We will proceed to the Dublin Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 1994, and the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1994, the Second Stages of which will be taken together in accordance with the Order of the House.
Dublin Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 1994: Second Stage.
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, and the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, 1992, came into effect on 1 January 1993, bringing into existence on that date 12 new statutory based institutions. This legislation has done a number of very important things: it has defined the memberships and functions of the colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology; it provides for the roles of governing bodies; it has established the post of director as chief executive in all of the regional technical colleges and the post of president as chief executive in the Dublin Institute of Technology; it has provided for the establishment of an academic council in each of the institutions with clearly defined functions; it has established all staff as employees of the particular institution, and it has allowed for the drawing up of programmes and budgets on an annual basis.
The Bills before the House are aimed at addressing difficulties which have arisen in the appointment of governing bodies to the colleges and the institute, which were not contemplated when the Acts were drafted and passed in 1992. Before outlining the specific issues which the Bill deals with, it is worth recalling at this point the development of the regional technical colleges from the time of their establishment in the 1970s under the vocational education committees to their foundation on a statutory basis as autonomous higher education institutions from January 1993.
The early 1960s saw the publication of the reports Investment in Education and The Training of Technicians in Ireland. A steering committee was set up to advise the then Minister for Education on the provision of technical education. This committee's report in 1969 formed the basis for the establishment in the 1970s of most of these colleges. The report related the colleges to economic growth both nationally and in their own particular regions. In their continuing adaptation over a period of almost 25 years since then the colleges have continued to stimulate demand for skills which the economy needs.
The Dublin Institute of Technology can trace the development of technical and technological education in Dublin to much earlier times — from the Artisans' Exhibition in Earlsfort Terrace in 1885, through the opening of the Kevin Street College in 1887 and the Rathmines Technical Institute in 1902, to the association with the School of Music in 1904, the opening of the Parnell Square College in 1906 and the Bolton Street Institute in 1911. The link with the University of Dublin in 1975 for the conferring of degree awards was another important milestone. In 1978 the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee established the Dublin Institute of Technology on an ad hoc basis to ensure better co-ordination of the work of its third level colleges.
The growth in this sector in this period has been very marked. In the period since 1980, whole-time student numbers in the regional technical colleges have risen from 6,500 to 25,000, an increase of almost 300 per cent. In the same period the enrolment of whole-time students in the colleges which form the Dublin Institute of Technology has risen from 4,000 to 10,062, an increase of 150 per cent.
The 1992 legislation, since coming into effect, provides new opportunities for the sector to broaden its range of activities and to branch into new spheres of development. Activities such as applied industry-supported research, technology transfer, services to regional industry, industrial training, product development technology centres and new industry incubation are now an ever-increasing feature of the sector.
In general the structures of the regional technical colleges have been strengthened by the appointment of senior managers as registrars and secretary — financial controllers. These are supplemented by support and ancillary staff who are concentrated in the finance, personnel, industrial liaison and student support areas. In the Dublin Institute of Technology, a number of senior management appointments have been made to strengthen the areas of finance, personnel and student support services. A fully fledged administrative and academic structure is currently being developed by the institute.
Looking to the future, national and indeed EU initiatives point to a number of developments in higher education. These include participation and access, partnerships, continuing education and international links. The regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology have a major contribution to make in all these areas.
In the case of participation and access the colleges and the institute have been major instruments in broadening educational opportunity and access. They provide national and regional access to courses at a wide variety of levels matching closely the abilities and ambitions of students. They have developed co-operatively transfer possibilities to higher studies on a large scale and also provide a programme of professionally oriented part-time education and industrial training. The success of the Tallaght college in the context of access and participation of the local community is the most recent testimony to this.
In forming partnerships with economic life the colleges and the institute are working with national and international development agencies. New industry incubation, co-operation with and assistance to indigenous industry and the attraction to the regions of investment in development are and will continue to be major functions of the sector. Whether through associated technology parks or through tourism courses and the services sector, the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology will be significant regional and national contributors and will provide support for community and rural development projects. They will also contribute to technology up-dating in the education sector generally.
There is an increasing demand for continuing education and in the future it is expected that there will be a higher proportion of mature and part-time students. As a result greater diversity of access and life-long education will be required. The regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology will be expected to offer an education service to these students given their highly regarded traditions in these fields. Pilot schemes in open and distance learning are already a feature of the sector and can be expected to grow. Where international linkages are concerned many students of the institutions covered by this legislation participate in a wide range of EU programmes in the education, culture, science, technology, information and other spheres. The institutions also have a range of developmental and research programmes with industrial and international partners.
A new feature of the regional technical college-DIT sector is the development of two projects in association with the NOW Programme of the European Union. NOW stands for New Opportunities for Women and the programme has as its aim the promotion of equal opportunities for women in vocational training and employment. The projects are being implemented in Cork Regional Technical College and the Dublin Institute of Technology.
