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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 May 1999

Vol. 504 No. 7

Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

In the education sector alone, places in third level have increased by 8,000 in only two years and by 4,000 with regard to post-leaving certificate courses. These represent increases of 9 per cent and 22 per cent respectively. An unprecedented number of places and diversity of courses are now available throughout the country and represent the driving force behind our economic development. I am sure everyone in the House welcomes this expansion of opportunity and would wish to see it further built upon.

The essential point for us to address is that it is not enough just to provide the resources for places. All international experience shows we must be vigilant to ensure that we are genuinely providing flexible and appropriate opportunities and are protecting the quality of qualifications. Based on this idea, and resting on the four pillars of access, transfer, progression and quality, the Bill before the House will make a major contribution to the future development of our country.

The need for a more cohesive, coherent and effective system of certification for higher education and training and further education and training has been both recognised and endorsed by successive Governments and by the European Union, which also supports it as part of the current Operational Programme for Human Resources. Over the past seven years a series of reports has reiterated and endorsed this need. The 1992 Green Paper on Education, proposed that a new council for educational and vocational awards should be established. The National Economic and Social Council's report, "Education and Training Policies for Economic and Social Development", published in 1993, welcomed this proposal to establish a national education and training certification body. The 1993 report on the National Education Convention recorded widespread approval for such a national awards framework.

The EU funded Operational Programme for Human Resources Development, which is now in place, endorsed the policy for the setting up of an integrated certification board. The proposal that emerged at that time was for a national education and training certification board. It was envisaged that such a board would take over the certifying functions of vocational education and training institutions and provide a structure for the formal involvement of industry and the social partners in programme development and assessment of vocational training programmes, other than those provided in universities, in the education and training sectors. The Operational Programme only directly concerns the programmes that are funded under it and through the European Structural Funds.

The White Paper on Education published in 1995 announced that the then Government had approved the establishment of Teastas, the Irish National Certification Authority. These concerns and considerations were supported in the White Paper on Human Resource Development, published in May 1997. The Green Paper on Adult Education, "Adult Education in an Era of Lifelong Learning", published in November 1998, outlines further the Government's support for the development of a national framework of qualifications and the role it can play.

The provisions of the Bill, however, are reflective not just of national concerns in the area of education and training, but of a much wider concern about how the skill needs of industry, business and society at large can be met in the 21st century. This gives rise to another issue – how can our present resources and endeavours be more effectively harnessed in meeting these concerns? Such concerns are not merely national but truly international in terms of their dimension and resolution.

The effects and impact of change are now global in character in the sense that their implications for education and training are similar in the developed world. Although education and training systems and structures may differ from country to country, the impact of global change will require similar responses. The seminal question is how existing systems and methods of education and training can be made to respond effectively to such global change. Part of the answer lies in having a sense of purpose and an appreciation of definite objectives. Never before has the world community experienced what is termed the "massification" and profusion of education and training now being demanded. The Bill must be seen in this context and has emerged against this background.

Deputies will be aware of the work of the Dearing review in the UK which pointed to the extensive damage which can be caused by a laissez-faire, “one size fits all” approach to education. The review's essential point was that academic drift and official neglect had seriously damaged Britain's competitiveness. One of its most important recommendations referred to protecting the different levels of awards through a framework of quality control and progression between levels.

The establishment of national bodies to set up and maintain qualification systems so as to ensure standards and meet the future skills needs of economies and societies has been a feature of education and training developments over the past decade. The National Skills Standards Board in the United States, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in the United Kingdom are some examples of the endeavours of Governments and those involved in education and training to bring greater cohesion and openness to national systems of awards and qualifications.

National qualification frameworks have been established in Australia and New Zealand in the past decade. A key aim of the introduction of a new framework is to promote international recognition of awards and international mobility. By putting in place a national framework, it will be possible to link with other countries where qualifications frameworks have been developed or are developing. This will in turn help to bring a new international dimension to our education and training system and may help to put us to the fore in the development of international policies in that regard.

A further aim of the Bill is that standard setting for Irish awards is put in an international context and informed by internationally accepted standards. We must strive to ensure that the standards of our awards are at least equal to the highest international standards and the international liaison function of the authority will ensure this.

Discussion on the Bill also builds on the work of Teastas, the Irish National Certification Authority, which was established as an interim authority in September 1995 and issued its first report in January 1997. Its second report, published in January 1998, recommended the development of an overarching qualifications authority to act as the ultimate guarantor of the quality of the higher and further education and training system outside the seven existing universities, as well as to ensure cohesiveness and flexibility throughout education and training through the development and promotion of ladders and linkages between the various strands of education and training.

The report went on to recommend the establishment of two new awarding bodies – the national institute of technology for higher education and training, and the national certification council for further and continuing education and training outside the third-level sector. The report further recommended that the Dublin Institute of Technology be a third awarding body within the framework. I again express my appreciation and thanks for the major contribution made by the chairperson, board and staff of Teastas to this process. The task given to Teastas was arduous but it was fulfilled admirably. Following the publication of the second Teastas report I hosted, in February last year, a forum on the development of a national qualifications framework. The principal stakeholders in education and training attended the forum where the issues and proposals involved were discussed fully.

As will be evident from what I have said, a considerable amount of time and energy has already been expended in addressing those issues and concerns dealt with by the Bill. As is evident from the reports cited above and the continuous commitment at Government and EU level, there was a general consensus over recent years that much can be gained from the establishment and development of a national framework of qualifications and the benefits which will accrue to both learners and providers, as well as industry, business and the wider community.

The underlying support for such a development was evident from the debate in the Seanad. While varying approaches may be adopted reflecting different concerns and while interested parties may have particular reservations or requirements, there is an underlying consensus among those involved in education and training of the desir ability and efficacy of such a framework. I have no doubt but that members of this House will have much to say on these matters. For my part, I assure Deputies that I will listen to what they have to say with an open mind. My aim and concern, which I know is shared by all Members of this House, is to ensure a legislative underpinning for the establishment and development of a framework of qualifications which will enable all persons engaged in the activity of learning, wherever or whenever it takes place, to achieve their full potential, not only in terms of their education and career paths but also in the context of lifelong learning.

The principal aims of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill are: first, to establish and develop standards of knowledge, skill or competence; second, to promote the quality of further education and training and higher education and training; third, to provide a system for co-ordinating and comparing education and training awards and, fourth, to promote and maintain procedures for access, transfer and progression. The individual student is central to the thrust and purpose of the Bill. The term "learner" is used in the Bill with a definite purpose. When we speak of learners in this context, we are not just speaking of learners in educational or training institutions or those involved in what might be described as formal learning situations, but rather of learners as defined in the Bill. In other words, a learner is a person who is acquiring or has acquired knowledge, skill or competence regardless of how, when or where that takes or took place. Learners may be students in educational institutions, workers in the workplace, participators in community activity or independent learners.

As a corollary to this, students and workers accessing education and training are not dealt with in a separate manner in the Bill. Education and training institutions, providers and certifying bodies have a long and distinguished record of striving to meet the needs and aspirations of learners. Equally, learners have benefited enormously from the expertise and endeavour that resides in such institutions, providers and certification bodies. What has perhaps been lacking somewhat to date is a coherent and cohesive overall structure of education and training awards. It is this which this Bill, through the establishment and development of a national framework of qualifications and routes for access, transfer and progression, is seeking to achieve. I am convinced that there are great benefits in this for both learners and providers. A coherent and cohesive system of national awards will ensure security and clarity for both learners and providers, enabling both in their respective ways to make informed choices and to plan ahead.

Under the Bill all providers of education and training will now have to inform learners of the transfer and progression routes available to them when they undertake a course. Such transfer and progression routes will form a comprehensive and transparent network that will greatly assist learners in determining and pursuing education, training and career paths.

The new arrangements will also ensure that throughout the education and training sector, learners can have full confidence in the quality of the programmes they are undertaking. Guaranteeing the quality of programmes and the efficacy of access, transfer and progression is predicated on appropriate standards of knowledge, skill or competence being set and mechanisms being in place to ensure that these standards are met.

It is not possible, nor do I consider it desirable, to set out in precise detail the components or parameters of a framework of qualifications in the Bill. Such an approach would have the effect of predetermining and petrifying the framework. The establishment and development of such a framework will be an onerous task, requiring expert knowledge and application, and it cannot be achieved within a short timeframe; it is also a task which is not appropriate to legislation. I am convinced that the most reasonable and feasible approach is to set out in legislation where responsibility lies for establishing and developing the framework and to put mechanisms in place to ensure that it can be continually revised and updated.

The most important body for whose establishment the Bill provides is the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland. As will be apparent, the authority is the keystone of the structure set out in this Bill. It will have an overarching role and responsibility in ensuring that the various components of the system as outlined in the Bill – the framework of qualifications, the standards of awards, the quality of education and training provided and greater opportunities for all learners – are established and maintained in a consistent and open manner so as to meet not alone the needs but also the aspirations of the wider community.

The authority will have three principal objects: the establishment and maintenance of a framework of qualifications for the development, recognition and award of qualifications based on standards of knowledge, skill or competence to be acquired by learners; the establishment, promotion and maintenance of the standards of awards of the further and higher education and training sector, other than in the existing universities; the promotion and facilitation of access, transfer and progression throughout the span of education and training provision.

