Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Committee Stage
Section 1 provides for the Short Title and commencement. I think it is reasonable to raise the issue. I am not putting down an amendment. I am raising the issue in order that the issue might be raised and so that possibly I might put down an amendment on Report Stage.
I raised this issue in a previous discussion on the Bill because I took the view that universities are slightly different. These groups started as regional technical colleges and then became institutes. Now it is proposed to make them universities.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, 11, 15, 16, 27 to 31, inclusive, and 33 to 37, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 4. Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 28. Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 34. These amendments may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 9, line 31, to delete "student" and substitute "students’ ".
I welcome the Minister. Sinn Féin has proposed several amendments that change the phrase "student" union" to "students’" union and include the apostrophe. It is the appropriate term. While these amendments are largely technical, it can be interpreted somewhat more meaningfully to those who hold students' union membership.
The Bill is drafted using the term "student union". There is not one student union anywhere in the islands but there is a plethora of students' unions. Similarly, there is not a teacher union, nurse union or worker union, but there are of course teachers' unions, nurses' unions and workers' unions. They are phrased in a possessive syntax because unions are owned by, ran by and directed by students.
Excuse me. Senator Norris is quite right. The phrase "student union" does not convey that and is not an appropriate term.
I believe there are more pressing issues in the Bill and I do not wish to take up further time on it, but I simply wish to highlight the wrong wording set out at the moment. We will not be pushing the amendment without the support of the Minister of State but I cannot see why she would not agree to this small correction. We will reserve the right to resubmit the amendment on Report Stage.
I will also be brief. It seems to me that it is appropriate to allow the students to denominate the name of their representative body. At university, they call them "students' union", not "student union". I appeal to the Minister of State to accept this amendment. It is quite brief. It is very sensible. It does not change the Bill in any material way but it reflects the reality of life as lived on the ground.
It reflects the reality. It is also a useful way of addressing concerns that the Minister has raised in the past about ensuring that if there are numerous students' unions, then they would be recognised. I believe it is an effective way to do that and I support it.
I have heard the contributions. The definition in the Bill was drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government. It is the standardised legislative wording. This definition mirrors the interpretation of the term "student union" as set out in section 3 of the Universities Act 1997.
No. If I have to stand, you must resume your seat. You will obey the Chair. At the start I outlined it. I read a long list. I said that amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, 11, 15, 16, 27 to 31, inclusive, and 33 to 37, inclusive, were related. I read that long list at the start. You must not have been listening.
I was listening and that is why I asked to clarify if I was to speak to my amendments at that point. You asked Senator Gavan to speak to his amendment. You did not invite me. I think it is very clear. I specifically asked you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, what was being spoken to and whether I should speak at that point. I asked if I should speak at that point and you indicated that it was for Senator Gavan.
Genuinely, I think Senator Higgins is correct. The interpretation that I took was that we were only speaking to amendment No. 1. It is a separate amendment and an important one. I would ask for leave to raise the issue, please.
I asked what was being discussed and I got a clear answer from you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, that it was amendment No. 1. In that respect I have to raise amendment No. 3 because it is crucial in respect of the definition of a "students' union". It relates to the question of how students are represented in Ireland. Crucially, it relates to the proposals we have. We have several constructive proposals that set out what the term means. First, the term does not have a clear definition. Second, there is a danger in the way the definition is set out. The definition could be construed as-----
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 9, lines 34 to 36, to delete all words from and including "means" in line 34 down to and including "university" in line 36 and substitute the following:"means an autonomous body governed by students which promotes and represents the interests of students, both individual and collective".
This amendment sets out our proposal of a clear definition, meaning that a student union is, "an autonomous body governed by students, which promotes and represents the interests of students, both individual and collective". It is a clear definition of a student union and it certainly reflects the understanding of student unions that we have in Ireland and which student unions have put forward. It is a constructive proposal. I will not speak at length to all our other amendments but we have put forward a number of ways of dealing with what is a core problem in the Bill as currently drafted. There is a danger under the current definition that a student union's recognition and representation functions would derive from the recognition of its legitimacy by the institute or university rather than its own democratic mandate.
I know the Minister of State will want to speak to this as well but student unions play a crucial role in recognising that all cohorts of the university have their own power and representation. There is a real danger of that power being taken. I highlighted the question of the phrase, "or other student representative body" in the current definition as a serious concern, as it could potentially allow for the college administration to simply recognise any representative body or anything called a representative body, as I mentioned before. It could be a representative sample or teacher assistants under the employ of the university, for example. These could be made student partners, potentially circumventing the democratic mandate and role of the official student union in the event of a serious dispute. This is something we do not want to see and we want to ensure there are proper procedures in place that will work.
I note that concerns were raised about this by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil, where Deputy Thomas Byrne stated:
I have met the student unions and I have to say I am shocked by some of the stories I have heard about student unions not being recognised and colleges putting obstacles in their way. I have heard that about a number of colleges and I think it is wrong.
We have a chance to get this right and ensure there is no problem or false or damaging definitions in place. We know there is a problem and I am appealing to the Minister of State about this. She has taken on board constructive amendments and she has a history of working constructively with this House, taking on board ideas. There is a problem in how this is defined and set out currently. I will speak only briefly to our alternatives but it is key to note that there is a problem with the definition as currently set out. I am sure it is inadvertent but it is potentially dangerous. We know there are concerns and there have been instances of universities seeking to diminish the impact and effectiveness of student unions. We need to ensure we do not leave space for that in this Bill. We have a chance to prevent such wrongdoing.
Amendment No. 3 is our first and best choice because it has a strong definition of student union. It recognises the autonomy of the body as well as its gubernatorial and representative functions. I will return briefly to our alternate amendments as I propose them if they are to be taken under this grouping.
I have been informed that the list was circulated to Members and I will read it again. It is proposed to group the following amendments for the purpose of debate: amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, 11, 15, 16, 27 to 31, inclusive, and 33 to 37, inclusive. I will not be opening discussion on them again but we will go through them in order. If Members have a point, they should make it now.
Certainly. Amendment No. 4 is a compromise option and while it has our preferred definition, it also includes some of the language from the current definition, which allows for the recognition of the student union by the institute or university to play a role. It is more appropriately balanced in that it sets out the kind of student union that the university should recognise. It is a definition in which we endeavour to take on board the recognition role and have a clear definition of what is being recognised.
Amendment No. 6 is not an ideal option but at least it would move us somewhat forward. It would ensure a university cannot switch recognition between a student union and another representative body in the event of a dispute. For example, if an issue is being resolved within the university and it has come to a point of debate between a student union and university administration, the administration could not effectively pull the rug from beneath the union by deciding to change recognition to another body. We know this has happened in workplaces and this is not an abstract notion. We must prepare for good practice at all points and we do not want cases where individual crises become national or public crises instead of being resolved within the institutions. It is all we are trying to put forward. That is our least favourite amendment.
I do not need to speak to amendments Nos. 28 and 34 at length as they are simple technical amendments.
When I came in I looked for the list. I do not have the list in front of me and it is leading to confusion. We need to know the amendments we are discussing as a group so we do not miss the opportunity to contribute as we wish.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for being so understanding as there was much confusion at the start. The preferred option for me is amendment No. 3 but I ask my colleagues not to force a vote on this today but rather allow the Minister of State to discuss this with her officials before dealing with it, perhaps on Report Stage. We must clearly define what we mean by a student union. It seems amendment No. 3 would make the perfect alternative to what we have. Perhaps we should not impede the passage of the Bill through Committee Stage today and we can return to it on Report Stage.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his understanding. Sinn Féin will support the proposed amendments and as a proud trade unionist I am keen to support them. Student unions in Ireland have a proud and vibrant history steeped in radicalism. They have been at the forefront of progressive matters across the island during the past century, whether that is publicly-funded education, accommodation, marriage equality, access to contraception or repealing the eighth amendment. I am concerned that the definition in its current format disregards that.
One consistent feature in the history of the student movement in Ireland and elsewhere is the battle with some college authorities for legitimacy and autonomy. Their depreciation is nothing new and it is done with intention with a view to favouring college authorities' agendas over that of students. The current wording leaves student unions rights being disregarded and delegitimised. The Minister of State does not want that and it seems to be an unintended consequence of the Bill. I assert it is a regular occurrence in not only the student movements but, as I know from experience, trade union movements. These underhand tactics are used by management.Students need certainty from this Bill. Much of the teaching staff receive certainty through this Bill, and the Minister of State is to be commended for that, but students now need the same. Therefore, I urge the Minister of State to support this amendment.
There is very good wording in amendments Nos. 3 and 4. I cannot understand why the Minister of State would possibly object to this simple change of wording. It does nothing to threaten the Bill. I ask the Minister of State to remember we are here to support this Bill and not to oppose it. There seems to be broad concern across the Chamber. We are not here to make life difficult; we want to support this Bill. It will be a real step forward. We are behind the Bill but may not be able to support it on a later Stage if this simple change is not recognised.
Looking at the wording in either amendment No. 3 or amendment No. 4, I cannot possibly see what there is to object to. Could the Minister of State reassure the students by accepting it? Let us have everyone on the same page celebrating this Bill rather than leaving the students on the outside. The amendments are key amendments for the students' unions. I ask the Minister of State to consider what Senator Higgins and others have said.
I call on Senator Robbie Gallagher, whom I respect, to speak on this because I genuinely believe the students' unions need support at this time. There is nothing in this amendment that anybody across the Chamber could object to. If so, he or she should tell me. Let us try to build consensus. Let us show the Seanad working in unison on this Bill.
I detect a scent of conspiracy theory. I am not aware of circumstances in which a university has set its face against the students' union and refused to recognise it. My colleagues are nodding very sagaciously. Perhaps they will take the opportunity to put an instance on the record. I am not aware of it happening.