In co-operation with my Department, Cork regional technical college has developed an initiative called "Women into Technology". This initiative has two aspects. Firstly, there is a 30 week pre-training course for women which equips them with the necessary knowledge, confidence and skills to pursue further education in engineering and the applied sciences. These are areas which traditionally have a very low proportion of women. Special time-tabling, career guidance and introduction to role models are features of the initiative. Significant interest was shown in this course during the information sessions prior to its commencement and by June 1994 100 women had participated.
The other aspect to this Cork initiative is a schools programme which provides a one week "taster" course for young women through practicals and lectures in science, engineering and technology. In addition to the programme for pupils in schools, information seminars are also held for parents.
The Dublin Institute of Technology initiative, based in the Bolton Street college, promotes greater take-up by women of careers in engineering and technology. It does this through an interlinked network of short courses, link courses, seminars, and open days. This initiative has met with great success and interest on the part of young women and their parents.
Both initiatives have the full support of my Department and other regional technical colleges are being encouraged to consider how best they can encourage the participation of women in non-traditional areas of study and careers.
The regional technical colleges and the institute have a record of achievement behind them and a challenging future ahead of them. The realisation of the aims and ambitions for this sector of third level education will best be achieved by a co-operative effort of all the interests involved and the harnessing of a wide range of relevant experience and expertise. This must be firmly rooted in the governing bodies and in the method of their selection. Under the 1992 Acts, governing bodies were given a central role in the new institutions. They are in all respects their legal personae, the bodies through which the institutions carry out their functions. For this reason it is essential that the method of appointment of governing bodies be free from uncertainty so that they can be in the best possible position to guide and direct the institutions and to pool together as wide a range of experience and expertise as possible in the interests of advancing their goals.
In enacting the 1992 legislation, the Oireachtas rightly recognised that it would be in the interests of the institutions if the method of appointing governing bodies ensured a reasonable gender balance. In general it is necessary in public life to ensure that men and women are fully represented and given the opportunity to make their contribution. Traditionally this has not been the case due to a significant under-representation of women. In the case of educational institutions gender balance assumes a particular significance in view of the role these institutions have in educating young people in all aspects of life. Governing bodies are charged with the overall governance of colleges where in many cases women comprise more than 50 per cent of the student population. The total current number of women students in the sector is 15,000. Given the importance of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology in the development of their regions and in the national educational framework it is essential that there should be balance in the range of experience and expertise available to them. Gender balance facilitates this.
In January 1993 the Programme for a Partnership Government included a commitment to a radical programme of affirmative action in appointing women to State boards with the objective of achieving a minimum of 40 per cent of both men and women among the direct Government nominees within a period of four years. Subsequent to this the Government in March 1993 set out a gender balance policy to increase the participation of women in public life and to ensure that men and women are fully represented and given an opportunity to make their full contribution in all aspects of public life.
Regretfully the experience to date has been one of extreme difficulty in securing an appropriate balance of women on the governing bodies. The structure of the appointments system at present is that the vocational education committees make recommendations to the Minister for Education on the composition of the governing bodies and the Minister formally makes the appointments. Recommendations come from six areas in the case of the colleges and seven in the case of the institute. These are nominees of the vocational education committees, academic and non-academic staff, students, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and relevant organisation in areas such as agriculture, industry, commerce and the professions. The institute has an additional nominee from Trinity College.
In late 1992 the then Minister, on receipt of nominations from the committees, appointed the first governing bodies to the 11 regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology from 1 January 1993 to 31 December 1993. The Minister had requested the committees in forwarding their nominations to have regard to the requirement in the legislation that the Minister must ensure an appropriate gender balance, as determined by him, in appointing governing bodies. The response was very disappointing with only one vocational education committee, County Dublin Vocational Education Committee, making nominations which reflected an appropriate gender balance.
When guidelines were issued to the relevant vocational education committees in November 1993, for their nominations for the new governing bodies to be appointed with effect from 1 January 1994, my Department sought nominations in accordance with the Government's policy on gender balance. It was indicated to the committees that I would have no option but to refuse nominations under the various sections where the required gender balance was not met. Letters in similar terms were sent to the outgoing governing bodies in the context of staff and student elections and to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in connection with their nominee under the Acts.
Once again in late 1993 and early 1994 the nominations from vocational education committees generally failed to provide an appropriate gender balance. By March 1994 I found that the situation with regard to the appointment of governing bodies in the institutions had reached an impasse, with the vocational education committees in most cases either unable or unwilling to put forward proposals on the basis of minimum representation of 40 per cent for men and women.
