Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Universities (Development and Innovation) (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage


2:45 pm

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister. I thank the Bills Office, the Leader's office, the Cathaoirleach's office and my research assistants, Dr. Charles Larkin and Ms Ursula Ní Choill, for their help in preparing the Bill.

We are dealing with the role of the university and the contribution it will make in the future to the development of Ireland as we try to renew the country in the post-bailout environment. There is a superb tradition of stimulating debate, valuing experience and making a valued contribution to Irish society which the Bill attempts to reinforce by dealing with issues such as academic freedom, academic tenure, having a career structure for research, Exchequer oversight, new arrangements for pensions and fostering innovation to enhance and increase the contribution universities can continue to make to the development of wider society.

Regarding the role and function of the university, we include the ongoing support of the humanities. I was delighted when the Minister, speaking in the House last week about the development of future skills needs, referred to the importance of languages. It is very important that the range of disciplines that have characterised the development of the university to date be retained and that some departments and disciplines do not achieve priority status over others. That was a problem encountered in the United States, where some departments took an inordinate share of the budget, while others became poor relations.

The international evidence is that the more autonomous a university is, the better the performance that will result. It is important to distinguish universities from other institutions which also serve the country in their own ways. We accept that adjustments were necessary during the recession, but there has been a reduction of approximately 2,200 staff , while the level of State expenditure per student has fallen from €11,800 to €9,000. We must plot a course forward and that is what the Bill has been designed to do. There are problems relating to tenure to be dealt with arising from two court cases, Fanning and Cahill in 2005 and 2007, respectively. We can also make suggestions on how we could enhance the intellectual contribution of universities to wider society and are delighted to do so.

The first part of the Bill includes definitions of "education", "research", "innovation" and "scholarship" which provide for them to be as broad ranging as possible. We also seek to extend the definition of "remuneration". Universities should be independent, globally aware and engaged. They were global long before "globalisation" was a term applied to wider society. Trinity College Dublin came from Oxford and Cambridge universities which, in turn, came from the university in Paris. Today, happily, one can google somebody in San Fransisco as easily as somebody down the corridor or in another department in the same university. We, therefore, stress the international importance of universities and global awareness.

Universities should aim to become independent of the State. As we are discovering at the banking inquiry committee, contrarian views and different opinions are vital in this society on all issues. A university under the control of the State or subject to undue State influence is a contradiction in terms.

With regard to academic freedom, it is important that ideas be expressed and that measures to end the employment of an academic never have any relationship with the views expressed, except where they are unacceptable. What we seek to control is arbitrary dismissal and to set up procedures that would be common to the rest of the public service for the adjudication of a breach of a contract and to deal with a failure to fulfil that contract. Nobody condones a failure to mark examination scripts or give lectures, but there must be a procedure under which this happens so as not to have cases such as the two mentioned ending up in the Supreme Court. Going to the Supreme Court with industrial relations matters is a waste of public money by everybody concerned and we wish it to cease. There is a structure in place to deal with industrial relations matters in sections 5 and 7 and it should assist. We describe tenure as "the right ... not to be arbitrarily dismissed". The freedom to express one's views is linked with tenure. The two are joined together, which is why we link the two issues.

In section 6 which deals with funding we introduce the concept of proportionality. Section 12 funds - the core of interventions by the Minister and the Higher Education Authority - should be retained. There are other funds from other Ministers and bodies such as the Health Research Board and Science Foundation Ireland subject to these constraints.

It will undoubtedly be a feature in future generations. Where universities seek other sources of funding, which is part of their duties under this Bill, we need rules that reflect the situation, as well as less control by the Higher Education Authority or the Minister. However, controls should be retain in regard to pay because we do not want a two-tier structure whereby those universities that have considerable outside funding become a new elite. The Commission on Public Appointments would have a role in this regard and the Minister, if unhappy with the situation, could invoke the visitors for each of the universities, who are usually persons of senior legal standing, such as judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court.
It is a matter of regret that a burden was put onto the Exchequer in 2009 when a number of university pension funds went bankrupt and had to be taken over by the State. The university funds involved were Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, University College Cork, National University of Ireland, Galway, National University of Ireland, Maynooth and the National University of Ireland itself. The list also includes the Industrial Development Authority, Shannon Free Airport, FÁS, the Irish Goods Council, An Bord Bia, the Arts Council, the Regional Tourism Pension Scheme Fund, Fáilte Ireland, the Institute of Public Administration and the Economic and Social Research Institute. In future, these would be defined contribution pension schemes rather than a charge on the Exchequer. Given the nature of these pension arrangements, we fear that staff will be seen as a contingent liability on the State rather than assets. If the pension fund becomes self-financing, it would deal with that problem.
We also propose the establishment of direct activity corporations, which would be spin-off companies unrelated to Mom and Pop companies or public limited companies. We also propose arrangements to deal with copyright and intellectual property, all of which are in line with the policies developed by the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Education and Skills.
I will conclude at this point in order to retain the good will of the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I thank the Minister for attending the debate and hope the ideas contained in the Bill are helpful. I am convinced these institutions have an important role to play in the development of this country. The front page current edition of The Economistcarries the following heading: "America's new aristocracy: Education and the inheritance of privilege". Doing this properly will help this country solve the many problems we came to this House to correct. I comment the Bill to the House in that spirit.

2:55 pm

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I thank Senator Barrett for allowing me the privilege of seconding this worthy legislative proposal. If and when somebody sits down to write the history of this Seanad, he or she will acknowledge that the Senator has been one of the most serious, insightful and informed legislators we have had in this House over the last four years. He certainly exemplifies the best traditions of this institution.

The Minister has probably heard me rant in the past about the bizarre health structure in this country, including our structure for hospitals, careers and medical education, with so many medical schools producing doctors for export in a nation that employs the lowest number of career level doctors per head of population of any country in the OECD. The paradox goes further, however, to include the career structure in health care in universities and, more generally, in science and other areas where research is a focus. There are an extraordinary level of incentivised dysfunction in these areas which Senator Barrett's Bill would go a long way towards correcting.

I returned to Ireland in 1993 with a huge desire to develop a clinical research structure in this country. I am not claiming I started anything because many fine individuals were carrying out wonderful research prior to my return but there were a few big niches, such as clinical research and no department of medical oncology or cancer medicine anywhere in my university hospital or in any other university at the time. This was not unique to my area; it also applied to cardiology, endocrinology, etc. We had a poorly developed structure and developing a research focus required us to establish a parallel structure outside of the university and, to an extent, outside of the hospital.

Some of the more prominent research in Ireland which are either hospital affiliated or on the campus of hospitals have a tenuous connect with the medical school or university which is allegedly their parent organisation. This leads to all kinds of unbelievable conundrums. I was, for example, fortunate to have the opportunity to recruit a cohort of wonderful nurses who were trained in oncology, had bitten the bug of cancer research and wanted to become clinical research associates and clinical research nurses. Clinical research involving patients simply cannot take place without such expertise. They made the brave commitment to step outside of the protective mainstream career structure offered by the HSE as a personal investment of faith in the unit I was trying to develop.

However, for understandable legal and regulatory reasons it became apparent after several years that we needed to formalise our arrangements. Even though I was raising money from other sources to pay their salaries, and they thus cost the State nothing, payroll had to be formalised through the hospital's system. Then, of course, the meltdown occurred followed by the embargo on public service appointments and audits of the numbers working in the public services. Although we had people who were doing pure research work in a hospital associated with the largest university in the country, they were working neither for the hospital nor the university. They were providing an unbelievable service which brought in the equivalent millions of euro to the hospital every year because our reputation got us free drugs and support. I found, however, that I was being gently encouraged to let them go because there was no other way to supervise the payment of their salaries through the hospital system or, for a long time, through the university. Even though I was not asking anybody to pay for them, one of the agencies - I stress it was not a university - suggested to me at one stage that it was perhaps unwise to employ senior experienced people because after a number of years of employment they had legacy entitlements to tenure and it would be harder to get rid of them. I said that I did not want to get rid of them. They were wonderful, so why would I do anything other than try to incentivise them to remain? I am thankful to the medical faculty in UCD and my friend and colleague, Professor Michael Keane, who made special arrangements so that aspects of the payroll for these individuals would be covered even though they are not strictly speaking university employees.