The Bill also provides for the establishment of two new awarding bodies, the Further Education and Training Awards Council and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. These will be the awarding councils which will make national certification available for all education and training in the State, other than that provided in the primary and post-primary sectors, the Dublin Institute of Technology and the universities. I wish to stress that any provider of education and training regardless of the source of that provision, whether it be in an educational institution, the workplace or the community, can apply to the further council or the higher council for validation of a programme.

A provider of a programme of education and training is defined in the Bill as "a person who, or body which, provides, organises or procures a programme of education and training". A programme of education and training is defined as "any process by which learners may acquire knowledge, skill or competence and includes courses of study or instruction, apprenticeships, training and employment". The intent is to facilitate ready and flexible access for providers of education and training so as to enable them to have their programmes validated where the relevant awarding council is of the view that such programmes meet the necessary criteria for validation.

The provisions of the Bill will not predetermine who should provide education and training. It is my hope that the Bill will, and indeed should, bring providers closer together to ensure there are clear and developed linkages between the various levels and sources of provision. The nature and content of the provision will in all events change somewhat over time and nothing in this Bill will impede this. Instead, it will facilitate and give coherence to such developments.

The framework of qualifications will ensure that access, progression and transfer arrangements for learners will be provided between and within levels of awards throughout the education and training sector. The providers of education and training encompassed by the Bill will be the implementers of these arrangements. Such arrangements will not alone promote access and opportunities for all learners but will also provide greater coherence for providers in planning and delivering education and training.

The establishment and development of such a framework will not be an easy task and can only be achieved if the various stakeholders involved in education and training are fully committed to making it work. However, the development of such a framework has inherent advantages for both learners and providers in enabling both, in their respective ways, to achieve their full potential.

It will also be open to learners to approach the new awarding councils to seek certification or recognition for their existing knowledge, skill or competence. This will effectively allow individual learners to approach the further council or the higher council directly with a view to having an award which they have achieved in whatever capacity recognised by the council. It will also allow for individual learners, perhaps with no formal qualifications but with considerable knowledge or experience gained in the workplace or in some other capacity, to approach the council with a view to receiving a relevant award.

The intent of this section is to allow for the formal recognition of learning and experience by individuals which heretofore has not been adequately catered for in the education and training system. It will be a matter for the new awarding councils to determine how this prior learning and prior experiential learning can be assessed and they may seek the assistance of providers of education and training in this regard.

The Bill also provides strict criteria for the delegation of authority from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council to make higher education and training awards, within the framework of qualifications, to institutes of technology who may seek such powers. Similarly, provision is also made for delegation of authority from the Further Education and Training Awards Council to FÁS, CERT or Teagasc in respect of further education and training awards should they seek it.

The concept of delegated authority derives from the fact that the institutions and bodies I mentioned have a long and much valued tradition in the provision of education and training and, to a certain extent, in making awards. The concept of allowing them certain autonomy, subject to the relevant provisions of the Bill, is an acknowledgement of the experience and expertise which they have garnered over the years and the State's and the wider community's recognition of this. As well as allowing for greater autonomy, it will also involve greater responsibility and a recognition that only through partnership and subsidiarity can the objects of the Bill be attained.

The arrangement for delegation of authority in the technological sector of higher education and training also take cognisance of the fact that transitional arrangements will be necessary to provide for the necessary steps to be taken arising from the work of the interim review group chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly. As a result of provisions in the Bill I will give effect to the recommendation of the group that both Waterford and Cork Institutes of Technology have authority delegated from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council to make awards within the national framework of qualifications in relation to programmes at the levels of certificate and diploma. In addition they and other institutes will be able to seek further delegation and achieve same through an objective review process.

I congratulate Waterford and Cork on their excellent work and the recognition which they have received through the review process and I look forward to being able to approve the charters which will confirm their delegated authority. The arrangements set out in the Bill for the development of the technological sector are directed at meeting two key objectives of the Government. These key objectives are to guarantee that the sector will continue to meet the needs of their existing students and future students as well as the needs of the economy and society as a whole and to facilitate and give scope for the future development of the sector.

In essence, the Bill provides for a process, which will be both detailed and exacting, whereby institutes of technology have the opportunity for further development. The Bill also provides that an institute of technology may be established following a positive outcome to an independent review process and where the Higher Education Authority is in support of such a proposal.

Part V of the Bill sets out the principal provisions in relation to the Dublin Institute of Technology. The role of the institute under the Bill will be to facilitate and assist the qualifications authority to implement procedures for access, transfer and progression as determined by the authority and to put in place new statutory arrangements for quality assurance.

The power of the institute to make awards will in no way be affected by this Bill. The intent is to ensure that the institute is an integral component of the framework of qualifications as recommended by the second report of Teastas. Given its history, its breadth of provision and its status as one of the largest providers of higher and further education in the country, its inclusion in the framework of qualifications is both central and crucial to its development and success.

The Dublin Institute of Technology is a unique third level institution in this State and the new statutory arrangements set out in the Bill will ensure the institute will continue to play a central and dynamic role in the technological sector of higher education.

As Deputies will be aware, the institute has recently been reviewed under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997 and the Higher Education Authority has issued its recommendations in that regard. I take this opportunity once again to thank the Higher Education Authority and the review group, chaired by Dermot Nally, for the sterling work done in assessing the application of the Dublin Institute of Technology for designation at a university. I also congratulate the institute on the quality of its courses, which is reflected in the comments of the bodies involved in the independent assessment procedure.

With regard to the university sector, the Bill also sets out a number of provisions to ensure that the existing universities play a key role in the development of new arrangements and procedures. It was not envisaged when Teastas was set up in 1995 that it would have a strong role in the existing universities. Nevertheless, it is essential for the success of this endeavour that the universities are linked as much as possible into the new arrangements and procedures.

The Bill provides that universities will be advised by the Qualifications Authority on the implementation of access, transfer and progression arrangements. Furthermore, the Qualifications Authority will work with the Higher Education Authority in reviewing the implementation of those arrangements and will publish the outcomes of any such review.

There is nothing in these provisions that would conflict with the principle of academic freedom. Furthermore, I stress that I consider that the Universities Act, 1997, is not amended in its application to the existing universities in this Bill.

The Bill also sets out a number of provisions for any new universities, which may be established in future under the provisions of section 9 of the Universities Act. Such a university shall facilitate and assist the Qualifications Authority in its work, implement procedures for access, transfer and progression set out by the Authority and provide it with appropriate information.

The Bill also provides that in determining money to be allocated to such a university the Higher Education Authority shall ensure there is an appropriate range of education and training provision and may make binding directions with which the university shall comply. These provisions reflect the recommendations in the report of the review group on the application of the Dublin Institute of Technology for university status. In its report, the review group stressed the importance and distinctiveness of multi-level institutions and the need to protect the balance of provision in such institutions so as not to undermine provision for sub-degree level programmes in particular, which have such a crucial role in meeting the skills needs of the future.

The intent is to introduce a greater dynamic and flexibility into the whole area of higher education. It will enable institutions to aspire to university status without impeding or downgrading the value of the work they have done to date. It will also widen and strengthen the role which the modern university has in contemporary society in meeting the growing needs of lifelong learning as well as the needs of industry, business and the wider community.

As pointed out in the Nally review, to adopt a simplistic approach to multi-level institutions in the section 9 review process would be extremely damaging and would ignore the very basis for valuing the contribution of these institutions.

In the context of this Bill, it is appropriate and timely that the issue of protection of learners should be addressed. This is a pressing matter for learners in the commercial education and training sector. The aim of the provisions in this part of the Bill is to put in place protection for learners who avail of education and training provided by bodies established on a commercial profit-making basis. In such instances, learners can be assured that where a programme of more than three months' duration of any such provider leads to an award of either of the two awarding councils, then protections are in place.

There was much discussion in the Seanad on the nature of the protections that are needed. The Bill sets out that in cases where a programme of education and training cannot be completed, the learner must be refunded the most recent fees paid. In addition to this, the relevant awarding council must endeavour to find a place for the learner on another programme to enable him or her complete the programme concerned. It was agreed in the Seanad that this House would further examine the nature of the protections being proposed and I agreed to facilitate this. The key issue for me is not that the Bill sets out the detail of the arrangements to be put in place, but that it ensures that appropriate arrangements will be put in place and I look forward to the debate on this issue.

I am pleased to inform the House that we have been able to agree an amendment to the Bill with the principal private college organisations, which will have the effect of achieving the objective of guaranteeing the right of learners to complete their courses or have their fees refunded. This will be introduced on Committee Stage.

The essential point is that the right of every person considering a course, to key information on protection, will be achieved through this Bill and an effective system of bonding for all public awards made in private colleges will also be achieved.

The Bill will replace effectively the existing National Council for Educational Awards Act. The National Council for Educational Awards has been in place since the early 1970s and has been on a statutory basis since 1979. It has played a vital role in the development of certification for higher education and particularly in the development of the technological sector.

In this context, I am fully conscious of the tremendous work done over the years by the council and its staff in certification and in making awards. The figure for awards made – well over 150,000 – speak eloquently of these endeavours. The intent of this Bill is to ensure continuing good practice and to build upon it to ensure a more cohesive and all-inclusive system of certification and awards. In addition, the position of existing staff members will be protected; it will be enhanced by their being able to participate in a wider framework with the various opportunities which that will present.

The National Council for Vocational Awards has played a crucial role, on a non-statutory basis, in recent years in developing the further education sector and, in particular, in the development of certification for the important post leaving certificate area and, more recently, in the certification of community education and of programmes for early school leavers. Working with the vocational education committees, the NCVA in this area has played a key role in ensuring the relevance of education and training to the economy and to the wider community.