The requirement to ensure gender balance is a duty imposed upon me by the Acts and if I had simply accepted the position I would have been in breach of the spirit of the legislation which the Oireachtas saw fit to pass. On the other hand, the vocational education committees pointed to a weakness in that legislation. While it imposed an obligation on the Minister for Education to ensure gender balance in appointing governing bodies it imposed no such obligation on the vocational education committees in making recommendations as to the people to be appointed.
This quite clearly places me, as Minister, in a very difficult position. To meet and discharge my statutory obligation to ensure gender balance I have had to return to the Oireachtas for the necessary powers. I did not, however, consider it to be in the best interests of the institutions if they were left without governing bodies. Accordingly, I appointed the governing bodies as recommended to me, but only for one year instead of the five year term I had originally intended, and I indicated my intention to seek amending legislation.
I should, of course, indicate that throughout all these proceedings, I was very heartened by the fact that County Dublin Vocational Education Committee willingly provided nominations with gender balance in line with Government policy for Tallaght Regional Technical College. The Dublin Institute of Technology is now also at the point of reaching a gender balance in line with Government policy. I congratulate Tallaght Regional Technical College and the Dublin Institute of Technology and their respective vocational education committees on their recognition of the significance of providing role models at the level of governance for the students of their institutions.
In reviewing the legislation I was conscious of the fact that vocational education committees could not be expected to bear the full responsibility for gender blance. As is the case in most public and private organisations, the level of representation of women on vocational education committees and in local government generally is very low. This is one of the main reasons for the gender balance policy in the first place. It would be unreasonable, accordingly, to expect the vocational education committees to address gender balance from their nominees only. I also considered that where any group was in a position to put forward more than one nominee that group should also ensure a gender balance. This is particularly appropriate in the case of academic staff and students. These groups have two nominees each and I now propose to give statutory effect to a policy directive already being implemented in all colleges and the institute, to the effect that one of these two nominees must be a woman and the other a man.
In further assisting the vocational education committees to provide a balanced list of recommendations I propose to alter the procedures for the making of nominations by relevant bodies. There are five such nominations. At present the vocational education committees choose five organisations and must accept their nominees. This gives the vocational education committees little control over the nominations process. This could cause difficulties if the nominees did not accord with the efforts of a vocational education committee to achieve a gender balance. I now propose a change in the wording of the legislation which will enable the vocational education committees to seek nominations from any number of organisations and from among those nominated they may choose those whom they consider are best suited in all the circumstances.
If the provisions now proposed are enacted I am confident that vocational education committees will have little difficulty in practice in assisting the Minister for Education in ensuring a gender balance on governing bodies and that the original Acts can finally, after two failed attempts, be implemented in this respect in the spirit intended. However, I believe that a stalemate of the kind which developed over this issue of gender balance on governing bodies cannot be allowed to occur again. It is extremely damaging for the operation and reputation of the regional technical college-Dublin Institute of Technology sector and carries serious legal and financial risks if colleges are left for any significant period of time without governing bodies. Accordingly, I propose in section 3 of the Bills to provide for a situation where a vocational education committee, in making recommendations to a Minister, in respect of the composition of governing bodies, fails in their statutory obligations. The Minister in certain circumstances would be able to by-pass the normal appointment procedure and appoint any person or body of persons to take over the functions of a governing body.
In bringing forward this provision I have sought to ensure that it is reasonable and proportionate and that it strikes a balance between the need to put governing bodies in place with as little delay as possible, while at the same time protecting vocational education committees from arbitrary or unfair action on the part of a Minister. I have also sought to ensure that the power of the Minister is not so wide as to enable her to completely set aside the provisions of the Acts as originally enacted. Accordingly, any person or body appointed under this power could hold office for not longer than one year. This period in most cases would enable a Minister and a vocational education committee to resolve whatever difficulties led to the appointment in the first place and a governing body would then be appointed in the normal way.
Apart from the issue of gender balance the appointment of governing bodies was delayed earlier this year because of litigation relating to who should be allowed to participate in the elections for academic staff nominees. This matter was the subject of a High Court judgment which extended participation in the elections to certain part-time staff. In bringing forward provisions setting out in some detail who the electorates for academic and non-academic staff should be I have sought to implement the spirit of that judgment by including part-time staff in the elections. At the same time I am conscious of the fact that some part-time staff have only a very limited commitment to the colleges and the institute, in terms of the number of hours they work there. It would be inappropriate that such staff would be allowed to participate in elections for governing body positions on the same basis as staff whose contribution is much greater. In reconciling the rights and interests of part time staff who make a significant contribution to the colleges and the institute and the rights and interests of staff who work on a full time basis there, I propose to limit participation in the elections to all permanent staff and to those part time staff who work at least 50 per cent of the hours of whole time staff.
