Seanad debates

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Technological Universities Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

 

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:30 am

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, who has responsibility for higher education, to the House.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Acting Chairman.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Gavan is the next speaker. He swapped last night with the Civil Engagement group. He has eight minutes.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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The Minister of State is very welcome. I thank her for coming to the House. Sinn Féin has supported and will continue to support the Bill. Merging institutes of technology has the potential to enhance regional development and build stronger and more dynamic academic institutions. I pay tribute to the staff and students of the institutes of technology who have borne the brunt in recent years of chronic underfunding, lack of resources and staff shortages. They have strived to achieve their institutes' academic objectives, retained a working level of quality and created valued graduates. This has been in the face of a Government policy of indifference in the third-level sector. Students and staff alike have seen funding and access levels brought beyond critical point and strived on regardless. I stress, as did my Sinn Féin colleague, Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, on Second Stage in the Dáil in 2015, that all the efforts of institute of technology amalgamation will be in vain if staff continue to be underresourced and students fail to get fair and achievable access to third level.

While I appreciate the scale of the operation proposed, the streamlining of individual institutes of technology into single structures must be a robust process involving constant consultation with staff, students and their respective unions rather than one dictated by the Department, the HEA and college management. There are particular concerns about the definition of "student union". The proposed wording in the Bill suggests that a student union must be recognised by its respective technological university in order to retain legitimacy. This fails to value the longstanding histories of student unions, the mandate they receive from their students to represent them and their right to autonomy. The proposed definition sets a bad precedent and could lead to instances in which technological university management could disregard the validity of a student union. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's thoughts on this. She meets regularly with the Union of Students in Ireland, which is particularly concerned about this. I have met members of Technical University for Dublin student unions who have similar concerns. As a trade union official for over ten years, I could not sign up to this. It does not sit well that the university can decide whether the student union has standing. The teaching unions would not agree to that and the student union should not have lesser standing. It is not helpful in terms of where we all want to go, especially as we want to support the Bill. There were strong feelings among the students and their representatives who we met last week and I hope that we can work together across the Chamber to achieve consensus.

I am concerned that the proposed Bill does not guarantee parity of esteems for student unions in terms of representation on governing bodies and academic councils. Student unions offer representation at key decision-making levels from the largest body within a university or institute of technology. It could be argued that students represent the largest cohort within a college and that their union has received the most legitimate mandate to speak as a representative body. To fail to give them fair representation denies this and devalues students as a whole.

A number of amendments on this matter, which were tabled by my colleague, Deputy Funchion, were declared out of order in the Dáil. They sought to increase the number of seats at the table for students. I ask the Minister of State to revisit the point. More seats at the table will not impose a cost on the State. They will not cost the State anything financially. Anyone who has had any experience of a governing body will know that. I ask the Minister of State to consider this properly moving forward and to propose amendments which provide for effective student representation as set out in the HEA's own best-practice policies.

I commend the Minister of State and the Department on their engagement with the TUI to strike an agreement and address the key concerns of staff. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I note that we will not support amendments or aspects of the Bill which may seek to diminish what has already been agreed by the Department and the TUI. Hopefully, it will not come to that. Sinn Féin is supportive of the Bill and its objectives but we stress that the student voice does not have parity in the proposed new structure. Agreements similar to those concluded with the TUI can be struck with students. It requires a desire on the part of the Department to give students that equal say. I appeal to the Minister of State's colleagues in the Department to have a further look at this. I think they will find that there is a broad consensus in the Chamber on the matter.

Sinn Féin agrees with the idea of technological universities, but in its current form the legislation raises some concerns. We retain the right to bring forward amendments to address these matters on Committee Stage and will withdraw support for the Bill if these are not addressed adequately.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and note my gratitude for the opportunity to contribute to this important Second Stage debate. I noted from the Minister of State's speech yesterday that she has already accepted a number of amendments to strengthen the Bill in the Dáil, which is a good approach to adopt in respect of legislation on a critical issue like education. I recognise the fact that the Bill was introduced on the back of the report on the national strategy in education 2030 and the recommendations contained therein. The report recommended significant reform and consolidation in the institutes of technology sector to allow these bodies to progress to technological university status where they reach certain standards and performance criteria.

