Thursday, 8 March 2018
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
I move amendment No. 6a:
In page 15, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:“Ethos
11. In addition to the entrepreneurial elements as well as education and research a technological university shall acknowledge as a fundamental moral and intellectual foundation for the teaching and research practice an ethos that supports creativity, autonomy, intellectual inquiry, innovation and engage citizenship.”.
As I understand it, I will have one opportunity to speak and another to reply. I thank the Minister of State for her illuminating remarks earlier in the discussion when we took on the idea of ethos. She made a significant number of points which I believe I have included in the amendment. It will be interesting to see in what intellectual gymnastics she will engage in an effort to find against the amendment.
The original amendment referred to "functions promoting an ethos that supports entrepreneurship, creativity, autonomy, innovation and engages citizenship". The new amendment includes all of the elements, including those towards which the Minister pointed us. Amendment No. 6a reads:
In addition to the entrepreneurial elements as well as education and research a technological university shall acknowledge as a fundamental moral and intellectual foundation for the teaching and research practice an ethos that supports creativity, autonomy, intellectual inquiry, innovation and engage citizenship.
We acknowledge in the new amendment entrepreneurial elements, as well as education and research. However, it states - this is the point we argued in the previous discussion - that, in addition, universities would acknowledge that an ethos represented a fundamental intellectual and moral basis on which a university operated and underpinned all of its intellectual activity. It reads, "a technological university shall acknowledge, as a fundamental moral and intellectual foundation for the teaching and research practice an ethos that supports creativity, autonomy, intellectual inquiry, innovation and engaged citizenship". It seems to be difficult to disengage from this definition or avoid a situation where the fundamental principles underlying a university are enunciated in a Bill establishing it. This appears to be an important and critical matter. I will make a further contribution when the Minister of State responds, but this is a fundamental aspect of the Bill. It would be regrettable if the Government was to find itself unable to accept the amendment, particularly as it takes into account the remarks made by the Minister of State in the previous debate.
As Senators will be aware, we recently discussed at some length an amendment on the elements they considered appropriate to the ethos of a technological university related to section 9. They are seeking to include such elements or a further elaboration on them in a new stand-alone section. I do not take the view that such an approach is appropriate. The Bill does not purport in any section to establish or dictate the ethos of a technological university. What it does, however, is specify the functions of the technological university and requires it, under section 91(1)(k), in so far as possible in the performance of these functions, to serve the community and public interest in certain ways.
It is a matter for each technological university to be autonomous in its own right in the flexibility of its approach to the precise nature of its ethos. In so doing, it shall have regard to the performance of its functions, including the right to academic freedom, as set out in the Bill, rather than there being some generic version enshrined in legislation. As I have highlighted in some considerable detail, the various elements cited by the Minister in his latest amendment - creativity, autonomy, intellectual inquiry, innovation and engaged citizenship - are adequately provided for in other sections. It is also noteworthy that under section 10 which relates to academic freedom, the Bill, in section 10(1)(b) refers explicitly to the independent ethos of the technological university, thereby copperfastening the underlying principle that the ethos of the technological university is not to be generically or legislatively set out but is to be established independently by each relevant institution. As such, I consider the amendment inappropriate and do not accept it.
I greatly welcome the inadequacy of the Minister of State's response. I found it immensely flattering that she referred to me as the Minister. If I were, the amendment would be instantly accepted. I will not delay the House on this matter, although I will call a vote on the amendment. A number of matters arise. The Minister of State said the Bill did not purport to establish the ethos of a technological university. Of course, it does not purport to do so. That is the reason I am seeking to do so in my amendment. It is very important to understand the principles on which universities work. This should be the foundation of any legislation governing technological universities or universities of any description. Members of the public are entitled to know the ethos of the institution their children will attend.
The Minister of State argued that each technological university should be autonomous. Of course, they should be and we all respect academic freedom, but I remind her that I had an amendment to universities legislation passed which underpinned academic freedom. It inserted a large new section in legislation and was so successful it was adopted word for word by several Scandinavian countries in their universities legislation. There is no conflict between allowing autonomy, academic freedom and intellectual licence for a university, while also establishing an ethos.
In addition, I cannot imagine a technological university that would turn its face against an ethos that included entrepreneurial elements, education and research and acknowledged, as a fundamental moral and intellectual foundation for the teaching and research practice, an ethos that supported creativity, autonomy, intellectual inquiry, innovation and engaged citizenship. I note the letter "d" is missing from the end of the word "engage" in the text. That is a spelling mistake. Is the Minister of State aware of any technological university that would not adhere to these principles in practice? If this were to be provided for in legislation and a divergence from these principles were to occur, it would be necessary to resolve the matter.
I take as granted the independent status of a technological university. The Minister of State indicated that the ethos was not to be set out but was to be established independently. What technological university would wish to dissociate itself from the principles I have set out in the amendment? Would a technological university be against creativity? I cannot imagine any university setting its face against creativity. Autonomy, the very issue of which the Minister spoke, is provided for in the amendment. I taught for 30 years in Trinity College Dublin and intellectual inquiry, as provided for in the amendment, was what the university was all about, particularly on the research side. Innovation, also provided for in the amendment, is what we want from universities and the reason they are part of the intellectual lifeblood of the country. Likewise, surely we all want engaged citizenship.
As I stated, I am grateful to the Minister of State for the complete inadequacy of her reply. Having accepted her words and altered the amendment we tabled on Committee Stage, including by providing for the suggestions she had made, her continued rejection of the amendment will make perfectly obvious that she has received instructions not to accept any amendment in the Seanad. That is an abrogation of the responsibility and role of Seanad Éireann in the world of parliamentary politics. That is all I have to say on the amendment which I will press to a vote and I hope I will receive the support of my colleagues.