The work of the NCEA and the NCVA, as well as that of FÁS, NTCB and Teagasc, will provide a sound and secure base for the development work of the two new awards councils. I will work with these organisations in ensuring the effective implementation of this Bill. It is essential to maintain confidence in and acceptability of national education and training awards. Clearly, there needs to be a continuum between what is happening at present and what will happen under the provisions of this Bill. I am confident that this will be the case.

One of the major concerns addressed in the Bill is the need for improved partnership, co-oper ation and cohesion between the education and training sector on the one hand and industry, business and the wider community on the other. One of my main priorities as Minister has been that education and training interests and business interests should work closely together for the mutual benefit of both and for the benefit of society as a whole. We all know that human capital is being continually identified as the key to our present prosperity.

One of the most crucial tasks facing the Qualifications Authority and the two awarding councils will be the need not alone to inform themselves of the educational and training needs of industry but also to promote practices in education and training to meet those needs.

This is in no way to suggest that contact and co-operation between the education and training sector and industry has not been a conspicuous feature of education and training for a long time. It would be impossible for bodies such as FÁS, CERT, Teagasc and the institutes of technology to fulfil their remits without continuous co-operation and interaction with the relevant industrial and business sectors. The establishment and development of a national framework of qualifications will act as a greater focus and nucleus around which co-operation between the education and training sector and industry can take on a new dimension where both parties are seen as partners with equal responsibility for guaranteeing the future skills needs of the economy and society at large.

Co-operation between the education and training sector and industry is a vital component in guaranteeing our future economic and social well-being.

The provisions of this Bill are enabling rather than prescriptive. In essence, it seeks to assure the quality and standards of education and training, to put in place a coherent and transparent framework for the co-ordination and comparison of awards and to ensure access, transfer and progression for all learners. Positive democratic values underpin the provisions of this Bill – openness, accountability, practicality, responsibility, equality and a sense of the value and integrity of the learner.

This is an important Bill, which will provide the framework within which our education and training system can grow in the decades ahead. It is built on national and international learning and will promote access, transfer, progression and quality.

The debate in the Seanad was very positive and represented a definite contribution to the improvement of this Bill. I hope the debate in this House can achieve the same. I look forward to listening to the contributions of Deputies and to our discussions subsequently in Committee.

I am impressed with the Minister's speech, but the Bill falls short of the aspirations he had for it. There is absolutely no doubt about the importance of a comprehensive national assessment and certification system. It was singled out as an important gap which needed to be filled as far back as the Culliton Report. This Bill is important. It has three primary functions. The first is to raise standards so we equal and exceed international best practice and anticipate the future needs created by changing technologies and changing conditions in the marketplace. As I will discuss later, none of this foresight is included in the remit of the authority or its two subservient councils.

The second is to allow seamless progression, especially for those coming from outside the system. The Bill again falls short in this area by excluding the examinations branch of the Minister's Department, which is the acknowledged system of certification and the university sector where the greatest obstacles to progression occur. The third is, rightly, to award qualifications based on skills, knowledge and competence rather than confining recognition to the traditional course-based approach. This is important in the context of the Green Paper on Adult Education which clearly states that community-based adult education is not receiving proper recognition.

It is equally important to give recognition to employer-based activities. However, the Bill is extraordinarily weak on a mandate for expanding into these new areas of community-based adult education and employer-based training. It is very much cast in the traditional mould of providers and certifiers to which we have become accustomed over the years.

Looking at this Bill, I am reminded of the quote by Brendan Behan where the first item on the agenda was the split. This concept was not long in train when the unified structure went out the window. In its place we have three bodies, not one. It is a somewhat classic Irish solution to a problem. When one is trying to achieve the unification of a framework and a single, coherent approach, one ends up with two bodies and someone trying to hold them together to stop them diverging in opposite directions, which is what this Bill has achieved. There is a proud history of this, as a similar case arose in the area of industrial development. The Culliton report recommended fewer bodies but instead we adopted the camel approach, so to speak, to industrial development. We are repeating the same mistakes in this Bill.

The Minister will probably say we have to live in reality and provide for what we can get through. I have no doubt there was a strong defence of traditional positions which probably resulted in two bodies and someone trying to keep them together. However, if we lose the gains of the unified structure, what will we achieve? We have also lost the track record built up by the two main pre-existing structures. There is a risk that we will end up with the worst of all worlds. We do not have a unified structure and we are also trying to introduce entirely new bodies to supersede what was already there. The argument could be made that these bodies, the NCVA and the NCEA, had established a track record and a certain amount of international recognition. The new bodies will have to enter the same race to try to win the recognition their predecessors had achieved.

I do not see the purpose of this divide and it was not rationalised in the Minister's contribution. There is not even a definition of the boundary line between further and higher education. It seems someone decides it and it is, as they say, like Alice in wonderland. There is not even a system of appeal if one is mistakenly designated in the wrong area. The traditional forces insisted on the division and there will be an uneasy development as a result.

The idea of this Bill was to establish a unified structure. There was the well-established conventional route of the leaving certificate, the CAO and the universities. As I understood it, we were trying to achieve a single framework within which the non-conventional routes would evolve into a relationship with the established route. However, the two sectors with a strong track record and which are often the source of the barriers in our system, as universities refuse access because they have an established system through points and the CAO, are left out. Once this happens, we will immediately sell ourselves short. I know this problem predates the Minister. However, the decision to have two bodies instead of one has probably reinforced it. I have no doubt that the real barriers to a seamless progression are not in the institutes of technology but in universities which do not have the tradition of recognising anything other than the established points system of access.

We are accepting this separation in the hope that some credible parallel with the leaving certificate and university system can be developed. This is very much a second best model. Others outside the House have made the point that at least the NCEA had a statutory comparator in the university structure, which has been removed in this Bill. We are creating a more difficult task for ourselves.

The key to the success of the work of these bodies is the extent to which they see themselves as pushing out the frontiers. This is about, first, raising standards to achieve and exceed best international practice, second, innovation in the development of recognition for experience, which is just as valuable in the school of life as the skills acquired from book learning and courses and, third, the concept of lifelong learning which is at the heart of our educational development for the future.

Apart from the token inclusion on the NQA of one person with international experience, there is scarcely any mention in the Bill of the rapidly changing environment of international best practice in which all of this is taking place. The objectives of the authority are framed in static terms. The tone is one of quality control rather than engaging in a process of total quality manage ment. We need more dynamic measures which pioneer best practice in both content and teaching methods.

It surprised me that the approach to this very much validates the work already going on among providers. If someone is establishing a course, he or she applies to these new bodies for a stamp of approval. It would have been better to establish a national standard, for example, of what constitutes computer applications, to define best practice and the intended direction and then tell providers they must reach that standard. That is the approach which should have been enshrined in this Bill. Instead we have the old system of certifying what is already taking place. I remember when the White Paper on Human Resources was being formulated this was one of the fears in the then Department of Enterprise and Employment. I know the Minister will refer to other sections of the Bill which must provide for other responsibilities, but it must be mindful of the needs of industry etc. Rather than institutions putting programmes in place which are validated by the authority, Ireland should have a national standard, similar to that in Scotland, which must be attained by anyone who aspires to achieve a certain recognition. If one does not attain it, one should not receive certification. The difference in approach is fundamental because if the Minister sets a national standard, each year he will point out what is happening in Germany, Spain, Portugal or the USA and claim that Ireland must change. He will say to the providers that they are not cutting it if they are not doing certain things. I do not believe that is provided for in the Bill, but I may have misread it. We will debate it in greater detail on Committee Stage. This is a fundamental weakness which has as much to do with changing the legislation as the mandate the body will have later.

Quality assurance is couched in the quality control arena and the Bill states that an individual programme which seeks certification must pass muster in terms of quality assurance, but even more important is the capacity of the entire institution to be responsive to the challenges it faces. It is not just a case of checking what is happening to the computer applications course in a particular institution but the way in which the institution develops education through its access polices, etc.. The concept of quality assurance should go further than that.

It is strange that the council will not have the capacity to carry out its own assessment but will always work on second hand assessments produced by the college and delivered back to it. It will then comment on them and issue directives. Should the council not have the power to carry out its own assessment if it believes procedures are awry? There would be greater dynamism if the council developed methodologies of quality assurance and drove them in the system rather than sit back and wait to see what a college does, how it certifies its computer applications course and the international people it has on board to do that. The system would be much better if it contained a dynamic council capable of carrying out its own quality assurance assessment on its own initiative or, perhaps, in the event of third party complaints. I would prefer that difference in emphasis and approach.

I am surprised employers or industry are not mentioned in the Bill. They have a huge relevance in terms of material and learning methods. There is a correct emphasis on the role of students who participate, and so on, but it is very important that the relevance to the subsequent user is part of a quality control assessment. I will consider tabling amendments in this regard on Committee Stage.

I hope that access to life long learning is opened up for people who did not partake in the leaving certificate process, such as early school leavers, pre-1968 cohorts which did not have access to free education and those who for one reason or another did not receive book learning certification. The authority will have a role in determining procedures for access. "Procedures" is an extraordinarily dead word, which is not defined in the Bill. It brings to mind forms, replies and due process but not policies to enable access for students from different backgrounds, such as those which did not come through the leaving certificate system. It does not bring to mind how many places will be awarded from the limited number available to non-conventional and CAO applicants.

