Tuesday, 30 January 2018
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Second Stage
I am honoured to be in this House to introduce the Technological Universities Bill 2015. I am very pleased to be able to introduce a much strengthened Bill to the House on foot of a comprehensive consultation process with key stakeholders and a very co-operative and informed debate in the Dáil. I hope all Senators will agree that this is a very important Bill for the future of higher education in Ireland. It represents a sea change in the higher education landscape.
The main purpose of the Bill is to give effect to a key element of the national strategy for higher education to 2030 in consolidating the institute of technology sector and establishing technological universities of increased scale and capacity. This bold move will enhance even further the performance of a sector that has always striven to deliver a first class service to students, enterprise and a range of local and regional stakeholders. Moreover, the establishment of institutions of increased scale and capacity will enable them to compete more successfully regionally and nationally. It will also allow them to progress an internationalisation agenda more competitively, bringing significant unique branding and marketing opportunities. In these contexts, the cachet of having "technological university" status cannot be overstated.
The mission and remit of these new institutions will be multi-focused. They will have a major role to play in regional development, engaging with local enterprises, especially SMEs. They will support innovation and research, nurture new business ideas and work closely with business and enterprise stakeholders to drive forward the skills agenda regionally and nationally, and productively utilise our precious human capital resource.
The Government’s objective is to deliver a modern, highly-flexible and responsive technological university model that seamlessly provides for traditional transitions and pathways from formal education but also caters for persons who return to education or seek to upskill through a more circuitous route. In this context, technological universities must balance their regional development responsibility with the provision of a wide range of disciplines and continue to develop their vital role in the facilitation of lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling in support of the individual learner. In this regard, they must also continue to forge and strengthen their links to the community, local interests and the widest possible range of stakeholders in the region in which their multi-campuses will operate. This aspect was the focus of much debate in the Dáil and I accepted some very helpful amendments in this context from my colleagues across the Chamber.
In terms of achieving the necessary capacity and scale for a technological university, the Bill provides for two or more institutes of technology jointly making an application for technological university designation. However, I should highlight that the technological university approach is based on mutual consent and shared ambition and is not being enforced in an arbitrary or mandatory fashion on institutes of technology. Some institutes, for reasons of their own, will not seek technological university status. The Bill also provides for a single institute of technology to be subsequently incorporated into a technological university.
In conjunction with the potential merging, upon establishment, of two or more institutes of technology, the Bill seeks to streamline the governing body structure of a technological university in order to make it more flexible and responsive and to predicate membership on an agreed competency basis relevant to the university’s functions.The membership of the governing body should be equipped with the skill set necessary to guide the technological university to fulfil its maximum potential through the achievement of a broad range of functions and by addressing the needs of a wide range of stakeholders. The increasingly strategic approach required of an institution of much increased capacity and scale in this context is in line with international best practice as recommended by both the OECD and the national strategy for higher education to 2030.
In addition to the process for the establishment of technological universities and their functions and governance, the Bill also provides for several important reforms to streamline the governance and operation of existing institutes of technology. These institutes remain a crucial and valued part of the higher education infrastructure and allow for a range of delivery options in the provision of a high-class student experience, teaching excellence and research progression. The Bill marks a new departure in the development of the institute of technology sector which I am confident will bring major benefits to students, staff, individuals and local communities in the regions and to Irish society.
In terms of the Bill’s progression through the Dáil, I wish to acknowledge a very constructive discussion on Committee Stage last November. Several amendments that strengthened certain provisions relating to meeting the needs of the community, local interests and stakeholders within the technological university process were agreed at that point. In response to stakeholder concerns that under the previous approach in the Bill institutes of technology could have merged but subsequently failed to gain technological university status, it has been amended to provide for the merging of two or more applicant institutes only upon their establishment as a technological university. This fundamental change significantly streamlines the application process. There will now be a single assessment by an expert advisory panel which will make a recommendation on an application to the Higher Education Authority, HEA, based on key eligibility criteria. The HEA will report to the Minister, who will make the final decision. In so doing, the Minister will take into consideration the needs of students, business enterprise, the professions and a range of community and related stakeholders. He or she will have regard to projected regional demand for higher education based on demographic trends, the sufficiency of the financial resources and financial viability of the applicant institutes and to compliance with Government policies on higher education. To ensure the most rigorous examination of applications, I accepted Opposition amendments on Committee Stage in the Dáil to the effect that the advisory panel should contain not one but two persons with international-level expertise in standards and practice in higher education. This rightly strengthens this key aspect of the Bill.