I will repeat myself by pointing out that I have highlighted, in considerable detail, the various elements cited by the Senator, specifically creativity, autonomy, intellectual inquiry, innovation and engaged citizenship, all of which are included in the text. The proposed amendment is surplus to requirements because all of these elements are written features on pages 11, 12 and 13 of the Bill.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
I wish to make a very serious point of order. We had a very useful debate in the House on Committee Stage and the requirements that the Minister suggested at that time were incorporated in the amendment, so it is rather astonishing that her Fine Gael colleagues voted against it. However, the real point I wish to make is that many of my colleagues on the Fianna Fáil benches quietly agreed with the amendment but phone calls were made to their offices. It is a very important point and it is------
Without reopening the previous debate, I just wish to say that I will be writing to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the subject of Seanad independence because those in Fianna Fáil apparently did not know what their party's policy was, agreed with us and then telephoned a Member of the other House to be given instructions. That interrupts the autonomy of Seanad Éireann and I protest against it.
The Senator is entitled to protest. However, I want to make a statement. With regard to the matter which gave rise to the suspension of the House, I must make clear that Senators may vote on a matter before the House as they see fit. The way in which Senators choose to vote is not a matter of order. Thank you.
I beg your pardon. I am not allowing the Leas-Cathaoirleach's statement to remain on the record of the House without correction. Members on the other side did not vote as they saw fit. They voted as they were told by a Member of the other House.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 16, line 11, after “purpose,” to insert the following:“and at least one of whom has expertise and/or experience in representing the interests of students, nominated by the student union,”.
Senator Ruane had hoped to be here today to speak on the amendment as she has strong feelings on this issue. Amendments Nos. 8 and 11 are variations on the issue we raised on Committee Stage around ensuring that there is a strong student voice on the governing boards of technological universities. Unfortunately, our previous amendments on increasing the number of student representatives on governance boards were ruled out of order as they may have incurred a charge on the State. We have now adopted a different approach that recognises a different way in which the interests of students can still be appropriately represented in how the universities are governed and it may even be an improved way.
We need to give the student voice statutory protection in how it contributes to the management of the universities. Student unions in the new universities will be just that - new - and they will not be able to benefit from the decades of institutional knowledge and experience built up in existing student unions in current universities. Our amendments rectify this and try to ensure that among those external representatives on the governance boards of the new universities there will be at least one external individual who has expertise or experience in representing the interests of students in previous university governance scenarios. The individual could be a former student union officer or representative in one of the constituent colleges or institutes of technology. He or she could also be someone who has experience in a different university context or perhaps even an international university context. We believe that our amendment would ensure that the officers of a new student union would have an expert and experienced yet independent and external voice on the governing body to support them in representing the interests of students and to ensure that student interests were properly considered in matters of governance.
This is a constructive and helpful amendment. It has the endorsement of the Union of Students in Ireland. I hope the Minister of State will be able to accept it and assuage some of the concerns, which we have previously discussed, of unions around the strength of their voice in the governance of the new universities.
In a further amendment I will come back in on the Bologna Process which the Minister of State will be aware commits to the importance of student representation also.
I second the amendment. We heard the news this week that Trinity College Dublin had introduced a €450 flat fee for examinations at undergraduate level. This move disregards the student voice that was balloted and overwhelmingly objected to such a move mainly because it would disproportionately affect the vulnerable among the student body. While students are represented at governing body level, this is an example where students have not been treated as equal partners by college management. The seats on governing and other decision-making bodies are ones for which historically and globally student unions have had to campaign and fight tooth and nail. They are mired in the struggle for legitimacy, the provision of student services, facilities and a better quality of life for students. Meaningful representation in the decision-making structures of a technological university gives an appreciation of what they trying to achieve. This is included in the HEA’s own policy via a report entitled, Enhancing Student Engagement in Decision Making, which lays out the benefits of fair student representation and how it is of value to an institution, emphasising that students must be treated as equal partners in the academic community. Furthermore, the Bologna Process recommends far greater student representation on all decision-making bodies than what is proposed, a recommendation that is implemented by many of our European counterparts and on which the State may have to answer if we are hindering its implementation. Perhaps the Minister might comment on the issue. Sinn Féin will support amendment No. 8 which has been proposed by Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane.
Internationally, the size and composition of governing authorities of higher education institutions have been changing. The model generally favoured is a more managerial one, with a smaller number of members and a majority of non-academic, lay or external members. The OECD report on higher education in Ireland was critical of the size of university governing authorities and recommended that they be reduced in size and that their membership reflect the skill set required to govern a university. The Bill seeks to streamline the membership of governing bodies, depending on the number of institutes of technology which comprise a technological university. The seeking of additional numbers for any particular grouping, including students, would do the opposite and increase the total membership. Student unions are one or two-person operations, but they are highly sophisticated organisations. The student unions in the institutes of technology, for example, the TU4 Dublin consortium, are working together on the proposed merger for a technological university. It is evident to me that the organisations are capable of working collaboratively in an effective and efficient manner. As the Bill stands, there will be up to three student representatives, including a postgraduate representative, on the governing body. This should be sufficient to enable an effective student union or a number of student unions to arrange matters in order that they can share representation, if desired, but in all events, they can ensure all student issues will be addressed adequately. It should be remembered that the student representative on the governing body will serve for a period not exceeding one year but may be reappointed for a further period not exceeding one year. This allows for the regular rotation of student governing body members who should each be needed to facilitate representation of the different institutes on campuses.
It should further be highlighted that the governing body may establish committees to assist and advise in the performance of its functions. Membership of such committees is not limited to governing body members or staff and offers further opportunities for student representation and other opportunities for representative bodies such as ETB members.
On external membership, it will be predicated on a set of competencies agreed to by the governing body with the HEA. Competencies cover such areas as business, enterprise, finance, law, corporate governance, human resources, community organisations or others relevant to the functions of the technological university. ETB members may seek nomination as external members, subject to meeting the relevant competencies. In that context, it will be open to the governing body to include competencies related to student representation, but as there will be student representatives on the governing body, this seems to be superfluous and simply a back door approach to gaining additional student representation. It is particularly the case as the amendment seeks to provide that such an external member would be nominated by the student union.