I support the Bill, albeit a number of aspects worry me. The Minister of State may be able to assuage those worries for me. While consolidation may refer to building efficiency and collaboration within the sector, it may also refer to protecting a cost base for other reasons within third level institutes.Legitimate questions have been raised in that regard: is it consolidation of an existing budget or, rather, it using the budget more efficiently to better serve our citizens and education? I suspect it is the latter - to serve our citizens and education in a better and more holistic way. I welcome the multiple references to the regions by the Minister of State in her contribution, to which I will return.

The institutes of technology are not being forced into this process. There is a voluntary application process whereby an institute must collaborate with two or more institutes to achieve technological university status. In order to achieve such university status, it is important that they fulfil the performance criteria laid out under section 28. I note those criteria, which it is important to state for the record. The criteria set out in a robust performance threshold for institutions that wish to become technological universities include the composition of the student body, which must contain a certain number of students; the composition of the academic staff; 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, collaborations with other institutes, quality assurance and enhancement and the mobility of staff and students. Those are rightly very high standards and they must be met.

I wish to focus on the regional aspects of the Bill because the south-east region, from which I come, is the only region in the country that does not have access to a university. That has had a direct consequence for and impact on the economy of the region. In recent years, more than half of students in leaving certificate classes have left the region to attend higher level education elsewhere. That is worrying because Waterford and Carlow institutes of technology are excellent institutions. However, even with them in place, almost two thirds of leaving certificate students leave the region. That would be fine if they were leaving the region for education and returning thereafter but many find employment outside the region and, unfortunately, continue to reside outside the region. They do not come home. That is having an impact on the region in terms of brain drain, educational attainment at higher level, as is evident from the CSO statistics, and there are direct consequences for the local economy in terms of the quality of jobs, the attractiveness of the region and retail spend. Everything across society in the south east is affected because there is no local university. The Bill, which I thank the Government and Minister of State for bringing forward, presents an opportunity for Waterford and Carlow institutes of technology to progress a joint application in order that a technological university for the south east be developed.

However, concerns have been raised which the Minister of State may be able to address in her response or on later Stages. There is often resistance at various levels to a proposed change but the concerns in this regard include the fear that this is a merger process to consolidate finances. I do not agree with such concerns, and nor does the Minister of State, as she has indicated, but that must be publicly addressed. Some opponents of the legislation and technological universities mergers have stated that it is only a change of the name over the door. I do not agree with that view. For the Bill to be successful, we need to engage the public and stakeholders and spell out how this reform of higher level education can bring benefits to the regions. The institutes of technology have expertise and work very closely with industry and in the regions in terms of apprenticeships, construction, science and engineering and have now expanded into humanities, business and legal degrees.

The Bill is a huge opportunity and I welcome it but it remains to be seen how effective it will be on the ground. I encourage the institutes of technology, in particular in my own region of Waterford and Carlow, to come together, as they have done in a very positive way, to deliver for the citizens of the south-east region. It is long overdue. The Bill lays a pathway for delivery of high quality third level degrees that can build and deliver for the south-east region as other universities have in their areas.

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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I thank the Minister for her comprehensive statement last night and for mentioning the Green Party’s work on a number of technical amendments to the Bill. The amendments, tabled by my colleague, Deputy Catherine Martin, dealt with the need for technological universities to have an ethos focused on research and knowledge rather than one dominated by commercialism. Deputy Martin also raised a number of issues with the Bill that have not been resolved, such as the lack of provision for sufficient student representation on the governing body and academic council of the new technological universities; an inappropriate prioritisation of business and enterprise over social and cultural factors that could undermine the status of Ireland’s current universities as leaders in unbiased knowledge creation; the lack of protection for collective academic freedom, including that of PhD students, to direct research in new and innovative ways, such as in renewable energy, gender or ecological studies; and a lack of regional community representatives on the board or governing body of a technological university. I will be putting forward a number of amendments to address these matters as the Bill progresses through the House.

