institutions. There should not just be a general requirement for consultation, rather standards should be set for how consultation takes place.
I agree with Senator Power. The standard-setting procedure is provided for in section 27. An authority, particularly in the case of universities, does not intend to get involved with the day-to-day management of universities or the design and delivery of programmes. It can ensure quality assurance procedures are in place which provide for a significant and effective level of student consultation. The Bill provides for the authority to set out exactly what that might look like for students and institutions, and ensures there is equity of access for students to quality assurance procedures. It also provides for the standards to apply equally and effectively across the system from levels 1 to 10.
This amendment inserts a new subsection to allow the authority to establish different policies and criteria for the validation of different programmes or classes of programmes. This will allow the authority to have flexibility in dealing with different types of education and training provision and providers.
The amendment replaces subsection (6) entirely to allow providers which are not relevant or linked providers to establish procedures for quality assurance and access, transfer and progression as if they were a relevant provider. It is necessary to allow all providers which are not currently relevant or linked providers to comply with the conditions under which providers may apply for validation of a programme.
This amendment is to clarify that a provider listed in subsection (7), for example institutes of technology, FÁS, Fáilte Island, Teagasc, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, VECs and recognised schools, are not required to make an application for programme validation to the authority in respect of certain types of education and training provision but can do so if they wish. Such cases include where a programme is not intended to lead to a particular award or is part of primary or post-primary education provision, the provider has delegated authority to make that award, or the provider has, in accordance with section 43, entered into an arrangement with an awarding body other than the authority.
I welcome the Minister of State. I have a question on the naming of providers. When we discussed the Bill on Second Stage, I raised the issue of how it would recognise the community and voluntary sector, that is, community education organisations which operate alongside the VECs and statutory education bodies. As the Minister of State will know, the providers listed in the section can seek validation of their education programmes directly from the authority. Community education providers are not included in the list, unless it is intended to include them within section 39(7)(g) wich states: "a recognised school in so far as the school provides adult, continuing or vocational education or training which leads to an award...". As he may be aware, approximately 22% of FETAC providers are in the community and voluntary sector, which is significant, compared with a figure of 35% for the VECs, 25% for FÁS and 18% for private providers. I seek clarification from him that following implementation of the Bill the process of validating programmes will continue for community education organisations, in other words, that they will continue to have their programmes directly validated by the new authority.
Section 39 sets out the procedure for how a provider may apply to the authority for validation of a programme of education and training. This is open to all providers of education. The list to which the Senator referred is a list of providers which have no option but to apply to the authority for validation. All other providers, including community-based providers, may apply to the authority for validation of their programmes, but they are not obliged to do so if they do not want to.
The Senator is correct, the term "education and training" is broad and encompasses a range of education programmes such as adult, continuing, vocational, higher and community-based education. The authority will accept applications for validation of all types of education and training programmes, including community-based education programmes. Programmes being provided in community settings that have already been validated by FETAC will be transferred to the new authority also.
It is interesting that the Minister of State has said an agency or provider seeking to make an award will apply to the quality assurance board. He gave Bord Iascaigh Mhara as an example if it was looking to offer a primary or post-primary education course. When would such organisations offer a primary education course? I am not familiar with FÁS or Bord Iascaigh Mhara offering such a programme. Did he mean that they might do so in the future?
These amendments delete references from sections 40 and 47 to the implementation of procedures for access, transfer and progression. Under section 50, providers are compelled to implement procedures for access, transfer and progression; therefore, it is not necessary to repeat the requirement in the other sections.
I move amendment No. 71:
In page 31, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) The Appeals Panel, upon validation of the refusal of the Authority under subsection (1)(b), will have to make a statement of evidence that the decision was compliant with section 14 of the Act of 1997.".
This amendment refers to a requirement to give reasons for a decision if the appeal panel validates the refusal of the authority under subsection (1)(b); it will have to make a statement of evidence that the decision was compliant with section 14 of the Universities Act 1997.
As indicated in the discussion on section 39, there is no obligation on previously established universities to have their programmes validated by the authority, although they may apply for validation if they so wish. If a previously established university was to apply for validation, it is reasonable that the appeal procedures that apply to all providers would also apply to them. As the Senator pointed out, section 14 of the Universities Act 1997 on academic freedom applies in its own right.
The amendment inserts a new subsection that will give the authority flexibility in determining standards of knowledge, skill or competence to be acquired by learners. The authority will be able to determine different standards for different awards or classes of award.