According to the definition in the Bill, "student union", in regard to an institute or technological university, "means the student union or other student representative body recognised by the institute or technological university".
I know, but if it is not recognised it is in limbo. The first amendment, No. 3, would substitute the following language: "means an autonomous body governed by students which promotes and represents the interests of students, both individual and collective". That is so vague. It means the authorities would have to recognise any group, however extraordinary, that sets itself up as long as it is an autonomous body governed by students and one that promotes and represents the interests of students. It is not stated that the body has to be representative or have anything to do with the majority of students involved. It could represent a minority. Any group could claim to promote and represent the interests of students.
Amendment No. 4 gives exactly what the Government has included. It is more or less identical to the amendment of the Government, with a little bit of expansion. It would substitute the wording: "means an autonomous body governed by students and recognised by the institute or technological university which promotes and represents the interests of students, both individual and collective". That is pretty well what is in the Government's amendment.
If the Minister wants to introduce the phrases "autonomous" and "governed by students", so be it. A students' union that is not autonomous or that is governed by the university, lecturers or some secret Wizard of Oz behind the scenes is not a concept that I buy. I have never seen it in operation, and I was in a university for a long time. I will be guided by my colleagues, however. If they can provide evidence, it will be very interesting. Perhaps the Minister of State will accept the inclusion of the phrases "autonomous" and "governed by students". I do not have any difficulty at all with that but I believe, however, that amendment No. 4 is more or less redundant because it is practically the same as the Government's amendment. If, however, there is an amendment to be supported, it should be that one.
I thank the Minister of State for attending. I wholeheartedly support her and her team regarding this Bill. It is a crucial Bill and reflects what happens in other parts of Europe. It is important to the regions of Ireland which, as the Minister of State will know, are close to my heart. I am very disappointed and a little annoyed by the comments of some of my colleagues to the effect that governing bodies, management or presidents of regional technical colleges, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and universities are undermining student unions. That is not true. I ask Members to withdraw their statements.
I am involved in NUIG and have been chairman of the business school board there. I am adjunct professor of entrepreneurship there. I have actually sat on the board of the student union in Galway and have never seen what has been described. All I have seen is very strong support from the authorities in third level institutions for students and student unions. They very much listen to students' views and contributions. I compliment the Minister of State on what she and her team are doing. I wholeheartedly support her.
There are people of great integrity present who are involved in the management of third level institutions and others whom I know who are not undermining student unions. The statement of some of my colleagues on students' unions is somewhat unfortunate. I am fully supportive of students' unions. I was actively involved in the students' union group when I was in college in my day. The union provides an incredibly good service. In some cases, the union was running some businesses that needed to be bailed out by the college authorities on various occasions. We have got to consider this in the balance. I fully support the Minister of State and hope my colleagues will do so also.
In response to my colleague, Senator Ó Céidigh, he is 100% correct. I have worked through the institutes of technology as president of the TUI. I never encountered anything but co-operation in the institutes but the amendment is to ensure that there will be no undue influence at any time in the future. I know most of the people in office now. I have worked with them and their staff and I trust them 100% but it is the future we are thinking of. Perhaps the conspiracy theory my colleague, Senator Norris, was talking about-----
To follow up on that, it is important that we do not personalise this. Of course the amendment is not in any sense a slight on any of the governing bodies, individuals or presidents. I have worked with many of them and have been on a students' union.
I have also worked in regard to governance. Having worked in regard to governance and having been on all sides, however, I know we need to have balance. A question was asked about balance. Part of good governance is good and appropriate balance. Most of us appreciate good governance. Most of the institutions that are represented, that are part of this and that will, I hope, become thriving and successful technological universities following the passage of this Bill, also appreciate good governance.
In this light, I am very curious to know who could possibly oppose these amendments. If there are no concerns and if everybody is happy to work together, perhaps the small, technical oversight in how the Bill was worded should be remedied. It would be a mark of respect for the balance that is appropriate if the universities, and particularly the Minister of State in this case, recognised there are different stakeholders and that they are not necessarily adversaries. They should not be adversaries and should be working together but, in working together, each needs to be given appropriate recognition and an appropriate platform. When some of the key stakeholders - the students - say the way they are being described is not appropriate, it behoves the institutions and the Department to show that they hear that and reflect it.
We have put forward a number of options. If the Minister of State has proposals that address the concerns, we will be happy to listen to them. There is a legitimate concern, however. I advise Senator Norris that there have been cases of concern in the past.
There have been concerns, including over the funding or defunding of the students' union in Dublin Institute of Technology, but they have been resolved.These issues were largely debated here. We do not want every concern to be debated here. That is not appropriate. We want to make sure that there are fora and procedures within the institutions themselves where these issues can be resolved. It is not appropriate to be airing these fights and having discussions and students' concerns routed through the legislative space. We want to make sure there is capacity within our institutions to support constructive dialogue appropriately between all stakeholders. That is what we are looking to do. It is not a slight and it is certainly not a matter of taking sides. I take issue with the comments made in that regard. We are all in support of technological universities coming into being, however, we want to make sure that it is done to the best of our ability. That is our job as legislators.
I, too, welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. We are all on the one page, if I can use that term, on this issue. Perhaps we are getting bogged down on the issue which has been raised. We all have the concerns of the students in mind. Senator Craughwell made the point at the outset that, in an attempt to move matters on, the Minister of State could perhaps take on board some of the points which have been made here today, deliberate with her officials on them and come back on Report Stage. We could then see what is in front of us at that point.
I want to make one thing clear. When I made my earlier comments I was not directing them at anyone. However, there have been experiences in the past where student unions have been threatened by college authorities. Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember one such case in my own university in the 1980s when we had a particularly strong, radical union leadership. There were certainly intimations in respect of funding. I can remember that.
I do not say that to cast any aspersions on anyone. I would be the first to recognise the wonderful people who manage colleges in most cases. The point is that when we are debating this Bill, which we all want to support, we want to get it right. We want to get the wording right. I welcome Senator Gallagher's suggestion. Let us not get bogged down but let us recognise that no one should object to the word "autonomous" being included. I cannot imagine why anyone would object.
I cannot imagine how it would threaten the Bill in any way. We are trying to be constructive here. This is a good Bill. This is a Bill which we all want to support. I ask the Minister of State to consider the addition of one word. I cannot imagine why anyone would possibly object to it. We can then all be on the one page. We are raising this because the students' unions themselves have expressed real concerns to us. Would it not be a pity if this Bill were to be passed with students' unions in the relevant colleges objecting? We do not need to be in that space and we should not be. One simple word would go a long way towards fixing this. Again, I support Senator Gallagher's suggestion and ask the Minister of State and her colleagues to consider this point.
From listening to the debate so far it is clear to me that everybody wants to see the speedy passage of this legislation so that we can move on to this new era which offers so much promise to many of our students. It is not going to be compulsory, but some colleges have done a huge amount of work with a view to merging and enjoying university status as technological universities. It is also important to note that, although we are a separate House and a review chamber, an awful lot of work has been done in the Dáil on Committee Stage. Some of the issues which we are looking at are not coming up for the first time. Normally, my concern with the role of the Seanad as a review chamber is that we should manage to spot particular things which have not been properly considered. I would divide the proposed amendments into two categories. Some are technically correct but not massively important as I see it. I disagree with the principle or premise behind others.
On the issue of the nomenclature, I am a former students' union president for my own university in Galway. I may have been a different kind of radical to the kind that Senator Gavan seems to enjoy having around, but I was reasonably effective in my own small way. At the time University College Galway was not part of the great Union of Students in Ireland, USI, behemoth. I confess that I am not aware of the current position but these thing are always subject to change.
People who were students in Galway in the early 1990s generally look back on the period as a golden era. Quite a bit was written about the Mullen presidency. I had a lot to learn about the media though. I remember leading 2,000 students on a demonstration against overcrowding on campus, which was pretty bad at the time. People were sitting on the floor eating their lunches beside the toilets in the basement.
I was not aware that there were things like press releases which had to be sent in advance so that the media had an idea what one was about. To return to this issue, it might be the case that some change of wording here would, in an ideal world, be desirable but I am not sure that it is critical. The question of whether one would include the word "autonomous" or talk about students' unions as autonomous bodies appears to be an attempt to bolster a case that is a live issue in some universities and colleges in which students' unions do not want to be interfered with unduly by university or college authorities. While there is a huge amount to be said for students' unions having the elbow room they need to do what they do, at the end of the day it is a fact that the money that students' unions spend comes from students and is collected by college authorities on their behalf. I would be very wary of students' unions seeking arrangements whereby they have complete control over a pot of money but no accountability for how it is used. I fear that this building up of students' unions as autonomous groups is, in some way, in furtherance of that particular agenda.
I am a firm believer in accountability. If students' unions want complete control of the money that is available to them, they should collect it directly from the students themselves. Some students would decline to opt in, but it is not an opt-in situation at present. The money is collected from students by college authorities and then disbursed, whether students like it or not, to students' unions. I am very leery of moving in that direction.
As a general principle, this legislation clearly provides for the important voice of students on governing bodies and, by extension, on academic councils and so on. I do not favour getting over-prescriptive in this legislation. It opens up debates which could be quite protracted and could involve other groups claiming an equal right to the same specificity. We are moving to a competency-based system for the governing bodies of our third level institutions and that is a good thing in terms of the institutions being served well by their governance structures. I favour the status quofor that reason. This Bill strikes the balance but leaves the necessary room to manoeuvre in the future in cases where it might be needed.