As a public representative from Waterford, I have several concerns with the Bill and the process by which it has been put before the Houses of the Oireachtas. First, the Bill was introduced to the Dáil at short notice and Second Stage was dealt with by the previous Dáil. Thus, the wider, overarching issues of technological universities, and the effects of amalgamating rural institutes of technology in particular, have never been fully debated by the current Dáil. Secondly, the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, with the exception of Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, who was Minister at the time, is almost entirely composed of new Members, none of whom were on the equivalent committee of the Thirty-first Dáil, which dealt with the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The deliberative process of this substantial 96-page Bill has been rushed, thereby hampering the deliberations of public representatives.

If the Bill is passed, Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, and Institute of Technology Carlow will merge to form a technological university for the south east. The people of Waterford and the south east have never been content with WIT’s designation as an institute of technology. We believe that a city-region of Waterford’s size needs an academic body with full university status and that WIT deserves that designation. However, there are concerns that the planned technological university for the south east may be based in Kilkenny rather than Waterford. I will be seeking assurances from the Minister of State in that regard. These concerns are compounded by the sometimes less than perfect working relationship between the Carlow and Waterford institutes, as detailed in the 2015 Kelly report.

Despite the hard and determined work of Waterford City and County Council under its chief executive, Michael Walsh, Waterford city is still struggling economically and socially. An ESRI study published this week shows that the south east will have the lowest job growth in Ireland in the coming years. The Government needs to commit to a national planning framework that progresses sustainable development and equality across the country. An improperly managed merger underwritten by a foundational lack of trust between the parties will not improve matters. This issue deserves more deliberation and I would appreciate the time to so do.

I wish to express concerns relayed to me from WIT academics that the Bill as it stands may produce watered-down academic standards and that, as stated by Dr. Ray Griffin in last Monday’s edition of The Irish Times, we are in danger of "taking out the educational engine of the regions". Waterford has had previous bad experiences with grandstanding on academic matters such as the designation of Waterford Regional Hospital as University Hospital Waterford under the former Minister for Health, Senator James Reilly, in 2014. We were promised that the change would deliver greater resources and staff and expertise for Waterford hospital but such resources did not emerge. There is a lack of 24-7 cardiac care services in Waterford and lip service has been paid to the O’Higgins report, with both those failings contributing to the recent tragic death of Thomas Power.

I am seeking reassurance that any merger of WIT will result in a technological university renowned as an international centre of excellence that will radically add capacity to the region's higher education system and allow the young people of Waterford and the surrounding counties to remain in the region.We do not want to see the same mistakes with University Hospital Waterford play out with the loss of WIT. There should be parity of treatment for the periphery of our country.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I acknowledge the extensive work of the Minister of State and her staff as well as successive Ministers on the Bill and thank them for it. It is important that consultation has been held with TUI, IMPACT, USI and the Technological Higher Education Association. I was glad to see the Minister of State accept a number of amendments in the Dáil. Some of them were very constructive and positive, in particular the amendments which related to ensuring that we underscore the social, community and creative role technological universities can play. It was mentioned by one of my colleagues today that we have increasingly seen these institutes of technology not only lead in various areas of technology, but be at the driving edge and moving forward in areas such as the humanities and the arts. For example, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology has had an excellent reputation in the arts for a while. In fact, it was questioned in correspondence I received on the Bill whether "technological" was the appropriate heading for the Technological Universities Bill but I imagine that ship has sailed.

This week, we have seen the research developed in the dairy sector and in agritech and the strong business and community engagement here. The key point, however, is that when we speak about partnership between these institutions, which will now become universities, that it is not only about partnership with business but that we also talk about partnership with communities and public partnership. We hear about public private partnership, but what of public public partnership? We know that there is much to be learned from other states as they try to face up to practical and logistical challenges on the ground and it will be interesting to see how these new technological universities intersect with similar universities in other areas. I am thinking of the polytechnics in the United Kingdom which have been a driving force in many areas.

The record of the institutes of technology throughout the country has been exemplary in terms of delivering a wide diversity of courses in technical and applied skills and, in particular, in ensuring a diversity of students. There has been engagement with and support of a diversity of students with what many would see as a more flexible and holistic approach than that seen in many other universities. It is important that this is not lost and that it remains core within the work of any future universities. As a result of this holistic approach and the understanding of the difficulties many students and prospective students often face, I believe the presidents of the institutes of technology have had a stronger and more accurate reading of the possible impact of student loans and I support their position on the Cassells report. That is a matter for separate discussion, however.