The amendment inserts a new subsection to allow providers listed in subsection (2) which are not either relevant or linked providers to establish procedures for quality assurance and access, transfer and progression, as if they were a relevant provider. The amendment is necessary to allow such providers, if they are not relevant or linked providers, to comply with the conditions under which providers may apply for delegation of authority to make an award.
"54.—(1) The Authority shall, as soon as practicable after the establishment day, establish and publish a code of practice to be complied with by providers of programmes of education and training to international learners in the State for the purposes of obtaining authorisation from the Authority to use the international education mark under section 55.".
I move amendment No. 110:
In page 43, subsection (2), line 44, to delete "3 years" and substitute "2 years".
I wish to make a brief point. I think there have been genuine problems in this area and, in my amendment, I propose more frequent inspection. I will be guided by the Minister of State, but I would like to hear his observations on some of the language schools. I think some of these schools were a means of illegal immigration and of people working illegally. There was evidence of some problems in that sector. I wonder if more frequent inspection might be appropriate, given what has arisen in the past. I will defer to the Minister of State.
I am aware of the issues to which the Senator refers. He is quite correct in ensuring we have the very highest standards in place in our English language providers' schools and also that these schools secure and win the trust of international students. That is critical. This amendment proposes to reduce the period of review from three years to two years. The three-year period that we are proposing is substantially less than the review period of seven years that applied previously. This is a significant step forward. There will be an opportunity for the authority to move on an institution immediately where it has specific concerns about the provision within that institution. In addition to the review process every three years, the authority will have that additional power under the legislation.
This amendment clarifies the provisions relating to the protection of enrolled learners that apply where a learner has paid money or has had money paid on their behalf to a provider for a programme of education and training even where the learner has not begun the programme. This is important in ensuring that protection is extended to all learners who have paid fees to a provider.
This is a very important amendment and I compliment the Government on including it. It is always very sad to see students who have paid their fees finding the college locked when they arrive on their first day. It is high time these institutions were regulated. It takes a long time to build a reputation and as a country that is putting itself forward as a destination for international students to continue their education, as well as our own students, we need high standards. We have an international education mark and, as the Minister of State said, he will move quickly to stamp out abuse. Will the authority carry out spot checks?
We have an effective international education unit operating in the Department of Education and Skills which is constantly liaising with its partners internationally - I had an opportunity to visit a number of those partners recently - and concerns raised at those meetings are acted upon immediately. We have very strong links with the embassies based in Dublin and we liaise with the ambassador. Many embassies have appointed an education attaché who will come to Marlborough Street to discuss the quality of the education and the standard of care being afforded to international students. If issues are raised at these meetings, they are acted upon immediately. This new legislation will give us even more powers in that regard.
I move amendment No. 117:
In page 47, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Appeals Panel will be established by the Authority in conjunction with the Academic Councils of the previously established universities as defined under section 9 of the Act of 1997.".
The phrase, "The Minister shall, as soon as practicable after the establishment day, establish an Appeals Panel and shall appoint at least 10 people with a special interest or expertise in, or knowledge of, the functions of the Authority," struck me as being strange, as the appeals panel would be adjudicating on the education aspect, not the authority's workings. For this reason, I have tried to tie my amendment to the university sector. Seeking someone who is an expert on the authority's functions, not on the merits or demerits of the appeal before the panel, seems inward looking.
It is not proposed to establish the appeals panel in conjunction with academic councils or any other institutional body, as the appeals panel must be independent in its operation. Making a link would compromise its independence. However, this is not to say it will not have the requisite expertise to adjudicate effectively on an appeal.
I move amendment No. 118:
In page 47, subsection (4), line 35, after "Minister" to insert ", with the advice and consent of Seanad Éireann,".
This is an attempt to give the Seanad a role. The Minister of State opposed such a provision previously, but Parliament has a role in addressing the State's many problems. There are 42 new Senators and 77 new Deputies. Involving Parliament would play a part in the State's recovery following our rescue by the IMF. It is for this reason that I have tabled my amendment. The Seanad has Members with expertise in many areas and we could assist in the important work of national recovery.
In the past year the Government has gone a long way towards improving the procedures governing how people are appointed to the boards of public bodies. However, the appointment to bodies such as the appeals panel is normally exercised by Ministers. On that basis, I do not support the proposition that we involve the Seanad in the selection of the panel's chairperson.
I move amendment No. 119:
In page 50, subsection (1), line 15, after "section 79," to insert "the Irish Universities Quality Board,".