I have also raised grants or philanthropic funding for brilliant young researchers who made commitments to work with me and who have churned out research and supervised PhD students. They have no career structures in their university, however, and exist from grant to grant. If I emigrated or had a heart attack in the morning, they might find themselves unemployed. They have no security, with the result that several left over the years to become administrators. They had mortgages and personal responsibilities and there was no career structure which would allow them to stay in research. If we are going to be a knowledge, research and innovation based economy, we have to address this issue. The independence and security which Senator Barrett's Bill offers would lay the groundwork for developing the nurturing environment our young researchers need.

I know of one fine researcher in a biomedical institution in Ireland - I was going to name names but I will not do so - who won a five year grant to develop a programme in virology.

The grant expired at the end of five years, as grants do. He probably could have obtained further grant and peer-reviewed support to maintain individual projects, but the job was no longer available because it was only available as long as the grant was in place. He then had to travel to another country to continue his research and, as a result, we lost him.

There is a tendency for those on the other benches to look at Bills from these benches as being deficient or, if they are good, to take them on at a later stage. Will the Minister step outside the aisle, so to speak, to examine the merits of this Bill and consider supporting it? This is the expertise Senator Sean D. Barrett brings to the two Chambers in the Oireachtas. He identifies problems that may not be apparent to other Members. I urge the Minister, as well as my other friends and colleagues in the House, to support the Bill.

3:05 pm

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan. I am delighted that she is engaging with what has to be described as a very interesting and innovative Bill from Senator Sean D. Barrett. He used the word “innovation” in his contribution and referred to the need for it. This legislation is certainly an innovation. With his expertise, not only in matters of economics but also in education having worked in Trinity College Dublin for decades, he sees the flaws in the university system and where matters can be improved. He is in the fortunate position where he can bring forward legislation to improve the system. Senator John Crown's contribution in the areas of health and education also provides a useful perspective. The Seanad is very fortunate that this legislation is being sponsored and supported by two Members with a wealth of experience.

Ireland has traditionally been known as the island of saints and scholars. While the education system is very good, there is always room for improvement. During the Celtic tiger days, as Senator Sean D. Barrett mentioned, pension schemes had to be bailed out because of their size. Senior academics at the higher end of the scale, particularly university presidents, have an enormous suite of benefits above and beyond what they deserve. This issue needs to be addressed because it dilutes public confidence in third level institutions, particularly when one sees the presidents of institutions on hundreds of thousands of euro a year, with the suite of perks that they receive. In some cases, they have their own residence on the university campus. We need to set principles and improve practices.

That is one element of an overall change in approach to this problem that is needed at university level. Innovation and fostering entrepreneurship are only at incubation stage in universities which need to be forward-thinking in this regard. It is certainly concerning when one sees MBA, master of business administration, programmes in Irish universities sliding down the scale of international rankings. That is a pity when we really should be in the top 30 internationally in providing MBA programmes. Undertaking an MBA programme in this country is expensive enough. Accordingly, we need to ensure such programmes are world-class and equip people to take on leading roles in world economics and business. We are capable of achieving this.

The role of business and partnerships with third level institutions needs to be developed significantly. There are examples of where entrepreneurs have donated significant sums of money for buildings to third level institutions such as the O’Reilly Hall in University College Dublin. The Minister's constituency predecessor, Jim Kemmy, had a business centre named after him at University of Limerick. He would probably have preferred to see the money go somewhere else as he was a socialist through and through. Some people are willing to part with significant sums of money to enter into partnerships with universities. As opposed to just having their names on buildings, I hope entrepreneurs will put the money into courses and equip those taking them.

The top ten information technology companies in the world have their European headquarters in Ireland. Much more could be done with third level institutions and universities in engaging with these companies.

I look forward to the Bill going through the House. I am sure the Minister has suggestions on it, too. Senator Sean D. Barrett has used his fantastic expertise and included his ideas in the legislation. The Minister would be sensible to incorporate them in future legislation in this area.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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The higher education sector in Ireland is at a crossroads. In recent decades there has been a major increase in participation at third level. It is hugely positive that third level education is now within the reach of communities and families in a way that it was not before as a result of having extra places in third level colleges and new pathways other than the CAO, Central Applications Office, system such as PLC, post-leaving certificate, courses. At the same time, there are concerns about the adequacy of public funding for third level institutions and the impact of budget cuts in the past few years on the quality of teaching and learning for students. As some Members stated, there is also concern about our institutions falling in the international university rankings such as those of QS, Quacquarelli Symonds, and the Times Higher Education. I understand that latter concern, but, at the same time, it is worth repeating that many of these league tables have their own failings, overemphasising certain areas and giving no credit to others. For example, our policy priorities in education should be opening up access to third level education, community involvement and the economic contribution of a third level institution to its region. These are not captured by crude league tables. There would be merit in the Minister developing our own league table system to measure what third level institutions are doing against a wider range of policy goals such as access, contribution to the local economy, providing second-chance education places for students with disabilities, adult education and other broader policy priorities. This would be a counterpoint and balance the other rankings that repeatedly are reported on the front pages of all the newspapers but do not capture the full picture.
Participation rates have increased dramatically, but, unfortunately, young people in some areas are still lagging behind. In some parts of Dublin city only 10% to 15% of young people go on to higher education after completing the leaving certificate, while in other areas, the figure is 90%. That is wrong. When in government, Fianna Fáil invested in preschool, primary and second level programmes to help people in area in which traditionally there was poor educational attainment. It takes some time for the benefits to come through, but it is important that the Government redouble it efforts to ensure nobody will be put off from going to college.

The question of whether a young person finishing their leaving certificate gets to go to college should be down to merit and hard work and not just their post code. There is an urgent need to change that as well.

We need to do more with regard to flexible educational opportunities, an area focused on in the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection. We still have a funding model that is very much focused on full-time education at undergraduate level. This makes it difficult for many people such as those who did not go to college in the first place and who do not have an undergraduate degree but who now have a family or are working. The only realistic opportunity they have to get an undergraduate degree is to undertake it on a part-time basis. While we have free full-time undergraduate education, we still have part-time fees which are an obstacle. This should be a priority when funding becomes available. We should be neutral as a State as to whether somebody attains their qualifications during the day, during the evening or at the weekend. We should try to make the system as flexible as possible. There are many opportunities in online third-level education, an issue that has also been discussed in the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection.

I warmly support Senator Barrett's Bill and echo other Members' sentiments about Senator Barrett's contribution to this House. He is a very fine Member who brings a huge level of expertise and experience to our debates in respect of third-level education. This expertise on the part of Members is one of the things this House has going for it - that of Senator Barrett in this area, that of Senator Quinn in business and that of Senator Crown in health. One sees this reflected in the quality of debates we have here. I include my good friend, Senator Norris, who is sitting behind me and with whom I co-operate in many areas, particularly social justice. In that spirit, I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to this Bill. It is a very important piece of legislation. I would like to tease it out on Committee Stage. I agree with the need for individual academic freedom. In particular, lecturers should feel that they are free to say unpopular things or challenge their institutions. While autonomy is a good thing and we should not micro-manage our third-level institutions, third-level institutions need to work in an environment that is delivering on national educational priorities so there is a balance to be struck there.

I understand where Senator Barrett is coming from with regard to tenure. Certainly, the increased casualisation of academic positions both at school, particularly second level where it is next to impossible for young teachers to get a permanent job, and at third level is a big problem. It is a problem in terms of attracting and retaining the best academics who have alternatives and can work in the US and other countries. At the same time, we need to balance permanent contracts with the need to ensure that there is always a requirement to upskill regardless of whether a person is working in a school or college.

In respect of pay scales for academic staff, as Senator Barrett has pointed out, the universities only receive about half of their funding from the State. The other half is private. They often argue that they need to pay more to attract the best people. I understand that and I think it is important that we are able to compete with other institutions abroad. At the same time, there would be a concern to make sure that we do not end up with just a few prestigious people in a university getting paid very well with the result that there is not enough money in the rest of the budget.

All of these issues that the Bill touches on are really important and we could tease them out on Committee Stage. I again thank Senator Barrett for this initiative which is a really useful Bill. I hope the Minister will take it on board. I look forward to hearing her remarks and we can tease out some of the more specific issues on Committee Stage.