In terms of regional representation, I highlight the fact that under section 91(1)(k)(iii), a technological university will be required to foster close and effective relationships with relevant ETBs. I anticipate that ETB representatives will have a valuable contribution to make to a technological university through the various mechanisms. Moreover, the regional remit of a technological university is strengthened further elsewhere in the Bill in the sections which provide for the eligibility criteria - section 25, on page 25, which deals with functions; section 9, on page 11, which deals with the strategic development plan; and section 17, on page 20, which deals with meeting the needs of and involvement and links with the community, local interests and other stakeholders in the region in which the campuses of the technological university or, prior to designation, the applicant institutes are located.
I welcome the indication that the Minister of State would like to see competency in the field of student representation as one of the competencies to be considered. I also note her recognition that there may be a role on committees to be established by a governing body for student representatives or additional student representatives, particularly in dealing with issues that have a direct impact on students. Nonetheless, we still have the core concern on the question of whether there is adequate representation not just of students but also of those with expertise on the governing body. What we have brought forward would not simply be a back door to provide for more student representatives. It would ensure there would be somebody who could bring competency and experience in the area of student representation. One of the arguments in favour of it has been enunciated clearly by the Minister of State. She has pointed out that a student who becomes a member of the governing body can only serve for one year, a period which may be renewed for a further year. Other members of the governing body can serve for two years in a period not exceeding four years and may serve two consecutive terms. We have a situation where the student representatives will, by their very nature, never have more than two years' experience. They will always be rotating. Because of this, they will be somewhat disadvantaged within the governing body. Any of us who has sat on a governing board - I have done so in other contexts - knows that there is a level of institutional memory.There is institutional memory and there is a concern that students with that short-term experience will not necessarily be in the same advantageous position as those who may have sat for four years on the governing body. We suggested that one of the external members of a governing board, who would bring those important competencies, should have deep experience of student representation so that the patterns, rather than the issues that arise from year to year, can be addressed. I thank the Minister of State for her positive suggestions but I am obliged to press the amendment.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Maura Hopkins, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
On a point of order, the ruling of the Chair is unbelievable. I drafted the amendment in three different ways on different Stages to try to secure representation by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the governing body of the technological universities and each time it has been rejected. It is unbelievable that when one tries, with the best of intentions, to work within the process by introducing an amendment that would ensure representation for the leading trade union body in the country, which is a reasonable aspiration, it is rejected regardless of the way in which it has been drafted. I ask the Minister to respond.
The ruling has nothing to do with the Minister. I will set out the reasons for the decision. Amendments Nos. 7 and 10, in the name of Senator Ó Ríordáin, seek to require that one external member of the governing body be a representative of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The amendments would have the effect of increasing the minimum number of members on the 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 Exchequer. The amendment must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 42.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 16, line 39, after "purpose," to insert the following:"and at least one of whom has expertise and/or experience in representing the interests of students, nominated by the student union,".
We have already discussed the amendment.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 19, line 23, to delete "university, and" and substitute the following:"university,(b) respecting Ireland’s commitments under the 2001 Prague Communiqué of Ministers of Education in Europe and subsequent communiqués, one fifth of the members of the academic council shall be students of the technological university, and".
Amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, are related to the academic council, although amendment No. 12 has slightly wider implications than the others.
Amendment No. 12 provides that Ireland's commitments under the 2001 Prague communiqué of ministers of education in Europe and subsequent communiqués will be respected. To reflect these commitments, one fifth of members of the academic council should be students of the technological university. Since 1999, Ireland has been a leading member of the Bologna Process and a number of Ministers for education have made commitments under that process. The Bologna conference recognised that students are full members of the higher education community and competent, active and constructive partners who should participate in and influence the organisation and content of education at universities and other higher education institutions. Successive Ministers have signed up to this serious and crucial commitment every two years since 2001, most recently in 2015.
Reference was made to the Universities Act and I do not wish to reopen the discussion on the matter, other than to note that the Universities Act refers to law which was made prior to Ireland joining the Bologna Process. There is, therefore, a concern that the Act, which is being held up as a standard for the Bill before us, does not reflect stated Government policy under the Bologna Process. The Minister may have missed an opportunity to introduce in the Bill new standards that reflect the Bologna Process. It would have been ideal if the legislation were to include standards that could subsequently be used to improve the Universities Act.
The European Students Union and others have found that the standard for student participation in governance of higher education institutions is that they account for approximately one fifth of the seats on the various education bodies. The law in Norway provides that students must constitute one fifth of members of governing bodies or academic councils.It goes all the way down to course boards. The next ministerial conference as part of the Bologna Process will be held in France in May. My motivation in tabling the amendment which I will not press was to query Ireland's position in terms there being a genuine commitment to the Bologna Process. Does the Minister of State intend to update both this legislation and the Universities Act to reflect the Government's commitments and the standards agreed to across Europe under the Bologna Process?
On amendments Nos. 13 and 14, there is no need to reiterate the points made as they were discussed fully on Committee Stage. There should be at least one student representative on an academic council. Again, it is about providing statutory protection to ensure there will always be at least one student representative or voice on academic councils at which important decisions are made on academic research and the development of technological universities. We must ensure they will include an appropriate number of students and that they will not become bodies without students. We do not anticipate that that will be the case, but, as we have said at length, we wish to have that statutory protection. That is why I hope the Minister of State will accept amendment No. 13 which provides for a minimum number of one student representative. I hope we will not have to return to this issue after the fact to rectify the position where students have been excluded from academic councils. This is a preventive and appropriate measure.
