Wednesday, 6 April 2016
Department of Education and Skills
702. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she is aware of the concerns of many members of the teaching staff in the Tralee Institute of Technology in County Kerry relating to the proposed development of a Munster technological university in conjunction with Cork Institute of Technology; how she will address their many concerns; if she will take an active role in resolving the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5962/16]
719. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her timeframe for the conclusion of the legislation for new structures for institutes of technologies; if she intends to leave this legislation to the incoming Minister or if she is determined to have it go through the Houses of the Oireachtas; if so, if she is willing to accept further amendments to address the concerns of the sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6101/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 702 and 719 together.
The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, published in 2011, provides a framework for the development of the higher education sector to 2030. This Government has made considerable progress in implementing the recommendations set out in the Strategy, significantly advancing the goal of achieving a modernised, more flexible and responsive higher education system that is accountable for high quality performance across the full range of higher education activities.
With regard to the institute of technology sector, the Strategy recommended significant reforms to position the sector to meet national strategic objectives. In particular, the Strategy recommended consolidation within the sector and a pathway of evolution for those consolidated institutes of technology, to allow them to demonstrate significant progress against robust performance criteria and to apply to become technological universities.
The main purpose of the Technological Universities Bill, which was published in December 2015, is to give effect to the recommendations set out in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 with regard to the institute of technology sector, including the development of a new technological university model. In addition, the Bill provides for a number of important reforms to the governance and operation of the existing institutes of technology.
The Bill sets out the process for the establishment of technological universities. These institutions will be distinctly different from traditional universities and institutes of technology by virtue of their mission. This differentiated mission includes –
- a systematic focus on the preparation of graduates for complex professional roles in a changing technological world,
- the advancement of knowledge through applied research and scholarship and the dissemination of this knowledge to meet the needs of society and enterprise, and
- the particular contribution the university will make to the needs of the region in which it is located.
The Technological University Bill, as published, reflects technological universities' multi-campus nature and their regional focus. Merging institutes will be multi-campus entities which will continue to provide a broad range of programmes of education and training in each of their campuses. These institutions will be linked to industry, and will have an enormous impact on our capacity to create and retain jobs in regions such as the South-East and the North-West.
I want to be very clear on this point - the development of technological universities has the potential to deliver greater opportunity to students in these regions, to staff working in the institutions, and to the broader local economy and society. While merging institutes will be required to establish unified governance and management structures, they will be multi-campus entities which will continue to provide a broad range of programmes of education and training in each of their campuses. Indeed, by creating institutions of greater scale and strength, high quality multi-campus technological universities will be able to bring greater social and economic benefits to their respective regions through the delivery of a broad range of high quality education and training in each of their campuses.
I would also like to underline that this is much more than a rebranding exercise – the institutions concerned are required to merge and to achieve high standards across a range of areas before being designated as technological universities. These include standards relating to the qualifications of staff, the quality of research output, the proportion of students engaged in lifelong learning, and other relevant issues.
I would also note that the policy underpinning the Technological Universities Bill has been developed over a significant period. The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 was adopted in 2011, the Programme for Government included a commitment to the establishment of a multi-campus technological university in the South East, the Higher Education Authority published the criteria for designation as a technological university in 2012, the General Scheme of the Bill was published, and was subject to Oireachtas Scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection in April of 2014. I am aware that the TUI participated in this process, and many of the Committee's recommendations have been taken into account during the drafting of the Technological Universities Bill.
The procedure for application for designation as a technological university, as set out in the Technological Universities Bill 2015, is a reiteration of the fourth and final stage of the earlier published 'process and criteria for designation as a technological university'. The proposed consolidations now emerging within the institute of technology sector, and the development of technological universities as a result, will protect and enhance the distinctive career and enterprise focused missions of institutions in the traditional institute of technology sector while also enhancing their strength and scale. This improvement in scale will be particularly important in relation to the challenge that applicants for technological university status must address in improving their competitive position nationally and internationally.
Two of the consortiums have successfully passed stage 3 of the four-stage process which involved the assessment of their project plans by an international panel of experts. These are the TU4Dublin consortium, made up of Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology, Tallaght and the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown, and the Munster Technological University consortium, made up of Cork Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology Tralee.
As these proposals have progressed through the four stage process I have reiterated the importance of, and the need for, a process of consultation and engagement with all staff and students.
The mergers outlined above cannot proceed until the Technological Universities Bill has been enacted and the relevant provisions commenced. Therefore this Bill, in providing the legislative underpinning for those institutes of technology who have established partnerships and wish to merge, represents an essential milestone in the modernisation and reform agenda for higher education institutions.
I would also like to point out that institutes of technology which do not choose to follow the evolutionary path set out in the National Strategy for Higher Education, and in this Bill, will continue to make an important contribution to higher education and particularly to the development of their region.
The National Strategy recommended that the governance structures of all higher education institutions should be reformed to ensure that they are fit for purpose and have the expertise relevant to the governance of a modern higher education institution. The Technological Universities Bill 2015 sets out a detailed and appropriate legislative framework for the reform of the institute of technology sector and for the establishment of a new type of higher education institution, technological universities.
I am firmly of the view that its passage will enable the technological sector to continue to provide high quality education and research as part of a more coherent and coordinated higher education system.
In relation to the position of the Technological Universities Bill, this Bill was at Report Stage at the time of dissolution of the previous Dáil in February 2016. There is no finalised timeframe for the enactment of this legislation; however, since the Committee Stage of the Bill, my Department has engaged directly with the TUI on its concerns in relation to the Bill. I have also met directly with TUI representatives. As a result of this engagement and the Committee Stage debate, I tabled a number of amendments at Report Stage to deal with some of the concerns raised directly with me.
Finally, I would like to re-iterate that the TUI, as staff representatives, have consistently sought a full process of consultation in relation to both the process and the legislation, and this has been followed through on by myself, as Minister, the Department and the respective institutes involved in the process.