I also propose in these Bills to amend the method by which student nominees for the governing body are chosen. The legislation provides that two students are to be elected by the student body in accordance with regulations made by the governing bodies. College managements and the Union of Students in Ireland made representations to me to change this method of selecting student members of the governing bodies. Their concern was that elections for governing bodies separate from the Student Union elections could lead to a situation where the student members on the governing bodies would have no formal link to the Students' Union in the colleges. This would cause fragmentation of student representation which would be damaging to the colleges and the students' interests. In recognition of those concerns I propose to amend the method of selection of student members by providing that selection is to be made according to regulations made by the governing bodies. This will enable local managements to work out with students how best their interests can be represented on the governing bodies. The provision, if accepted, would put the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology on the same footing in this respect as the University of Limerick and Dublin City University when this method of selection is working well.
I now propose, a Cheann Comhairle, to outline to the House the provisions of the Bills as presented. My remarks on the individual sections apply to both Bills and I will indicate points of difference as they arise.
Section 1 merely provides that the Principal Act referred to in the Bills is the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992 or the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, 1992, as appropriate.
Section 2 provides for the method of selection of a governing body. It replaces subsection (4) of the Principal Acts. This provision would effect no change in the overall composition of the governing bodies. In the case of the regional technical colleges there will continue to be 17 ordinary members comprised as follows: six to be nominated by the vocational education committee; two each to be nominated by academic staff and students; one each to be nominated by the non-academic staff and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and five to be nominated by relevant organisations as determined by the vocational education committee. In the case of the Dublin Institute of Technology, there is one additional member — a nominee of Trinity college.
The changes to the present subsection (4) which would be effected by this provision are the imposition of a formal requirement that in the case of the student and academic staff nominees, one from each group must be a woman and the other a man and in the case of relevant organisations the vocational education committee may seek nominations from any number and then choose five for recommendation to the Minister. The provision also establishes clearly who among the staff are entitled to participate in the elections.
Subsection (2) imposes a statutory obligation on the vocational education committees to ensure a gender balance and to implement ministerial directives in making recommendations.
Subsection (3) effects the substitution of these provisions for the provisions in the 1992 Acts. Subsection (4) makes the provisions relating to the electorate for staff members retrospective to safeguard the elections which took place in the wake of the High Court judgment.
Section 3 provides that in the event that a vocational education committee fails to abide by their statutory duty in making recommendations and persist in that failure after it is brought to their attention, the Minister may appoint any body of persons to perform the functions of the governing body for a period not greater than one year.
Section 4 provides that where a member of the governing body who was elected by the staff of the college or institute ceases to be a member of that staff he or she will also cease to be a member of the governing body.
Section 5 is intended to address the difficulties posed by the fact that the governing bodies leaving office last year had in effect, after the striking down of their regulations governing staff elections by the High Court, left office without making valid regulations. A full governing body could not be appointed until regulations were made but regulations could not be made until a governing body was appointed. This "catch 22" situation is addressed by providing for the appointment of a less than complete governing body which would then make the necessary regulations. It is retrospective to cover the present governing bodies which were appointed under this procedure.
Section 6 provides for the short title, collective citation and construction.
In summary the Bills seek to bring a certainty to the process for electing staff members to governing bodies; ensure that an appropriate gender balance is effectively implemented on all governing bodies; assist nominating bodies to achieve gender balance in their recommendations and prevent a situation from ever arising again where failure on the part of nominating bodies could jeopardise the good order and management of the colleges and the institute.
I commend these Bills to the House.
By way of an aside, I would point out to the Minister the turbulent history of legislation relating to technological education. It was on the day the Government collapsed in 1989 that the recommendations of the Hardiman report on technological education relating to the granting of university status to the NIHEs at Dublin and Limerick were approved in Dáil Éireann. The Minister should also be aware that during the course of Second Stage of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1991 and the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill, 1991 the then Minister for Education, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, moved on to greater things and it was her successor, Deputy Davern, who completed the passage of these Bills through the House. We all know that his tenure of office was very short indeed. As the Minister introduces these two Bills in a turbulent political climate, I wonder if the hand of fate is about to strike a third time.
Hope springs eternal.
The Dublin Institute of Technology has been one of the great success stories of our third level institutions. At present there are in excess of 10,000 whole-time students taking a range of courses at apprenticeship, technician, degree and post graduate levels. Part-time day and evening students numbering in excess of 15,000 are taking a wide range of courses. With the Dublin Institute of Technology participating in the CAO-CAS system it provides a valuable source of further educational options for the 65,000 students taking the leaving certificate annually.
The regional technical colleges which were first built at Carlow, Waterford, Athlone, Dundalk, Sligo and Letterkenny in the late 1960s and 1970s have grown from fledgling institutions to major educational establishments providing a third level education for in excess of 25,000 students.