Senator Mullen raises interesting questions about the financing of students' unions. I am sure the Minister of State will be able to take them into consideration. I think we can move on by simply asking the Minister of State to consider these issues and report back to us on Report Stage. She might consider the possibility of including acknowledgement of the autonomous nature of students' unions and of the fact that they are governed by students. It is just recognising the situation as it exists. I do not think there should be too much problem with it. I ask the Minister of State to give an undertaking to look at these issues. On the issue of financing which was raised by Senator Mullen, I should think that if the universities did not gather this money, students' unions might find it quite difficult to get it out of students. There is a dilemma there but it is a marginal thing for the Minister of State to consider. However, she might just look at the idea of the autonomous nature of the students' unions and the fact that they are governed by students.That is exactly the situation at the moment. It would not affect the Bill if the Minister of State accepted the amendment.
As the Senator described it, it is the situation in universities. Perhaps the appropriate solution is to look at how students' unions are treated and defined in the legislation on other universities. Students' unions within institutes of technology have a slightly different standing from those within universities. It is important in the process of creating new universities that students in the new universities are not at a disadvantage compared with students and students' unions in existing universities. The goal is the levelling of various procedures and standards in the constituting of new universities. One part of that is ensuring that the measures in respect of students' unions reflect the way they are recognised and treated in other universities. Autonomous does not mean unaccountable. We are trying to ensure the accountability is also to the students and the student body and acknowledges the mandate given by them through democratic elections. That is a core issue. I look forward to the Minister of State's response. We have put forward a number of options but we are happy to work with options the Minister of State might put forward. That was indicated by Senators across the House.
I thank Senators Ruane, Higgins, Grace O'Sullivan, Gavan, Ó Ríordáin and Craughwell for raising the issue. I assure them we have heard the arguments and argued with the officials about what the best option is. We want the student voice to be heard in technological universities. I am hoping to go through some of the points the Senator made and show why we are rejecting them. I hope the Senator will give me attention.
Senator Higgins referred to other legislation. The definition used in the Technological Universities Bill is in line with the Universities Act 1997. Section 16(2)(d)(iv) of that Act states that in the composition of the governing authority there should be "students of the university who are elected officers of the Students Union or other student representative body in the university recognised by the governing authority". That is already included in the Universities Act 1997.
I am going through the different points that Senators have made. Similarly, in section 82(5) of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012, when referring to charters, it says, "In preparing a charter, the governing body of an Institute of Technology shall consult, in such manner as the governing body thinks appropriate, with the academic council ... and other staff of the Institute, any recognised trade union or staff association, and any recognised student union or other student representative body." In addition, trade unions and staff associations are recognised by the Technological Universities Bill in section 9(5)(b) in the context of the procedures relating to the resolution of disputes. It is clear there must be mutual co-operation between the technological university and the students' union, and unless both recognise each other, there can be no dialogue or productive interaction. It is in this sense that the concept of recognition pertains.
The recognition by mutual parties must also prevent the unworkable and unwanted situation which could occur if there was a plethora of single-issue bodies purporting to represent student concerns. Even for a handful of students to require constant interaction by the technological university with such bodies would be to the detriment of the representation of all concerns of students by the recognised students' union.
The definition in the Bill also includes a reference to other student representative bodies which ensures the definition also includes the possibility of there being more than one student representative body in the institution in question such as a students' union representing postgraduates.
In terms of the proposed definition, the entire statement relates to the independence of students' unions with no corresponding insertions relating to either governance or accountability for the funding that is channelled to the students' union. We cannot have a situation whereby there is not an appropriate balance between autonomy and accountability, particularly when we are seeking to strengthen the governance and accountability framework for higher education institutions. It is for these reasons I cannot accept these amendments.
Certainly. The Minister of State highlighted a key concern and perhaps it will be the resolution we will come to on Report Stage. In the Universities Act, "elected officers" are referred to. That is a key point because it is an element that is not present in this Bill. The definition of "student" is included in a subsection of the Bill but the question of the students' union, an election and it being democratically mandated is a crucial point. Maybe we will find other ways, but on that crucial question, we cannot have a situation whereby, as the Minister of State described it, we may have a number of people who do not have a particular mandate and were not elected.
An elected officer is the key issue. It is something that is included in the Universities Act but not here. Perhaps it is where we will find a resolution. Amendment No. 4 addressed the concern raised by the Minister of State and others when it referred to the recognition by the institute or technological university. There is the capacity there. Amendment No. 3 is strong and I like it but I recognise that amendment No. 4 has balance. It says "means an autonomous body governed by students and recognised by the institute or technological university which promotes and represents the interests of students, both individual and collective". The key point is there is recognition and space so that if there are serious concerns, an institute can ensure it is doing due diligence. There is oversight but also the recognition of autonomy. The concerns the Minister of State raised are addressed in amendment No. 4. It is quite a good compromise. I acknowledge we may produce further variants of it on Report Stage and perhaps the issue of the elected officer would be another way around it. It is something interesting the Minister of State highlighted. Maybe that is another way we may address it on Report Stage.
The institutes of technology have been working hard since 2012 toward the amalgamation. They have gone overboard in facilitating trade unions and student representation in the merging process. There has been massive investment by the institutes in making sure they got everybody on board. They have worked hard with my former trade union, the Teachers Union of Ireland, to ensure they brought it on board and got full buy-in right through the process.I understand the points being made by Senator Rónán Mullen and just made by Senator Alice-Mary Higgins. Rather than go around the houses again on this argument, perhaps we might withdraw all of the amendments now and reserve the right to retable them on Report Stage. I know that the Minister of State has already looked at the issues again, but I am anxious that we move the Bill through Committee Stage today and do not delay it any longer. There have been enough hiccups along the way. We can discuss the issues again on Report Stage when there might be a clearer definition of autonomy. As I said, I understand the points being made, but I am anxious to facilitate passage of the Bill today.
I appreciate the responses of the Minister of State. An important phrase she used was that we needed a balance between autonomy and accountability. That is a fair point. However, it leaves me a little puzzled as to the reason her colleagues are objecting to the use of the word "autonomous" because it is part of the phrase used. I hope that, collectively, we can try to close the gap. It may seem small, but it is very important to the student unions involved in the process. Again, it would be a shame if we did not achieve consensus on the issue.
Again, I thank Senators, but I remain of the view that the current definition which is in line with the Universities Act 1997 and other relevant legislation is preferable. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 9, lines 34 to 36, to delete all words from and including "means" in line 34 down to and including "university" in line 36 and substitute the following:"means an autonomous body governed by students and recognised by the institute or technological university which promotes and represents the interests of students, both individual and collective".
I move this amendment with regret because I hope we can still engage between Committee and Report Stages.
Yes, but I am pointing out that I am moving it with regret and feel I have to press it. It is the best compromise on the table and takes on board the Minister of State's concerns. I understand she is unable to support it now, but I am happy to revise it and bring forward a revised version. However, it is important because there is a key principle involved. I was so disappointed that the Minister of State was unable to indicate that she could work with us in the interim. I may bring forward a variation, but for now I must press the amendment which, as I said, is important.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 11, to delete lines 17 to 20 and substitute the following:"(2) A technological university shall be allowed to describe itself as a technological university. The Minister, with the consent of the governing authority of a technological university, may by order specify a name, other than the name specified in the order under section 36, by which the technological university may describe itself for operational purposes.".
This amendment has been designed to ensure the brand of a technological university would be preserved in the future. It would still allow the Minister to consult on changes to the name but not to remove the term "technological university" or to impose names against the will of a technological university. There are the rather perverse prohibitions on institutes such as the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland which are not able to refer to themselves in Ireland as universities but can do so abroad. Institute of Technology Carlow was redesignated as Austin Waldron RTC but then had to campaign to have it returned to a more neutral descriptive designation. Names matter and the technological universities need to be provided with certainty as regards their future plans. If the aim of the Bill is to be achieved, we need to ensure the benefits of designation will be secure. I reiterate that the aim of the amendment is to ensure the term "technological university" would be used in terms of branding and could not be changed.
This is my opportunity to talk about the term "technological university", about which I expressed some concern, even though I have strongly supported Waterford Institute of Technology's wish to be recognised as a university. My reason is they are separate, distinct and equally valuable institutions. As the name implies, universities have traditionally covered a very wide range of subjects, from music to the humanities, Latin, Greek, the classics, archaeology, architecture and medicine, whereas technological universities tend to concentrate on technical subjects. They started off as regional technical colleges and then became institutes of technology and are now to become technological universities.
I received correspondence from somebody who taught in the institutions and is not hostile to them. He is concerned about the use of the term "technological university" and what will flow from recognition of this title. He maintains that the term implies that institutes of technology that will not join in the arrangement will be seen as second level and inferior to those that will engage in it. That is one difficulty.
The question then arises of who will go to the universities. He says he has seen more and more students go to universities not because it is the right choice but because it is expected, including by their parents. That reinforces the view that those that will remain as institutes of technology may be seen as second rate and that students may be drawn unnecessarily towards a university. Getting into university is seen as a badge of success or failure. If someone gets into university, he or she is seen as a success and if he or she does not, he or she is seen as a failure. That is not correct.
Another salient point made was that 99% of students in Dublin 6 went on to third level, whereas only 15% of students in Dublin 17 did. There is a catastrophic difference between the 99% of students in Dublin 6 and the 15% of students in Coolock and similar areas. This raises the question as to whether the 99% of students in Terenure need to go to universities? Is it their parents who are pushing them to do so? Would they be just as well off taking courses in woodwork or landscape gardening? Why would virtually 100% of students in a particular area go to university, when only 15% of students from area such as Coolock go there? That is a worry that I share with the gentleman in question.
Why not just call them institutes? Many of them are actually not universities but some are. Some are very close to being universities, while others by their ethos and nature are just technical. I am not sure they are universities, but I recognise at this stage of the game that it is highly unlikely that the title of the Bill will be changed. Howver, it is important that we raise these issues.