3:15 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I thank Senator Barrett for the work and thought he has put into the drafting of his Bill. I also thank Senator Crown for his contribution and I look forward to hearing the contributions of Senators Quinn and Norris. One of the great advantages of having a debate in this House on universities is the fact that we have a considerable amount of expertise among the Senators who are elected specifically from the universities and expertise right across the Seanad. The Bill seeks to amend the objects and functions of universities, as set out in the Universities Act 1997, to include a reference to innovation; to provide for matters relating to academic tenure; to provide a role for the Commission on Public Service Appointments in determining the rates, scales and ranges of remuneration of employees of universities; to allow universities to establish new schemes for superannuation; to provide for issues relating to the establishment of corporations by universities; and to require the development by the universities and the Minister of an intellectual property protocol. The Bill addresses a wide range of issues.

The national strategy for higher education to 2030 sets out a comprehensive roadmap for reform of the higher education system. The objectives of the reform programme are to ensure that the system becomes more performance-oriented, flexible and responsive while retaining and enhancing its diversity in terms of mission. A wide-ranging legislative programme is required to implement a range of governance, accountability, funding and structural reforms to allow us to meet the framework for modernisation set out in the strategy.

We are considerably advanced in setting in train the legislative underpinning for the modernisation of our system. A high priority is to provide for consolidation and mergers within the institute of technology sector, which was not touched upon in the Bill, and to provide for those newly merged entities, which reach the already published criteria, to apply for and become technological universities. The technological universities Bill is therefore currently being drafted by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and will be published shortly. Legislation will also be required to support the new funding, performance and accountability framework for the system that is being put in place. This is intended to provide statutory underpinning for the respective roles, functions and powers of the Minister and a reformed Higher Education Authority for the governance and regulation of the system.

Legislation is also required to strengthen and reform the governance structures and accountability of higher education institutions. With this in mind, I previously

sought the input of the Royal Irish Academy, universities and institutes of technology as to how best to create the smaller, more modern and competency-based governing boards that were recommended in the strategy. A broader higher education reform Bill, the general scheme of which is currently being drafted, will therefore reform the existing statutory underpinning of the Higher Education Authority setting out new powers, responsibilities and governance arrangements in terms of funding and accountability. It will also contain the amendments to the Universities Act necessary to implement governance and accountability reforms. I hope to return to that later because some of the proposals in Senator Barrett's Bill can be incorporated in the legislation I will be bringing forward later this year.

Senator Crown referred to research and innovation. Research and innovation are of major importance given their role in contributing to economic recovery, competitiveness and growth not only in Ireland but also across the EU. Continued investment in research and innovation is essential if we are to maintain employment and create new high-quality jobs. As well as the importance of this element of research, ensuring we have a good society is also hugely important. At the Royal Irish Academy last night, I presented gold medals to two professors, one in the humanities and one in the sciences. That is the balance we need to have. As Ireland moves from a policy focus on economic stabilisation to growth, sustained investment in research and development in the higher education sector remains of vital importance to enable the economy to recover and grow in the future.

The higher education sector provides a national base of skills and knowledge and complements the applied research that is necessary that is being largely applied in the business sector firms. Ireland has adopted a national strategy to maximize its participation in Horizon 2020 with an ambitious target of securing €1.25 billion for Irish researchers and companies during the lifetime of Horizon 2020. Horizon 2020 has the biggest EU research budget ever with €80 billion of funding available over seven years. The strategy outlines the support structures to ensure researchers and companies have access to information, advice and support to enable them to maximise opportunities under the programme. I am conscious that we do not want to be entirely driven by the opportunities for funding in that area. Research should not only be driven by where we can get funding.

Structural changes in our higher education system, including the development of regional clusters of institutions and the mergers of institutes of technology, will engender greater critical mass and excellence and allow our institutions to compete with the best institutions across Europe.

In addition, the new performance framework for the higher education system specifically includes metrics for EU research income and will encourage institutions to engage strategically with the programme. However, as I say, that should not be the only metric.
Section 2(2) of Senator Barrett's Bill provides for the insertion of definitions of certain terms into the Universities Act 1997, including "research", "innovation" and "education". Sections 3 and 4 provide for the amendment of sections 12 and 13 of the 1997 Act, to include references to innovation in the objects and functions of universities, as set out by that Act. There is merit to the Senator's proposals in this regard and I would be happy to consider the inclusion of similar amendments in the General Scheme of the Higher Education Reform Bill, which is to be published later this year and to which I referred earlier.
Section 5 proposes to insert a new section 14A, dealing with matters relating to academic tenure, into the 1997 Act. I understand that there is a view that the 1997 Act does not sufficiently separate the question of academic tenure from matters relating to disciplinary processes in the employment relationship. However, I am advised that the proposed amendment would not substantially improve matters in this regard and may introduce unnecessarily cumbersome procedures. Again, that is something we can consider. I do not think we are differing in what we are trying to achieve here.
Section 6 largely deals with matters relating to remuneration. The effect of section 6 would be to give university staff a privileged position within the public service in terms of pay policy determination. The Bill would restrict the capacity on the part of the universities to manage pay rates, and it would restrict the capacity of the relevant Ministers, the Government and the Oireachtas to manage pay policy in the universities. It would create a potential risk of additional and uncontrolled Exchequer pay and pension liabilities in respect of the university sector, and establish a role for the Commission for Public Service Appointments which is not in alignment with its core function. This is the difficulty I have with this section. The commission does not have a function in this area as its function is to regulate recruitment within the public service. The Bill would also give excessive authority in respect of pay policy matters to two public bodies, in that it would give the HEA and the Commission for Public Service Appointments the authority to overrule the Ministers, the Government and the Oireachtas on matters of pay and allowances in universities. Unfortunately I do have a difficulty with that section of the Senator's Bill. It is not in line with the general policy with regard to pay, and particularly the role of the commission.
Section 6(13) and section 7 subsections (1) and (2) provide for the amendment of provisions relating to the preserved rights of staff. These provide for the preservation of certain terms and conditions of staff who were employed at the time of the coming into effect of the 1997 Act. It is my understanding that there is a general provision for the variation of these rights by agreement and I think this is fair and sufficient. Section 7(3) seeks to provide for the provision by universities of information relating to remuneration to the HEA. I will also give consideration to including an amendment along those lines in the Higher Education Reform Bill, which will be published later this year.
I am sorry this is rather a long contribution but I am trying to respond in detail to the Bill itself. Section 8 provides that new employees appointed to a university after the making of a superannuation scheme under the First Schedule to the Bill will become members of that superannuation scheme. It is proposed that the scheme may be a defined contribution scheme, and may provide for additional voluntary contributions, for the transfer of accrued rights from another superannuation scheme, for the transfer of rights accrued under the superannuation scheme to another superannuation scheme, and for benefits based upon the average earnings of a member of the scheme throughout that member's entire career as a member of the scheme.
The legislation we have at the moment is the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2013. That Act provides for a single public service pension scheme for new public servants appointed on or after 1 January 2013. In addition, former public service employees returning to the public service after a break of more than 26 weeks in pensionable public sector employment become members of the single scheme, with certain exclusions for those on approved leave of absence. This scheme is a contributory defined benefit career average earning pension scheme where the benefits are based upon the average earning of a member of the scheme throughout that member's entire public service career.
All of the universities have defined benefit pay-as-you go schemes where pension benefits are based on the final salary at date of retirement or resignation. These schemes are based on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform model scheme. These schemes apply to university employees appointed prior to 1 January 2013, if they are not members of the university closed schemes. The schemes are approved on an administrative basis but will be formally approved in accordance with recently published rules.
The provisions proposed in this Bill provide that all new employees in universities would become members of a new scheme to be prepared under the Bill. It is proposed that the new scheme may be a defined contribution scheme and-or a defined benefit career-average scheme. However, a pension scheme cannot be a defined contribution scheme and also provide for benefits based upon the average earning of a member of the scheme throughout that member's entire career as a member of the scheme. A defined contribution scheme provides benefits based on the level of contribution and the value of that contribution at retirement date. These are two completely different types of schemes.
The schemes in the university sector - the single scheme, the model schemes and the closed schemes - are defined benefit schemes. There has been no proposal from the university sector for a defined contribution scheme. Furthermore, the introduction of a new scheme is not in accordance with the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2013. That legislation, in accordance with Government policy on pensions, provides for a single public service pension scheme which applies to all public servants including university employees who are appointed on or after 1 January 2013. The purpose of the legislation was to standardise pension provision across the public sector. In terms of the Bill before us, we do not intend to approve separate and different superannuation provisions for the university sector. That is a section of the Bill that I have difficulty with in terms of Government policy.
Section 13(2)(c) of the Act of 1997 provides for the establishment by universities of corporations. Section 25(5)(b) provides that such corporations may only pay employees of a university in accordance with a framework agreed between universities and the HEA. I understand discussions between the universities and the HEA are ongoing in that regard. Section 9 of the Bill provides for the above but, as with the provisions relating to remuneration referred to earlier, it also provides that the Commission for Public Service Appointments may be requested to establish appropriate rates of pay where the universities and the HEA have been unable to agree a framework. Returning to the point I have already made regarding the commission, this is not one of its core functions, so I would have difficulty with that section of the Bill.
In Autumn 2012, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, published a document entitled Putting Public Research to Work for Ireland, also known as the national intellectual property protocol. This was developed by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation working with other Departments, including my own, and drew on the knowledge of a dedicated group of experts from industry, the venture capital community, technology transfer offices, research-performing organisations, the Irish Universities Association, and State research funders. The key objective of the intellectual property protocol is to maximise the economic and societal benefits from Government investment in research-performing organisations, in particular the creation of sustainable jobs.
The protocol will make it easier and faster for entrepreneurs and companies to negotiate a commercial arrangement with research-performing organisations for intellectual property arising from State-funded research. It is about encouraging industry to collaborate with Ireland's universities, institutes of technology and other publicly-funded research institutions, to access and commercialise the intellectual property generated from such research and turn it into products and services for the global marketplace. The intellectual property protocol was designed and delivered in order to bring clarity, consistency and quality for companies working with Ireland's higher education institutes and other State-funded research organisations. The primary goal is to enable and encourage the use of State-funded research to drive business, innovation and economic competitiveness.
Knowledge Transfer Ireland has been established as a key recommendation from the report, with a remit to support business and the research base to maximise innovation from State-funded research by getting technology, ideas and expertise into the hands of business swiftly and easily, for the benefit of the public and the economy. As an intellectual property protocol has already been established, and the relevant policy and structures have been rolled out, I do not believe it is necessary to make specific provision for the establishment of such a protocol by way of primary legislation.
I have gone into some detail on the different elements of the Bill and I would be happy to work with Senator Barrett and others on some of them, in terms of incorporating them into the legislation we will be bringing forward on higher education. I have a difficulty with and unfortunately cannot accept other elements, particularly around the role of the Commission for Public Service Appointments, whose job is basically not in this area.