Section 16 provides that academic staff shall form the majority of the academic council of a technological university. Subsection (2) provides the governing body of each technological university, including its student members, with the flexibility to decide for itself the overall number of members the academic council should have, including the number of students. This 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 do not propose to move away from this standard wording as it would put technological universities in a different position from that of other universities.
The Bill also amends section 10 of the Regional Technical Colleges Act 1992 and section 2 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992 to mirror the wording of the provisions of the Universities Act 1997 to provide for uniformity across the sector. The governing body makes regulations to provide for the number of members of the academic council of the technological university and the procedures for selection and appointment. As the governing body will include student members, I do not envisage a situation where a governing body which includes, among others, representatives of the student body of the technological university will not include students on the academic council.
On the cited Prague Communiqué of 2001 and the broader Bologna Process of voluntary higher education reform at European level, the process highlights the importance of involving students as partners in higher education governance and seeks to ensure legislation will guarantee student representation. I am committed to these principles and that is what we are doing in the Bill. However, I do not consider it appropriate to enshrine in primary legislation that a particular fraction of the membership of the academic council should be students.
That would limit the autonomy and flexibility of the technological university in deciding how many students it should have on the academic council. I should also point out that an academic council may establish as many committees as it considers necessary to assist it in the performance of its functions. That gives an opportunity to provide for additional representation, including student representatives. Therefore, I do not support the amendments.
The hope is that, as well as being in line with the previous Universities Act, we will try to move the standards upwards. The Minister of State does not envisage the situation arising, but I would have liked us to have prevented it. I have an overall concern, on which I will not elaborate and which does not relate solely to the Minister of State, about Ireland being in a position to make statements and join statements at international level, and having ministerial and other events at which we discuss high practice but not necessarily follow through on these standards when the opportunities to do so arise.
I will not press amendment No. 13, but I hope to engage further with the Minister of State and the institutions on the Bologna Process in the future.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 19, to delete lines 33 and 34 and substitute the following:"(iii) at least one undergraduate and/or postgraduate student of the technological university, nominated by the student union in accordance with its own procedures,".
The amendments relate to the equality statement. Having worked in a number of sectors prior to my time in the Oireachtas and participated in the development of numerous equality statements, I am conscious that there is a spectrum of practice. In the amendments we are seeking to give guidance to ensure the highest standards in the equality statements that might be brought forward. They take account of the Minister of State's feedback on Committee Stage. The amendments I previously brought forward related to the Athena SWAN process were based on a serious concern that no institute of technology had reached even the starting point of the Athena SWAN process, which had very serious implications not only in terms of gender equality but also future research work. The Minister of State suggested the place to address these issues was included in the equality statement.
The amendments seek to insert the words "and procedures" in a number of places after the word "policy". As when we discussed the Bologna Process, this is about moving from a situation where we state positive policies to providing that when the institutions or new universities send the equality statement to the Minister, they should be delivering on procedures and giving clear indications as to their procedures to ensure equality, rather than simply the policy. In devising amendment No. 16 I tried to echo much of the language used in the Athena SWAN charter. I acknowledge that it is one standard and that others may emerge, but the standards recognised by the Higher Education Authority in its recommendations for universities and higher education institutions are of gold standard; therefore, I am taking the opportunity to transpose them in this primary legislation.My amendment tries to ensure the policy and procedures in place to achieve gender equality in all activities of the technological university including gender equality in academic, professional and support staff roles, as well as gender equality in representation and opportunities for participation, in progression within academia, in the journey through career milestones and in the working environment for all staff and students. I also envisage that transgender students, another cohort recognised under the Athena SWAN charter, would fall within that provision.
In amendment No. 17, I suggesting it would be constructive were technological universities to make publicly available their equality statements. I do not refer to a draft equality statement but to the approved statement after it has gone through an appropriate process. They may choose to do this in any case but I seek the Minister of State's views on this amendment.
My final amendment in this section asks for the publication "within six months of the conclusion of the period covered by the equality statement a report on the progress in the implementation of the policies and procedures set out in the equality statement". Where targets and issues have been identified, we then would have information on what has happened since. None of us wants to see an equality statement being published followed by another one a few years later that is almost identical. We want to ensure that there are ways to measure progress. Perhaps the Minister of State will comment on this matter.
As the Senator is aware, I am a strong advocate of gender equality. I outlined in some detail on Committee Stage the broad actions I am taking in seeking to achieve gender equality in higher education. A number of specific provisions relating to gender equality are contained in the Bill, which I also outlined on Committee Stage.
Regarding amendment No. 15, section 19(6) requires a technological university to implement the policies set out in its equality statement. I consider this mandatory requirement to cover adequately any relevant procedure or other arrangement relating to implementation without the need to reference it specifically. I also consider section 19(2) sufficiently broad to encompass all aspects of equality, including gender equality, as this subsection applies to all activities of the technological university without the need to specify these requirements in any greater detail, as sought in amendment No. 16.
Regarding amendments Nos. 17 and 18, I will highlight that under section 23, the technological university is required within six months of year-end to submit to the Minister and the HEA a report on its activities and the report shall have regard to the equality statement. This report shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas by the Minister and published as soon as possible thereafter on the Internet by the technological university. In the broader context, I envisage that technological universities will, as a matter of course, publish their equality statements in full.
This is in addition to the work of the gender equality task force, the establishment of which I announced on 6 November. This high-level task force will oversee a national system review of the recruitment and promotion policies and practices in place in higher education institutions with a view to identifying good practice and highlighting areas that need improvement. This will feed into the development of actions for a prioritised three-year action plan to be prepared by the task force in consultation with stakeholders. The new task force will build on work done for the HEA's national review of gender equality in higher education institutions, which was published in 2016. That report set out an important analysis and made recommendations for improvements. Therefore, I cannot accept these amendments.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. She takes these issues seriously and is committed to gender equality. As we are all aware, we are having this final debate on International Women's Day. It is important that a clear message be sent out through the processing of this Bill that academic life is one of the many sections of Irish life in which the full and equal participation of men and women cannot be neglected and must move forward with a renewed energy and pace.