The NQA seems to have a narrow remit whereby an institution must have a procedure in place and be able to say there are certain progression routes from this course to something else. It must not have forms which automatically exclude people who do not have the leaving certificate. The authority and the council should have much more proactive remits to inform institutions that their job is to facilitate life long learning and find ways in which the colleges and certification under its control embrace people who could benefit. The Minister stated that it was open to anyone to apply to the council. Can one imagine an individual who has worked as a carpenter for years wanting to get himself certified and applying to the council to have a stamp of approval on his experience so that it is recognised? That will not happen. The language in the Bill is partly to blame for this, but the mindset behind it must also change whereby the remit of the council and the authority should be proactive so that they seek out opportunities to do this. I am surprised the Bill did not include sections on how to recognise experiential learning and the community based adult education sector. I am aware the Minister rightly does not want to set down a framework that would become petrified after a number of years, but their task, which is to create a dynamic framework, must be explicitly included in the Bill. A mandate must be given to them to do this and it must be set out much more clearly in the Bill.

The position regarding employers is similar. All of us are aware that youngsters leave school early. The Minister announced recently that the level of early school leaving is rising because young people are attracted by good jobs. The ambition of 100 per cent retention in education is becoming less realistic. People are taking up employment and, therefore, we must examine how contact between the education system and those who enter the workplace early can be maintained. That involves approaching employers to promote and develop on the job training and the recognition process. The Bill does not explicitly refer to that area. The Minister will say it is included by inference because the authority and the council can do that, but this area is not being developed. The institutes of technology, universities and other providers are well able to look after themselves and they will feel their interests are catered for, whereas the authority and the council must have a proactive mandate to develop the interests of those who leave school and take up employment or, ultimately, return to community based adult education. It needs to be much more clearly spelt out in the Bill rather than confined to an also-ran category which will be tackled after these bodies have gone through the mammoth task of repackaging and stamping all the activities in this field at present.

The authority needs to have an active mandate to identify the blockages and gaps in the system which prevent people from taking steps forward. It should pilot measures to deal with this, encourage colleges to be innovative in the way they address these problems and force flexible provision. All of us are aware of the inflexibility in the system. Third level institutions are only beginning to exploit technology to offer more distance learning and flexibility in the provision of courses at different times of the day to suit peoples' schedules. That agenda has not been pushed vigorously enough. As pupil numbers fall, the penny will suddenly drop and these institutions will realise they must be more innovative if they want to attract people. We should not wait for a number of years when a scarcity of students will drive them to be more proactive in this area. We should use this legislation to force more flexible provision of modules – which I know the NCEA was already doing to some degree – timing, and delivery. We are dealing with a structure within which a great deal of inertia is embedded. The Minister's aspirations are wholly laudable and I would subscribe to them, but the framing of the Bill is too static. It is too steeped in tradition to live up to the aspirations.

I am pleased the Minister will table an amendment on Committee Stage concerning the bonding issue. There has been a good deal of discussion on this matter. Generally, one cannot insure against insolvency in any business. It is difficult to expect the same insurance against insolvency for companies that happen to be in the education sector. The critical issues are access to a prompt alternative and refunds.

Last year a college, which I will not name, failed to deliver a course in the public sector to which it had committed itself, and students were left high and dry. No fees were paid and, therefore, no refunds were due, but nonetheless students were left out on a limb.

They were not left high and dry.

Ultimately, they were not left high and dry, but there position was not statutorily protected.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If we claim that students should not be left high and dry by the private sector, they should not be left high and dry by the public sector either. I am pleased the Minister will table an amendment to that effect on Committee Stage because I was dreading the thought of having to frame such an amendment. It is a difficult area. I look forward to reading the Minister's amendment.

The university sector is concerned about the issue of academic independence, which I understand was enshrined in the 1997 Bill. Although I was not directly concerned in that, if my memory serves me right, the Minister was one of the leading lights in defending this academic independence from invasion by public quality assurance. God forbid the thought.

That is right.

A champion of academic rights.

There is something uneasy about the Minister's statement that some universities will not have this independence, for which we will have our own special quality assurance with directive powers, while at the same time telling us that does not change anything concerning the 1997 Act. If the 1997 Act defined academic independence, and we now have within that rubric intervention for universities, albeit a class of university, that pillar is not as intact as everyone thought it was. There is a concern that effectively the Minister is sliding back from his commitment.

That is unfounded.

The Minister said in the Upper House that it is not his intention. However, people would like to see a "notwithstanding" dimension built into the legislation. In other words, while one takes certain powers, it would be notwithstanding the independence recognised in this legislation as the status quo in the previous law. Otherwise, one will have an issue of interpretation as to which one takes precedence. We will return to that issue.

Why is the Minister creating two classes of university? The possibility of more directive quality assurance is either good or it is not. The Minister, however, has a half and half idea, whereby some universities will have this power of direction, but the public sector will not have it in relation to the other class of premium universities. The Minister did not give a reason for this different approach in his speech.

The difference is multi-level.

I will have to read the speech more closely.

Criminal offences are created in section 56 for matters that sound decidedly uncriminal. The Minister might have difficulty deciding on the precise nature of an offence, if he leaves the section as it is. It probably needs some tidying up on Committee Stage.

We are involved in important work, but we have sold it short. I would like to see a more dynamic body with a much clearer mandate for areas where we already recognise there have been shortcomings. We are at a disadvantage with the university sector and the leaving certificate being outside the framework. The mainstream area is flying along in the fast lane while we are trying to create a new lane to match it. While it does present problems, we can overcome them if we give these new authorities and councils a much clearer mandate as to where they are to be innovative, and what we expect of them when they begin their tasks

I declare an interest which is at one remove, in the same way as I would have encouraged Members of the Seanad with an interest to do the same when this Bill was introduced in the Upper House. I am a statutory lecturer in the National University of Ireland, on leave, in the Department of Political Science and Sociology. I derive no income or pension contribution from such a position but, nevertheless, it has informed my thinking. Let me rush to say that some of my colleagues in such a position would probably disagree with what I have to say, so I do not speak for them. However, that position informs some of my thinking.

I welcome some aspects of the Bill, which are overdue. We could begin at the end and welcome the assurance that will come on Committee Stage of bonding arrangements for students in private colleges. It would be churlish not to welcome any contribution to the international mobility of qualifications and the assurance of standards.

I will concentrate on those matters on Committee Stage. I wish to use the opportunity of this Second Stage debate to deal with some of the assumptions that are behind the thinking on the Bill as well as those in the Minister's speech. In a welcome concession to philosophy, the Minister got carried away in his speech in a most unusual paragraph in which he stated:

The effects and impact of change are now global in character in the sense that their impli cations for education and training are similar in the developed world. Although education and training systems and structures may differ from country to country, the impact of global change will require similar responses. The seminal question is how existing systems and methods of education and training can be made to respond effectively to such global change. Part of the answer lies in having a sense of purpose and an appreciation of definite objectives. Never before has the world community experienced what is termed the "massification" and profusion of education and training now being demanded. The Bill must be seen in this context and has emerged against this background.

With respect to the Minister's full speech, I do not think this is a representative paragraph because what I have just quoted is an ideologically laden piece of rubbish. It is unclear what is meant by this concept of massification. I might begin by speculating whether it meant the features of mass society. There is an extensive literature on this matter which deals with alienation and loss of connection with the world. There is also popular trashy literature about being lonely in the crowd as well as an expanding body of self-healing literature which is doing a bomb in what the Minister would refer to as the developed world. People who cannot afford private psychiatry are spending their book budgets on everything from one form of healing to another. I had better be careful of instancing them lest I abuse my privilege.

I said this paragraph is interesting because it seems to reveal so much and I want to tease it out as it is important to me. It states that the seminal question is how existing systems and methods of education and training can be made to respond effectively to such global change. This contains the suggestion that globalisation is going on worldwide and that there is a side to it that creates issues and problems for us but also challenges in how we are to respond to it.

I have referred to this as the Minister's speech, although not insultingly, but I have a certain lack of respect for this concept because such globalisation is simply international capital in a new form. It is perfectly true and empirically attestable that the relationship between markets and international capital can be measured. It is true that the relationship between international capital and different locations is speeded up by new electronic technology in a way and at a rate of change that is qualitatively different from, for example, the mobility of labour. Those of us who have spent 25 years studying this can point to research that would prove this. I could easily offer another term for globalisation –"McWorld". For example, the developed world must sit up and clap when a McDonald's opens in Beijing or when the minority with an income in Moscow cheers the arrival of hamburgers. Professor Benjamin Barber has written about this in Jihad vs. McWorld: How the Planet Is Both Falling Apart and Coming Together and What This Means for Democracy and we try to tease out cultural constancies.

We are speaking about a clear and manipulable homogenisation of consumer experience, which is driven by the features of globalisation and which could perhaps be empirically judged by looking at indicators on the mobility of capital. Otherwise it has no meaning. We are not in the grip of a great Darwinian evolution from a previous existence of cultural diversity, identity and ethnicity that had many strands of memory and different capacities and creativity. We are not moving towards some inevitable future where there is massification as a feature of globalisation and which is assisted by some kind of existence for which we must not know or be wise but be trained adequately.

This raises a question about the meaning of "learner" in the Minister's speech. To be fair to him there is a wonderful flourish in the explanatory memorandum which almost excited me in the beginning. It states that the purpose of the Bill is to put a legislative framework in place which will establish and develop standards of knowledge, skill or competence. I underlined knowledge but I found that while training and awards were mentioned later, which I welcome, the knowledge part was lost in the text of the Bill.