I realise there is strong work being done which is very specific. The Senator has drawn on his vast experience in the higher education sector, but I hope I have outlined the difficulties we have with some elements, particularly public pay policy and the Commission for Public Service Appointments. There are, however, other elements on which we will work with the Senator to be incorporated into legislation.

I thank Senator Sean D. Barrett and the other Senators who have contributed and will contribute later to the debate. I look forward to continuing to work with the Seanad on legislation dealing with the universities.

3:35 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Bill which is a remarkable initiative. I also welcome the Minister and the fact that she indicated that she intended to incorporate some of the ideas included in Senator Sean D. Barrett's Bill into new legislation. That demonstrates the co-operative spirit in Seanad Éireann as part of the Oireachtas. It is worth pointing out that the Minister, the leader of the Labour Party and Senator Averil Power are all constituents of mine and Senator Sean D. Barrett. To a certain extent, it may be assumed we are speaking to the converted.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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The Senator was also one of my lecturers.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson):

There should be no campaigning on the floor of the Seanad.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I did mention my colleague.
Designated activity companies, DACs, are important. There should be safeguards in this regard. There must be a degree of supervision, irrespective of whether the money comes from outside. I am thinking, in particular, of Trinity College Dublin where there are projects undertaken in concert with the Israeli military. This is of assistance to the Israeli military in progressing an aggressive war against a defenceless people of Palestine, but it should be restrained and discontinued quickly.
On the issue of pay, it amuses me because my middle-ranking colleagues among the academic staff and in administration receive considerably more than we do in Seanad Éireann, despite the fact that the Government continues to want to pull us down. Some of my colleagues have suggested we receive something like half or one third of what we are receiving. That is what I regard as very academic.
The Bill defines the roles and actions of the university and, in particular, the ongoing support of the humanities, which I welcome. I taught in the humanities in Trinity College Dublin and we were not under any great threat, but those involved in the teaching of the classics and music certainly were. Some schools in these areas have been closed in the United Kingdom; therefore, we do not need to go as far as the United States.
I refer to academic freedom and academic tenure. This is an excellent Bill which follows on and develops the sections included by Professor Joe Lee and me in the 1997 Act guaranteeing academic freedom and integrity. They were taken on by the Swedish Government in full. In a briefing note Senator Sean D. Barrett indicates what universities are not. They are not institutes of technology or technological universities, an area into which the Minister strayed. They are not medical universities like the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, distinguished as these places are. They are not business or language only schools.
The Bill includes definitions and I compliment Senator Sean D. Barrett on their clarity and precision. Legislation has been lacking in definitions, particularly of education and innovation. A definition of education is provided, meaning education, examination, instruction, lectures, research, scholarship, study, teaching or training undertaken or provided in a university or by any person acting under the authority of a university. It also includes the award of degrees and other qualifications and all activities necessary or expedient for or ancillary to such purposes. It is an excellent definition which has been crystallised. Innovation is defined as including creativity, ingenuity, novelty, renewal and transformation in all of their forms - artistic, cultural, economic, educational and social. It includes, in particular, the development of new business methods, models or practices, or new businesses, products, services, structures, technologies, intellectual property or work practices. Our understanding of the education sector is enhanced by these clear lapidary definitions.
The question of pensions is a troubled one because the universities were cavalier in this regard. They paid people off in cases of early retirement - gratuitously in some circumstances - and the continuing staff were expected to pay for the pensions of retired staff. It is welcome that Senator Sean D. Barrett is looking for some machinery from the Minister, a statutory instrument or other such thing, to ensure pension fund trustees are held responsible, as they should be held liable. If they make injudicious decisions on pensions or drive a pension fund into bankruptcy, they should be held accountable and have to explain how it happened.
Senator Sean D. Barrett talked about the attempt to ensure the unique identity of the seven universities by defining their educational mission and said they should be noted for their global orientation and conservation of the liberal arts. When I was an undergraduate, those who took an arts subject had to take a science subsidiary subject for one year. Those who were studying science had to take an arts subject. Many studied English literature or fine arts which broadened them as human beings. Rigid compartmentalisation in universities is a mistake.
The question of tenure is important because, as Senator Sean D. Barrett said, there is a clear link between tenure - knowledge of security in a job - and allowing people to explore unfashionable ideas. This is absolutely essential. Tenure is a complex issue and the Bill addresses the results of two law cases, Fanning v. UCC in 2005 and Cahill v. DCU in 2007. The idea is to prevent academics from being arbitrarily dismissed, thereby allowing them to conduct research into unfashionable ideas. The principle of security against arbitrary dismissal does not preclude proper and appropriate dismissal, which must be borne in mind. In the High Court Mr. Justice Clarke decided dismissal had not occurred in accordance with procedures; therefore, he avoided the question of defining tenure, but he did provide some valuable words on the question of tenure, saying the term brought with it an obligation to have a greater degree of permanency for the status of officers of universities than would be the case in circumstances where, as a matter of contract, such officers could have their contracts terminated with three month's notice. In the Supreme Court Mr. Justice Geoghegan declined to engage on the term "tenure" and decided the case on the basis of general principles. As there has been no decision, it is very important that these matters be clearly and succinctly addressed in legislation. An interesting aspect that I did not anticipate is that funding from central sources has diminished to the extent that it will be shortly under 50%. This should give universities a greater degree of freedom.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister. Listening to Senator David Norris and his comments on past pupils and lecturers at Trinity College Dublin, I feel I am in the minority, in which I am joined by Senators Feargal Quinn and John Crown, in that we attended UCD on the southside.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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They went to the other place.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson):

Senator Mary Moran should stop campaigning on the floor of the House.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I commend Senator Sean D. Barrett for bringing the Bill before the House and his work on it. He must be commended for his comprehensive explanatory note which was kindly circulated to all Senators.