In line with the principles of gender equality, I also accepted an amendment which ensures that in making regulations relating to the membership of the academic council of a technological university, a governing body shall have regard to the objective that at least 40% of the members shall be women and 40% shall be men. This objective also applies to the composition of the governing body itself. In the broader context, technological universities must also prepare an equality statement and implement the policies set out therein.
Arising from the informed debate on Committee Stage in the Dáil, I brought forward a number of amendments to further strengthen certain references to the regional mission of the technological university in regard to the functions of the technological university, its strategic development plan and in terms of the eligibility criteria to be met upon applying for technological university designation. In this context, I sought to ensure that the most inclusive wording is provided in regard to meeting the needs of, and forging strong social, creative and cultural links with, the community, local interests and other stakeholders regionally.
I wish to also highlight key amendments agreed on Report Stage that provide the Minister for Education and Skills with the power to appoint an investigator to report on any matter regarding the performance of its functions by a technological university. This power is also being provided in relation to institutes of technology, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and its constituent schools and the National College of Art and Design. For consistency across the higher education sector, it is also intended to extend this power in respect of universities. However, a number of important technical issues must be considered in respect of university governance, autonomy and control and their impact on the classification of universities in terms of wider national fiscal policy. These technical issues are being considered by the Department of Education and Skills in conjunction with the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. The enactment of the Technological Universities Bill is a priority for the development of the higher education sector and I do not want to unnecessarily delay its passage. I am, therefore, proceeding with this new power in respect of technological universities, institutes of technology and the other publicly funded higher education institutions I have cited.
On Report Stage in the Dáil, in addition to the strengthening of provisions relating to the regional mission of a technological university, its interactions with local and community stakeholders and the support therefrom, following agreement with several Opposition Deputies, I also accepted a small number of technical amendments tabled by the Green Party. Following the debates in the Dáil and its passing of the Bill, I am confident that we now have a more nuanced and robust wording in several key sections that will further strengthen, in particular, the regional-mission and gender-equality requirements and the governance of technological universities.
Having detailed the passage of the Bill thus far, I now turn to its contents. It comprises 101 sections divided into seven parts, which are followed by two Schedules. Part 1 provides for standard provisions relating to the Short Title, interpretation, orders, expenses, offences and consequential amendments. Chapters 2 to 7 of Part 2 provide for the functions, governance, staffing, academic council, statements and finances of technological universities. In particular, section 9 sets out the general functions of a technological university, including providing programmes of education and training, engaging in research, collaborating with other higher education institutions inside and outside the State and with regional stakeholders and serving the community and public interest.Sections 11 and 12 provide for the membership, terms of office, method of appointment and gender balance of the governing body of a technological university. Section 12 details the revised composition of the governing body depending on whether it comprises either two or three institutes of technology or four or more institutes of technology. In the former case, a governing body shall have between 14 and 22 members, including the president of the technological university, a chairperson, staff and student representatives and nominees of the Minister for Education and Skills and of the relevant education and training boards, as well as between three and eight other external members. In the case of a technological university comprising not fewer than four institutes of technology, the governing body membership shall increase to between 15 and 26 members with up to nine other external members. These external members will be appointed in accordance with a competency framework agreed with the Higher Education Authority.
Sections 13 and 14 provide for the appointment of the president and other staff of a technological university. Section 15 relates to the superannuation provisions for newly-appointed staff.
Sections 16 and 17 provide that each technological university shall have an academic council and details its functions. The functions and membership of the academic council reflect the enterprise and research focus of technological universities. This includes the involvement of business, enterprise and the professions but also the involvement of wider community and local interests and other stakeholders in the design and development of programmes of education and training. Importantly, the academic council will also include student representatives.