I have views on these matters and the Minister's speech encourages me to tease out some of them. I accept that there is a need for the practical measures the Bill proposes but there is also a need for consideration of the deep connection between science, technology and society. The Bill does not set out to do what I seek but there is a missing context. The Minister spoke about a context when referring to the nine reports that serve as a background to the Bill. The missing context relates to science, technology and society.

In the third level institution in which I worked and in others I often asked myself how there could be such significant paradigm shifts in a subject like physics, for example. A module on the history of intellectual ideas was never offered to students of science. Was the history of physics a seamless story? Of course not. What happened was that there was a significant paradigm shift in which the very assumptions on which physics was based were turned around, rejected and moved on. I could point to other subjects beyond physics, like chemistry, as well as referring to some of the newer invasions in relation to some life sciences. In botany, Darwin's pioneering work was made possible by the classification system of von Humboldt but even when he referred to standing on the shoulders of giants there were always the discontinuities which are the definitive mark of his work. What is going on at any time in science is a considerable shift in fundamental ideas and it is from that, rather than any daft notions of elitism, that the right of academic freedom is properly sought. I do not have to go back to the period in history when Galileo Galilei had to suffer as he did to have his views even tolerated. That is the way it is and academic freedom is based on the right to differ and to develop a new paradigm.

The next problem, which is far more difficult, is the unfortunately fashionable fallacy that the parameters of scientific practice are being defined by technological norms and those norms are being derived almost exclusively from the marketplace. There is thus an inversion of what might have been a totally different moral equation. We might want to feel more at home in the world by wondering how different life would be if we had a debate at the social level, as we are having about the safety of our food. Society is looking for certain assurances, which has scientific implications. From a model of science that is free but accountable within a social model come different levels of acceptable technology. That is the difference between a research scientist working in warfare and one working in advanced medical technology. We see the horror of the other equation when one does not question it – it becomes acceptable to find that 28 per cent of the United States' economy is involved in military production and a huge number of physicists are engaged in works of war. This also applies to the former Soviet Union and other countries which have lower income levels, where people's most wonderful intelligence is locked up in producing initiatives of destruction. There is a philosophical backdrop to this in addition to the nine reports cited, which is that it has been impossible in this country to debate the connection between society, science and technology.

Fashions changed in the 1970s and 1980s and there are hints of that in many contributions. Speaking in the Seanad, the Minister asked what is wrong with the new universities. He said all universities do not have to be like those established in the 1840s. The same staff are not teaching in those established in the 1840s. One's thinking does not stand still, simply because one is teaching in a institution which was established in the 1840s and, furthermore, one inherits a great deal.

As a university teacher, I have been appalled by the degree to which universities have made concessions to neo-utilitarianism while there is, at the same time, an absence of commitment to the work of universities at their very best internationally – critical scholarship. I think of those people who left Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and established, in the United States, new innovations in the structure of intellectual thought in the social sciences and of the contribution their legacy makes today.

The Minister and others appear to refer to difficult universities populated by strange eccentric people who insist on talking about academic freedom. Universities have made the case badly for academic freedom and because of this they find it necessary to capitulate on poor terms. One will find more representatives of the corporate sector than Nobel prizewinners on the campus of any university here.

The Minister made another flourish which is not of the same philosophical standard as his discourses in the explanatory memorandum or on massification. This one speaks of the glowing opportunities for partnership with the industrial sector in Ireland. This sector is notorious for its absence of investment in research and some sections of it make a pathetic contribution to training. The hotel industry, for example, contributes less than £250,000 to training compared to State assisted training schemes which cost about £2 million. Dr. James Collins, a brilliant Californian economist, taught that it was important for businesses to socialise their costs and privatise their profits. Irish business has been good at that. Among the costs that have been neatly socialised is training. Companies avoid the costs of training and further development of staff and, in a fit of partnership, allow the State to take them. The State then demands that the technological and university sectors listen to what the raucous voices of the corporate sector demand.

I do not advocate a total abstraction and disconnection of universities from the world. I simply describe things as I have experienced them. I have listened long and hard to the demands of the corporate sector. There is a language to go with them. I once attended a meeting at which I listened to a speaker who had something "in the pipeline" which he would "run past us" and "hop off us". I went home. These people speak a lingo of pseudo-prattle when they speak of wanting this, that or the other next.

I welcome the good sections of the Bill. I welcome the provision that deals with quality and international recognition. It is time we had bonding arrangements for private colleges. One cannot have nine reports awaiting a response. On Committee Stage we will discuss the detail of the Bill, including the matters of representation on the two councils and the functions of the authority. However, these other issues must be raised.

I listen to what graduates of my own tell me. I know many people who went into business having studied political science or sociology. I knew many more who were engineers. In the university in my time it was possible to know people in other faculties. One could even know students in other faculties. Obviously, I am very old. Those who worked abroad found that a basic training in mathematics was of great value in the application of their engineering skills. As a sociologist, I know that one is now likely to make four or five career shifts and choices in the course of one's working life. The capacity to make those adaptations is as valuable a skill as one's initial training. The Minister and I do not disagree about the importance of lifelong learning. I agree that people should be upskilled. I support the validation and recognition in one part of the economic and social system of initiatives taken in another part. I merely wish to present a comprehensible version of what is happening.

A subject called "administration" is taken by many excellent people in the public service. That subject could consist of ethical governance, be informed by philosophy, politics and sociology and relate to development studies, but it does not. Instead, the subject is assumed to be descriptive of an institutional map of how we do things, as if the disposal of power was neutral. The disposal of power is not neutral. If we proceed in this descriptive, smart aleck way, as much Irish writing does, we will never understand how other people on this planet view us. I cannot accept the modernisation model of inexorable movement towards globalisation. It is a clapped out piece of rubbish which started with the five Princeton studies between 1963 and 1968 and is now rejected by most literate social scientists and economists.

In the Reagan-Thatcher period, a particularly horrific view of economics moved into a hegemony. It did not invade intellectual ideas but it found people in policy institutes willing to provide a cheap little rationalisation for it. It was suggested that the economy was separate from our lives. In the past, Marxists were accused of reifying the economy and of arguing excessively the predominant influence of the economic on other forms of life, but it was accepted totally in the Reagan-Thatcher era. I was a member of a Cabinet and took part in discussions in this House where I found the same lingo catching on. People did not ask the effect of a measure on our citizens. Instead, they wondered how would the markets respond. This disembodied view of economics became accepted as a principle. When this disembodied view of the international economy is accepted, another set of terms must be invented to describe its features. One such term is globalisation. What does globalisaton mean, beyond the interconnectedness of markets? I do not wish to speak again about massification which is somewhere between mastitis and "The Lonely Crowd". This reveals much.

The universities, whose capacity and potential I have been defending but not their performance, are correctly identified as the source of many blocks in the way of those who wish to make the transitions that the Bill sets out to address. It is unconscionable and unacceptable that blocks are placed in the way of those seeking mobility of learning experience throughout their lives. This is dealt with in some of the dynamics suggested in the Bill.

I vindicate the right to offer experiences other than those certified and attested in formal education. This is a wise move. There is an assumption that education is about volume rather than vision, management rather than principles, and has little to do with philosophy and reflective or critical ability. The most radical thing in the world at present is to be reflective, to ask what are the options for the different forms of existence.

Nothing has happened by chance. None of the advances in women's and working rights has been conceded automatically. They have not evolved, they were all fought for. One now has to fight for the right to be philosophically reflective about the world in which we live. I was a university teacher for 23 years and experienced sheer joy when occasionally somebody was curious and interested in the connections between one of the social sciences and literature and economics and history and cultural studies. It was wonderful as it was rare.

I taught in the United States where the course system is in place. I voted against its introduction here. Longer courses on an subject that could contribute to the formation of somebody as a young intellectual were replaced by short modules of 12 lectures of forced feeding leading to an examination or paper. I rejected that narrowness.

I have pondered on the issue of the section 9 universities and the 1840s institutions to which the Minister referred in the Seanad. It would be a pity if an enormous division opened up between the futures and intentions of these institutions. I have limited knowledge of the Dublin Institute of Technology but when I was Minister with responsibility for film some of the most advanced work was being done in that institution.

The strand two universities need to have the burden of utility lifted from them. In a curious way, what we are dealing with is a double distortion. The universities are losing their nerve and have found it necessary to turn their staff rooms into a canteen for IBEC—

That is overstated; a gross exaggeration.

It is colourful. Perhaps I was there on the wrong day. On Second Stage it is necessary to offer, in addition to the reports correctly referred to, a further reflection that the excesses of neo-utilitarianism and the absence of the capacity for critical thought are leaning on both sides of further education which I hope in the future will have much more to say to each other in a gentle and reflective way.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill which is far-sighted, progressive and long-awaited. It is a continuation of the Minister's excellent work for education.

Education is important to the country. The pursuit of intelligent education policies is as important as – if not more so – the management of the finances and the economy. Our greatest asset has to be our people. Education policies give us the opportunity to harness and utilise our collective abilities.