I commend and salute the individual regional technical colleges for the marvellous work they have done and continue to do and, likewise, the individual colleges within the Dublin Institute of Technology system. The commitment of the staff members in all of these institutions has led to the high standards which have been achieved and we must also recognise the input and dedication of the various vocational education committees within whose jurisdiction these colleges lay for so many years. The introduction of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1992 and the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill, 1992 transferred many of the responsibilities from these vocational education committees to new governing bodies.
I read with interest over the past few days the Second Stage debate which took place on these Bills in this House and a number of amazing factors emerged. I found that the Minister's own party, the Labour Party, opposed the original Bills on Second Stage because it felt the Bills should not be published prior to the education Green Paper and the debate that was to take place on that. I wonder if the Minister has spoken with those party colleagues who contributed at that stage and what their reaction is to the publication of this amendment to the Acts, with such far reaching consequences, prior to the publication of the Minister's White Paper.
A major part of the Bills now being proposed by the Minister relates to the introduction of gender equity on the boards of these colleges. It is also interesting to note that in the Second Stage debate on the original substantive Bills I could not find any Deputy who referred to the need for such provisions or who commented on this factor.
We need more women.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am very much in favour of gender equity in public appointments to boards, etc. However, many women and women's groups feel that women should not be given places on these boards simply because of their gender but should occupy places as of right and because of their ability to do the job well. I fear that the provisions of these amendments will be ultimately a disservice to women and will damage their just cause for greater representation. Because of the Minister's insistence on interfering in the normal democratic practice, these Bills may even be found to be unconstitutional. They seem to have been hastily prepared and do not address the difficulties being experienced by the various colleges in relation to the operation of the original Acts of 1992.
Perhaps this omission can be explained by the fact that the Minister does not seem to have consulted any of the colleges I spoke with and on whom this legislation is to be imposed. Even a cursory discussion with many of them would have indicated that wide ranging problems are experienced under the original Acts which could have been amended by these Bills had the Minister initiated a process of consultation with those colleges. Such consultation was widely engaged in by my constituency colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, and there is great disappointment that the present Minister failed to consult the colleges before introducing this legislation. The first many of them knew of it was when they read the press reports indicating it had been launched by the Minister. If the Minister consulted the colleges, perhaps she will indicate with whom she consulted and whether it was on a formal or informal basis. She should take a leaf out of the book of the former Minister who consulted widely with the various colleges on every aspect of their development.
The Minister engages in wide ranging discussions on other topics but she must realise the important role of the regional colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology and give them equal treatment with the other participating groups in education. Debate on this issue has been non-existent and the Minister is being driven by non-elected ideologues who seem to have far greater control of the Minister and her policy than the many elected representatives who are in touch with the real issues. Why, since the debate arose last October, has the Minister cause to issue directives on the holding of elections on a panel basis? The muddle and confusion caused by these contradictory directives could easily be sorted out at face to face meetings with the people involved, but such meetings did not take place.
I strongly support the policy of ensuring gender balance in public bodies but I wonder if this Bill will do it or if it too will be referred to the Supreme Court. If that happens the policy of ensuring gender balance in public bodies could suffer a severe set back. I am concerned about clauses in the Dublin Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill which will make part of this Bill retrospective to January and April 1994. This was not mentioned in the Minister's speech. Introducing Bills of a retrospective nature is nothing new in the House but very few Bills have been introduced when court cases relating to clauses therein have been involved.
The Minister is attempting to do the work of the courts as there is a court case next week which will be affected by the Bill. This is a very dangerous practice. Two Ministers who deliberately introduced legislation to override pending court cases found it a dangerous practice which would not be tolerated by the courts. I refer to the Pine Valley case and the Sinn Féin funds case both of which are matters of public record and should be brought to the attention of the Minister immediately. With a court case involving the Dublin Institute of Technology Academic Staff Association due for mention in the courts next week it is foolish for the Minister to try to settle the matter by introducing this Bill. I urge the Minister to withdraw the retrospective sections immediately and not end up with more egg on her face than she has accumulated from the debacle of the free colleges debate and her recent encounter with the Irish churches which has left her reeling from the blows of many croziers, not just from one side.
I am still in one piece.
The Minister's concept of staff representatives being elected from two constituencies, male and female, is repugnant to democracy and the right of the individual to cast his vote in whatever manner he chooses. We have a long tradition of democracy and the single transferable vote so that one's voting wishes are reflected in the candidates elected to office. The Minister's amendment will allow first past the post to be elected and will not reflect the democratic wishes of voters.
Speaking on Second Stage of the substantive Bills as reported at column 640 of the Official Report, 7 November 1991, Deputy O'Shea stated: "This is a view with which I concur since it is consistent with the concept of worker participation and the exercise of democracy at the basic levels of society and its institutions". He was referring to his wish for open democratic elections to positions on the governing bodies.