Sections 18 to 25 relate to a range of governance issues, including the preparation of a strategic development plan, equality statements, budgets, accounts and annual reports as well as matters relating to borrowing, the setting of fees and the establishment of companies. It should be noted that section 18 sets out the requirements of the strategic development plan of a technological university, including plans to provide adequate programmes of education and training for a wide variety of stakeholders and the development and promotion of strong social and cultural links, including links supporting creativity with the community.
Chapters 8 and 9 of Part 2 provide a mechanism as to how applicant institutes can apply for and, where successful, be established as a technological university. Section 26 provides a new power to the Minister for Education and Skills to appoint an investigator to carry out an investigation into any matter concerning the performance by a technological university of its functions. Section 27 provides that the Minister may request information from a governing body but may not do so during the period of an investigation under section 26.
Section 28 sets out the specific eligibility criteria with which applicant institutes must jointly comply before they can become a technological university by order of the Minister under section 36. These criteria set out a robust performance threshold for institutions wishing to become technological universities and include criteria relating to the composition of the student body, the composition of the academic staff, the doctoral level education and research activities and the ability to perform the functions of a technological university, with particular reference to its governance structures, links to regional stakeholders, quality assurance and enhancement, mobility of staff and students, and collaboration with other higher education institutions.
Section 30 sets out the information to be included in an application and section 31 provides for the appointment process for an independent, expert advisory panel to examine the application. Sections 32 to 35, inclusive, detail the interlocking process of assessment and decision making whereby the advisory panel furnishes a report to the Higher Education Authority which in turn furnishes the report, its views on it and any other relevant information to the Minister on the application. Section 34 provides for the making of a proposed decision by the Minister while section 35 provides that the Minister may impose conditions on applicant institutes where they do not jointly comply with all of the criteria set out in section 25.
Chapter 10 of Part 2 provides a broadly similar though streamlined mechanism for the subsequent application by and, where successful, incorporation of an institute of technology into an existing technological university.
Part 3 provides for appeals against certain decisions of the Minister by an independent appeals board.
Part 4 sets out a range of transitional provisions consequent upon the making of orders under Part 2 which will ensure that functions, assets, liabilities, staff, etc., of dissolved bodies are appropriately transferred. Of particular note is section 53 which provides for the transfer of staff to the technological university. This section preserves the terms and conditions of transferring staff, including those relating to remuneration, while section 54 provides that such staff remain members of their relevant superannuation schemes.
Chapter 3 sets out arrangements consequent upon an order under Part 2. Section 55 provides for the appointment by the Minister of the first governing body of a technological university. The Minister will appoint a chairperson, two external members nominated by the Minister and a nominee of the relevant education and training boards as members of the first governing body of the institutes concerned. The president of the technological university shall also be a member. Within six months, the first governing body is required to agree a competency framework with the Higher Education Authority for the appointment of external members, to establish procedures for the election of staff representatives and the appointment of external members and to conduct elections and make appointments to the governing body.
Section 56 provides for the appointment of the first president of a technological university. This person may be designated by the Minister together with his or her term of office which shall not exceed a period of ten years. Section 57 provides for the arrangements for existing directors or presidents of a dissolved body who shall become fixed-term employees of the technological university for the duration of their contracts. Section 58 provides for the compliance of a governing body of a technological university that has increased in size from three institutes of technology to four institutes of technology with the requirements for such enlarged governing bodies under section 12.Sections 59 to 64 provide for the continuation of arrangements relating to awarding, the international education mark, quality assurance and enhancement and access, transfer and progression following an order under Part 2.
Part 5 provides for a number of amendments to the governance arrangements of Dublin Institute of Technology and the institutes of technology under the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992 and the Regional Technical Colleges Act 1992, respectively. Of particular note are sections 68 and 82 which replace section 6 of each of those Acts with new sections that set out revised arrangements for the membership, terms of office, method of appointment and gender balance of the governing bodies of Dublin Institute of Technology and of an institute of technology along the same lines as the arrangements which will apply to technological universities under section 12. Section 83 sets out procedures for the appointment of the first new governing body under the revised arrangements.