If we move towards having technological universities, there needs to be an increase in resources. We are now moving into a position where research will not just be carried out where there are external partners. These technological universities must be given the resources to set their own agenda to drive, for example, frontier and basic research forward. We need to ensure that the space given to other universities-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Senator-----

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I will skip ahead to all of the areas of concern around the Bill. I have discussed with the Minister of State and others the amendments that I will probably table. First, a students' union needs to be recognised as a students' union and to include "other student representative body" is not adequate or acceptable and this cannot be allowed go through. Any of us who have worked in a union know of false unions. Will this be a representative sample? Will the university just pick three people from each year? We need to be very clear about student union representation and the situation needs to be clarified.

The Minister of State mentioned student representation on the academic council, which I welcome, but this needs to be provided for in the Bill. If we are talking about a community of learning, it needs to be clear that student voices are to be heard on the council. A key concern of ours at the moment-----

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I will conclude on this. A key concern is that the Bill provides for "at least one and not more than 2" students on the governing board of a technological university. What about where we have three campuses? For example, there may be a campus in Galway, Sligo and Mayo. It is important that a student from each institute of technology feeding into the process would be part of the governing body and feeding into the governance. That is a key concern.

My final point is that institutes of technology which do not opt for a merger or for the technological university route must be assured that they will be given resources and supported. The Minister of State has emphasised that this is a choice for institutes to make but it is important to recognise that they will still play an essential role in and be part of the places in which they are located. I look forward to Committee Stage and to engaging further with the Minister of State.

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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Tá fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit ar ais go dtí an Teach. Some 65% of children who entered primary school this year will work in a type of job that does not currently exist. This poses challenges for the education system and the third level sector in particular needs to be able to adapt to meet these challenges. The Technological Universities Bill is an

important development in this regard, building on the excellent record of the institutes of technology and what they have contributed to Irish education and society since their inception.

The Bill allows for the incorporation of a number of existing institutes of technology into technological universities. Where these mergers make geographic and educational sense, they have the potential to offer significant benefits for the sector, for students, for their community and for the development of the regions in which they are located. Ten of the existing institutes are currently in the process of setting up such consortia and I wish them every success in that endeavour.

The fact that the remaining institutes of technology have not chosen to go down this road should not, however, be seen as a lack of ambition on their part. In my home town, for example, Athlone Institute of Technology, AIT, has provided a superlative service to the midlands and to education in Ireland, with over 5,400 students currently engaged in all levels of study there. Since its inception in 1970, it has adapted and changed to meet the needs of the region. Living up to its motto “Connect and Discover”, it uses feedback from students, industry and community, to constantly improve the range and relevance of the courses it offers. These efforts were recognised recently when it was named The Times institute of technology of the year, outstripping all other institutes of technology and rivalling some of the established universities.

On the type of criteria that are used to determine university status, Athlone Institute of Technology is one of the leaders in terms of these metrics. Whether it is the percentage of staff with a PhD, the level of research activity or the diversity of the student population, AIT can match the best. The fact that AIT did not take part in any of the consortia was not a sign of insufficient standard or lack of ambition or preparation, rather, it indicates a brave and nuanced analysis of the situation. If the regional or geographical realities do not make sense or if there is not an educational synergy, going down the road of amalgamation just for the sake of fitting in to the policy of the day is the wrong decision to make. I support the institute in its approach.

In terms of future development options for these colleges, it is not sufficient to say that their only option is to join up with one of the new technological universities at some stage down the road. If an amalgamation does not make sense today, it may not make sense in five or ten years’ time either.We must also consider allowing them to build alliances with one of the traditional universities or to grow and develop appropriately in their own right.

In areas where the use of consortia makes sense, I wish them every success. However, I would ask the Minister of State to ensure that the passing of this Bill does not become a stalling point in the development of the third-level sector. For Athlone Institute of Technology and those other institutes where an amalgamation was not the sensible option, I call on the Minister of State and the Department to proactively engage with them to seek a suitable strategy for their future development so that they can continue to be important drivers for better educational, social and economic outcomes.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and commend her on her engagement. As Senator Higgins said, there was huge engagement on the part of the Department in respect of the Bill. That is to be welcomed because it is a better Bill as a result. This is important legislation. The Minister of State said it is "critical legislation for the higher education sector and another important step in the advancement of the National Strategy for Higher Education." Senator Grace O'Sullivan rightly indicated that it is about ensuring the management of the change that will evolve is done properly. I fully agree with the Senator and the Minister of State that this must be done in consultation and in the context of a holistic approach. It is very important to get it right from the outset. I am very confident that the approach being taken by the Minister of State indicates that she will do this.