I will not press these amendments at this point, as I am taking the Minister of State's bona fides on this matter. The HEA's national review, in which a former Minister, Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, played an important role, was a strong one, as were its recommendations. Although a number of institutes of technology are beginning to engage with the Athena SWAN charter, I am concerned about the pace of engagement, given the standards they will have to reach to secure research funding. I await with great interest the high-level task force and look forward to engaging with it.
The Minister of State has a considerable personal commitment in this area but we may have other Ministers in future. For that reason, it is important that the task force and equality statements implement clear measures. I will reserve my amendments for now.
This amendment is to ensure that it is actually proper research. It also clears up what I view as a grammatical infelicity, that is, "leads to an award to". It should read "leads to an award of". This is a simple grammatical issue and it will be interesting to see whether the Minister of State responds to it. I can claim some expertise in the area of grammar.
Actually, I believe I am referring to amendment No. 21, which is not included in this grouping.
In the previous debate on the Bill, the Minister of State did not quite answer my question on how many of the existing institutes of technology met the eligibility criteria specified in section 28. It is my view and that of many senior academic staff in universities who I consulted in recent weeks that all of the institutes already do so or could do so with almost no time, effort or investment. The criteria are not the tough test that the Minister of State has claimed.The 2012 criteria have been watered down as has the supposed gold standard of the 1997 Act. They are no longer a tough test that ensures the institutions have earned the requisite academic maturity to be called a university and it is not just me saying so. I have consulted senior academics and staff of existing Irish universities who have told me that the criteria constitute a watering down of the 2012 standards. This Bill creates a new definition for a research student and is a definition that no-one in higher education recognises. This amendment seeks to return the Bill to the spirit of the 2012 standard, a reasonable but demanding test of the academic maturity of an institution seeking to use the designation of a university. As things stand, the Bill would give institutions that have little or no PhD activity the opportunity to claim a research mandate when they have no right to do so. This provision is the single most serious threat to the new technological university designation.
These amendments also address the watering down of existing criteria. The Bill allows all of the institutes of technology to meet the staff criteria by excluding well over half of their staff from assessment. For example: 57% of the teaching staff at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, are excluded from this calculation; 57% of the teaching staff at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology; 38% of the teaching staff at the Waterford Institute of Technology; and 33% of the teaching staff at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Only 16% of the lecturers in the Institute of Technology, Tralee, have a PhD and only 17% of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology yet they are deemed eligible to call them universities according to the criteria. That begs the following question. Who are they when the Minister of State knows that all institutes of technology already easily meet the criteria? I know that she does not wish to hear this but she must return to the 2012 standards in order to protect our universities, graduates and the economy. This set of amendments are by far the most important ones that I have ever put forward. I cannot give way on this matter as it goes to the very heart of the purpose and functions of the Bill.
Recently, the Project Ireland 2040 policy was published, which includes plans for the third level sector across Ireland. In the next few years the Minister of State's Government plans to spend €2.2 billion on higher education, with 90% of it going to existing universities. Such a situation does not bode well for the future of these new institutions. Combined with the concerns that I have highlighted in these amendments, there is little to dissuade the idea that the technological universities are an expensive rebranding exercise. I care far too passionately about the future of education and the prosperity of our regions to allow this to happen. That is why I shall push my amendments to a vote.
Yes, I certainly do. Section 28, on page 27, sets out the eligibility criteria to be met by institutions that wish to become technological universities. The criteria are based on the original criteria set out in the Higher Education Authority's document, Towards a Future Higher Education Landscape. They present a realistic and ambitious set of targets for applicant institutes seeking to achieve technological university status. It is about whether the consortia and the new technological universities meet the criteria. It is not about the existing institutes of technology.
To protect the commitment to level 6 and level 7 programmes and the securing of the necessary talent supply in those relevant skills, it is important that we set out the targets for the applicant institutes that seek technological university status. They also set the bar for higher level programme participation by challenging through attainable targets. The application process requires an applicant institution to demonstrate compliance with the eligibility criteria for technological university designation. The criteria are supported by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA, and are considered appropriate.
Technological university development consortia have worked towards the eligibility criteria set out in this Bill for a number of years. In my view, it would be not be equitable or justifiable to seek to change the criteria at such a late stage particularly, as I have pointed out, as such criteria are challenging and not, as has been suggested, capable of being comfortably met by each and every institute of technology. The criteria were arrived at through a process of consultation and discussion. They represent a challenge for the applicants, but one that is attainable. I do not support a change of the type proposed in these amendments. Can I speak again later?
I can only speak on behalf of the Institute of Technology, Carlow, and I have spoken about it many times. Let us consider the criteria and statistics, and criteria mean a lot. In Carlow, there are 8,000 learners in the current academic year, which represents a 66% increase in total enrolments and a 68% increase in the number of graduates. In addition, 92% of graduates from the Institute of Technology, Carlow, are in full-time employment within five months of completing their examinations. I note that Senator Grace O'Sullivan did not mention the Institute of Technology, Carlow, when she cited percentages for other institutes of technology.
Last weekend, I gathered together figures for the institute and one can see that it is the fastest growing institute. The Institute of Technology, Carlow, represents all that is beneficial to students, whether that is the possibility to prosper and pursue their dreams and ambitions. I firmly believe that graduating from a technological university opens doors in terms of a career and gives another level of education. I totally agree with the Minister of State that some of the best students cannot go to universities, that we must correct that situation and that proper criteria are required. I can vouch that the criteria are excellent in the institutes, particularly in the Institute of Technology, Carlow, and they need our support. Therefore, I will not support the amendment.