Sections 75 and 90 provide for new investigator and information powers of the Minister for Education and Skills relating to Dublin Institute of Technology and an institute of technology, respectively. In addition, Part 5 amends those Acts to revise the arrangements relating to the appointment and membership of the academic councils of those Institutions, to revise and clarify the procedures for the recruitment and selection of staff, to repeal provisions which provide that certain members of staff may not be removed from office without the consent of the Minister, to revise and clarify arrangements relating to the determination of budgets and the borrowing of money, and to insert revised Second Schedules relating to the operation of the governing bodies of the relevant institutions into each Act.
Part 6 provides for the consequential amendment of a number of Acts to take account of the establishment of technological universities.
Part 7 provides for the amendment of the Acts of 1940 and 1971 to insert new investigator and information powers of the Minister for Education and Skills relating to, respectively, the Institute for Advanced Studies and its constituent schools and the National College of Art and Design.
Schedules 1 and 2 provide for matters relating to the governing bodies and presidents of technological universities, respectively.
The Technological Universities Bill is critical legislation for the higher education sector and another important step in the advancement of the national strategy for higher education. The establishment of multi-campus technological universities will bring significant additional benefits to the regions in which the campuses are located and will drive the regional development, research, innovation and skills agendas. Technological universities will also deliver a wide range of disciplines and enhanced learning experiences to students and provide enhanced opportunities for staff.
These institutions will be embedded in their local and regional communities and will forge even stronger links within those communities. This is important and long-awaited legislation. There are currently two consortia of institutes of technology in Dublin and Munster, respectively, which are waiting on the Bill’s enactment to make applications for technological university status in 2018. It is crucial that we carefully consider and discuss the Bill but it is equally important that we do not unduly delay it given its long gestation.
I thank Senators for their invitation to the House and their kind attention. I commend the Bill to the House.
On a point of order, given that the Minister of State, due to no fault on her part, was absent for a period of 15 minutes to vote and there is very little time left, might I suggest that, with the Minister's agreement, that we extend the time available by approximately 15 minutes?
Is that agreed? Agreed. I still will not get everyone in within the time available but I will do my best. If everyone says what they have to say without going on too long, there is a chance I will get in those present. Senators know the position I am in and we all like to talk. I call Senator Murnane O'Connor.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am delighted to welcome the Technological Universities Bill. It is a wonderful time in education with the potential of a technological university for the south east, called TUSE, consisting of Waterford Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology, Carlow. I welcome the Bill as it will allow the process to progress. Carlow needs this to set out our stall for attracting foreign investment, foreign students, local investment and local students. I often speak about Carlow being left behind for funding. This Bill and what technological university status will bring to Carlow will be the key to previously unavailable funding that it is hoped will be released.
No existing institutes of technology will have to merge as a precondition of seeking technological university status, which might not have been granted. This was a key precondition of Fianna Fáil's to support the Bill. It is important that this was included because we did not want anyone left behind. That is crucial in the Bill and, as the Minister of State is aware, Fianna Fáil fought hard for it.
The Bill is important for my locality and its students. It will ensure the provision of science, gender equality and multidisciplinary students across all regions that technological universities will serve. It is important for Carlow to be able to ensure that the current level of course provision is protected. The Bill provides for this. It will allow the Institute of Technology, Carlow and others like it to preserve what is already great about it and to grow in order to cater for future student populations, attract wider community investment and improve towns and villages in the vicinity.
In its ethos, the Institute of Technology, Carlow has a strong sense of community and excellence in higher education and research. The institute of technology in Carlow was founded in 1970 and since then has been and is a significant local employer. It is a vital part of many Carlow families.
Absolutely. We are very proud of it. There is so much employment there and so many students have done very well out of it. More than 100 master's, honours and ordinary degrees and higher certificate courses are available at the Institute of Technology, Carlow. As well as traditional degree courses, it also offers niche courses. Many of them are the first of their kind in Ireland. For example, its Centre for Aerospace Engineering has an avionics workshop and a fleet of aircraft inside its own hangar. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of it. The Bachelor of Engineering in aircraft systems is the only one of its kind in Ireland and we are so proud of it. The Institute of Technology, Carlow was also the first third level institute in Ireland to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in computer games development. This course was developed with the assistance and endorsement of Microsoft. Education gives students great opportunity. The institute's degree programme in brewing and distilling development, which is associated with Walsh Whiskey Distillery, is the only honours degree of its kind in Ireland. It is one of only four degrees globally that are recognised by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.