I would welcome if Senators from both sides of the House would circulate any information which they feel would be helpful in progressing an educational or other idea or Bill through the House. I thank the Minister for that also.

Higher education remains in constant focus throughout the year as there are so many people at all stages of life who engage either part-time or full-time at third level. I know it is in the thoughts of many students currently studying for their leaving certificate examinations. I am very busy myself at the moment ensuring CAO forms are completed and returned within deadlines. We are all very conscious of the system of third level education.

Ireland's education sector from top to bottom is experiencing difficulties. We have seven universities, 14 institutes of technology and a further range of colleges designated under the Higher Education Authority. It is important to bear in mind when speaking about the education sector the there are also many private colleges throughout this State. Between 2008 and 2014 income to the higher education sector fell by 9% while demand increased. An additional 25,000 student places were provided but staff numbers were reduced by 11%. Within this time the proportion of students requiring a higher education grant rose significantly from 41% in 2009 to 52% in 2013. Participation in higher education is estimated to have increased by 2% per annum since 1960, with the outlook on demand estimated to increase further over the next 15 years. It is expected that this will result in an estimated 212,000 full-time students in 2028. There were 165,000 full time students in 2013. I do not know from where all the jobs required will come. Sustainability, capacity and funding, while maintaining quality and standards, remain a major issue for the sector.

Reforms of the higher education system have been undertaken since 2011. We need to have a system which supports and provides students of all ages with a range of skills and knowledge and an availability of courses to prepare them for the next phase. One reform measure under way is the creation and identification of higher education regional clusters. These clusters have been identified and the heads of the institutions in each will, among other things, agree regional plans to enhance co-ordination at a regional level. It is intended that the grouping of higher education institutions into these clusters will result in the removal of unnecessary duplication and the provision of a host of new benefits to students, and build on the current positives and benefits.

Further measures of reform were also approved in 2013 by the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn to consolidate the system. This included the creation of centres of excellence in teacher education, bringing the 19 State-funded providers of initial teacher education to six centres of teacher education, a consolidation of the institutes of technology and the rationalisation of smaller colleges. In 2012, the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland, QQAAI was established through the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act. I recall that during the debate in the Seanad on that Bill many said the name of the agency was too long-winded. The QQAAI is responsible for external quality assurance, validation of programmes and the making of awards by providers, ensuring that the provisions of courses and programmes meet the standards set out in the national framework, of qualifications, and the maintenance, development and review of the national framework of qualifications. This legislation brought together the HETAC, FETAC, National Framework of Qualifications Authority of Ireland and the Irish Universities Quality Board. The reform measures outlined above have had impacts and have attempted to reduce duplication, improve student experience and overall quality within the system.

The Minister referred earlier to some of the measures which pose a difficulty, including section 5 regarding academic tenure and whether this section would result in the introduction of further and, possibly, unnecessary procedures. On the issue of pay, section 6 provides the Commission for Public Service Appointments with a role in determining pay rates in universities. In this regard, the Minister outlined why to date it has not done so. I commend the Minister on taking on board Senator Barrett's points in this regard. That the views of Senators, including from the opposite side of the House, are taken on board in the context of the enactment of legislation is very positive.

I commend Senator Barrett on his attention to the areas of reform within the Bill. As with most Bills, positives and negatives emerge and provide us all with food for thought, which is exactly what Private Members' time should be about. The problems within the higher education sector appear to be ones which we need to addressed in the longer term context and, that said, may take a longer time to address in the context of our economic circumstances. As I said earlier, the Minister, Deputy O'Sullivan, is committed and clear on the need to invest in our education system. She is a partner with whom we can work in terms of the reforms being undertaken and requiring to be made at each stage of education from primary to doctorate level. I thank Senator Barrett for continuing to generate conversation and consideration of higher education.

3:45 pm

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister. I am delighted she is in the House to deal with this Bill and that it is receiving the attention it deserves. Senator Barrett's Bill deserves our support. This is not legislation proposed by a politician. Rather, it is legislation from someone who has been at the coalface in this area for many years and knows exactly what he is talking about. On that basis, it merits support.
For the past three or four years I have been involved with an organisation called Springboard, which through State funding, identifies areas of education into which people who graduated with construction-related degrees, including architects, quantity surveyors and so on, but have not secured employment in that area, can move. One of the things we discovered during the past couple of years is that universities do not follow up on how successful or otherwise their graduates have been, including whether they secured employment in their chosen field. While one or two of our universities do collate this information, in general Irish universities do not track their graduates or collate or analyse this information. The dispersal of information on how many history graduates had secured employment and the fact that there are currently 5,000 vacancies in the IT area would be helpful.
Senator Barrett's overall aim to try to reform the university sector within some existing confines is best summed up by the following words, written last year by him:

I'm a firm believer in the idea that the university sector is over-managed and in many ways misguided by money, government quangos and limited time initiatives that sap energy, funds and people from the main business of a university - educating people and creating knowledge.
Does Senator Barrett recall writing that?

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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It is a very nice quotation.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Crucially, the Bill provides a definition for section 12 funding, which is, essentially, State money. The objective of this distinction is to ensure that the State has the power of direction and oversight to moneys that are distributed as part of the Higher Education Authority but, importantly, that this does not hold for other moneys. This is quite novel and deserving of attention. I am not sure that the Minister in her statement gave it the attention it deserves. I believe the change being proposed by Senator Barrett is a very fair one. From a business perspective, I agree that income obtained by universities from other sources should not be subject to State operational management. I am interested in hearing the Minister's views on this. This may mean that universities will seek to expand in other areas. Section 8 provides that a university can establish a corporation or company. The overall aim is to encourage a university to establish so-called spin-off firms. The initial phase of a company is vital, with so many failing in their first year.

Having a company attached to a university while it matures is a very sensible approach. I have personal experience of it. Some years ago when the BSE crisis occurred, my company, Superquinn, had a problem. We wondered how we could guarantee where meat was going, and we found a company, IdentiGEN, in Trinity College. It has been very successful, and we were the first company in the world to trace every single sliver of beef from every animal that was slaughtered and know exactly which farm it came from. It put people's minds at rest and our business increased while others were in difficulties. IdentiGEN has since blossomed around the world and is doing very well. Such intellectual property is vital, and converting it into business and job creation is even more important. Section 10 of the Bill will provide for a so-called intellectual property protocol, and this protocol will be linked to the intellectual property protocol outlined by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Thus, the Bill aims to encourage the commercialisation of intellectual property within the universities and there have been numerous instances of it in addition to IdentiGEN.

The Bill also aims to improve the job situation of universities and addresses pay rates and pensions. Senator Norris also mentioned academic tenure and the Bill aims to clear up the area and bring some degree of protection for academics and strengthen the principle of academic freedom. It is not that one can never be fired, but that one cannot be fired based on their having discovered an unpopular research result or teaching a controversial subject. The Bill also calls for the promotion and facilitation of “the internationalisation of education (including, in particular, higher education), innovation, research and scholarship, both within and outside of the State". We can do much more in this area in creating world class institutions that we have to expand.

I applaud Senator Barrett's work on the Bill which is a sensible step forward. It is particularly important that we continually look at the university sector, aiming to improve it in the context of massive international competition. I was disappointed in the Minister's words. Many years ago, a civil servant told me that when he wrote to somebody with bad news he would begin by saying, “I enthusiastically support what you are doing, however...” The word “however” put the person back. The Minister used the words “difficulties” and “concerns” several times. There is much in the Bill and while the Minister made some good and supportive comments on it, I would have loved to have heard more positive and definite support along with her concerns. The Bill needs and deserves support and can be improved no end if the Minister accepts the Bill on Second Stage and lets it go on to Committee Stage, where all the changes she, and all of us, would like can be made. I urge the Minister to accept the Bill.

3:55 pm

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is very welcome and I thank her for her very comprehensive response. This area is very important. When I was lord mayor of Cork I had the privilege of visiting Shanghai in China at the request of University College Cork, which wanted to establish a connection with Fudan University and Shanghai University. This brought home to me the need to grow and develop our universities and third level education. What frightened me was the fact that one city had more than 20 universities and more than 320,000 young people in third level education. Here, we are talking about targets of approximately 228,000 in third level education by 2028. The scale of the world market brings home the importance of ensuring we can produce people with qualifications and skills compete with the world. It is so easy for people to travel. They can be in the US one day, the UK the next day and Ireland the day after. Over the past ten to 15 years we have moved beyond the European market into the world market in relation to competencies and skills. Therefore, we must be able to produce the best of people from our second and third level education systems.