Education thinking has been needlessly broken down into sectors – primary, post-primary and third level which, in turn, has been divided between the university sector and technical-vocational courses. At times, the latter has been viewed as the poor relation. There was a view that the technical area was often inhabited by those who did not get the points. The fact that many of the students might never have wanted the points in the first place because they did not desire a traditional university based education was overlooked. Consequently the vital contribution that the non-university third level sector makes has been undervalued. Fortunately, that view is changing. Its potential has been weakened by lack of co-ordination of standards. Students, parents and career guidance teachers have often been faced with a minefield, a confusing array of courses validated by different bodies earning certificates and diplomas but at times leading nowhere.

The need to address this highly unsatisfactory situation has been felt for a long time. It has often formed part of recommendations by those reviewing the education and training sectors from the point of view of education as well as the needs of industry, business and employment. The Bill overcomes these problems by establishing the National Qualifications Authority with two additional bodies, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Further Education and Training Awards Council, both of which will have the ability to grant education awards. This power will be delegated to institutions working in the area which have built up a great reservoir of expertise such as the institutes of technology, the post-leaving certificate colleges and other bodies engaged in training and instruction such as FÁS and Teagasc.

The National Qualifications Authority will remain at the centre of the new approach, its functions being threefold. The first, which is long overdue, is to establish clear co-ordination between qualifications. We have an education system which places great pressure on young people of 17 or 18 years of age to make decisions about the careers they wish to pursue. In many cases, they have not yet gained sufficient self-knowledge to allow them make worthwhile choices. It is now possible to at least ensure they know the consequences of the decisions they make. A school leaver anxious to pursue a certain career path, will know what courses are available for them to reach their goal. They will also have confidence in the validity and usefulness of the award they receive as a result of their work. School leavers, potential learners, parents and career guidance professionals will, in the future, be able to gauge the value and utility of courses and awards and, most important, compare them. Until now such comparisons of awards could only be based on anecdotal evidence or students' own accounts of their value or, indeed, lack of it. Holders of qualifications in the future will have greater confidence in their achievements and skills.

A second and very closely related role of the qualifications authority is to guarantee the standards of courses and qualifications, and this can only be done through the two associated councils and a close working relationship between them and the assorted education and training bodies. Any form of standardisation of qualifications has to be based on an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of individual programmes and courses and the pursuit of high standards of quality in terms of instruction and course content. In this regard, the qualifications authority and the associated education and training awards councils will be able to validate not only awards, but the courses leading to them. They will also have a role in ensuring that a course once validated retains its quality and utility.

The two awards councils will be in a position to validate awards from various bodies but will also be able to recognise the abilities and skills of individuals which have been acquired through their own initiative but outside formal education or training structures. The implications of this for many people wishing to re-enter education and training will be enormous. It could be particularly useful for crafts people and those involved in electronic repairs and computer technology – in other words, those with vast amounts of practical know-how but no formal qualifications.

A third aspect of the new authority's activities will be to oversee the areas of access, transfer procedures and future progression to other courses. School leavers have to know what is expected of them before they can enter a course. This must be standardised, but not too rigidly. It is unjust that a school leaver may be denied entry to a course in one institute or training body although he or she may find it easier to gain entrance to practically the same course elsewhere. Access to higher education and training is not only an issue for school leavers. It is often difficult, although not impossible, for people who are older than school leaving age to gain re-entry to education and training, so the question of access must also take into account less quantifiable elements such as work experience.

A fundamental issue of access concerns access to courses for those with disabilities. There may be some training courses which would be difficult for disabled people but access criteria should be based on reasonable and informed opinions and should not contain hidden forms of discrimination.

Transfer between courses will be much easier as a result of the new qualifications authority. If this is from one training body to another, the learner will be able to gain credit for what they have already studied. This was not impossible in the past but there were few guidelines for the learner or teaching staff and too much may have been left to individual discretion. The commitment to facilitate and clarify progression is an important element of the new authority. A learner must know whether there are further options available when one course has been successfully completed. No impediments should be placed in the learner's path and a clear and comprehensive map of further courses and options with their implications and requirements should be available. The qualifications authority will see to it that the providers of validated courses fur nish potential learners with all information regarding access, transfer and future progress thereby making life easier for all involved.

An important part of the legislation and the bodies being put in place as a result is their flexibility and responsiveness. The aim is to provide a broad framework within which goals can be achieved and pursued. Education is a highly dynamic area and this is especially true in the light of the march of technology. Technological progress touches nearly every activity and skill and can make life simpler allowing tasks to be overcome with less effort. As a result the content and direction of courses may change very frequently and some courses may be rendered completely redundant while changing circumstance dictate the provision of new ones.

An example of this is provided by the growth of the Internet. Up to five or six years ago, the Internet was used by a rather small community of scientists, while now the growth of its popularity as a promotional tool means that many courses are being provided for teaching the Internet programming language. Internet awareness is valuable not only for computer courses, but for many business and media oriented programmes.

Another important detail of the Bill, although some may scoff at it, is the replacement of the term "student" with "learner". This term should be, if anything, applied even more widely as all students are learners no matter what age they are or level of the educational ladder they occupy. This should not be a foreign concept to us as the Irish word for student is after all "mac leínn" or son of learning. I do not believe the Irish language or the vernacular is being deliberately sexist. The word "student" has long associations with formal academic learning and so its replacement may also help to attract many people, who feel uncomfortable in school, back into education and training and dispel barriers between the worlds of skill acquisition and training and society as a whole.

Often when legislation is mooted, the learner is relegated to an insignificant position. This legislation, however, gives the learner new safeguards and protection. A number of private colleges run courses on a commercial basis, and the vast majority do a good and worthwhile job. There have been instances, however, where participants have enrolled on courses and paid huge fees only to be told half way through the course that it was being wound up. The unfortunate participants not only cannot get their money back but have nothing to show for the time or money they have expended. This will not happen in future as private colleges will have to establish reserve funds from which participants can be compensated in the event of a course falling through and the relevant awards council will endeavour to provide suitable places on an alternative course elsewhere.

Education is an extremely important part of Irish society and life. It should not be confined to one place or age group. Education is a life long process – we should never stop learning. Education is too important to be confined to the traditional arena of the classroom or the lecture hall. The Government and the Minister are actively involved in the process of expanding educational opportunities at all levels of the education sector, and this Bill is proof of that. It is a suitable recognition of the role played by the non-university third level sector. Let us look at some of the contributions they make. The institutes of technology provide very valuable courses, including computer programming, applied languages, laboratory science, construction engineering and environmental science. These are but a fraction of the courses covered but they and countless others are vital for the preservation and smooth running of our society and economy.

A similar picture emerges when we examine the many post-leaving certificate colleges and colleges of further studies, including an excellent one in my county. These institutions have the added advantage of being more numerous, making it possible for learners and students from the surrounding areas to attend on a daily basis and, therefore, avoid the expenses of accommodation and travel. The need to travel long distances for education and training is being reduced. What might have seemed like science fiction 20 years ago is becoming more of a reality as advances in fibre optic and computer technology are bringing the day ever closer when people in counties Cavan or Monaghan, for example, can attend, through a video link, a demonstration or class being given in Dublin and participate as if they were in the same room.

Technology and learning are fine, but they must be made available to as many people as possible. Many primary schools have computers, thanks to the Minister's IT 2000 scheme, and a growing number have joined the information age as a result of Internet access. Some even have their own websites, including Butlersbridge national school in my county. The Minister also launched the schools integration programme to increase contact between schools and to promote the use of computers in studies of local history and the environment. The implications of these developments are revolutionary. The latest computer technology is not only accessible to but is understood by nine and ten year-olds, the majority of whom are more technically literate than their parents. They take for granted what we have had to learn, or perhaps have failed to learn. Far from being frightened by these developments, we should be delighted that our place at the cutting edge of knowledge in the world seems assured.

It is important that we never forget that education has a practical aspect. This is not to say that knowledge which does not have a short-term vocational application should be discarded, but we should never stop looking for ways of improving all aspects of society and using education and training to bring this about. This is best done through a partnership approach. For some time there have been strong links between business, industry and education. The former have come to recognise the value of the latter in providing the specialists and technicians upon which so much of their future prosperity depends. The Government has a commitment to take on board the specific needs of particular areas of business and industry. A more comprehensive and inclusive system of qualifications has long been sought as in this way business, industry and employers in all sections of the economy have a greater insight into the nature of the skills held by job applicants and how the skills needs of business and industry can be achieved, and thereby provide worthwhile employment.

The need for and benefits of a streamlining of qualifications and awards has been recognised in other countries, including the US, Australia and New Zealand. Yet we are not merely copying what has been done elsewhere, but are creating mechanisms which reflect and deal effectively with our unique educational background as a nation. The national qualifications authority will not only enhance the standing of awards in Ireland, but will do so in an international context as each award will be backed by the imprimatur of the qualifications authority and the two awards councils.

In conclusion I wish to re-iterate that the Bill addresses issues at the heart of maintaining and improving standards in the non-university tertiary sector. It is plausible that it will succeed in attracting more people into education and training. A more coherent and standardised approach to courses and qualifications may help attract more learners, both those who might have decided not to pursue further education and those who might have thought that a traditional university based course offered better job prospects and a more widely recognised qualification. The Bill recognises the importance of a vital part of the educational landscape. It lays firm foundations for education in the next millennium and I congratulate the Minister on his progressive approach.

I welcome the Bill. While much of it is good some provisions need clarification and amendments will be necessary to improve it. Perhaps the Minister will answer some of the questions I will pose during my contribution, or perhaps he has already addressed them in his speech on Second Stage – I did not have an opportunity to read it.