The board has been exercising this function. We could transfer its functions back to the universities. The amendment is an attempt to keep that option open. In time, the new body might decide to cede functions that it does not believe it needs to exercise. If we keep the body in existence, its functions could be seen to be redundant. It could be abolished instead of exercising a range of functions that many of us believe are unnecessary.
This section deals with the dissolution of the existing statutory bodies which are being amalgamated. The Irish Universities Quality Board, IUQB, is not a statutory body; therefore, this legislation will have no role in winding it down. It was established as a company by the universities which I understand intend to wind it up after the authority's establishment, as it will have no further function or role to play in quality assurance.
I thank the Minister of State. The universities have not asked us whether they want to wind up the IUQB. There has been a lack of consultation on the issue. If the Minister of State wants to dissolve the board, he should accept my amendment.
This process indicates some of the ways such decisions are made, in that we will pass a law and lean on the universities to abolish the IUQB, or they have nodded and winked in agreement concerning its abolition. Speaking as a member of a governing body, the universities have not agreed. The Minister of State may have been misinformed or misled, but the matter has not been discussed in the two and a half years I have been a member of the body. We are assuming that the universities will voluntarily agree to get rid of the board, but none of the bodies has made that decision. We are trying to exercise our leverage with them to abolish a body which, to my knowledge, they have not even discussed for good or ill. If we want to abolish it, we should include this provision. We should not assume that it will be abolished for us because someone somewhere has nodded or winked about being willing to do it. The Irish Universities Association, IUA, comprises the universities' heads and is not representative of the bodies. Some may believe the functions should return to the Department - that is my opinion - while some may believe the IUQB is a wonderful body which should be retained. We do not know because of the unsatisfactory way in which this legislation has proceeded. This is not to reflect on the Minister of State, as others involved seem to be nodding and winking. They might have personal views, but the issue has not been discussed.
The IUQB is a limited company established under the Companies Act. Even if we wished to do so, it is not possible for legislation to seek the winding down of a company which was independently established by the universities. If we were to pass such legislation, there would be nothing to stop them from forming a new company 20 minutes later. There is no reason to include the amendment. It is our understanding the universities wish to wind up the IUQB after the authority's establishment.
I move amendment No. 122:
In page 54, subsection (1), line 28, to delete "or a learner, as the case may be,".
There is some confusion on my part. I agree that the authority should recover any amount due and owing to it under the section from the provider, but how could it recover money from the learner? Perhaps the Minister of State might supply guidance. The idea of an authority pursuing a student to get money back is bizarre, but perhaps I cannot recognise what is in front of my face.
On Senator Barrett's amendment, while all other fees provided for in the Bill are paid by providers provision is already made for a fee payable by a learner in respect of the granting of an award by the authority. Learners already pay fees, although not substantial, to FETAC and HETAC for this service. It is proposed to retain this provision. On that basis, it would be difficult to accept his amendment. It should be noted that there is no provision in the Bill for tuition fees for learners as this is not a matter for the authority in general.
Is the Minister of State saying that we can recoup money from a learner who has fraudulently obtained a qualification? I do not understand the point made he makes. Why would the authority want to pursue a learner who pays money into the system to get an education, which if unsatisfactory means we might owe him or her money? The learner might in that regard have engaged with a bad provider. Why would the authority pursue a student unless he or she made a false statement or attempted to deceive us, which seems unlikely? I do not understand what is intended. Perhaps the Minister of State would enlighten me, please?
There is no provision for tuition fees in the Bill as that is not a matter for the authority. In some instances, learners - I have attended a few award ceremonies at which FETAC and HETAC certificates were awarded - pay a small fee to partially cover the cost of the awards process. These would not be described or deemed to be tuition fees. They are simply fees associated with receipt of an award and the administrative overheads involved in the awards process by the institution from which the learner is acquiring the award.
I do not believe the authority will be chasing learners around the country for a fee associated with an award. In most instances, the fee is paid prior to granting of an award. I do not believe there will be ongoing policing in this regard. We are incorporating into the Bill a provision which already exists in FETAC and HETAC certification, which has been the tradition for a number of years.
I move amendment No. 127:
In page 58, subsection (2), line 24, to delete "and this Act shall apply accordingly".
We have discussed this issue. The amendment attempts to state that where quality assurance procedures exist already under section 35 of the 1997 Act they shall continue to apply. The Minister of State has dealt quite comprehensively with this already. It is my wish to ensure university autonomy, which we have debated intensively.
I inadvertently spoke to amendment No. 128 earlier. The amendment seeks to ensure that those awards already aligned to the framework before the coming into operation of section 38 will automatically be deemed to be aligned with the framework under this Act.