Yes, because I want to put the following on the record. It is not the intention for a technological university to necessarily replicate a traditional university. However, a student at a technological university should have opportunities, nonetheless, to engage with disciplines and concepts that go beyond the technical focus of his or her immediate study. Universities and technological universities will be distinguished by a variation of mission statements on different levels of the national framework of qualifications with the continuum of higher levels 6 to 10 to be reflected in the mission and activities of a technological university. Given the recommendations in the national strategy that provisions should cover levels 6 and 7 of the national framework of qualifications and the ongoing importance of these levels, in the context of Irish labour market needs and the historical development of institutes of technology, it was decided to ensure there would be a focus on higher education levels 6 to 10 in the mission statement of a technological university.
I also want to put something else on the record. A key distinguishing feature of a university is the proportion of staff who hold higher level qualifications at level 9 and level 10. In developing the criteria of the profile of staff in a technological university, particular attention was given by the Higher Education Authority in striking a balance between ensuring the academic credibility of a technological university and the need to enhance teaching and research capacity with relevant professional experience and expertise. The criteria require that 45% of staff must have a level 10 qualification.This is set as a reasonably challenging but realistic threshold criterion at application stage. This acknowledges the stage of development of institutes.
In addition, because the technological universities will have a focus on the preparation of graduates for business and enterprise, it is provided that up to 10% of staff who bring the equivalent of a level 10 qualification in terms of expertise and experience can be included in the 45% threshold. In addition to this 45% threshold, the criteria go on to provide that there must be a clear development trajectory showing the proportion of staff with a level 10 qualification moving to 65% within ten years.
It is appropriate, as the Minister of State says, that when dealing with technological subjects a significant proportion of the staff should have PhDs and some professional qualifications and experience in the wider world. As far as universities go, however, I can only speak from my own experience 50 years ago, when Trinity College was a very different place and when by far the best teacher I had was a wonderful man called Robert Butler Digby French. He had a BA. His entire contribution to scholarship was a monograph on P.G. Wodehouse but he was unquestionably the greatest teacher I have ever encountered. That was the thing about the universities in those days. They did not become PhD machines. People were respected for their different qualities, and teaching was regarded at that point as a very significant element. He was a charming man who, 40 years after his death, is still remembered with great affection by what I am sorry to say is a dwindling number of his former students.
While for a technological university these PhD qualifications and experience in the professional world are very significant, we must remember the humane examples of somebody like R.B.D. French who was a man of extraordinarily wide culture, beloved of the students and in one way he did have a professional experience of some sort because he was the principal playwright for the Dublin University Players. He wrote all their reviews and skits. They may be taken as just entertainment but they were absolutely wonderful.
On a deeper level he had a mastery and capacity to communicate his understanding of late medieval theatre and the Augustan period. I remember him once talking about the heroic couplet when he said:
Oh it is, dear boy, the love of symmetry and line and engagement. Just look out at the Front Square and you will see exactly what I mean reflected in stone.
That said it all. He was wonderful with his BA. One of my colleagues in Trinity told me that if I was not careful I would end up as another R.B.D. French and I said that was the greatest compliment that had ever been paid to me.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Ned O'Sullivan, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
I do not see any value in adding the word "research" before "programme" on line 3 of page 28. The Technological Higher Education Association, THEA, which is the body representing those relevant institutions seeking to attain technological university, TU, designation works closely with Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, to build research capacity within the country as a whole and in a manner that is of sustainable quality. The Technological Higher Education Association is of the view that the definition within the Bill will allow the institutions to continue to work with QQI to build the research capability constructively within the sector. Therefore, I do not take the view that there should be a narrow interpretation or definition of what comprises such research or what specific and, as yet, undefined programmes should be at issue.
The key point is that research students are students registered on very high-level programmes that lead to at least honours bachelor degree level qualifications and that at least 4% of such students are registered on programmes leading to at least masters degree level qualifications. There was considerable debate in the House on Committee Stage suggesting that this was somehow massaging the criteria. I assure the House this is not the case. The stipulations in this regard do not differ from those set out previously. Moreover, there have been assertions that every institute of technology could meet these criteria with ease. This is not necessarily the case.Part of the work being done now by consortia, co-funded by the Higher Education Authority, is to seek to invest in improving performance by certain institutions and consortia in those areas. I also point out that it is not required that each applicant institute should meet the eligibility criteria but rather that that they are complied with jointly. It is a key feature of the technological university concept that there are individual strengths and weaknesses within institutes of technology but that, collectively, as a technological university they are greater than the sum of their parts. Moreover, technological university consortia have been working towards the eligibility criteria set out in this Bill for a number of years and it would not be equitable or justifiable to seek to change the criteria at this late stage, particularly, as I pointed out, because such criteria are challenging and not, as has perhaps been suggested, something that could be quite comfortably met by each and every institute of technology.
I will confine myself to saying it is significant that the Minister of State, in speaking about these programmes, used the word "research". There should be research programmes. It is quite within a third level institution to have research students working on a programme that is not research. For that reason I will push the amendment. There was much persiflage in what the Minister of State said - it was waffle here and there - about this, that and the other but it did not address the matter at all.
On the other hand, we have discussed these matters for a number of hours but it has made not a dent in her armour. She has been quite impervious to the acceptance of any amendments whatever. I can make one forecast about this Bill. It will see the end of the day completely unamended, so Seanad Éireann will have been wasting its sweetness on the desert air as far as the Minister of State is concerned. The Bill will glide happily through this House without the slightest titter of an amendment. I will push the amendment to a vote.
The comments are unfair. The 60% and 40% definition relating to a research student in this Bill is an inclusive approach that reflects current institutional practice in both Irish universities and institutes of technology. It also reflects the way the word "research" is used in the context of the national framework of qualifications. The term "research student" is relevant with respect to an award predicated on or gained through a careful study or investigation based on a systematic understanding and critical awareness of knowledge.