I agree with some of what Senator Norris said. In the past, the regional technical colleges had an important role when they focused on educating graduates with engineering and technical skills to serve the construction and engineering industries and stakeholders in the various regions where they were established, as well as providing apprentices to the construction sector.
I attended Waterford Regional Technical College when it evolved into Waterford Institute of Technology. That is fine if a college wants to remain in that space on specific engineering and technical arrangements. However, I know that Waterford Institute of Technology, for example, has evolved dramatically over the years. The argument is that the south east is the only region which does not have a university. The institute itself responded to that need with limited resources. Institutes of technology do not have the autonomy that universities have. Despite that barrier, many of these institutes, like Waterford, evolved to develop courses in the humanities, law, music and other areas, through the hard work and commitment of their teaching staff.
Waterford has been a leading example in this. I do not want to be just talking about Waterford but it is a perfect example. In the data provided by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, it can be seen that Waterford has done far more research with the money it gets because it has engaged with industry, achieved research capacity and has evolved into a functional and efficient research base. Due to that aspiration, it has a higher percentage of lecturers with PhDs.
Some institutes do not have that capacity, however. Senator Norris is correct that they have a better place in the education structure where they should concentrate on what they are best at, whether it is bringing through apprenticeships, engineering graduates and so forth. There is a need for this right across the country. As a former apprentice myself, I know there has been too much emphasis on academia lately.
In various sectors now, whether industry, engineering or construction, we are not getting the apprentices coming through because schools and parents are being lambasted that one must have a degree to function in society.
That is totally wrong. We are seeing the deficits right across society now. We all have a role, including ourselves as policymakers, to start raising awareness about the real needs of our economy in terms of apprenticeships, engineering graduates and career paths which can start with apprenticeships and end up with degrees and doctorates.
This Bill has the potential to deliver on this. My criticisms are that the colleges, which are aspirational and have really worked hard to raise their game with the courses they deliver, along with staff qualifications, may not be rewarded by the Bill. I agree with Senator Norris in some ways. We must have technological universities. However, there is a place for everybody. Institutes of technology should not be looked at as second class. Regional technical colleges were looked at as second class in the past. It meant that students were moving out of their regions. I gave the example on Second Stage of how over half of leaving certificate students in the south-east region move out of it for third level education. That is not sustainable. It is having a direct impact, not only on the economy of the south-east region but on its society. It brings a mindset that we are second class. By God, we are not second class. We depend on the State, the mechanisms in education, the Civil Service and the HEA not to deprive regions and their citizens access to adequate third level education.
I have suspicions - Senator Norris can call them conspiracy theories if he likes - that the third level funding cake in this country is of a certain size. If the cake has to be sliced up to include an additional university, then the slices become smaller for the rest of the universities. There is resistance to this. I saw that during the campaign for a university for the south east over the past 20 years. Waterford has proved its ability in terms of the courses it offers, the graduates it presents and the commitment of its staff to reach PhD level and high teaching standards. It has reached all of those with one hand tied behind its back.
That is why the argument has always been made for Waterford to have a university. I was delighted when a technological universities Bill was included in the programme for Government in 2011. However, there have been some tweaks about which I am concerned. I will come back to them later on other amendments. We must support those institutions which aspire to high standards and to serve the citizens and their regions. We need to acknowledge the technical colleges, the vocational system and the apprenticeships. We must encourage people through those career paths where there is lifelong learning which opens many doors. We need to be strong in all of these points.
I support this Bill but I will be critical of some aspects concerning eligibility criteria. I believe we are watering down the standards to bring up the lowest common denominator. That is not what education should be about.
I was reluctant to interrupt Senator Coffey in mid flow. However, I must remind Members we are discussing amendment No. 7, section 8, about the naming of a university. While the Senator did comment on it, much of what he said was not speaking to the amendment.
I always had misgivings about changing the titles of the institutes of technology. I had a difficulty when they changed from regional technical colleges to institutes of technology. Now we are moving to the next stage to technological universities. I always felt, as someone who had come late to education, that by putting in the word "university", we made it another exclusive institution. I have visited the various institutes of technology around the country. In Carlow, one will find the finest courses in aircraft engineering and maintenance. In Waterford, one will find fantastic IT systems. In Letterkenny, one will find marvellous catering courses. In Galway, the institute's interaction with technical teachers is second to none.
In taking the name "technological universities", I would like to be assured that the apprenticeship side of education stays with us. Ideally, I would like to see us moving towards the Finnish model where one can travel on two streams and, as my colleague Senator Coffey said, one can then move from one stream to the other. Accordingly, an apprentice bricklayer, for example, is not stopped at level 6 but can get to a level 9 on the national qualifications framework and have a doctorate in his or her specific skill.
When we move to the technological university designation, I do not want to see us lose our relationship with the practical skills about which Senator Coffey spoke. I do not want the young guy or girl who would be a great carpenter or bricklayer feel he or she cannot go to a technological university because it is all about academia. The Minister of State and I spoke about this a long time before she was ever Minister when she was a great supporter of further education. I know she understands what I am talking about. I am putting this on the record for the presidents of the institutes who are sitting in the Gallery to remind them that apprenticeships are vital to this country. I applaud the work they do. However, when they change the names of the institutes, they should not change their ethos.They should continue to do what they are doing.
I will not speak to the amendment because we can discuss the issue of access points and apprenticeships when we introduce amendments later. However, I will echo one point made by Senator Craughwell, namely, that we must be clear and underscore the fact that the institutes of technology are also in the humanities. Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology has a centre for creative arts, Letterkenny Institute of Technology offers law and the humanities, and Waterford Institute of Technology does a range of work in the humanities. Part of the work of institutes of technology involves sociology, philosophy, theology and international relations. This is crucial because it creates a rounded person. However, we must still ensure access points are available at all levels. We can return to that issue.
The polytechnics played a crucial role in the United Kingdom. When I was studying philosophy, I found that subjects such as cultural studies, which polytechnics had placed on the agenda, had become mainstream subjects in universities. New areas of the humanities are being opened up by institutes of technology and I hope technological universities will do likewise in future.
I am delighted to listen to this debate. I spoke to many Senators, including Senators Coffey and Grace O'Sullivan from Waterford. The move to establish technological universities was taken on foot of a recommendation of the Hunt report which set out the strategy for higher education until 2030. The technological university concept was a key part of the recommendations made in the report for the future development of the higher education landscape.
Further education is extremely important. There are three further education colleges in my constituency and I love being asked to take part in their graduation ceremonies. It is edifying to see how well the students are doing at these colleges.
We have developed new apprenticeships, including in the area where Senator Craughwell used to live. A new apprenticeship in insurance has been introduced in Sligo, and Blackrock offers an accounting technician apprenticeship. We are developing these apprenticeships and I would like them to be developed faster. I have great respect for apprenticeships.
I have 33 years in education behind me and I have been fortunate to see many of my past pupils go through the various sectors. I am always amazed at how well they have done. Many of them are having children and sending them to education.
Senator Coffey referred to Waterford, on which we have had extensive talks. The issue was also raised when I was in the House previously as the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I was also invited to Waterford when I was Minister and I saw the great work being done in the area. It was stressed to me that businesses were coming to the area because the institute of technology in the city was able to train students and ensure Waterford had the necessary skills base.
Senator Coffey stated that more than half of young people leave County Waterford when they complete the leaving certificate.
I often heard that when students leave, they do not return. A technological university in Waterford and Carlow will strengthen the offer available to students who will be able to continue to masters and postgraduate level, including PhDs. While I know it is possible to do this now, we want to strengthen the offer. The functions of a technological university are listed in section 9, which shows precisely what is the thinking behind technological university formation.
I will now address the amendment. I thank the Acting Chairman for showing me such latitude. The name for a technological university is a matter, in the first instance, for the institutes applying for the designation as a technological university. This process will also take proposals on how the individual campuses within the technological university will be named. An order under section 36 provides for the establishment of a technological university and the specification of its name. There is no requirement to specify that the technological university be allowed to describe itself as a technological university as that is the purpose of section 36.
Section 8(2) simply provides a mechanism whereby any subsequent decision on changing the name from that originally specified and required for operational purposes may be so specified by the Minister in consultation with the technological university. This is not a decision that would be imposed arbitrarily by the Minister and it would be a mechanism used only with the agreement of both parties. It is a provision that allows for a degree of flexibility in this matter should it be required at any future stage. I cannot, therefore, accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 13, to delete line 31 and substitute the following:"(IV) promoting an entrepreneurial, creative and innovative ethos, without prejudice to section 10,".
This amendment relates specifically to the ethos of the technological universities. Our colleges and universities are not and cannot be near enterprise training schools. We alluded to this in terms of the range of disciplines that would be offered. The amendment addresses the specific issue of enterprise training schools and seeks to broaden any defined ethos to include the international academic aims of providing a creative, practical and impactful academic environment that benefits students, the region and country in more than just a financial manner. As such, it broadens the remit to ensure it covers all aspects, not only enterprise and financial matters.
I second the amendment. The amendment proposes to make a technical change. The addition of the proposed wording would broaden the capacity of the technological university to include creative arts. Perhaps this would be done under the entrepreneurial heading but we tend to think of entrepreneurial as having only a business application. Including the words "creative" and "innovative" would broaden the ethos. There is significant capacity here. One of the major problems I encountered in education was the withdrawal in 2008 or 2009 of the seed capital programme in education and training boards for small business start-ups.This amendment broadens the capacity of technological universities to get involved in a plethora of areas. It will not change the Bill fundamentally, but it will give the institutions a great deal more latitude once they are in place. I will support it.