Engagement with staff and students has been critical. The Munster technological university will add to the local economy. It will bring a benefit to the south-west region. In an earlier debate, Senators discussed jobs. This university will add to the south-west region, especially Cork, from where I come. It will make the area more desirable to come to, to locate in and to live in. It will offer different opportunities for people.

With regard to Cork and Tralee institutes of technology, the technological university will offer more competencies and it will bring a value to research. We are aware that in the higher education structure research has never been so important. As Senator Coffey has referred to it must be more than just the changing of the branding over the door or on the letterhead. I am confident that it will be more.

I have had meetings and correspondence with a variety of stakeholders, one of whom was from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. I am very familiar with some of the ICTU representatives in Cork who, I believe, are very capable, competent and sensible people. These representatives are speaking about the composition of the external seats on the governing body. They make a fair request about looking for a seat. I wonder if this could be looked at again at a later stage.

We all welcome the debate on this Bill. It is about progressing to technological universities. It is about ensuring that we have competencies and a better higher education structure. Concerns have, however, been expressed to me about the composition of the academic council in the Munster technological university and the proportionality regarding the Tralee and Cork institutes. I understand the Minister of State may not have the answer today - that is fine because I do not expect her to have it - but I hope it would be a proportionate composition in the case of Cork and Tralee.

Cork Institute of Technology engenders a sense of positivity. I congratulate the college and the staff on the growth of the institute, and on its ambition. The issue of the academic council is an important question that has been raised with me. Cork Institute of Technology has always been progressive. If we look back to when it was a regional technical college, and see where it is now with the growth and what the college has done, it is a huge credit. it is an important institution in Cork.

I do not wish to speak disparagingly about anybody, but the deficit and the questions and anxieties need to be addressed around Cork and Tralee ITs. I am Cork person, and I will speak for Cork. It is very important. The issue of apprenticeships also needs to be addressed as part of the Bill. During the Order of Business in the Seanad we hear repeatedly about the need for apprenticeships. There is a competency issue in that regard.

The Bill and the creation of the technological universities will benefit graduates, colleges and the economy. I may not agree with Senator Higgins on many things but I agree with her comments to the effect that the details need to be teased out on Committee Stage and Report Stage.

I could say a lot more but I shall conclude. I appreciate that I may have spoken for more than my five minutes. I will speak on the Bill again on Committee Stage. The Minister of State has demonstrated a willingness to listen and to engage. I am aware that the Green Party has spoken about this issue in the Dáil but the Minister of State deserves great credit for getting us to where we are today. I thank her for that. We have a road to travel. There are issues around the students' union that need to be looked at, that I personally agree with. The Minister of State may not be able to do something on that, but that is fair enough. We are, however, in a good place with this Bill and it is to the credit of the Minister of State that we have go here. The Minister of State has engaged with the TUI, academics, students and staff. I commend all who are involved, especially the staff. I have spent a long time waiting to say this and I wish to speak on this. We lost the Bill in 2015 when the general election came around. It is important to say that there was huge engagement-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I am indulging Senator Buttimer regarding his time.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I know and I am sorry, but I am passionate about this. There is engagement. We could have lost all of this work but we did not because there was willingness by the Minister of State and the Department to engage. There was willingness by other stakeholders to engage also. That is a positive.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leader. He is being caught out by his own Order of Business I suppose. In that regard, the time allocation for Senators is supposed to be eight minutes.

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and thank her for her work on the Bill. I very much welcome this Bill, which will establish technological universities with strong regional ties to support development. In particular, I welcome the forming of the Connacht-Ulster alliance, of Galway-Mayo, Sligo and Letterkenny institutes of technology.

It is very important that we have increased co-operation in the sector and on a regional level to ensure our technological universities are best placed to compete at national and international levels.