The Bill deals with access to courses, their quality and the means of progression after graduating from each stage to enable citizens move through a system of further and higher education in a transparent way. If its overall objective is met, it will prove to be one of the most effective pieces of social and industrial legislation of our time.

I wish to acknowledge the role played by my party in starting the dialogue in earnest under the last Government through the establishment of Teastas as an interim body. However, I am concerned that the Minister seems to have written both himself and the House out of the process. The process will not be smooth and most probably there will be turf wars between the different interests. Indeed, I think the future will be marked with difficulties, tensions, etc. Both the Minister and the House must ultimately decide if the system is working and the Minister, through the House, will have to retain his input and supervisory role. It is also important that the House be aware of what is happening at all times through regular reports.

I will be suggesting to our spokesperson on education, Deputy Richard Bruton, that he table an amendment on Committee Stage to provide for the presentation of regular reports to the House, the Minister and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science on how the provisions of the Bill are being implemented. Democratic accountability demands this and it is important that we are kept abreast of what is happening in terms of the success of the procedure being put in place.

One concern I have is that the Bill does not seem to be enabling as was the Vocational Education Act, 1930, or the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992. There is a need for more consultation between the appraising agencies and the providers. Nobody should underestimate the task of putting many bodies within one working and learner friendly structure when to date they have enjoyed autonomy for up to eight decades. Co-operation, shared vision and goals come through talking. As I said, a potential for conflict exists but must be avoided.

I wish to deal with a number of specific issues which the Minister may have referred to in his speech. The first is the issue of further education. It is not clear what the dividing line between further and higher education will be under the Bill. A date, 3 March 1999, is set as a defining date in section 10(3). However, I would like the Minister to clarify the additional phrase "unless otherwise determined by the Authority". Are we building in possible areas of conflict if we do not have a full consultative process?

I realise the difficulty of setting up a further education and training awards council covering a wide-range of PLCs, which respond to local needs, FÁS apprenticeships, CERT courses for tourism and the tried and trusted Teagasc courses within one framework. People, and certainly some educationalists, may ask whether we are too ambitious. Will development of PLCs be inhibited because they may offer locally based education and training packages as an alternative to national packages? Where will the balance be struck? Rural areas need Teagasc programmes. The institutes of technology and the universities are co-operating with Teagasc in rural development course structures which I established as Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture and Food. Trust and a co-operative atmosphere were required in this regard. At one time CERT had most of its courses based strictly on a national plan, but now it is more flexible in meeting local needs. Flexibility and the ability to adapt to local needs will be the most important attribute required by the further education and training awards council.

I have a personal interest in sport and leisure. Most sports bodies have coaching schemes and training for various levels of coaching competence. These will be more necessary after the swimming scandals. Students attending the physical education course at the University of Limerick and the health and leisure course at the Institute of Technology, Tralee, study for certificates which are awarded by these bodies. The bronze medallion in life saving is one example. We want this type of programme to continue and flourish. What is the meaning and effect of the phrase "other than those programmes which are provided as a leisure or recreational activity"? Can the Minister assure us that courses, such as those in life saving or coaching football, hurling, boxing, judo and other sports will not be excluded from this new framework? Should this clause be tightened?

I now turn to courses such as European computer driving licence courses and Microsoft courses organised through the VEC adult education programmes and the institutes of technology. Must these be validated before they can be offered to students? At a time when we are looking for an increase in the IT skills pool, will we make it impossible for statutory bodies and private colleges to offer highly prized qualifications? While section 43, which deals with protection for learners, is laudable, it may destroy programmes which are badly needed in our tiger economy. Should the three months in section 43 be changed to four months, which is the internationally recognised length of a semester?

Some 90 to 95 per cent of the work of the higher education and training awards council will apply to the new institutes of technology. The Minister referred to the Dublin Institute of Technology in his Second Stage speech, but why is it not included? It was reported in the media that it is a battle the Minister cannot win. The treatment of Regional Technical Colleges, the Dublin Institute of Technology and old and new universities in this framework is astonishing. Is this legislation sanctifying the turf patches already carved out? Will the Minister explain why he did not provide a more unified system?

The council of directors has played an important part in unifying the aims and procedures of the old Regional Technical College system. The people of Kerry are delighted the council is located in Tralee. The Minister should avail of the opportunity to put it on a statutory basis. Perhaps he would also consider calling the directors the presidents of institutes of technology.

Some people may like that.

People should be more self-confident.

During the debate on the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1994, the Minister's predecessor promised that a change would be made if the directors sought it. Perhaps the Minister should talk to the directors about it.

There should be more fundamental concerns than those.

This issue came up in conversation with good supporters of the Minister.

That does not matter.

It might matter in the future. The Institute of Technology, Tralee, has embarked on an ambitious campus development plan, which I advocated for some time and which was successful in Plassey. Tralee is replicating the Plassey example. The Institute of Technology, Tralee, is co-operating with Shannon Development in developing a technology park beside its buildings. The Minister's support for the project is welcome because it gives people confidence.

The Minister said that industry and education must move forward together. If our education system is not adapted to the needs of industry, we could lose our competitive edge. When I attended Thomond College in Limerick in the early 1970s, the courses in the NIHE were geared towards industry and computerisation. Unlike the universities, students worked in industry as part of their studies. Our current economic buoyancy stems from that development at the NIHE which was spearheaded by Dr. Walsh. The new technology park in Tralee will be an integral part of the new campus at the Institute of Technology, Tralee. This means education and research and development will be intertwined.

If the higher education and training awards council is not flexible and does not engage in dialogue with institutes of technology, many new, innovative programmes could be lost. I am sure that is not the Minister's intention. Perhaps the Minister will outline how the council will ensure continuous dialogue with the institutes of technology.

The new structures should listen to the needs of the regions and support new ideas. Section 31(2)(a) refers to the "region served by that institution". That is a welcome reaffirmation of the regional mandate of the institutes of technology and the need for a rapid response to regional needs.

As regards the virtual college, the Internet has allowed Motorola to establish in Phoenix, Ari zona, a college of approximately half a million students who do not have to physically go to college. This Bill ignores these developments. Unless the national qualifications authority acts swiftly, this State might be in trouble with the European Union or the WTO. Perhaps the Minister will refer to the new phenomenon where people will not have to physically go to college. In the Motorola experience in Arizona about 500,000 students are connected with the college but are not at the college. Has provision been made in the Bill for this new growing phenomenon?

My home town of Listowel is twinned with Los Gatos in the Silicon Valley and we have good links with San Jose. In February 1998 I led a delegation to San Jose and Mayor Susan Hammer led a return delegation to Listowel in July 1998. It was clear from those visits that education and training in the field of information technology is undertaken internationally and knows no boundaries. We were able to have a conference link directly from San Jose to Listowel. This shows Ireland is not peripheral and that there are no boundaries to the global technology village. I am concerned that the structures and procedures under this Bill have not taken this new phenomenon into account. Perhaps the Minister will respond to the new trends in technology in the context of this Bill.

I am concerned that section 32 amends the functions of the colleges in the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992. In the future there will be an overlap between bodies and colleges which provide courses of education and training. Section 5(1)(b) of that Act enabled the Tralee Institute of Technology to form a co-operative course structure on business studies with the University of Limerick and applied social care with the Cork Institute of Technology. There is a danger, if the amending clause 32(c)( b) (i) is not amended to allow for links between the universities and institutes of technology, that there will be unnecessary and expensive duplication. Joint courses using video conferencing must be allowed for. It is not the Minister's intention to be restrictive.

The issue of courses for accounting and other professional bodies has been raised. Is the Minister satisfied that this Bill will not restrict the availability of these courses by making the paperwork for approval so onerous that it will not be worthwhile for providers to offer it. The protection of the titles, certificate, diploma and degree is not addressed nor is the inevitable designation, under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997, of the institute of technology sector. The Bill should ensure that certificate and diploma work, as a structure of total work, is not diminished through such designation. Equally institutes of technology must be allowed develop a range of degrees including ab initio degrees.

While I welcome the Bill, I have put my concerns to the Minister. The role of the Minister and the House in evaluating and monitoring the effectiveness of the council must not be diminished by this Bill. Perhaps the Minister will explain this further when addressing the various points raised on Second Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward and on phrases such as ladders and linkages. It is apt to speak in those terms. Many people have benefited from the various courses accredited by the NCEA and the NCVA. People who did not have the opportunity to go to university were able to get awards through the establishment of those bodies. In his introductory speech the Minister said the number of third level places had increased by 8,000 in two years and by 4,000 in post leaving certificate courses. This represents increases of 9 per cent and 22 per cent respectively. This is an indication of the trend in third level education.

I welcome the Minister's comments on the international context of the Bill. In recent days we have heard the announcement by FÁS of the need to recruit skilled workers from outside the State. This is relevant to the needs of industry, business and society as we approach the end of this millennium. One of the benefits of the awards by the NCEA and NCVA has been the great variety of courses on offer.

In discussing the Bill it would be remiss not to comment on the work of Teastas, the Irish National Certification Authority. When Teastas reported in January 1998 it recommended the development of an overarching qualifications authority to act as the ultimate guarantor of the higher and further education and training system. The Minister referred to the development and promotion of ladders and linkages between the various strands of education and training. I pay tribute to those who compiled the report and their comments therein.

The report recommended the establishment of two new awarding bodies, the National Institute of Technology for higher education and training and the National Certification Council for further and continuing education and training outside the third level sector. That report has led to the present situation.

The Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill is excellent legislation. Concerns have been expressed by people in education about the actual changing of names. People in the NCEA and some Deputies have mentioned they would be anxious to retain the name National Council for Education Awards. It reminds me of some debates here in the past when we talked about suitable names for committees, agencies or authorities. One very suitable name was Dúchas, for the heritage service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The Taoiseach was responsible for the title FÁS which took over from AnCO. People in education say the title NCEA is similar to Kerrygold or Baileys Cream in that it has stood the test of time. Some bodies have been unfortunate in regard to names. In this regard I have in mind Teagasc. It is a name that people find difficult to pronounce. Sometimes in the agriculture sector when people intend to blame Teagasc they actually blame the Taoiseach. That is one of the matters mentioned by people in the education sphere. Under the provisions of the Bill the NCEA and the NCVA will be dissolved and parts of FÁS, CERT and BIM will be abolished. Teagasc is also mentioned in the Bill. I welcome the Bill and the Minister's efforts to remove blockages.

The NCEA was set up in 1972 as the awarding body for the Regional Technical Colleges which existed at that time. I understand there was some controversy in 1974 when there was a move to take away the power to award degrees. Following the appointment of the former Minister, John Wilson, in 1979, the NCEA was put on a statutory basis. He established the structure of certificates, diplomas and degrees. A welcome aspect of that decision was that if a student did not get enough points to go to university, he or she had the choice to go through the NCEA to get a certificate or a diploma which led to a degree. This was available to people who would not otherwise have been able to get to third level. People in education referred to the prior experiential learning involved in bringing aspects of education together. People could gain entry to Regional Technical Colleges through post-leaving certificate courses.

In paying tribute to the NCEA, reference should be made to the fact that there is only 25 people on the staff – exactly the same number of staff the body had in 1977. The NCEA has catered for students from the North and overseas and it has provided external examiners. It reviews its programmes every five years. Some of the new courses set up include the forestry management course in Galway Regional Technical College and the furniture design course in Letterfrack. I pay tribute to the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology for its great development work in providing new playing fields and the new library facilities in Cluan Mhuire, which is now part of the Galway-Mayo institute. The agricultural college in Mountbellew, which is the largest town near my area, is now linked to the Galway-Mayo institute in a course on agriculture. These indicate the huge range of new courses now available in the institutes. Athlone Institute of Technology also caters for many students from the west because of its location.

I reiterate my point about the Irish terms for some of the new bodies. I understand them, but some of the translations are difficult to pronounce. The Further Education and Training Awards Council is to be known as Comhairle na nDámhachtainí Breisoideachais agus Oiliúna while the Higher Education and Training Awards Council will be known as Comhairle na nDámhachtainí Ardoideachais agus Oiliúna. The conferral of awards is done in Irish and English. This is already difficult for people, but they will now have to pronounce those mouthfuls.

It will be very euphonic.

In the bastions of academic autonomy, it must be done in Latin.

It will be difficult to pronounce such long phrases as HETAC, FETAC, dúlra, dúchas and Teagasc. Perhaps the Minister could come up with shortened versions of the councils' descriptions using whatever devices he wishes.

The Minister referred to private colleges. The Bill deals with a total of 40 colleges including the institutes of technology, the Garda, military and NCO colleges, the IMI, the IPA, the College of Industrial Relations, seven seminaries and the American College in Dublin. An issue raised with me as a public representative is that given the large variety of courses available, perhaps a review could be carried out by the education authorities of their location. Students in Galway must go to Letterkenny in County Donegal or to Waterford for particular courses. The same problem arises for students in the South who must travel to the North and vice versa. The forestry management course is only available in Galway, although there is a forestry course in Waterford. These are important issues for students who must travel long distances to particular institutes of technology. I hope the Minister will take this issue on board.

The role of music in education was discussed today by the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science. This aspect should be considered in the context of the new councils. There has been concern for many years about the role of music at primary level, where there is little assessment except as part of the overall curriculum. At second level only a small number of students take examinations at junior and leaving certificate levels. There should be greater emphasis on this subject. There has been talk for years about making proper facilities available in Galway city in a college of music and to promote music. The important role of music should be considered in the context of higher and further education in the institutes and third level colleges.

I congratulate the Minister on the Bill. It is a major boost for the higher and further education sectors. I ask him to take on board my points in relation to names which could be used instead of the difficult terms for bodies used in the past.

The legislation is most welcome. It will give recognition to the national qualifications authority, which will have responsibility as the overall guarantor of the quality of higher and further education. It will also be responsible for promoting access, transfer and progression into and within the education and training sector. The authority will be a crucial element in helping students to move between courses and colleges and in developing the national framework of qualifications.

Regarding Deputy Michael Kitt's comments, I received a telephone call today from the Sligo institute regarding the names. The NCEA served very well for 25 years and perhaps it could be incorporated in the new names. In excess of 300,000 students in the past 25 years received accreditation and qualifications from the NCEA. It is an acceptable brand name and has a logo. The major change is that it will replace the higher education and training awards. The new body will incorporate the current and future education and training certification functions of FÁS, the national tourism certification agency, Teagasc, and the National Council for Vocational Awards.

The Minister indicated that it would be a link to business and industry. A major concern addressed in the Bill is the need for improved partnership, co-operation and cohesion between industry on one hand and education and training on the other. Sligo Institute of Technology is developing a business park for which it received considerable funding from the Minister's Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This is welcome, particularly for the development of computer and technological skills which are crucial to jobs at present.

The Higher Education and Training Award Council will incorporate the higher education and training certification functions of the National Council for Education Awards and other relevant bodies. The Bill also provides for institutes of technology to have, for the first time, delegated authority to make awards. This provides a mechanism for implementing the recommendations of the reviews currently being carried out under the chairmanship of Professor Donnelly. It is good that the institutes will have such autonomy, under the eye of the Department. It recognises that they are doing the right thing.

There has been much talk over many years about the introduction of a framework for qualifications. This Bill provides for co-operation between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and that is also the hallmark of the success of the institutes of technology. Last week the Minister opened a new engineering building at Sligo IT and further funding is coming on stream. It is good to see how much development is happening there, with great support from the Government. I welcome the allocation from the Government. All the teaching staff are taking great pride in their work.

The Bill has a provision to protect students enrolled in private colleges on courses of more than three months' duration. It is proposed that where a private college offers a course certified by either of the new councils it must have a bond. There were difficulties in this last year. A bond provision is an important part of building and planning regulations. It should not be possible to set up a private college, charge students £2,000 per year in fees and go out of business in six months. A bond is a guarantee which will take pressure off the institutes. Private colleges should sign a legally binding form stating that students taking their courses – and the parents paying the fees – will have guarantees and are not taking a risk.

I was delighted to see how the Bill will benefit students, who are described in the legislation as "learners". Central to the Bill is the idea that learning is now a lifelong activity and the avenues for learning are wide and inexhaustible. The aim of the Bill is to address the needs of the learning society. People can go back to education at any point in their lives, which is important. The main purposes of the Bill are to establish and develop standards of knowledge, skill or competence, to promote the quality of further education and training, and higher education and training, to provide a system for co-ordinating and comparing education and training awards and to promote and maintain procedures for access, transfer and progression. These are welcome aims and this is major legislation. Deputy Deenihan said the Minister should bear in mind certain points, as I am sure he will.

Certification will now be nationally awarded. CERT, FÁS, etc., will be brought under one umbrella, should the organisation so wish. If a body decides to operate on its own that is well and good, because its certification is recognised already. The Bill gives great opportunities for people who want to go into the business sector. The huge growth in tourism will offer great chances to many students. We should provide qualifications for people who want to go into that sector and provide them with skills and trades. Parents should feel their families can avail of qualifications and awards.

The Bill also allows for further development of the technological sector of higher education. Its principal objective is to develop a framework for the structural development of institutions in the technological sector to address changing local and national demands. Diversity of institutions is being maintained to ensure maximum flexibility with regard to the needs of students and the wide variety of social and economic requirements. There is great change even as we speak. Life long learning is the norm and, as Deputy Deenihan said, people have access to colleges like the Open University which provides great opportunities to people who want to take on additional courses. If people want to obtain extra degrees at age 35 or 45 they will be able to do so.

There are institutes of technology on the periphery. In the north-west there are two fine ITs in Sligo and Letterkenny. Industrialists can see the courses and range of skills being taught in the area, which has been important in the past and will be important in the future. The ITs have expanded enormously in the past ten years, both in student numbers and in the development of education, training and research activities. Sligo IT has great research facilities in injection moulding and new product development. Companies can see the ITs have invested in new equipment. It is wonderful that there is such partnership because it is good for employment.

The institutes will be delegated authority to make awards and will have a charter. Such charters recognise that ITs have a greater level of autonomy and allow them to devise a mission statement as to their role and function. Every business now has a mission statement concerning its future aims. Education is now a big business and universities and ITs have a sense of pride. Sligo IT has 3,000 students. It is like a small town. The administrator of an IT looks on it as a business and it is important for a business to have a mission statement.

The Bill also provides for a more open and inclusive procedures for establishing new institutes of technology. There will be demands from other areas of the country in the future. We have successful colleges but future needs may be different. ITs may be upgraded to universities. That might happen to Sligo IT but it would have to meet certain criteria. At least ITs have the opportunity to work towards that aim. The ITs who perform well and develop in a manner which merits an upgrade should receive it.

Debate adjourned.