I will be tabling an amendment on Report Stage that is similar to this one, so I support this amendment. I have been advised by people close to the situation. The idea of narrowing down and concentrating on entrepreneurial matters affects all universities. The drift towards doing what industry wants because it will invest in particular kinds of research guides research in certain directions and can tend to exclude other areas, especially the humanities.
My suggested wording on promoting an ethos that supports entrepreneurship, creativity, autonomy, innovation and engaged citizenship will be similar to this amendment, albeit a little more expansive. The insistence that a university would have an exclusively entrepreneurial ethos is limiting, seems at variance with the remit of universities worldwide and may be in conflict with earlier paragraphs in this subsection. My amendment will not remove the mention of entrepreneurialism, only place it in context.
To be clear, no one is against the idea of entrepreneurship being supported by institutions. Rather, the concern is with how it is worded in the Bill. Had paragraph (IV) read "supporting entrepreneurship", none of us would have raised a question. The paragraph sends a strong message, one that effectively permeates and affects the rest of the Bill, as Senator Norris stated. Under this paragraph, a technological university must promote "an entrepreneurial ethos" in the performance of its functions.
We must be open to taking on constructive and helpful amendments like this one. That is good practice in academic work and in our role as legislators. Since we are speaking of universities, let us be clear in our definitions. All academics would respect that. "Ethos" means the fundamental character and is used to describe the guiding ideals, beliefs and focus of a community, nation or entity. In "ethos", we are saying that this is to be the guiding principle or character of the university. That is a significant and weighty word to attach in this space. There are important distinctions between entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial and innovation. My colleague has referred to international universities and I know of longer definitions, but one of the simpler distinctions is that, while innovation is about the creation of new capacities, ideas and knowledge, entrepreneurship is about the use or exploitation of capacities, knowledge and ideas. They are different. I do not say "exploitation" in a negative sense; I am referring to use. The other definitions of "entrepreneurship" are narrow, for example, the activity of setting up a business or businesses and taking on financial or other risks in the hope of profit or success. Entrepreneurs do important work in society, but it relates to identifying a business or other opportunity to profit or benefit from knowledge or ideas.
Within our institutions of learning, we also need to value innovation, which is about driving new ideas and looking at new ways of thinking about things. That is why "creative" is included in the simple definition proposed by my colleague. This is important.
I referred to the Centre for the Creative Arts and Media in Galway and we have discussed the institutions of law and the role of the humanities in our institutes. If we want to ensure that the new technological universities are empowered to explore and drive ideas in ways that may have benefits that are not about profit, but rather other forms of benefit, and expand our collective knowledge, they need to be mandated to do that. If they are charged with the fundamental ethos of being required to determine at all points how something can be translated into business or profit, it will be concerning. There are points at which entrepreneurship and innovation are deeply complementary, but we should acknowledge that there are other points at which they are contradictory. For example, it may be entrepreneurial to say that, since an institute can make more from a particular medication or product, a low-cost or no-cost alternative should not be proposed. If we are driven by a business logic, we will look to where that benefit can be found as opposed to the wider benefit.
This is a constructive and simple amendment. It gives our universities freedom and support. I imagine that they support it, and I hope they do. I also hope that the Minister of State will take it on board.
I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me latitude in my previous contribution. I will be brief and speak to the amendment this time. I will be interested to hear the Minister of State's response to the amendment. The Bill's wording is that technological universities should promote "an entrepreneurial ethos". To me, an entrepreneurial spirit is already creative and innovative. We should not fall out over this wording.
Regarding the general section on the functions of technological universities, it is important that they be given the tools to attain the intellectual, creative and physical infrastructure capacity that they will need to achieve the objectives and standards that we are setting for them. They should be given any support that is required to elevate them to the standard to which we all aspire. It is not good enough just to set criteria and introduce legislation and then expect institutes to reach the new standards without additional resources and supports. That would be an unfunded mandate. It is all very well for us as policymakers to set the bar high and introduce legislation, but we must apply a realistic aspiration and provide realistic supports, even if it only happens over time. That will come down to the Minister of State seeking support in forthcoming Government budgets, and I look forward to supporting her in that. To achieve the Bill's aspiration and allow technological universities to fulfil the functions that we are laying out, their intellectual and creative capacity will need that resourcing.
I cannot see why anyone would object to this amendment. Entrepreneurism is important. Last week, I went to the House of Commons with a bunch of entrepreneurs to discuss Brexit. I brought them over. I hope there will not be, but if there is an objection from the Department to the words "creative" and "innovative", I will be worried and have to wonder what has prompted it. Surely the Department is not arguing for entrepreneurism at the expensive of everything else. That would be indicative of such an extreme ideology that no one could sign up to it.
There is nothing threatening in the words "creative" and "innovative". Regarding Senator Coffey's point, their meanings are not quite the same. For example, I could be an entrepreneur by doubling the price of my product. I am not being creative or innovative. I am just creating more money.
Let us not get caught up in this narrow definition. Let us broaden it in a way that does not threaten the entrepreneurial good that the Minister of State is seeking to encourage.
I agree with Senator Gavan that simply using the word "entrepreneurial" is not broad enough. Inserting "creative and innovative" broadens the measure, particularly in light of the future that lies ahead of us.It is a future in which we will have to be extremely innovative and creative when dealing with issues such as climate change. There are things coming down the line, about which we do not have a clue. We need students to come through primary, second and third level and so on prepared for these challenges. For me, therefore, including the word "innovative" would be hugely important. I do not want our future to be the same old same old in going down a dark hole. I want it to be bright, which is why I say we should include the word "creative". This is about opening and expanding minds. It should be entrepreneurial, which would be brilliant, as we want to have the best and innovative ideas, but it has to be more than this, which is what I am arguing for. It is quite simple, but it seeks to broaden the definition with an eye to the future in order that we can be expansive and open and educate pupils to meet the challenges ahead.
I have listened carefully to the Senator and, if she does not mind, would like her to look at the Bill. Section 9 is approximately three pages long. In subsection (4) there is a clause on promoting an entrepreneurial ethos. Section 9(1)(c) provides that it will be a function of the technological university to "provide for the broad education, intellectual and personal development of students, for the purpose of enabling them, as graduates, to excel in their chosen careers and to contribute responsibly to social, civil and economic life in innovative and adaptable ways". Section 9(1)(k) provides that a technological university will "serve the community and public interest" by "developing ... strong social and cultural links, and links supporting creativity, between the technological university and the community in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located".
There are other provisions included in the Bill which speak to innovation, the humanities, creativity, local interests and the development of the student. Section 9(1)(g) provides that one of the functions of a technological university shall be to "support entrepreneurship, enterprise development and innovation in business, enterprise and the professions through teaching and the conduct of research and through effective transfer to those and other sectors of knowledge arising from that research".
The word "creativity" is contained in the Bill. The Senator referred to one small clause, but all of this is referred to in the Bill. Section 18(2)(e) refers to "the plans of the technological university to develop and promote strong social and cultural links, and links supporting creativity, between the technological university and the community in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located". I said on the last occasion that I had had the huge pleasure of visiting the institutes of technology and seeing creativity out the door. I have seen innovation, the humanities, the wonderful nursing schools, child care facilities and the teaching of fantastic subjects in the institutes of technology, to which I pay tribute for what is ongoing.
Senator Paudie Coffey spoke about the need to ensure there would be money behind the formation of technological universities. With hand on my heart, I say that in budget 2018 we showed that intent and money was put on the table. There was €200 million for a PPP for the 11 institutes of technology throughout the country. Since 2016 an additional €100 million has been put into third level education and third level institutes. I will be fighting hard on that front. A budget has also been put in place for the development of technological universities. Some of the institutes are further along the line and we will help them, budget-wise, as they come through. As a Minister of State, I assure the Senator that there will be money and resources available to help the institutes join in the consortia and become technological universities.
I want the House to see that a reference to creativity is included in the Bill. Members will have heard of STEM subjects, but I am a Minister of State who shouts for STEAM, with the arts at the heart of STEM. We need innovation and creativity, within which research falls. I, therefore, ask Members to accept what we are doing but not to accept it in good faith as it is written into the Bill.
I take on board the words used in the different parts of the Bill referred to by the Minister of State. Despite having read different sections of the Bill, the Minister of State did not use the word "ethos" which is included in the amendment. The section refers to the promotion of an entrepreneurial ethos. As would the amendment Senator David Norris suggested he would table, mine would promote an "entrepreneurial, creative and innovative ethos". There is a reference in the Bill to creativity and innovation, but this provision refers to the ethos of the technological university. That is the reason I will press the amendment. I know that Senator David Norris has indicated that he will table a stronger amendment on Report Stage.
I think we have all read the Bill. I followed with interest all of the sections the Minister of State highlighted. There is so much of what she referred to in the Bill. Not only is it mentioned throughout the Bill, but I acknowledge that the Minister of State has personally shown an interest in other forms of innovation such as social innovation, creative thinking and new ways of looking at the social problems we face together. I recognise this and acknowledge that the words to which she referred are positive. There is, however, a crucial concern. As I described, the ethos is the guiding principle of the institution. It is, therefore, a concern.