My Roscommon-Galway constituency does not have an institute of technology currently, but we are surrounded by regions that have institutes of technology and our area must not be left out in the move towards increased co-operation. There is a significant wealth of industry experience right across our region and when institutes link together it is very important that we create and continue to forge stronger links with industry across the region. We want our students to access employment and we need to identify the employment sectors with increased opportunities.

There have been a number of amendments to the Bill. These are especially relevant in the context of existing staff and how they would transfer. The variety of choice in courses has also been raised as an issue. It is important that this choice continues to be available right across the institutes. It is essential to ensure that prospective students have the greatest level of choice possible. Many students in my community commute on a daily basis - be it to Sligo or Letterkenny institutes of technology - and it is essential that we ensure the current level of choice available in our institutes is maintained.

I welcome all the work that has been done across the entire sector. While it is important to have increased co-operation between the ITs, it is also critical to forge stronger links with industry to identify employment opportunities for our graduates.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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No other Senators are offering to speak at this stage, so I call on the Minister of State to conclude the debate.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. I have taken a note of what the Senators have said and the concerns that have been raised. I thank the Senators for their informed and interesting contributions to the Technological Universities Bill made yesterday and again today. I wholeheartedly agree with the views expressed regarding the high quality of institutes of technology. A number of the institutes of technology were referenced, including Carlow and Limerick yesterday and Waterford today. Senator Hopkins spoke about the lack of an institute of technology in Roscommon and the fact that many students from her county go to many different institutes of technology in the area.

As I said in my speech yesterday, the institute of technology sector has always striven to deliver a first class service to students, businesses, enterprises and a range of local and regional stakeholders. I have had the great privilege of visiting many of the institutes of technology. There are two still left on my list. I have seen the work that is being done with students and spoken to student unions in the various colleges. The holistic approach of the colleges and their caring attitude towards students was mentioned. I have visited colleges where the president of the college went into the cafeteria and honestly seemed to know every single person in the place. It was not a set up for the Minister's visit. That was one example. In another example I was brought around to see different courses being taught. The president of that institute of technology was able to talk to different students and knew exactly what they were studying. She did not just know the students' names but also exactly what they were studying and where they come from. That is really special and I do not want that to be lost when we bring the consortium together.

I want everything good about the institutes of technology to continue. I am looking at Senator O'Sullivan. I am really confident that, by ensuring that there is a technological university serving Waterford, the students that Senator Coffey mentioned who leave the area - some 75% of those who do the leaving certificate - who never return to the region will stay. That is one of the reasons I am really passionate about this. I believe that if students can be educated in their own home area and their own home county or region, the chances are that they will stay there and the benefits of the education they receive will stay there. Foreign direct investment will be attracted to the area and people who want to set up businesses, or indeed our indigenous businesses, will know that those students are in the area. It brings a lot to the table and it will be a game changer for the regions. That is why I really want this Bill to go through.

Many collaborative approaches have been taken elsewhere. I absolutely respect what the Senator said about Athlone. I have visited Athlone. It was another college that I was really wowed by. The interest that the president and the staff took in their students was very impressive. There is a place for these consortia, but there is also a place for individual institutes of technology to stand and deliver an education programme they feel is suitable.

I am of the view that the establishment of technological universities will enhance higher education options without compromising the services and products which are currently delivered. When one reads the Bill, which is comprehensive, one will see that we have tried to deal with every sector. It will allow for institutes of greater scale, capacity and reach to build upon the firm foundations that already exist and to create that unique brand. As I stated yesterday, no institute of technology is being dragooned into seeking technological university designation. It is a decision and a choice to be made by institutes where they are of the view that it is in the best interests of their students, staff and related stakeholders. The possibility is also provided for in the Bill for a single institute of technology to become part of an established technological university if it so wishes at a subsequent stage. There are more than Athlone in this category. A wide range of possibilities and choices are being created, which can only be good for the entire sector. The student will be placed at the top of that paradigm.