I welcome Senator Barrett's work on this, which creates a debate. It is extremely important we examine the funding of universities and the team work between universities and other third level institutions in connection with research and industry. During my visit to Shanghai, I was struck by the direct connection between third level institutions, research centres and industry, which had been clearly planned out. They were located side by side. Some 12 months later, I returned to China, where they were building a whole new city for 650,000 people. The plans were locating the educational institutions near the research centres and industrial areas. There is long-term planning, not just short-term planning.

The Minister has set out clear targets for the university sector and she is working with third level institutions to create greater efficiencies and improve the quality and standard of what we are producing. We need to examine value for money and see what we can do to ensure Ireland also benefits. I have been raising this issue for some time. I refer in particular to medical education in our universities, on which we spend approximately €90 million per year. I am not sure we are getting value back in our economy and hospital system. I am not saying it is a failure of the universities or students. The Department of Health and the HSE need to seriously examine it. I have been extremely critical of the current structure. In 2012, I did a study which found that over 60% of those who were going to graduate in that year had already decided to leave the country within 12 months of qualifying. While it is great to improve universities, we must also improve what we have to offer after graduation and how it is structured. I am a long time critic of the practice of offering six-month contracts to medical graduates with no clear career path. When addressing education we also need to consider the jobs available to people when they finish their studies. It is important that we realise we are competing in an international market and adjust accordingly.

Our birth rate increased from 50,000 in 2000 to more than 75,000 in 2010. From 2017 and 2018 onwards there will be huge demand for places in third level institutions.

It is important that we plan and ensure we can accommodate the people who want to go on to third level education and that there are an adequate number of places for them. That is one area we need to keep in mind.

We also need to consider the issue of research and development and have closer co-operation between our universities and industry. The Tyndall Institute is doing wonderful work in Cork with some very dedicated and committed people involved. There are huge benefits to having that research centre in Cork.

We talked about the funding under Horizon 2020. We need to tap into that funding and get our fair share to ensure the people who want to do research are able to work here in Ireland. A problem with research and development - it is not just an Irish problem but a European problem - is that approximately 75% of people who want to get involved in research from outside the EU end up going to the United States rather than coming to Europe. That is something we need to keep in mind. As well as retaining our own students we need to ensure we get people in from abroad who carry out that research and development in order to create jobs in this country.

I welcome the debate on the matter. We have a lot of work to do with our third level institutions. We need to ensure we are getting value for money and have the proper structures to get the best possible results for people going through those institutions.

4:05 pm

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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I support the tremendous work done by Senator Barrett in looking at our model of third level and fourth level education, and coming up with an innovative way to fund it - even though the Bill does not deal directly with it - and providing autonomy. To reinforce Senator Colm Burke's last point, autonomy is important in that researchers seek to provide funding to universities and particularly seek to provide funding and have research carried out by universities that have a high degree of autonomy, are in control of their own destiny and have the cutting edge capabilities in terms of academic resources. In order to do that, accepting all the provisions of Senator Barrett's Bill would be brilliant for the country.

We have to view what we define government to be. Is it that government will control everything in the economy, including all the funding going into education even though it does not control it because it represents only about 50% of the money going to third level education at the moment? It has decreased by about 25% since 2009. The thrust of Senator Barrett's contribution was that we are moving towards a 50-50 scenario given the reduction in the State's current and capital funding of third level education in recent years.

If that decrease is to continue and we go towards 50-50, should the Minister entrusted by the people through the Oireachtas as the people's representative in Government - irrespective of who that person is in future years - have the autonomy to dictate the direction of third level education from within the sector itself, and also regarding staffing, major strategic decisions and the objectives of third level education? I would argue not.

It would not be fair to assume that the State should have such a controlling or dominant effect on our third level education sector when the taxpayer is not fully funding the sector and when the constraints of State could be holding the sector back. Very often governments are slow to move. Ireland is a small player in the overall global economy. We are moving into an area of globalisation, market-state economy, and therefore the fastest to move generally can attract the investment. Very often states are not the fastest to move. States are very often dominated by political parties, which by their nature are not the fastest to move.

Many arguments could be presented to support the Bill. We have some of the best academics in the world in this country and they should be supported. One way of doing so is to provide the autonomy to the universities to go and win the global investment available and attract the research funding available. Even here in Ireland the State is giving about €900 million in research money to third level institutions. The rest is coming to the universities through the State grant model. Improving universities' capabilities would improve the resource they provide to the State.

There is considerable merit to what Senator Barrett has proposed. I hope the Minister will accept the merits of his work and his contribution this evening. Even if some tweaking is required, I urge the Minister to accept the Bill for the future of third and fourth level education in this country. Students coming from outside the country, particularly students from outside the European Union, are paying to gain educational opportunities and they tend to be economically very beneficial. So there are merits and I hope the Bill will be accepted without the need to divide the House in order that we can have progress in this area.

Third level education is at a crossroads, but the State's financial input into the sector is depleting. Unless the State is going to provide the money - I do not think it is going to do that - it needs to provide universities with the autonomy to raise that funding from either inside or outside the State in order to develop cutting-edge academia at third and fourth level, which would benefit Ireland Inc. long into the future. That has been proven by the figures Senator Barrett gave for the economic outputs of €7.4 billion coming from the seven universities alone. I know the ITs do a tremendous amount of work and they are building all the time.

So it is a good news story of success and one we can sell worldwide. Many students throughout the world want to come to Ireland. For example, Trinity College is seen throughout the world as a place where students want to come - they want to come to Dublin to study. Let us give them the opportunity, but we need to give the universities the leverage to do that first.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the House. I commend Senator Barrett on introducing this Private Members' Bill which gives us the opportunity to debate third level education generally. Senator Quinn referred to a very apposite quote from Senator Barrett as to the core purpose of a university, which I fully endorse and commend. That is very welcome and sets a nice context for this debate.

I have been seeking a debate for some time on different aspects of third level education, as have other colleagues of mine. A particular issue I wanted to raise - I will raise it directly with the Minister, as a matter on the Commencement in future weeks - is the issue of gender equality at third level, particularly in light of the recent successful case taken by Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington against NUI Galway, which has been raised in the House on many occasions by me and others. The case raises more general issues about gender discrimination in recruitment and promotion procedures. I may come back to that one on a future date.

To return to the specifics of this Bill, I commend Senator Barrett on raising some important issues within it and welcome the Minister's statement that she will give strong consideration to incorporating aspects of it into the higher education reform Bill which the Department will publish later this year. In particular, the Minister referred to definitions. I support those provisions of the Bill, particularly section 2(2) and sections 3 and 4, which insert definitions into the 1997 Act in regard to research, innovation and education and provide, for example, for references to innovation to be made in the objects and functions of universities. There is strong merit to those proposals and I am delighted to hear the Minister say she will support them.

On the question of staffing, the Minister has said, in regard to section 7 that she will give consideration to including an amendment along the lines of the provision in section 7(3) in her higher education reform Bill. I welcome that. As Senator Norris said, it reflects the collegiate and constructive spirit in which we debate Private Members' Bills, in particular, in this House. I believe that what Senator Barrett is doing with this Bill is seeking to have a constructive input into the Government's overall reform programme in higher education and in the third level sector. I am pleased he made particular reference to the need to ensure a career structure for researchers, for those who are not in the traditional lecturer mode, because this is a big issue. As both he and I know, in Trinity College and other universities, a career path for people engaged on research contracts is an issue. I hope we will see this addressed in the higher education reform Bill. There are also significant issues in regard to academic freedom and tenure and Senator Barrett addresses these in his Bill.

I am aware that the Minister has said, and Senator Moran said it in her speech, that she does not support some aspects of the Bill. I accept the point the Minister makes in terms of, for example, the provision that seeks to give power to set pay rates to the commission on public service appointments. Clearly, that would be outside the remit of a body that was set up to regulate recruitment into the public sector, which should not have that function. However, the spirit of the Bill is very much in keeping with the reform agenda.