Senator David Norris has indicated that he may table further amendments on report Stage. I may do so also. The Minister of State may wish to table amendments too. I think the proposal and the idea of having a creative, innovative, entrepreneurial ethos as set out by my colleague are exciting and positive. Alternatively, if one wished to remove the word "ethos" from that particular, narrow context and talk simply about supporting entrepreneurship, that would be fine. The key concern is that having the word "ethos" in the section means that it would permeate and affect all other positive aspirations outlined by the Minister of State because we would then have to question if they would be subject to it as their driving character.I know that is not the Minister of State's intention, that that is not what the Bill is about and that the Minister of State has taken great care in many sections to address the matters of creativity, innovation and social inclusion. That is why we need to get it right. I am concerned that there seems to be an approach to try to get this rubber-stamped by the Seanad and that the Government is not able to take on board even the smallest and most constructive suggestions. That is not good practice. If it takes one more day to go back to Report Stage in the Dáil to agree constructive proposals that were put forward, that would be a good day's work because we would know that we were happy with what we put forward. I ask the Minister of State, having worked so hard on this Bill, not to compromise now on positive, constructive amendments which will make it a better legacy and better legislation. I ask the Minister of State to consider proposals of how that might be addressed. We will listen to amendments she puts forward on Report Stage.
I will hold my ground. I do not propose to accept that amendment because there are many points describing creativity, the need for innovation and the need for research. I know the Senator is looking at one word, "ethos", but this whole Bill describes what we hope the ethos of a technological university is. All of those concepts relating to innovation, creativity and the humanities are present. It is quite superfluous because we dealt with it in all the other sections of the Bill. It is only one bullet point and it was all addressed earlier.
We are talking about the strong social and cultural links and about innovation and research. This is not confined to the limits of one bullet point and the one word the Senator has focused on. The Bill is not about that. We should get what we want for our students.
I agree with the Minister of State. The amendment is a bit naive. It presumes that colleges, now to become technological universities, would not have a qualitative educational ethos which would be their underlying focus. There would be thousands of radii from that, whether creative, artistic, cultural, scientific, technological, apprenticeships or whatever. It is indicative in the Bill that this is being sought and that universities should have the independence of mind to do this and have an educated, qualitative ethos. I am inclined to agree with the Minister of State. There are other words such as "entrepreneurial" which are so tired. There is always the motive of profit somewhere.
No, if it was, the sentence would be a contradiction. Universities about education, educereand educate, to draw out and to gift. That is what they are for. They are not about having a profit. That might happen at postgraduate level. I am not saying it would not be innovative. That is the difference with the entrepreneurial language. I think it is indicative. The qualitative education and independence of their ethos, to allow them to create whatever new ethos they want within their different cohorts, are important. I agree with the Minister of State and think it is a naive amendment.
I remind Members that we are almost two hours into this debate and we are on amendment No. 8. We have 38 amendments to try to get through in the next hour. I accept that we may not get through them and that we will sit another day, but I remind people that we have less than an hour left for this topic today.
One of the beauties of legislation is defining things, getting in and nailing matters down in the legislation. That is why I am holding to this. The amendment states, "innovative ethos, without prejudice to section 10,". I cannot understand why the Minister of State will not accept this. It truly strengthens the legislation. I understand the Minister of State has the terms "creative" and "innovative" in different parts but this is very specific. For that reason, I will press it to a vote.
I am very interested to see the reaction of the House to this Bill because I cannot understand why the Minister of State will not accept this amendment. It truly strengthens the Bill. I would like to press it to a vote.
Excuse me. Do not roar at me. It is indicative. It is there in the Bill. It jumps out of most of the sentences in the Bill. The Senator could put in the word "artistic", "free" or other words. The amendment is naive because it confines things. It is confining as opposed to liberating.
It is not. The amendment broadens it out. This is the only place where the word "ethos" occurs. Ethos is the governing principle. It is the mission statement of a university. The other things concerned with respecting the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions and all that stuff, and promoting political free inquiry and so on are present. The only thing that talks about ethos is "promoting an entrepreneurial ethos". The whole range, direction and movement is towards entrepreneurship. It does not include creativity, autonomy, innovation or engaged citizenship. These things may be mentioned in other places in the Bill but this is the governing clause. It is where ethos comes in. It is important for that reason.
I had not thought about this but some of my colleagues have referred to the fact that, so far, no amendments have been accepted. It looks to me like the Government practice that I know of old, where at this Stage it will not accept any amendments because it is too much of a bother to send the Bill back to the Dáil. I wonder if that is what is happening because many of the amendments seem to me to be well-versed and to add to the Bill. The arguments are strong and some even come from the Government's side of the House. I would very much regret it if the Seanad was to be deprived of its function in amending legislation simply to expedite its passage through the Oireachtas.
I want a little clarification. Is it the case that Senator Norris intends to bring back an amendment on Report Stage? If he does, if we push a vote on this today, that is it and it is over as far as I am aware. It would be dead in the water. If Senator Norris intends to bring back an alternative to the wording that Senator O'Sullivan has tabled today, it would be wrong of us to push this to a vote.
I thought, because I was listening to the debate in my room up until a few minutes ago, that one of the reasons we would push the amendments to Report Stage was that we would deal with them then rather than hold the Bill back now. I agree that the amendments are not being accepted now but I thought they would come back on Report Stage.Was that what the other Senators wanted? They were going to be dealt with and brought back. Was that not what I heard?
To clarify, there are a number of amendments that I have co-signed. This is not an amendment that I have co-signed. It is an amendment which I read, looked at it on its merits and responded to. I am absolutely free, if I wish, to put an amendment of my own in respect of similar issues on Report Stage, as indeed is Senator Norris. The only person whose question and decision it is in terms of pressing this amendment is the sole proposer, Senator Grace O'Sullivan. I saw-----
Senator Higgins is correct. I think it is the subject that is excluded if an amendment is voted upon and fails. I do not think it is the fact that someone puts forward an amendment and then any other Member of the House can introduce a similar amendment. I am not sure that is the case and I look for a ruling from the Chair. Supposing this amendment was put to the House and voted down. My amendment is different, if is more expansive, but it is very similar. If this amendment is put and voted down, do I then have the opportunity to introduce a separate amendment that is not in exactly the same form of words?
Senator O'Sullivan's amendment is to delete line 31 and substitute: "promoting an entrepreneurial, creative and innovative ethos, without prejudice to section 10".Mine is promoting an ethos that supports, which is a different word, entrepreneurship, creativity, autonomy, which is not in Senator O'Sullivan's, innovation and engaged citizenship. It is-----
We have the Senator's point. Standing Order 129, which is titled "Amendments on Report", reads:
In the case of a Bill reported from a Committee of the whole Seanad only such amendments as arise out of proceedings in Committee may be moved on Fourth Stage. Amendments previously rejected in Committee of the whole Seanad shall not be in order.
If something is rejected-----
I am telling the Senator that is the wording. It is not my wording. If we listen to the wording, "amendments previously rejected in Committee of the whole Seanad shall not be in order", if the subject matter, by my reading of it, is rejected at this point, the same subject matter cannot be brought back on Report Stage.
This is fundamental. We are setting a potentially dangerous precedent. The Chair has mentioned subject matter, and that an amendment that has been rejected may not be brought back. However, in the first sentence the Chair made it clear that amendments must arise out of the discussion on Committee Stage. If we discuss things on Committee Stage, we absolutely have the prerogative to put forward amendments. Discussions on Committee Stage, by their nature, will be discussions on subject matter brought up by amendments proposed on Committee Stage. Of course we have the right to put forward amendments on Report Stage that arise from the discussion on a Committee Stage-----
-----eligible and my completely different approach, which would be to remove the word "ethos" and substitute the word "supporting" entrepreneurship, is another approach that has arisen from the discussion today. They are absolutely within our rights. It is important that we should not set a wrong ruling on that.
I am reading out the Standing Order so the Senators know the backup that is there in respect of it. If an amendment is put forward now and it falls, it cannot be reintroduced in the same wording. If the wording is different, if it is wider or changed in some form, then it is a new amendment, albeit quite similar, and can be introduced at the next Stage.
At this stage, I think everybody who wanted to speak has done so. Does the Minister of State want to come in at this point?
Students need certainty from this Bill. They need certainty that their voices are heard and that they take their place as key stakeholders where decisions are being made about the institutions in which they are the largest cohort. This issue is at its most pressing in the structure the governing body takes because key decisions are made there. I refer to the levies they pay, the services and supports on offer and how they interact on their campus.
Student union officers receive a mandate to work on these issues from the wider student body, more of a mandate than any other member of the governing body. They offer unique insights into the student experience and ensure that a governing body is diverse and balanced as opposed to one always balanced toward management and staff.
I am making a point that amendments regarding student seats on governing bodies have been struck out of order on three different Stages now. We know they are not a cost to the State. I ask for an explanation as to how they could possibly be a cost to the State. I also have to express a real concern now that this is a charade here today. Are we wasting our time? It strikes me any amendment put forward, no matter how reasonable, is being rejected out of hand. It looks to me like it is a charade and we are just here as a rubber-stamping exercise. What a pity, if that is the approach being taken by the Department.
I have received the following note which I will read. It is headed, "Note for information of Chair re amendments ruled out of order". Referring to amendments Nos. 10 and 14 it states:
[Amendments Nos. 10 and 14] seek to require that at least one representative is appointed to the governing body from each institute merging. The amendment would have the effect of increasing the minimum number of members on a governing body of a technological university. Members of the body may be paid such allowances in respect of remuneration and expenses as the Minister may determine. Therefore, any increase in membership could impose a charge on the revenue and the amendment must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 41.
That is not my decision. That is the decision of the Cathaoirleach. I am only reading it out for the benefit of the Senators.
I completely accept that but I say just once more this is a glaring example of where a tiny amount of money, a ridiculous amount of money, is being used to frustrate the Upper House of Parliament from making an amendment. It is a complete and utter nonsense and a farce. The sooner we do something about it and release ourselves from these kinds of puerile restrictions the better.
Just to complete the point and I appreciate the Chair pointing out that section. Here we have some of the finest young people in the country in our institutions of technology making a reasonable request. They see this Chamber today having rejected their request on cynical grounds, as Senator Norris has pointed out. The most cynical grounds. What a message that sends in terms of how the body politic works for young people. It is a disgrace that this has been ruled out three times.