IT Carlow is already leading the way and with the Bill it will be allowed to stretch further. We need to look to the future. It also brings Ireland forward in allowing a wide range of third level options for students.
I was trying to keep it short.I really welcome this legislation. It is so important. I think this is one of the best Bills that will ever pass through the House. I am absolutely delighted with this Bill, and all I can ask the Minister of State is for this to go through as quickly as possible, because it is crucial.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber and thank her for her very comprehensive overview of the contents of the Bill. As my colleague has said, we in Fianna Fáil are very happy to support this Bill. We are happy with the part that we played in ensuring that amendments that we insisted were heard were taken on board, and I compliment the Government on listening to us.
The Minister of State has outlined the benefits of this Bill in great detail. One thing that stood out for me in her report concerned the need for these technical universities to reach out to the communities and regions in which they find themselves. That is of key importance. I welcome the fact that apprenticeships are going to form a strong part of that. It is vital that apprenticeships are looked at in more detail, and that we change our attitude and our views on them. It is also vitally important, as the Minister of State mentioned, that they reach out to small and medium enterprises, SMEs, in the regions. The technological universities are there not only to serve the business community, but also the people. There must also be a focus on lifelong learning, something of which we are all very much in favour.
For counties like Cavan and Monaghan, which unfortunately do not have institutes of technology and will not have technological universities, it is important that the role of the further education institutes such as the Monaghan Institute and the Cavan Institute is not forgotten. They have a key role to play in their respective communities. That is something on which I ask the Minister to focus. I call on her to keep them in mind and to consider how their roles can be increased and enhanced to better serve the communities and the regions in which they find themselves. The Monaghan Institute has led the way in that it has reached out to two global world leaders; Combilift, which is based in Monaghan, and Monaghan Mushrooms, another world-renowned company. The Monaghan Institute has reached out to those firms to see what skills they need in order to keep their businesses moving forward. As a result of that collaboration between all concerned, the Monaghan Institute teaches courses with those two companies specifically in mind.
That is the message that must be sent. We need to reach out to such companies and consider ways in which institutes like those in Cavan and Monaghan can be better expanded for the betterment of the community. Perhaps the Minister of State can comment on this.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Táimid ag fanacht leis le tamall fada. I welcome the Minister of State. I too very much welcome this Bill. It has been a long time in the making. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome some of the key stakeholders who are listening to this debate in the Visitors Gallery: Dr. Mary Meaney, the project leader and members of the Technological University for Dublin Alliance, TU4Dublin; and Dr. Joe Ryan, the CEO of the Technological Higher Education Association.
This is like Brexit in reverse. Along with others in TU4Dublin, there have been people working behind the scenes, making sure there is free movement of goods, services and persons and avoiding hard borders in the future. They and the students and staff they serve have been waiting a long time for the resolution of problems and knotty issues that had to be sorted out. It is time to move on, and it is a pity that there has been a delay, as I will say in a moment.
I note everything that the Minister of State has said about the importance of this Bill. It is about consolidation. It is about increasing the scale and capacity of our institutes of technology by allowing them to merge and to enjoy university status, with all of the attendant opportunities in regard to research, attracting staff and the prestige of the qualification that they offer their graduates. Speaking as someone from rural Ireland, I note the even greater importance of the regionalisation of the university product. I should declare an agenda in that I am on career break from what will be the technological university for Dublin, so if the electors of the National University of Ireland prove ungrateful, I could be back enjoying the new status sooner than I had planned.
This is overdue good news. I want to acknowledge the changes and adjustments that have been made. The Green Party's recommendations and proposals for amendments have been properly acknowledged. In particular, I acknowledge the ironing out of concerns that institutes could merge and subsequently fail to gain technological university status. There was a fear of being left at the church, so to speak, waiting not for the other party but for the minister. That is one of many issues that needed to be sorted out, and I am very glad that they have been.
This Bill is an unambiguous opportunity to improve the potential of Irish citizens to enjoy an ever-more prestigious qualification. It has been a long time in the works, as I have said. It needs to become law as quickly as possible. There has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes.