In this way, the concepts of research, research student and resulting awards are used in an inclusive way to accommodate the range of activities that support original and innovative work in the whole range of academic, professional and technological fields, including the humanities and traditional performing and other creative arts. They are not used in any limited or restricted sense but but are understood to involve the integration of rigour, reflection and critique, as normally reflected in the Irish and European higher education tradition.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
This is a matter first and foremost of linguistic interpretation. The Department has consulted the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which drafted the current text. It is the view of that office that there is no ambiguity in the current wording.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 30, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:“(l) the applicant institutes demonstrate to the satisfaction of the advisory panel that the applicant institutes have—(i) a published strategy in place on their mechanisms and procedures for compliance with both Irish and European Data Protection regulations, and
(ii) a published strategy in place on procedures and policies for the protection of an individual’s data and privacy, including appropriate and transparent measures in relation to eLearning,”.
This amendment relates to the area of data protection. We are very aware that the general data protection regulation, GDPR, is being discussed in the Oireachtas and that there are very serious requirements in respect of data protection. This area is not very much reflected in the Bill. I know that in the wider data protection Bill all public authorities and the universities will have standard requirements. I am asking that under the provisions of the Technological Universities Bill 2015, the universities publish their strategies on how they intend to meet the requirements of both Irish and European data protection standards.
I am specifically asking that there be a clear and comprehensive strategy available, one that students can access in respect of the policies and procedures around data protection in each new university. I think the existing universities would be advised to put in place similar policies and procedures, particularly in respect of elearning. Of course, an individual citizen can go back to the Data Protection Bill 2018 and the GDPR. Having moved though the 100 sections, I know it is a complex document and I suggest that there would be a simple, clear, comprehensive strategy in place so that, particularly with the rise of elearning, students know for example, when they are participating in elearning as to what the data protection rules mean in terms of data and intellectual property and also the rights and responsibilities of the university.
This important area is not fully covered in the data protection legislation because there is capacity for additional regulations. This may not be something that needs to be put forward in legislation but I would like an indication from the Minister of State that when there will be a discussion on the implementation of the GDPR with all higher education institutions, be they the new technological universities or existing universities, she will converse with them on the specific area of elearning and that she will encourage them to have clear information available to students. There must be a discussion on how elearning should be approached from the perspective of intellectual property and, more crucially, the perspective of the protection of the data rights of individuals.
This is a crucial area that is not addressed in the Bill and it is important that we get this right from the offset in the new universities.
The general data protection regulation, the GDPR, will come into force on 25 May 2018, and will replace the existing data protection framework under the EU data protection directive. Article 24 of the GDPR requires controllers, namely, higher education institutions, to implement appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure and to be able to demonstrate that the processing of personal data is performed in accordance with the GDPR. The GDPR provides, by law, for greater accountability, transparency and security in respect of processing personal data. It will be the law of the land. I take on board the points raised by the Senator on elearning.
The Minister for Justice and Equality is currently progressing the Data Protection Bill 2018 which will provide for the implementation of new EU data protection rules which will come into force in May 2018. These rules will apply to all organisations, public or private, large or small. I do not think the Technological Universities Bill 2015 is the requisite legislative vehicle to seek to oversee compliance with such legislation. It will be the law of the land.
I do not propose to accept the amendment No. 24.
Of course the GDPR will be the law of the land, but my point is about ensuring that there is appropriate discussion across the sector, not just on how the letter of the law is fulfilled but in terms of driving good practice, perhaps even above and beyond the GDPR.
Will the Minister of State indicate whether she expects that these universities will be publishing clear strategies that students and people of any level would be able to engage with, without having to go back to the original GDPR legislation, which is complicated?
Will the Minister of State indicate whether there will be a discussion on how this might be best achieved, separate from the legislative space? I accept that on a legislative basis the Data Protection Bill 2018 will be crucial but in terms of good practice, I think there is a role for the Minister of State and her Department.
This amendment is almost at the opposite end of some of today's discussion because it suggests that at least 4% of students would enter with an ordinary level leaving certificate. Institutes of technology provide multiple avenues for access to education. I worked for a long time in the south east with young people who were unemployed and many had poor leaving certificates. For example, one young man had entered foster care at the age of 16 and was going through an extremely turbulent time when he did his leaving certificate at 18. For him and for others I worked with knowing that there was a route into higher education through the institutes of technology was crucially important. This young man did not have to wait until he was 23 to apply as a mature student. Having those channels meant people did not lose those years. Many of the institutes do very good work to ensure there are multiple access routes, not just for people from diverse geographical areas but for those with different levels of educational success in the secondary school system.
I want to ensure that as these institutes enter a new phase as universities there are routes for those at that level. It is very important, particularly because the institutes are in different areas and for many people they may present the only visible opportunity for access to higher education. I also spoke to young women who may have had children when they were 16, 17 or 18 and wanted to re-enter education but who for that reason had difficulty around the leaving certificate and other times. They may be balancing caring opportunities in their area. I do recognise that elsewhere in the Bill there is provision for part-time education. This amendment is simply to ensure that those with ordinary level or poor leaving certificates or equivalent will not find the doors of what used to be institutes of technology closed to them.
I am glad the Senator has put down this amendment, not that I am accepting it, but because it is important to say in the House that there will be different pathways into education. I have 31 years' experience in education and I know, and have met, many students who have matured as they have gone through education, who have come through colleges of further education and gone on at a later stage in their lives to do bachelors degrees, masters and indeed to do PhDs. I also realise there are many students who have a bad day or days sitting the leaving certificate. That should not cut off those pathways.
It is in the Bill, section 9(1)(a), page 11, provides the teaching and learning that, "promotes excellence at all levels of higher education within the [national] Framework [of qualification]". This addresses the Senator's point because it requires the provision of education and training that reflect the needs of individuals and to, "provide for the broad education, intellectual and personal development of students". Equity in access to higher education is a fundamental principle of Irish education policy. The higher education systems performance framework is a key instrument that oversees progress towards goals, objectives and targets in the national access plan and broader access strategies. The new system performance framework is in place for 2018 to 2020. I hope the Senator knows that is what we are doing and feels confident that the answer I have given proves that is the foundation of what we are doing.