These amendments are necessary to ensure continuity for providers regarding procedures established under the 1999 Act, which are now being repealed by this Bill. A number of the provisions of the 1999 Act are already saved in this Bill. These amendments seek to ensure all relevant provisions are now transitioned. The amendments also provide for the transition of reviews or validation of programmes by FETAC and HETAC under the 1999 Act and include a technical amendment on the inclusion of references to section 45 of the Bill, the making of an award, the transition of procedures from the 1999 Act for the delegation of the authority to make awards and a slight rewording of subsection (15) which deals with the transition of review and withdrawal of delegation of authority by FETAC and HETAC and the continuity of procedures established by FETAC and HETAC for such reviews.
Amendment No. 135 seeks involvement of the Seanad in this process. Some Members of the Seanad represent the universities. As stated by the Minister of State the current system appears to be based on whether people were consulted and the chief executive is restricted from commenting on Government policy and education. I acknowledge we have already discussed this issue and thank the Minister of State for his patience. There is a desire for more scrutiny of public bodies by the Seanad.
The Government has made significant process in reforming the process whereby people are appointed to State agencies and boards. A new process has been introduced whereby the relevant Oireachtas committee will have the opportunity to question the proposed chairpersons of State agencies, which is welcome. We have also introduced a system of open expressions of interest for positions on State boards, and as could be expected, we received some expressions of interest for positions on the authority and they are being examined. On that basis I cannot support providing for the consent of Seanad Éireann to the appointment of the authority's members and chairperson.
I thank the Minister of State and the chairman proposal is very good, although he might consider including board members in the next round as well. The chairman is one person and if all members were subject to the scrutiny, it would be an advance in transparency. I commend the start of the operation.
I move amendment No. 138:
In page 63, paragraph 4(3), to delete lines 22 and 23 and substitute the following:
"(3) The Minister, subject to due process, may at any time remove from office a member of the Authority if it has been proven that—".
This was a worry and the Minister of State and other Members have acknowledged that it is a bit draconian for something concerned with education, which is about free flow of ideas. The current form is "The Minister at any time may remove from office a member of the Authority if, in the opinion of the Minister...". There are various disabilities or faults indicated, including a person falling into ill health, which is all right. There is also reference to stated misbehaviour, which we can debate presently. There is reference to removal of a member appearing to the Minister to be necessary for the effective performance by the authority of its functions. My amendment includes a reference to due process.
Firing people from boards has proved problematic in the past and people have brought cases to the courts and been reinstated, although that was not in the educational sphere. I believe it concerned members of the CIE board who at one stage objected to being removed. There should be some process and the Minister should not be able to act in line with some of the stronger and more totalitarian sections of Bill. He or she should not be able to say that "Mr. Bloggs" should not be on the board and it appears to be necessary, for the effective performance of the authority, to fire the individual. The concern is with the "opinion" of the Minister. I wonder if the Minister of State will consider some due process, as a decision may be upheld that a person is unsuitable for the post, but it should not be on a ministerial whim or opinion.
I would not envisage that such a serious move would be undertaken by any Minister on a whim, and this is a standard provision in the establishment of State agencies or authorities where the Minister has the power to remove a member. I do not expect the current or any future Minister to be overly draconian in the operation of that authority. The three reasons for removing a person are pretty reasonable, as they refer to a person becoming incapable through ill health, having committed a stated misbehaviour or where the removal would appear to the Minister to be necessary for the effective performance by the authority of its functions. It would only be after considerable consultation and engagement with such a member that the Minister would arrive at the conclusion that he has no other option but to forcibly remove him or her from the board. That is a pretty rare occurrence and it will remain as much in future.
This amendment inserts a reference to the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995. The particular reference sets out the circumstances in which a person may disclose information obtained by him of her under the Ethics in Public Office Act. The amendment does not duplicate the provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Act itself.
This is an amendment to the Universities Act 1997 dealing with the designation of degrees and other qualifications of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI. It is proposed that such degrees and other qualifications, where they are approved by the National University of Ireland, NUI, will be designated as degrees and qualifications of NUI for as long as the RCSI remains a recognised college of NUI. There is already a similar provision in the Universities Act for degrees and qualifications of constituent universities of the NUI. The RCSI gained the power to award its own degrees and qualifications in 2010 but wishes to continue its relationship with NUI and for its degrees and qualifications also to be degrees and qualifications of NUI. This is supported by the NUI's four constituent universities.