Regarding the delay, I am concerned that there are already students who have not had the opportunity to have their qualification designated as a university qualification. I acknowledge that there are concerns about people who are not affected by technological university status. I refer to students of other institutes that do not merge and go for technological university status, for example, or indeed people who go for other perfectly valid post-leaving certificate options. It is important to send out the signal that there are different paths to success, and they do not all involve a university degree. Perhaps the Minister of State could address the question of ways in which, in pursuing the important goal of allowing graduates university status, we can also ensure that the reputations of other equally valid options, either post-leaving certificate or for people moving on and upskilling, do not suffer as a result of this very positive change.
I welcome the Minister of State and acknowledge the enormous work she has done in fast-tracking this legislation and pushing it along. It is clear from what she has told us this evening that she has accommodated concerns. She outlined in some detail the three key issues in discussions that took place. I wish to acknowledge that from my understanding, as part of these preconditions and the consultation process leading up to this legislation, we are safeguarding the terms and conditions of service of staff members in what are currently institutes of technology. We have strengthened the regional missions of technological universities. We have streamlined the application process, with the mergers and designations happening at the final stage to address concerns raised by both staff and management that some consortium might get stuck in the process, merging but subsequently failing to gain technological university status.
The final issue to which I wish to turn is the composition of the governing bodies. As someone who works very closely with the sitting local government bodies across the country, particularly with the city and county councils, I have received representations concerning the way they would be represented. I have a schedule, and I am somewhat surprised to see that more than 175 city and county councillors have made a representation to Educational and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, and various nomination processes. ETBI suggests that the proposed legislation should be amended, or certainly re-examined, with a view to including at least six representatives of local education and training boards on the governing bodies of the technological universities, with the proviso that there would be a representative mix of local authority members from all relevant counties.
I think that is a very fair and reasonable request. At some level, be it on the actual governing body or on a consultative body at another layer, there is a role for city and county councillors, and I ask the Minister of State to take that on board.
I agree completely with Senator Boyhan about the ETBs.We face a critical situation here. Between 2008 and 2015, funding was cut by a massive 35%, lecturer numbers fell by 9.5% while student numbers rose by a staggering 32%. That is a matter of concern. I am also concerned about the downgrading of respect for the Irish language and ask that it be looked at.
However, great improvements have been made to the Bill during its progress through the Houses. There is protection for terms and conditions, enhanced representation of academic staff on technological university governing bodies and provision for nationally agreed collective agreements. The amendment of the merger process from a two-step to one-step process means avoiding the potential scenario where a merged entity did not receive technological university status. However, the merger of geographically distinct institutions seems extraordinary. While there is a geographical imperative around a technological university for Dublin and that is perfectly reasonable, a Munster technological university involving Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Tralee, would mean merging two considerably separated institutions. The same is true in the south east and with the Connacht-Ulster alliance. A Munster technological university is likely to have its headquarters in Tralee despite the fact that there are only 4,000 students there as compared to 14,000 in Cork. Tralee has been running a deficit of over €1 million for years. There is a possibility it could be used to shed that.
The EUROSTAT review of the status of traditional universities means it is highly unlikely that technological universities will be able to borrow directly from the European Investment Bank without the debt appearing on Government borrowings. This is a plank the Government set out when it introduced and first promoted the Bill. There is then the question of the distinctive ethos of the institutes of technology. They have a distinct role and ethos and concentrate on students. There is greater contact with weaker students, there are more lectures and there is a greater focus on practicals and laboratory work. There are so many different things which are characteristic of technological universities.
There is then the question of the appointment of presidents. This should be by way of open competition from the very start. The first presidential appointment should be done by way of an open method and not just by way of internal competition. I note that no staff or students will be represented for the first six months. I do not see why this should have to happen. Why not appoint existing staff and students for this period? I am very grateful to have been allowed in as I have to go to a funeral in Cork tomorrow and would otherwise not be able to take part.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and welcome the Bill before us. It has been progressing since 2014 and there has certainly been a great deal of work and consultation put into it. The national strategy for higher education 2030 is seeking significant reform to position the sector to meet national strategic objectives. It is important that governance reform is very much part of the Bill. There is a regional mission to support development and innovation to compete nationally and internationally.