I wish to speak more broadly about the reform agenda and refer to some provisions I hope will be in the higher education reform Bill. In the wake of the Hunt report, we have seen a commitment to reform and in the programme for Government we have seen an undertaking to introduce radical reform of third level institutions. We are seeing some positive consolidation. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, spoke about the need to consolidate teacher training centres, from 19 training centres to six. I hope that when that is done, we will also see the denominational basis for teacher training being addressed, because there are serious problems in that regard. Constituents have raised issues with me regarding student quotas from particular religions for teacher training colleges. Most people are aware of this issue and it is highlighted from time to time, but it needs to be addressed. The issue of the consolidation of the institutes of technology has not been without controversy, but in principle everybody supports the idea of moving towards technological university status for institutes. Another issue is the regional clusters of universities and researchers. There is also a European impetus driving us towards the cross-institutional, interdisciplinary research we do in a range of areas.

One area in which Irish third level education excels is in terms of participation rates by wide sections of the community. For example, we do extremely well in regard to the proportion of our population with third level degrees. I am glad the Government is committed to widening participation, particularly participation from disadvantaged groups and that the concentration is not just on increasing the numbers of places available generally. We should also see better representation of under represented groups. Initiatives like the Trinity Access programme and the BITE, Ballymun Initiative for Third-Level Education, programme in DCU are good examples of the positive actions that can be taken to progress this.

Other Members have spoken about the rankings issue in the context of research and it is a concern when we see universities fall in the rankings. However, there have been some positive stories in terms of our research rankings in particular areas and we should not lose sight of that. Senator Quinn spoke about the direct impact of university research on industry and there are plenty of examples of campus companies which have been innovative and led the way and have been hugely successful in areas such as IT and computer gaming. There have been recent examples of Trinity campus companies in these areas which have brought strong benefits to the economy and increased employment.

In this regard, I wish to refer to section 10 of Senator Barrett's Bill, which deals with the issue of intellectual property, IP, and the IP protocol. The Minister said the IP protocol has been established, but she is not sure it is necessary to make specific provision for the establishment for such a protocol in primary legislation, as is done in section 10. We may come back to this debate in the future and I wonder whether it would be of benefit to have a statutory provision confirming the establishment of the protocol. I understand there may be more flexibility with a protocol that is not in primary legislation, but is there more merit in the provision in section 10?

On the thorny issue of funding for the third-level sector, Senator Ó Domhnaill referred to changes in the funding structure for third level. We have seen a significant drop in the reliance of universities on direct funding from the State, which has fallen to 28% in the 2011 figures. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service has prepared an excellent report on this. This is a significant drop, but it remains the case that public funding of higher education here generally is significantly above the OECD average as a proportion of overall spending. There are different ways of looking at this issue. There is certainly indirect funding from the State, in the shape of research grants and contracts, and I welcome the Government's commitment to ensuring significant funding is available for this, through Science Foundation Ireland and other initiatives and at EU level through Horizon 2020. We have seen the proportion of university funding from research grants and contracts rise and this is welcome.

I welcome the establishment of the expert group, under Peter Cassells, which will look at the funding situation and at funding mechanisms for third level. I am on record as being against the reintroduction of student fees and would like, as most of us would, to see the removal of the student registration charge. Coming from a student politics background as I do, I am against both the loans and the fees. I favour the direct funding of third level education, albeit I recognise that more diverse forms of funding, through research grants and contracts and through overseas fees and so on, are also important sources of funding for universities.

4:15 pm

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for her substantive response to Senator Barrett's Bill. I compliment Senator Barrett. Like my colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, I am happy to be here to contribute in a small way to supporting Senator Barrett's initiative. His Bill is well crafted and I commend his parliamentary adviser, Dr. Larkin, who worked with him on putting this Bill together.

In the context of education funding overall, I believe I am correct in saying that while there have been significant reductions in the higher education budgets over the years, one of the areas which needs more funding is primary level. Of the three levels of education, the primary sector is the one that does not seem to get the funding many believe it should. The reason I mention this is there has been significant talk about the need to ensure that those living in the most socially and economically disadvantaged part of the country should have greater access to higher education. The statistics indicate there is still a low quota of students from such areas, particularly in our larger urban environments. Whether for cultural, financial or other reasons, only small numbers of these students access third level education.

There is a strong need to ensure Governments, of whatever hue or colour, try to establish greater parity between those who start off on the education path. Perhaps there should be greater funding in the primary sector to prepare these students for the secondary and third level sector. I do not suggest there is an easy answer to this complex issue, but in the context of this piece of legislation, we should not forget a significant cohort of young people do not access third level education, which makes it increasingly more difficult for them to access work.

We have the highest proportion of young people in the EU attending third level education. I think I am right in saying that it is significantly higher at 44% whereas the EU average is 28%. Therefore, because of our growing and expanding economy and because of the success of foreign direct investment, Ireland is a competitive environment for international companies. They know they can tap into an increasingly sophisticated and well educated cohort of young workers. What happens to the people who fall through the basket, net or cracks of education? I refer to people who have not attained a leaving certificate, a qualification which nearly always guaranteed access to jobs. At one time in order to get a job in the public service it was sufficient to have a leaving certificate qualification. Now, in some instances a basic degree is not sufficient and one needs a masters qualification which puts even greater pressure on people. My daughter has benefitted from third level education in this country. Sadly, she no longer lives in the country because she is working in Perth in Australia. We all hope she will return. I know from her experience of seeking employment that there was a significant difference in pay rates for someone who held an ordinary degree and someone who held a masters degree. My daughter attained the higher qualification which helped her, as it has done for many others in a similar situation. Therefore, there is a need to ensure universities are on top of their game which is what motivated Senator Barrett's to bring forward this legislation.

My party supports the Bill. We have already pointed out that the reduction in third level funding will damage the quality of education at third level and have a detrimental affect on long-term economic prospects. There has been virtually no new State investment in capital infrastructure in Irish universities and colleges over the term of this Government, I am told. According to the Higher Education Authority, 40% of the system's infrastructure if now below standard. That is a significant percentage. I am sure the Minister is more than aware of these inefficiencies in the system which are the result of reduced funding.

As has been stated, universities currently receive 50% of their income directly from the State or State's resources. Unfortunately, the Minister has shot down a number of the initiatives Senator Barrett included in this Bill.

The next item is research. The Minister has outlined various aspects of research in this country and across the economy in general. I am glad she has put on record that Ireland has adopted a national strategy to maximize its participation in Horizon 2020 with an ambitious target of securing €1.25 billion for Irish researchers and companies during the lifetime of Horizon 2020. I am glad to know that Horizon 2020 has the biggest EU research budget with over €80 billion of funding available over seven years. Ireland has a good record for accessing EU funding, particularly for research in that regard. I am pleased to note that the Minister said there was merit in the Senator's proposals in the Bill. I am also pleased that she has said she would be happy to consider their inclusion in the general scheme of the higher education reform Bill, to be published later this year.

In terms of tenure, the Minister made the argument that she cannot allow universities to have the remuneration autonomy referred to by Senator Barrett. Also that his recommendation is not in line with Government policy and, therefore, cannot be supported. However, I believe the motives behind his initiative are commendable. They seek to ensure there is a sequence within the university structures that ensures researchers and lecturers, at a particular level, will stay in the system and stay in Ireland. Also, there would be sufficient and relevant remuneration, comparable with other countries, that would result in such people not having to emigrate from this country. It would mean that the universities, having nurtured and mentored such people, would not lose them. As a result, the attractiveness of Irish universities would be enhanced, in terms of their internal framework, which can only be of benefit to the country.

We may not like them but we all look at the league tables. Irish universities, relatively speaking for the size of the country, tend to be under or just over the top 100 in the league. I have often wondered what would get us to the top with Harvard, the MIT and the other international universities. Is there something amiss in Irish universities? That is a rhetorical question.

I agree with having intellectual property and corporations within universities. The Minister is not too happy about it from what I can gather from her response. However, I can see the reasons Senator Barrett included such a provision. He maintains that the new legal form of the designated activity companies, DACs, would stimulate spin-off firms from university research. Also, it would allow these firms to maintain complicated intellectual property rights but also remain at the early capital development stage and attached to the university campus.