Every single amendment could be ruled out of order on the basis that it costs the Exchequer money to print it on the Order Paper. Technically, if we take this to the extreme, and it is an absurd extreme, but it is possible, no amendment whatever could be introduced by Seanad Éireann. That is how ludicrous a situation it is. It is time we woke up and did something about our dignity as a Chamber.
We are dealing with section 12. We have a number of amendments out of order. The rest of the amendments have already been discussed. Nos. 9 to 18 are in section 12.I am anxious to get on with section 12. The amendments which are not out of order have already been discussed. The amendments which are out of order are out of order.
I join others in expressing real regret that these amendments were ruled out of order. They were very constructive and sought to ensure a voice for students from each of the different campuses affected. From our perspective, I recognise that there was an amendment from the Labour Party in respect of ICTU and an amendment from Senator Grace O'Sullivan in respect of academic representation. However, I need to raise a key point because I will reluctantly put forward amendments on Report Stage.
We sought to identify how key stakeholders could be adequately and appropriately represented on the governing body in a way in which would be constructive and useful. We have not had the opportunity to debate that because the amendments were ruled out of order. If we are going to use the fact of the number on the governing body as the limitation for us to be able to discuss this, unfortunately and regrettably, we will need to table amendments in respect of those who are already provided for.
We sought to add to the provisions of the governing body rather than diminish the space which had already been carved out. I wish to signal now that, unfortunately, we may need to look to paragraph (h). It specifies quite a wide number of members which is interesting given the limitations elsewhere. It states that there can be at least three but not more than nine external members, one of whom shall have an expertise in standards and practice in higher education outside the State. That is totally appropriate.
Confusingly, the members would be nominated by a committee of three. Perhaps there might need to be at least four, given that there has to be one person who was nominated by a committee of three. Perhaps there is a drafting contradiction in the Bill in that regard. Maybe we will need to try to draw out and specify on Report Stage exactly how that external membership will be broken down. Will there be a member from ICTU or a representative of USI, even though it does not represent all students' unions in Ireland? It is a cumbersome way to address the issue, and I am loath to do so because I respect the fact that universities will have constructive ideas on how they would like the external membership capacity reviewed. However, it has been left to us as the only way to engage with the Bill. It will not involve a charge on the State because the spaces are already provided for. I am loath to have to be so prescriptive, but I feel that is how we will have to proceed. I am signalling my intention at this stage.
I put forward two amendments which would have dealt with members of education and training boards, ETBs, which are currently involved in institutes of technology, and retaining membership on the boards of technological universities. It is sad that they were ruled out of order. That is nothing to do with the Minister of State and I know the Cathaoirleach is bound by rules, but going back to what Senator Norris said, if every few pennies will rule something out of order, it is very hard to get anything through the House.
It strikes me that it is an error to not have greater representation for ETBs. It maintains a link through the education system from national schools to ETBs to technological universities and so on. Between Blanchardstown, Tallaght and DIT there are 18 representatives from ETBs. When the Bill is passed, there will be one. There is something terribly wrong about that. The Bill breaks the link.
ETBs are inherently populated by local authority representatives and people who have a genuine interest in education and delivering it locally. We will not change the Bill but it is worth putting my comments on the record. The debate will not impede the passage of the Bill, but perhaps we should stop trying to take away local democracy and start building processes around it. Who better to know what is required in areas such as Kilkenny, Carlow, Waterford, Galway, Mayo and so on than local representatives? It is a pity that the Bill is changing that.
I support what Senator Craughwell said. He made a very good case. The reduction in the number of representatives from 18 to one is catastrophic. It means a break with the local area, which is the problem. Universities can only be strengthened by a strong connection with the local area from which they draw their population group.
Yes. It states:
Amendment No. 9 seeks to require that the president and at least one officer, having responsibility for academic, financial or administrative matters, are appointed to the governing body. The amendment would have the effect of increasing the minimum number of members on a governing body of a technological university. Members of the body may be paid such allowances in respect of remuneration and expenses that the Minister may determine. Therefore, any increase in membership could impose a charge on the Revenue and the amendment must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 41.
To follow on from the comments of Senator Norris, this involves the administrative staff of a college. My amendment would give stronger representation for internal staff to strengthen the operation and functioning of the board of management and ensure decent time and input into organisational resources-----
It is not my decision. I am only implementing the rules. Standing Order 41 is in place and the Cathaoirleach has to make his rulings based on the Standing Orders in place. It is out of order and we cannot allow any further discussion on it. I can allow discussion on the section.
A single sentence states that it may be looked at for consideration should a similar amendment arise. I do not see that the amendment necessarily increases the representation. Maybe it is something which could be examined. It simply specified the nature of the academic representation, which is already accounted for in the existing numbers. I accept my amendment is out of order, but I wonder about the amendment tabled by Senator O'Sullivan.
I will broadcast directly to you through the Chair. I wrote to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges about this issue. I was not 100% sure at that stage whether the restriction on the powers of Seanad Éireann was in the Constitution or in the rule book. Is there any information on that? Is it in the Constitution?
That is to the best of my knowledge. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are out of order. Amendment No. 11, in the names of Senators Gavan, Warfield, Conway-Walsh, Devine, Mac Lochlainn and Ó Donnghaile has already been discussed with amendment No. 1.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 are in the names of Senators Ruane, Higgins, Grace O'Sullivan, Gavan, Ó Ríordáin and Craughwell. If the question on amendment No. 19 is agreed, amendment No. 20 cannot be moved, as amendment No. 20 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 19. They will be discussed with amendments Nos. 32 and 38.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 19, to delete lines 33 and 34 and substitute the following:
“(iii) at least 2 but not more than 4 students of the technological university, nominated by the student union in accordance with its own procedures,”.
I will speak to amendments Nos. 19, 20, 32 and 38 which relate to the representation of students on the academic councils. In section 17 of the Bill, the functions and the role of the academic council within the technological universities are clearly outlined. They include developing new university programmes, promoting the interest of community stakeholders, selecting new research areas, looking at questions of assessment, appeals and academic standards and, crucially, making recommendations around the selection, retention and exclusion of students. It is clear the academic council has a critical role and is an important forum for how the university will develop, with many fundamental and important decisions being made. It is therefore crucial that students have a voice, role and representation on the academic council, and that the voice be a strong one. Many would speak about the community of learning that we hope for and aspire to in all our third level institutions and in our universities, and students are a crucial part of that and, therefore, some of the work of the academic council.
The current concern about the Bill may arise from an oversight and it is not the intention of the Minister of State or any of the institutions. The Bill currently does not provide any guarantee there will be any student representation on the academic council. As drafted, the Bill states, "shall provide for such number of students of the college, as it considers appropriate, to be members of the academic council". The concern is that a technological university could consider it appropriate to have no representatives of students on the academic council. That is not a practice people would want. I have spoken to staff and student members of academic councils and most people would recognise that there is a constructive and positive role in having all those voices represented. There is a concern because as it is currently set out, there is no guarantee of a student voice within the council.
This does not fit the intention of the Bill and I imagine it is not the Minister or State's intention. We really need to see a signal from her in this regard. I note that on Second Stage she spoke about student representation on academic councils and this is an opportunity for her to signal that where there is an inadvertent omission within the Bill, she would be willing to address it or take it on board. She said on Second Stage that students should be part of the academic council. This is a chance to ensure we follow through and put in place a basic mechanism for this. We are willing to work with the Minister of State and others across the House to find the most constructive way forward, so we have put forward four alternative ways in which the matter could be addressed. We are happy to work with the Minister of State and others in the House around any of them.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 offer two key options. Amendment No. 19 allows for at least two but not more than four student members. Amendment No. 20, which is very basic, indicates the student membership of the academic council should not fall below one member, meaning there should be a minimum of one student on each academic council in each university. If the Minister of State cannot accept that as a simple minimum, there is a question over whether this House's input is being respected.
We need to know if this is, in fact, a debate on legislation. There are two Houses dealing with legislation in the Oireachtas and they each have a role and make a contribution. I would like to see amendment No. 19 accepted. One could ask why a limit of four should be put on this but others could say each academic council should have a minimum of two and be able to determine its own number. That is something we can examine on Report Stage. It is hard to see how we would not accept a minimum of one student, nominated by the student union in accordance with its own procedures, as specified in amendment No. 20. I urge colleagues across the House, including those in Fianna Fáil, to say that surely, as representatives of the party in this House, there should be the right to support and put forward constructive proposals. Amendments Nos. 32 and 38 make relevant changes to the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992 and the Regional Technical Colleges Act 1992 to ensure there is consistency in the question of student representation on academic councils.
The Minister of State may say she does not wish to intervene with the inner workings of the technological universities and we must trust our college administrations not to exclude students. However, this Bill sets forth the procedures, practice, standards and expectations. It would be remiss if we let this Bill through without a proper statutory provision. Today, we are allowing that a worst-case scenario would never arise. Although it would not be the intention of any of the institutions to allow it to arise and many of them deeply value student participation on academic councils, we should not allow the possibility of no student representation at all on the academic councils of our universities. I ask the Minister of State to show that she is willing to engage on this and be true to even her own statements on Second Stage by indicating she is able to engage with these proposals.
I am inclined to agree with the Senator. I taught for 34 years at third level and it was always a part of the third level process that the president of the student union sat on academic councils. Perhaps I am wrong but I thought it was a prerequisite that the president of the student union would sit on the academic council, whatever about the governing body, which is different. There were student representatives within faculties, schools and degree programmes. We should at least have the president of the student union on the academic council. It may be an internal point of the Bill but I agree with my colleague.