If constituencies are created within the college how can the male or female electorate have a say in selecting colleagues of the opposite sex? Is the Minister further suggesting that if the president of one of these institutions is a male the next president must be female? Perhaps she will soon say that scholarships awarded by institutions should be on a gender equity basis — two female students, two male students. If that were the case the six scholarships awarded by the Dublin Institute of Technology in the past year would have been given to three males and three females whereas all six scholarships were awarded to female students because they were high achievers. Since the Minister is so committed to gender equity let us look at the primary sector of the teaching profession where approximately 80 per cent of the teachers are female. What measures is the Minister taking to equalise the situation bearing in mind the increasing number of single parent families, most of whom are headed by females which means that, in the absence of male teachers, children do not have a dominant male influence in their lives until they are teenagers? This could have a serious detrimental effect on their development and is far more important than items contained in the Bill.
I refer the Minister to the Dáil Official Report of 26 January 1994 when she replied to a question indicating that of the 21 Principal Officers in her Department 18 were male and three were female. Where she had direct jurisdiction she appointed males to the top positions of programme manager, special adviser and director of communications within her Department. How does she respond? Is that why she is introducing this legislation?
Fine Gael supported the thrust of the 1992 Acts. These have been generally implemented but a number of difficulties have arisen which the Minister would have heard about had she consulted the colleges. One relates to the various constituencies created for the election of members to the governing bodies of these colleges. In some cases these constituencies have been manipulated to enable, in one case I know of, a staff member to become a member of the board as a representative of one of the constituent bodies rather than a representative of the staff body. I am aware of another case where a special nominating body was put forward by a vocational education committee in order that a disgruntled vocational education committee member could become a member of the governing body. This mechanism has been used in a number of areas to facilitate people who could have been nominated to the board in their respective constituencies but, having failed there, another mechanism was designed to suit them. This should have been addressed in the Bills but unfortunately the Minister failed to do so.
The enlargement of the constituencies gives rise to many questions about how this legislation would be implemented. The number of constituencies that will be formed is not mentioned nor is the way in which people will be nominated from the various constituencies. The Minister indicates that the vocational education committee will choose from them. Having seen the way in which some vocational education committees manipulate situations and get their own members on the boards I am sceptical about what will happen in future.
It is acceptable international practice for colleges to establish research committees to identify nominating bodies appropriate to the academic and research activities of the institution. The legislation should provide for similar arrangements in regard to the nominating bodies. This is a very important development which should be considered further on Committee Stage. Given that the Minister proposes to increase the numbers of nominating bodies, colleges should put forward a list of recommended bodies from which the vocational education committee would select the nominating bodies. In practice, there has been no consultation between the vocational education committees and colleges about the nominating bodies.
Another difficulty encountered by the regional technical colleges in particular relates to the necessity for programmes and budgets to be submitted to the relevant vocational education committee on 1 March every year. Once the programmes and budgets are approved by the vocational education committee they are forwarded to the Department of Education for approval before 1 May. Under this procedure courses are not ratified by the Minister until some time in July. The timescale under this procedure has serious implications for colleges offering new courses. For colleges involved in the CAO-CAS system, this date is much too late to attract students to new courses. I ask the Minister to review this procedure and to consider changing the timescale. Approval of programmes and budgets by the Minister at an earlier date would enable courses to commence at an earlier stage in colleges. There is no reason those dates cannot be brought forward considerably. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to this point.
I will be putting down Committee Stage amendments to a number of sections. I should like the Minister in her reply to deal with a number of points. The word "required" is used in section 2 of the Dublin Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill. Will the Minister say who is required to do what? Will it be the director or president of the college? Will there have to be a written contract? Who will decide on this matter in the event of a dispute? In referring to equivalent part-time staff, is the Minister including employees such as canteen staff, cleaning staff etc. who work in the college on a part-time basis? What about technicians whose pay in many cases derives from research grants? Will they become equivalent part-time employees? The Minister needs to clarify these points.
What are the implications of including in legislation a provision relating to the teaching of not less than 280 time-tabled hours in a college? Will this set current teaching contracts in legislative tablets of stone? Given recent European Union decisions, what will be the knock-on implications for the pensions of part-time workers in the public service? Will it also give rise to 50 per cent pension rights? Some EPT staff may have pensions for non-college work and when these are aggregated with the 50 per cent college pension the total may give rise to additional claims from permanent whole-time staff. What is the advice from the Department of Finance on the potential cost of the provisions in the Bill? Would it not be better for the Minister to withdraw the Bill and have it redrafted? Subject to the clarifications I am seeking, I support the concept in section 2 but I do not support the wording of it, which is dangerous. I will put down an amendment to propose that regional technical colleges should be called regional colleges. Given the vast array of facilities they provide, modern day regional colleges should not be restricted by the title "technical". When the Acts were being debated in the House Fine Gael put down an amendment proposing that these colleges should be called regional polytechnics. That amendment was rejected by the Minister of the day. I ask this Minister to consider calling these institutions regional colleges.