Overall, Senator Barrett has done some service by contributing to the ongoing debate on funding for universities, the research environment and, as I said at the outset, improving greater access for people who are socially and economically disadvantaged. We can talk indefinitely about much of what is in this Bill in terms of existing universities. There is a need for governments to prioritise the young people of this country by ensuring they benefit from the fruits of economic growth and development going forward. That is a challenge for this Government.

We still have a significant number of young people out of work and do not have the relevant education attained to get back into the workforce. The Government is attempting, with a variety of initiatives, to get such people back into full-time training and education. If they leave the school system and are inadequately prepared they will find it increasingly difficult to find jobs, irrespective of how successful the economy expands. I commend Senator Barrett on his initiative in this regard.

4:25 pm

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I commend Senator Barrett for presenting us with a fine talking point and his Bill is very welcome. We have not had enough discussion on third level education in this House, nor across the wider Oireachtas. We have waited for years for a number of reports and measures, such as the Hunt report and the Technological Universities Bill. Even now they have not reached the final stages of completion.

Today's debate gives me an opportunity to speak about reform of the universities sector in terms of needs, particularly students' needs and economic needs. I have taken my baseline from a successful conference held by NUIG in Galway on 25 January, called Reforming Learning: Driving Success. I helped to organise the conference. A phenomenal range of speakers from across the sector in Ireland and from abroad participated, the most famous being Pasi Sahlberg whom I believe the Minister has met. He is a Finnish educator who is currently teaching in Harvard.

The focus of the conference, which dovetails into this Bill, was to look at the transition of students from second to third level, the quality of the education system at both levels and how that met students' needs. As Senator Barrett will accept, students do not just arrive at third level without them coming from somewhere. My potted assessment of the education system is as follows. We are doing a very good job at primary level because it is quite a creative system. An excellent job is being done at third level and the choice of courses is amazing. However, many children are still being lost at second level. I am sure the Minister will agree with a lot of my assessment and on the need to reform learning at second level. I have tabled a Commencement motion on the assessment model, which was scheduled to be taken by the Minister tomorrow morning. I have postponed it until next Tuesday which is when she will be available so I shall leave discussion of it until then.

I wish to speak about reforming the university sector. The needs that emerged from my conference included languages, apprenticeships, the transition process, the quality of teaching and learning, drop-out levels and the quality of staffing. Senator Barrett mentioned the latter in his Bill and his speech. How many minutes do I have remaining?

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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We are a doing a terrible job of teaching languages. Ms Barbara Nolan from the European Commission spoke about language skills at the conference and I was struck hard by the following figure. I learned that only 30% of the staff in Google are Irish graduates because we do not have the languages and more than one language is needed. Therefore, languages is a vital area for investment.

Of course, they are not going to be studying languages at third level, unless the investment is made at upper primary and second level.

There are apprenticeship models available, for example, in Germany where students can advance to level 10, the equivalent of a PhD. There are many students for whom the academic track is not suitable, but they are nonetheless very fine young people who are innovative and have the capacity to work hard and set up their own businesses. As they need more options, I urge the Minister to examine the German apprenticeship model. I believe she has already made a commitment in that regard. Therefore, I ask her to build the level 5 to level 10 structure into our apprenticeship system in order that people can obtain good qualifications. There should be at least one institution in Ireland, if not more, offering apprenticeships up to PhD level. What is wrong with our businesses that need young people working with them that they do not have this apprenticeship model running alongside third level qualifications? In that way, students could interface with local academic institutions and attain qualifications through an apprenticeship framework.

The transition from second to third level is particularly problematic. There are very high drop-out levels in the first semester and first year. I have worked out in a very rough way that between 2011 and 2012 approximately €15 million was lost by the State as a result of students dropping out. That was a travesty because if that money had been invested earlier in school-based career guidance services, the drop-out rates would have been lower. I refer specifically to school-based rather than private career guidance services. My experience with young boys at second level is that they want to be the same as their peers; they do not like to be made to feel they are different. They like career guidance to be available within the school system, but the current provision is totally inadequate. There are 499 students per career guidance counsellor. On top of this, students require counselling for social and personal needs, which makes the job of career guidance counsellors virtually impossible. Serious investment is needed. Mr. Joe Treacy, an addiction counsellor, lifted the roof off the conference hall in NUIG when he spoke about students who had been brought to his office having been taken out of the river in Galway. These students have said to him that it is not the academic work that is hard but learning to cope in the university environment. They are struggling to manage the interpersonal and social pressures in their lives. We must invest properly in the career guidance and pastoral care roles to address these problems. We must prepare students for the transition to third level, including fostering independent learning capabilities. It was pointed out at the aforementioned conference that students had to unlearn how they had been taught at second level, which was based on cramming and how to get through the system. Students are not independent learners, but we need them to be at every level. They must be independent, academically, personally and socially in order that they will not be at risk of suicide because of a failure to meet expectations or at risk of being bullied.

I commend the Minister for investing in teaching heroes at third level. This is worthwhile, but the idea must also be introduced at primary and second level. Senator Ivana Bacik made reference to the recent gender equality case in Galway. I know a number of the people who were involved in that case, including Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, and believe we should have a stand-alone debate on that issue.

I refer to innovation vouchers. We are using the third level sector as a hotbed to feed back into society. In that context, innovation vouchers are wonderful in allowing entrepreneurs and business people to work with third level institutions. However, they are not available to sole traders; they are only available to those who run companies, which is a mistake. I am not directing this criticism at the Minister solely; it is also a matter for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. We should not limit people in this way.

I agree with Senator Sean D. Barrett that the third level sector should be given more autonomy to solve its own problems and come up with creative financing models because funding is a real issue.

4:35 pm

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for her comments and thoughts on the Bill. I assure her with regard to the pay and pensions provisions, that I was hoping to save money. The aim was to ensure pay and pension disputes would be resolved without recourse to the High Court. I agree with Senator David Norris's suggestion that we invoke the statutory instruments that place the burden on the trustees of pension funds of not behaving like the ones to whom I referred. Moral hazard means that they will keep on doing it, unless we rebuke them.

When John F. Kennedy addressed the Dáil, he quoted Lord Edward FitzGerald to the effect that Leinster House did not inspire the brightest ideas, but I believe it does. I learn something new every time I come into this Chamber. I also learned during all of the time I was in TCD and before that in school. That is the spirit in which the legislation is being brought before the House. We need to protect the good aspects of universities.

On the issue of funding, there is a €3,000 fee, at TCD, for example, which Senator Ivana Bacik prefers to call a student charge. The figure is over $40,000 in overseas universities with the same ranking. Only being able to take €3,000 from a student and receiving €8,000 from the Department and being able to compete in the open market against universities with resources which are four times greater is a remarkable achievement. How is this done? It is done in the lecture hall, on which there is too little emphasis. I am tired of hearing people talk about restructuring universities. The key is the lecture hall in which academics have 50 minutes to make an impression on up to 400 attendees. Are academic articles being published internationally? What does the external examiner think when he or she rates Irish degrees as compared to others? These are the real tests, not the micro-management issues to which Senator Feargal Quinn referred.

The provision for a commission on public service appointments was an attempt to avoid going to court, which is hugely expensive, and not to involve the Minister in unnecessary expenditure. Innovation designated activity can happen in amazing circumstances. One of my undergraduate students who was taking a course on aviation economics was Mr. Michael O'Leary who believed what we had told him and is now operating the biggest airline in Europe. The traditional model of aviation, with one national airline per country and all airlines agreeing fares and colluding with each other, was swept aside by one person. Innovation is not always just scientific.

Irish society was going astray in 2008. I hope that when governments are thinking about appointing people to the boards, against the will of the universities, that they will not consider appointing accountants, bankers or auditors. That people from outside can run universities far better than those inside is not borne out by the facts. The Minister has said universities need smaller, more modern and competency-based governing bodies. I have been on the boards of universities for three or four terms and they are competency-based. Their members are elected by 64 leading academic departments. There is a view, particularly in administration, that those who run the universities are not up to the job and could do better. That view will be resisted hugely. The more autonomous a university is, the better.

I thank Senator John Crown for his remarks. Decasualisation of staff and better career structures are needed at university level. Several Senators also referred to the need for better rights for women academics. I agree. These ideas are so stimulating and interesting that they merit further discussion on another date. I thank the Minister for her attendance and I am sure the discussion has only started.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 January 2015.