We are writing legislation that will be there long after us. It will be referred to by generations to come and there will be legal arguments over it, etc. It is just possible that a president of a technological university might not particularly like the president of the student union and might not want him or her anywhere near the academic council.The relevant line refers to such number of students of the technological university as it considers appropriate. The president of a technological university might decide that it was appropriate to have no student representative and the legislation would support him, provided the board also supported him. It is not unreasonable to consider amendment No. 20 which would allow for at least one representative. It would not bring the Bill down on its knees. It is not a massive ask. There should always be some guarantee that there will be student representation.
That is a little conspiratorial. The likes and dislikes of a president of a university as an educator regarding his own academic council would not prevent student representation by the president of the students' union. One might say about anybody that one did not like him or him but that one tolerated him or her, just as I might tolerate the Senator in the Seanad. What he suggests is not possible.
It is a conspiratorial argument. I agree that there should be some student representative on an academic council. How we bring it about in the Bill is another day's work. In my experience, whether the president of the students' union was liked, he or she was the student representative voted in by the students and he or she sat on the academic council.
I wonder whether the Minister of State would agree with me that it would be nonsense to have no student representative on the academic council. I am sure she would agree. As her expression has not changed, I will leave it to her to answer in her reply. I am assuming it would be regarded as nonsense, but if she has a different view, that is fine. All kinds of subject are discussed by the council, including courses and contentious examination results. Of course, students should be represented on it. It is absolute nonsense to have no representation.
As Senator Gerard P. Craughwell pointed out, the Bill refers to such number of students of the technological university as the body considers appropriate. As I am taking this at face value, I assume it means that the intention of the Minister of State is that there would be at least one student representative on the couincil. I do not believe the Bill is giving the authorities of the university an open licence to have no student representative, but that is one possible interpretation of the words used. It is perfectly clear that it could be interpreted in that way. Therefore, I do not see any reason the Minister of State should reject the amendment. I challenge her to come up with a decent one.
I welcome Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony. It is always nice to see a Member of the other House in the Chamber. I also welcome her guest, Mr. Barry Holland, who I am told is very involved with Seven Heads Peninsula Tourism. I hope we will see them here again soon as visitors.
The case has been extremely well made by Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and David Norris. There is a difficulty with the language being used. No one is suggesting it is the Minister of State's intention to exclude students from the academic council, but it is clearly possible. This simple amendment would make sure it was no longer possible. I ask my colleagues on the Fine Gael benches whether they really want the message to go out from this Chamber today that their party will reject an amendment that would do no more than ensure at least one student representative on an academic council. I do not believe any of them would object to this, yet, unless the Minister of State is willing to accommodate this simple amendment, that is the message they will be sending.
There is a great Neil Young song that includes the words "nothing is perfect in God's perfect plan". The Bill is not perfect. We have tried to work with the Minister of State today and will continue to try to do so, but if she seriously rejects the amendment, she will be sending a very depressing message not only to students across the country but also to this Chamber. We are just here to rubber-stamp the Bill if she is not willing to take on board even the most reasonable of amendments. This is the most reasonable of them. It is simply to ensure students would have at least one representative on an academic council. Surely to God we can agree on it.
Section 16, on page 19, provides that academic staff shall form the majority of the academic council of a technological university. It also provides the governing body of each technological university, including its student members - this implies there will be student members in the governing body - with flexibility to decide for itself the overall number of members the academic council should have, including the number of students on it. That is in line with the legislation applying to universities. Section 28(1)(c) of the Universities Act 1997 provides that the composition of the academic council should include an "appropriate number of students". I would not propose to move away from the standard wording as this would put technological universities in a different position from that of other universities.
The Bill amends section 10 of the Regional Technical College Act 1992 and section 11 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992 to mirror the wording of the provisions of the Universities Act in order to provide for uniformity across the sector. The governing body, not the president, makes regulations to provide for the numbers of members on the academic council of the technological university and the procedures for selection and appointment. The governing body will include student members. Therefore, I do not envisage circumstances in which a governing body would not include students in the academic council. Therefore, I cannot support the amendment.
This is the one area in which I will oppose the Minister of State 100%. She should consider what we believe today and what the man with the wig will interpret the relevant line to mean should it ever be tested. A dominant person in charge of a governing body could swing it towards doing what he or she wanted it to do and could, if he or she so wanted, exclude student representatives. The bottom line is that it has to be written into the legislation that there be at least one student representative on the body. I will not press amendment No. 20 today and hope none of my colleagues will do so, but on Report Stage we will want some very convincing evidence that under absolutely no circumstances will an academic council find itself without a student representative. The provision will have to be iron clad. I do not see such a provision in the legislation.
Does Senator Gerard P. Craughwell accept that a governing body, with its many representatives — external, internal, administrative, academic and student, as provided for in the legislation — has a right to decide how many representatives of the student body it should have on the academic council? It is the experience to do so. Someone's dictating that students not be represented on the council would not be upheld by the governing body, bearing in mind the level of external, internal, academic, administrative and student representation. One would not get away with it, nor would someone carry on like that because, from my experience, universities are pretty good at democratic handling. There is considerable representation of students in faculties and other areas and there are also school representatives. There are year representatives and also postgraduate representatives.We can over-legislate, as it were, and their hands are tied either way. The governing body in the technological university should make its decision, which would be good, and not have to answer to some appalling director. This amendment is a little conspiratorial and I am inclined to listen to the Minister of State's argument on it.
I am also a great believer in keeping universities at arm's length because they need freedom to legislate for how they want things to be done on their respective campuses. Perhaps one or other governing body will want four student representatives on the academic council. I doubt any of them would get away with having no student representatives.
The Minister of State addressed some of the concerns regarding student representation. I appeal to Senators to take a calm, reflective approach to the issue. Perhaps the Minister will engage with Senators on it before Report Stage. The Minister of State provided some clarity when she stated she envisaged governing bodies having student representatives on them. This has been a good and healthy debate. I support the principle of having community and student representation. It will be interesting to read over the transcript of this debate because I took comfort from the Minister of State's contribution. Perhaps we should reflect on it before Report Stage.
The excellent contribution of my colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, has reassured me that I am 100% correct. In her final sentence, she indicated she doubted very much that there would be no student representatives on the academic council.
Having doubts that something will happen is not a guarantee that it will not happen. Long after I am pushing up daisies, some judge somewhere will make a ruling that there is no certainty in the relevant sentence of the Bill.
I am a firm believer in the idea of doubt. It shows a tremendous intelligence. Absolute surety is probably a male prerogative whereas doubt leaves matters open. Having spent 34 years on the campuses of Ireland, I know that governing bodies do not dictate. There are many representatives on governing bodies, including student union representatives, postgraduates, etc., and I believe there will be fair play. If the technological universities want to have five, two or no student representatives, that is their prerogative and they can get on with that.
It is very interesting to hear Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell state the technological universities could, if they wished, have five, two or no student representatives. This is precisely what we are fighting against. We do not want to have a scenario where there is no student representation and I believe the Minister of State agrees with me on that point. A previous speaker referred to what the Minister envisages. What the Minister envisages does not matter a damn. What matters is what is in the legislation.
I listened attentively to the Minister of State. However, as I was discussing the possibility of voting with my colleague and friend from the Fianna Fáil Party, I missed some of the emphasis in her contribution. I understand part of it addressed a circumstance in which there were student representatives on the board or governing authority of a university. I do not believe the legislation specifically provides that there must be a student representative on the academic council. If the Minister of State can direct me to a specific requirement in the Bill or concomitant legislation that students must be represented on the academic council, we will have won the point and the amendment will not be required because the provision will already be in legislation. Can the Minister of State point me to a clear requirement in the legislation to have student representation on the academic council? I am speaking from the Fianna Fáil front bench.
I am sure Senator Norris would be very welcome on the Fianna Fáil front bench. I remind Senators that we must adjourn in five minutes and the debate will resume on another day. If possible, we should dispose of section 16 before 3.30 p.m.
In all my years involved in education and training bodies and as a member of the governing body of Athlone Institute of Technology, I have yet to meet a student who is shy, reserved or unable to put across his or her point. I do not believe an issue will ever arise in this regard. What is the position in respect of the academic councils of existing universities?
I am heartened by the Minister of State's clarification and Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's experience in this regard. I do not believe there is an agenda to silence students and I would not stand for such an agenda. I am satisfied with the current position.
In allowing the governing body, which has student members, to regulate the number of students on the academic council, the Bill is consistent with existing legislation under the Universities Act. I will read in full the relevant part of the Act for Senator Norris's benefit in case he believes I am leaving out important parts. Section 28(1) is as follows:
28.—(1) The majority of members of the academic council shall be members of the academic staff of the university and, subject to subsection (2), the numbers, composition, selection, appointment and terms of office of members shall be provided for in a statute, which statute shall contain provisions for the inclusion on the academic council of—(a) the senior member of staff having responsibility to the chief officer for each academic discipline, school or department as the governing authority determines, or, in the case of Trinity College, the senior member of staff having responsibility to the chief officer for each faculty,
(b) members from what, in the opinion of the governing authority, is an appropriate range of levels of other academic staff from an appropriate range of academic disciplines, and
(c) an appropriate number of students.
I rest my case.
The key point is that students make up only three of more than 20 members of the governing body. As such, the student representatives would not be able to guarantee student representation on the academic council. The Bill specifies that the council must have a majority of academic staff.Clearly, we specify that there needs to be a majority of academic staff, so we make specifications on staff. Therefore, why not make a simple specification similarly regarding students? It is a very simple point and it is something that could be addressed. Similarly, on the idea that we should trust good intentions, this is a 93 page Bill. We are regulating for all kinds of areas. Why is this the one area on which we are going to trust to good intent and the best outcome probably arising? If we go to the trouble of putting legislation together at all, let us follow through on it.