Among the key targets for 2019 and 2020 in that framework is to sustain the expansion from under-represented groups with 2,000 additional enrolments from socio-economically disadvantaged groups and 1,000 from further education. It is not advisable to put specific targets in primary legislation but I assure the Senator there will be ongoing reviews and we will make sure there are multiple pathways into the technological universities.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 31, line 27, to delete "compliance by the applicant institutes with the eligibility criteria," and substitute "the standards required for university designation, and specifically eligibility under the criteria,".
I would like the Minister of State to accept this amendment to give the evaluation panel real teeth. As the Bill is worded, an evaluating panel of experts has no power to properly evaluate the institution in the round. It is more a spreadsheet exercise. If an applying institution meets the technical criteria the panel will have to make a positive finding. Why is the Minister going to the trouble of convening a panel of experts if it has no power to explore the institution other than auditing a few select metrics? This amendment establishes the technical criteria as the indicative standard but tasks the complying consortium with going further, being ambitious and taking on the challenge of truly creating a new university in more than name.
Section 30, page 31, sets out the information: "An application by applicant institutes under section 29shall include information — (a) demonstrating compliance by the applicant institutes with the eligibility criteria". Section 28 sets out the criteria in detail and makes it clear to the applicant institutions and any assessment panel what criteria must be applied and measured in assessing the application. I would have concerns that the introduction of an additional standard not defined in the legislation would introduce a degree of uncertainty and subjectivity to the process. Section 30(a) is expressed in clear and precise terms and the wording was drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for the Government following consultation with the Department of Education and Skills. I cannot accept this amendment.
Yes. No amendment has been accepted, which is frustrating. It was clear that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were not open to my amendments Nos. 19, 22, 23 and 27. It is a shame that there was no consideration and it will lead to the Bill being weaker. My amendments were tabled on the basis of my consultation with senior academics in universities. The process was set against the Seanad from the outset.
I will echo that. There are many positive aspects of the Bill, so it makes me sad that there was a clear mindset from the beginning that the Bill was to be pressed through without amendment. Those watching will see all of these Report Stage amendments, but it is not usual to have so many. There were so many largely because clear and constructive proposals had not been taken on board. For example, the Government could have listened to the Committee Stage debate and reverted with amendments of its own. We would all have been open to that because, when we make points, we usually do so constructively. If the Government takes them on board or wishes to take ownership of them, we often accept the Government's amendments over our own.
The Minister of State took points on board during debates on previous Bills, for example, the knowledge development box legislation, although she was in a different role at the time. The Seanad's amendments to that and other Bills strengthened them. It is regrettable that the House, which has an important contribution to make, was not afforded a proper and appropriate opportunity to amend this legislation. The process has been longer and more painful than would have been necessary had there been full, genuine and constructive engagement throughout. With absolute respect for the Minister of State and the many issues where we share common cause, particularly gender equality, I urge her to come forward with genuine openness the next time she lays legislation before the House. She can see how our Report Stage amendments consistently took on board her feedback, yet many of them were still not given fair consideration.
It is a sad footnote to what should have been the good news story of new technological universities across the western seaboard and elsewhere that the reasonable demands from students in terms of representation were not adequately addressed. However, the Bill has many positive measures.
Technological university status is about equality and fairness. The culture at Institute of Technology, Carlow puts its students at the heart of everything it does. Its culture of equality, openness, respect and inclusion is exactly the ethos we seek in a university. Technological university status will give us equal opportunity and offer a choice in the third level market.
The institute's commitment to participation is evident in the performance of new entrants. In the context of national policies, it is a key driver of progress and development in Carlow and the wider south east and mid-east. It is leading a range of actions under the Action Plan for Jobs for those regions. Importantly, this is about jobs for the south east, which has been neglected, given that Carlow, Kilkenny and small towns are competing against the Dublins, Limericks and Corks of Ireland. The institute's lead role in the south east also enables us to work with the mid-east regional skills forum. Everyone is working together.
In the past seven years, more than 50,000 IT Carlow pupils have enjoyed successful careers across all walks of life. Awarding it university status gives it a claim to a position among the world's leading young universities. Institutes represent everything in which I believe, but we must go forward.
I welcome this good Bill. I am delighted with it. We usually get things 95% right and leave the other 5% to be addressed later. We need to consider making a journey of discovery. We must encourage young adults and give them the opportunity to attend third level.
What is the process going forward? Thank God, the Bill is finished today. After it has been signed by the President, how long will it take to be implemented?
I thank the House for its consideration of this crucial legislation on higher education. Some Senators will be disappointed that amendments on student representation, the structure of the governing body and various other elements were not accepted, but my officials and I considered those matters long and hard. Indeed, many officials have been considering this matter down the years, including Ms Deirdre McDonnell, Ms Aoife Conduit, Mr. Gavan O'Leary, Mr. Hugh Geoghegan, Ms Mary Doyle, Mr. Micheál Lenihan, Mr. John McDermott and Mr. Stephen Manning. They have put hours of work into this and we have debated the matter over and back in my office. We have tried to amend the Bill and strengthen those elements that were perceived to be weaknesses or flaws. I assure the House that the Bill is constructive in terms of the issues raised. More appropriate non-legislative approaches and structures can and will be pursued to ensure that certain of the concerns raised will be considered and addressed.
I hope that the Bill will, in the most positive sense, be looked back on as a sea change in the higher education landscape. I thank Senators and my colleagues in the Dáil for what we have done. I truly believe that this is about the students and the opportunities that it will open up for them across the country. I commend the Bill to the House.