A number of Senators rightly highlighted that there are multiple pathways to achieving high-quality qualifications and attaining high levels of in-demand skills. In this context both lifelong learning and apprenticeships were referenced. I acknowledge that. In addition, some Senators mentioned the importance of institutes of further education and training, and their role in providing education and training. I wish to acknowledge the contributions of the colleges of further education. They will now be able to work with the new technological universities to ensure pathways of progression for their students. I note that the example of the key role being played by the Monaghan Institute of Further Education and Training, and the Cavan Institute, were cited here yesterday as an example of the provision of these different progression pathways. I could add many more examples, because I have had the opportunity to attend many graduations from colleges of further education and can absolutely vouch for the standard of education. I have spoken to many of the graduates who have come through those colleges. They often get jobs, which is most admirable. Usually, as I hand them their script or certificate, I ask them what their plans are for the future. Almost 95% have either got into another college or are going abroad to another university or institute of technology to study further, or they have got a job. That is a great testament to what our colleges of further education are doing.

I want to state that the Government provided significant additional funding to the Department of Education and Skills in budget 2018, and funding for higher education and further education and training has increased by €100 million in 2018 compared with 2016. That is money on the table for higher education.

Key new targets for the next three years include increasing by 10% the number of those aged between 25 and 64 engaged in lifelong learning by 2020, and by 15% by 2025. We have also set the target of increasing by 25% the total number of students studying on a flexible basis. As I go around the country and talk to different people in institutes of technology who are interested in becoming part of the technological consortia, they are all talking about lifelong learning and flexible learning and want to offer those opportunities to the students that are there and to people who are in the community who want to retrain for jobs or reskill themselves. That will be something extra which will now have a policy behind it within the technological university. All students will have the opportunity to undertake a work placement by 2025. Increasing entry from disadvantaged and disability streams and ensuring that every DEIS school partakes in higher education institute-led access programmes.I feel strongly about this. This morning I met the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, NCBI, where I met students who were getting a bursary to attend a third level institute. I heard there that some institutes are better than others at welcoming students, orientating them and helping them get library access, which I am now aware is a problem. It is very important that access for the disadvantaged and disability streams is part of the policy for technological universities, as well as expanding alternate pathways by doubling apprenticeships and increasing Springboard provision by 30%.

The question of the presidents of the new technological universities was raised yesterday. I can confirm that it is the intention that the appointment of the first president of a technological university shall be by way of open competition. This will allow high-calibre candidates, national and international, to compete for the position. I can also confirm that there will be no proscription of an incumbent president of a technological university seeking reappointment when his or her term of office finishes. This is in line with other legislation in the higher education sector. However, it shall be a matter for the technological university to appoint the next president. The selection criteria and appointment procedures shall be established and published by the technological university.

Several Senators have spoken in support of there being additional representation for various groupings on the governing body of a technological university. Additional student representatives, or city and county councillors, or an Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, representative were mentioned. While I will, of course, consider any amendments tabled in this regard on Committee Stage, the composition of the governing body has been carefully crafted in consultation with key stakeholders, including the Teachers Union of Ireland and the Technological Higher Education Association. The Department has also interacted with the Union of Students in Ireland and IMPACT. We are seeking to strike a balance in reducing, comparatively speaking, the overall size of the governing body, given that two or more institutes of technology, and even four or more, could be merging into a technological university. This is in line with recommendations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, and the national strategy for higher education to 2030. We are also seeking to ensure, once again in line with best international practice, that the governing body has a majority of external members with a focus on the relevant competencies of these members as are required to drive forward the technological university in the modern education and training, business, research, community and skills environments. These competencies include business, enterprise, finance, law, corporate governance, human resources, community organisation and any other areas relevant to the functions of a technological university.

The competencies must be agreed in advance with the Higher Education Authority and at least one of the external members on the governing body must have expertise in standards and practice in higher education outside the State. In seeking to further expand overall membership of the governing body, or to juggle with the composition of the governing body and, in turn, the members' requisite competencies, we risk not least upsetting the balance of internal and external members.

Were we to accede to all requests for additional representation, the governing body would be expanded exponentially, would become unwieldy and be out of step with international best practice and would lack agility and responsiveness. That said, I will consider any and all amendments proposed on this and any other areas of the Bill when Committee Stage commences next week.

I thank all the Senators, once again for their kind attention, their courtesy and informed contributions which seek at all times only to further strengthen and improve the Technological Universities Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 6 February 2018.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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Tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 February 2018.