I will also put down an amendment proposing uniformity in regard to the titles of the persons in charge of these colleges. Under the Dublin Institute of Technology system, it is agreed that the person in charge shall be called the president, while a director shall be in charge of a faculty within the college, for example, the director of building studies. Given that these colleges operate in an international field, it is important that there is no ambiguity about the status of the directors. I will be proposing that the principal or director of each college shall henceforth be referred to as the president of the college. This will give the person in charge status on the European scene and removes any doubts about his position within the college system. I ask the Minister to give consideration to this point.
I regret that the Bills do not contain a commitment to the establishment of a regional college in Thurles. My colleague, Deputy Michael Lowry, will deal with this issue. I also regret that the Minister has not availed of the opportunity to establish a full regional college in Castlebar. Deputies Enda Kenny and Michael Ring will deal with this issue in greater detail. I welcome the thrust of the Bills which provide for a greater involvement by women on the governing bodies of regional colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. While supporting the Bill on Second Stage, Fine Gael will put down Committee Stage amendments which I hope the Minister will accept.
I support the principle of the Bills. I believe in gender equity and I commend the Minister for enshrining that principle in the Bills. At a time when we should be debating education in general and the White Paper on education in particular it is ironic that we are debating Bills which more or less tinker with existing legislation. Instead of rebuilding the entire education edifice we are tinkering with legislation.
At a time of such uncertainty about local and regional education authorities it is ironic that we are talking about the powers of vocational education committees. The Minister has concentrated on structures and, at times, battles with bishops instead of creating the type of educational system society needs and dealing with the White Paper on education. We have seen an extraordinary turn around in this area in recent times. The Minister has held a series of meetings, to try to achieve consensus on the local education structures. While I commend her on this — in educational terms, one would give her full marks — unfortunately I would have to send out for the external examiner on what happened next. As is generally known, it was proposed to establish by consent local and regional education authorities which would provide support for and ensure an equitable distribution of resources to, all the schools and colleges in their areas. Following that discussion, an announcement was made — regrettably it was made in the media — that the Minister intends to retain the vocational education committees within the new local education structures. This announcement was elaborated on by the Secretary of the Department of Education who stated that under the new structures the vocational education committee would fulfil the functions they currently undertake for their schools.
Is it any surprise that the ASTI reacted with such dismay and amazement, finding that the premise on which they entered into discussions turned out to be false? They were led to believe that the outcome would be that all schools would have a single local or regional education authority structure. As they said in their letter to the Minister dated 28 September 1994 — which I believe has been circulated to all Members of this House: "In such a system, decisions about the allocation of resources could be made on a fair, open and transparent basis and in such a way as to ensure equity in the system". Can it come as a surprise that the ASTI took the view that the Minister yielded to political pressure in retaining the vocational education committees while, at the same time, wishing to establish separate regional education councils? They state — with some justification — that the continuance of the vocational education committees and their current functions would inhibit regional technical colleges from carrying out their functions in an equitable manner. Indeed having two layers of local education authorities turns the original objective on its head and would result in the duplication of authority and responsibilities, inefficiency and unnecessary expense.
The final two paragraphs of the letter from the ASTI to the Minister sums up the type of frustration felt by others interested in and committed to the reform of our educational system. They state:
In common with many other major organisations in education, the ASTI entered into the debate on the establishment of the local/regional council structures on the understanding that, in future, there would only be one such structure in the education system between all schools and the Department of Education. In the course of the various consultative processes in which we all engaged, there was no support for the model of local/regional education structures which you have now adopted. In this context, your decision to retain the existing local structure for some schools and establish another structure for all schools is astonishing and inconsistent. The consultative process has been ignored. You have undermined the consensus approach to policy development.
The net effect of this decision will be to create confusion and incoherence in the administration of the education system. It will lead to duplication of services and wasteful use of resources. It will encourage unhealthy rivalry and, in your own words, destructive competition between schools and will be damaging to the interests of the education service. The ASTI executive committee has now decided to withdraw its support for the concept of regional education structures.
In terms of what the Minister set out to do, at the very least her present predicament is unfortunate although relating these remarks to vocational education committees I am not implying any criticism of them because, in the main, they do a very good job. However, we should question the vocational education committees, at second-level, continuing to operate under the provisions of the Vocational Education Act, 1930; it was considered inappropriate to third-level institutions which is the reason the Acts we now seek to amend were implemented.