I sat on the governing body of Limerick Institute of Technology which is not referred to in the Bill and which is in a slightly different situation as it amalgamated with Tipperary Institute in the past. There are three institutions of higher education in Limerick and the Minister has visited all of them, namely, Mary Immaculate College, the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT. These institutions formed the Shannon consortium in 2010 when I was Mayor of Limerick. It was a very welcome initiative in which Tralee IT was also involved. There has been a great deal of collaboration among these institutions to educate people and to run complementary courses.
Reading the Bill and looking at the different sectors, something similar is envisaged in terms of creating courses which complement each other. Some people might complete a certificate or diploma at one location and go on to do a degree in another part. It will be very positive for the region involved. We have certainly found in Limerick that what we have been doing has been very positive for the region. Collaboration with SMEs is mentioned in the Bill, which is most important, in particular regarding apprenticeships on which the Department is placing a great deal of emphasis currently. I note in that regard that Troy film studio has now located in Limerick and that LIT is running an apprenticeship programme to train people for employment in set design, hair and make up and so on. As such, it is important to look at the needs of the region.
The position of president has been mentioned. While I welcome the fact that the person will be appointed for no longer than ten years in total, there is no mention of whether a reappointment must come to the governing body after interview and so on. Will that provide scope for the governing body to have a say as to whether the person will be reappointed exist? Technological universities will deliver a range of disciplines, which is welcome. It relates to my point about collaboration with industry in the local region. Areas are like clusters. We were talking about the national planning framework in the House last week and the need to create a counterbalance to the east coast in the west. It is important in that context that these education clusters complement each other. I am sure there will be a great deal of collaboration between the technological university groups which will learn from their own experience.
I am glad to see the Bill address issues which arose during the consultation process. These included the safeguarding of the terms and conditions of staff. This is most important. There is a great deal of emphasis on that in the Bill. The regional mission of the technological universities has been strengthened and the application process and the composition of the governing bodies have been addressed. I am delighted to compliment the Government for taking on board issues that were raised. It is very important to ensure the door is kept open for other areas. I also compliment the Government for providing for gender balance in the 40-40 provision with balance of representation being allowed to go either way. It is very important. We used to have quite a mix in the gender balance at LIT, but some other governing bodies were not balanced. I say "Well done" and look forward to hearing from other Members.
I welcome the Bill and agree with all of the positives everyone set out. I will skip on to the importance of the student voice within the technological universities. Through my experience sitting on the board of governance and the finance board of Trinity College Dublin, and through our student representatives on the academic council, I know how important that representative role is, as does the Minister of State. We must ensure that the experience in the new universities is the same as it is in the existing ones. We need a strong statutory footing for student representation, especially because in the flux of setting up these new institutions, the boards will need a constant and insistent student voice in all decision-making. After all, the students are the main stakeholders in this merger. I am not confident that the Bill, as drafted, allows for this. While the issue was discussed in detail in the Dáil, I am disappointed the Government was not able to accept any of the amendments proposed by Deputies Martin and Funchion. I am pleased to note that we have met recently and can move forward to discuss those amendments in the Seanad.We will see where it takes us then. There are three parts of the Bill where this is of particular concern. In section 2, the definition of students' union is of concern. The definition seems to allow for a technological university to recognise another student representative body apart from the designated students' union as a college's students' union. It is not hard to imagine that in a worst case scenario, during a disagreement between the university and its students' union over a particular issue, the university could simply decide to recognise another representative body as the recognised students' union in order to circumvent the disagreement and in the process cut the democratic and accountable voice of enrolled students out of the decision-making completely. I am not saying it will happen only that it is feasible that it could. It needs to be considered as we approach Committee Stage.
I appreciate it and I appreciate Senator Ruane sharing her time. There are two issues on which we will be tabling amendments. One is ICTU's request to be represented on the governing authority to counterbalance the influence of industry. That is a reasonable request. The second is the issue Senator Ruane has already raised about student union representation, not just student representation, but student union representation. It is extremely important to us. We will be tabling amendments on those two issues and hopefully the Minister of State will be in a position to accept them.