I wonder whether the Minister regrets that the recommendation of the international study group on technical education, the Hardiman report — that the Dublin Institute of Technology should be a statutory body and that the regional technical colleges should break away from the vocational education committee structure, giving them full independence — was not implemented in its entirety.
The Minister gave a detailed account of the college structures. I agree that the Acts went a considerable way to giving the institutions greater freedom and autonomy and with the premise that the governing bodies of such institutions should be reflective of society and of the interests appropriate to the activities of such colleges.
The recognition of gender balance is an important principle I wish to see ratified. I commend the Minister on her determination to adhere to that principle in that I believe there should be gender equity at all levels. Women's representation is critical on boards of educational establishments. One can still find evidence of sexism and attitudes are difficult to change. There is no doubt that, just as we would not have had the advances in equality legislation without the prompting, even insistence, of the European Union, it will take insistence that women must be represented on boards to make it happen. I have spoken to a number of young women — while agreeing that one will hear it more from men — who do not agree with what they call this gender thing, they do not consider it to be necessarily a good idea; "too womany" is a phrase that has been used. Yet, whenever one pushes those young women on what they mean by that, they are not very clear. A quarter of a century after the revival of feminism, this is the stage we have reached, a vague discomfort that women have got too far. Given that they have not got far enough, that is worse than ironic. It is positively sad to think that young women, in particular, feel that boards comprised of equal numbers of men and women in some way would favour women. Some of this prejudice is dressed up as legitimate concern. For example, there is an attitude that we would allow unqualified women on boards predicated by the quite inaccurate assumption that all men on boards are well qualified, over-burdened with appropriate degrees, free of all bias, and none of them past his best. That is not the case. Boards in the education or almost any other sector have very fine men, with very fine minds and track records but they also comprise men of minimal qualifications, and perhaps intelligence, stamped with political and other sectoral interests. Of course, it might be that we give unqualified men a higher rating than unqualified women or, conversely, that we rate male experience higher than female experience.
Some politicians might remember, during the European elections, commentators talking about the electoral chances of two Fine Gael candidates. I remember an observation that Alan Gillis is a very experienced person, the implication being that Monica Barnes's experience, having been garnered by a woman on women's issues, was somehow less valid than his garnered on farming issues. That comment does not take from the man concerned. Nonetheless the House will get my point in relation to women's experience. The gender issue has become muddled, unfashionable and confused. Indeed the Minister should talk to her colleague, the Minister of Equality and Law Reform, in this respect because attitudes are difficult to change and there is no doubt that we need relevant legislation to bring that about.
On the two Bills before us, as my colleague, Deputy McGrath said, certain elements of their structure need amendment. On the process of nomination and appointment it seems appropriate that the electorate in academic staff elections should be comprised of permanent, full-time staff. I was glad to note that the Minister had taken on the spirit of the High Court judgment in relation to part-time teachers.
I wonder about the provisions of section 2 (1) (g) which makes provision for the vocational education committees to seek nominations from any number of relevant organisations. Has the Minister thought of the possible consequences of this, for example, just how wide will this remit be? That needs to be teased out on Committee Stage. Does the Minister consider that the powers in section 3 (2) are extreme? I am endeavouring to be even-handed in this matter. I accept that the Minister must take on board certain powers in relation to what she is endeavouring to do here because, without them, nothing will happen. However, I am also concerned to ensure that ministerial powers do not go too far.
Any legislation dealing with gender equity tends to be low on the legislative priority list. I realise there are other more immediate issues the Minister should address. However, as these Bills refer to third-level educational institutions, I might comment briefly on them. For example, I do not believe it appropriate for the Minister to talk about unsustainable promises of free third-level education since the State does not provide even free primary level education. Every parent knows that they will be involved in so-called voluntary subscriptions or fund raising activities — one might describe it as "education by cake sale". Primary education should be afforded priority in being rendered truly free to children and their parents.
At third level we need that urgent review of the grants and maintenance system. We have only to look at the results of the survey, which show that Dubliners from affluent areas are 15 times more likely to go to university than their counterparts from disadvantaged parts of the city, to realise just how inequitable is the system. I ask the Minister to publish the report on third level grants because there continues to be speculation in the media on the contents of that report. I do not know why the Minister would not publish it. It is political inaction of the worst type.
The problem is that the current income level cut-off point to qualify for a full grant is too low and seriously penalises countless middle income families in the PAYE sector. Given the shortage of third level places and the overcrowding in colleges such as UCD and UCC, where does the Minister intend to find places for these people when the era of free third level education for all dawns?
I am glad we have had the opportunity to debate this Bill and I am sorry it does not appear to have the wholehearted support I had expected. I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage. I commend the Minister on bringing forward this Bill.