On a point of order, given that it is intended to take Committee and Report Stages back to back, is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in a position to inform the House about the provisions that have been made for the submission of Report Stage amendments?
Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Committee Stage.
There is no allocation of time in the Order of Business and Committee Stage may adjourn to another day if necessary.
What is the position if Committee Stage concludes before 10.30 p.m. and we move to Report Stage?
That is a matter for the House to address at the conclusion of Committee Stage.
Therefore, there may be time to table amendments for Report Stage at that point.
That is a matter for the House to decide, there is no guillotine on Committee Stage.
I appreciate that. I am merely inquiring about the arrangements to allow us to draft amendments for Report Stage.
If the Deputy wishes to submit Report Stage amendments, Report Stage can be taken on another day.
That is not my understanding of the position because there are time constraints involved. As this is a short technical Bill, perhaps it would be sensible if we proceeded with Committee Stage to discover whether there are any outstanding issues. There are precedents for Committee and Report Stages to be taken in the same sitting, this is not unprecedented territory.
There are many precedents for taking Committee and Report Stages or all Stages of a Bill together. I suggest we proceed with Committee Stage and, on reaching its conclusion, if there are any outstanding issues we can decide how best to deal with them. In other words, we will not proceed with Report Stage without the agreement of the House.
That is fair. I am merely seeking to ensure we will have the opportunity to consider, draft and table Report Stage amendments if necessary.
That issue does not arise at this stage. It may or may not arise at the conclusion of Committee Stage, and we can address it at that point.
The Minister has decided that regional technical colleges should henceforth become institutes of technology. However, we are faced with the rather anomalous situation where no legal provision has been made for that change, which has been widely welcomed. We are establishing a new institute of technology in the absence of a mandate for institutes of technology, with the result that it will be set up as a regional technical college. That is not satisfactory.
We have sought to create a new direction for institutes of technology which is embraced from the name change from regional technical colleges to institutes of technology. That change has been broadly welcomed because it is evidence of a broadening of their mandate and represents a timely recognition of what they have achieved. These institutions require a broader mandate than heretofore. The Oireachtas, however, has not been given an opportunity to underpin their existing mandate by providing a new mandate.
It is extraordinary that we are trying to establish what will be the flagship of institutes of technology in north-west Dublin, an area where such an institution has long been needed, without making provision for defining the broad objectives it is meant to achieve. Instead, the definition in the Bill states that the institute of technology shall be a regional technical college. This is more than mere semantics because the Minister is essentially trying to pour new wine into old skins.
The aim of establishing a new institute of technology in Blanchardstown with a radical new mandate is not being achieved and the Oireachtas is being given no opportunity to spell out the objectives of this institution. As a result, Opposition Members have been obliged to table amendments on what should be the college's objectives, how its strategy should be undertaken and what sort of reportage would be expected of it. The only change the Minister is making to the old Regional Technical Colleges Act is that he is displacing the vocational education committees as the vehicle for recommending who should be appointed. On reading the Bill, that is the only change I could detect.
The Minister stated that this is a small technical Bill with which we will quickly dispatch, and that is part of the problem for Opposition Members. This is the last opportunity we will have to set out our stall in respect of the objectives that should be set by the Oireachtas, which is responsible for establishing this institute of technology. It is disappointing we do not have a more modern Bill to acknowledge the new role the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology will play, not to mention the new role to which institutes of technology in general aspire. It is important to make that point about section 1 because it underpins the strange anomalies that exist. We are setting up a flagship institute of technology as a regional technical college, which is something the Minister has dispatched from the general vocabulary on these institutes at this stage.
I had the same difficulty with this section. I will not go into the details of my argument on this point now but it concerns my first amendment. Essentially, the sequence should have been the qualifications Bill and then this Bill. The points made by Deputy Bruton are valid because, if institutes of technology are to have a statutory existence, why do we need to amend legislation that will be changed when the qualifications Bill becomes an Act?
I support my two colleagues on this matter. As other speakers have said, this will be a flagship institute of technology. As the Minister outlined on Second Stage, the work being done to address educational disadvantage in terms of bringing people from disadvantaged backgrounds through the education system, which we discussed in the debate on the qualifications Bill, must be encouraged and welcomed. Rather than forging ahead and setting up proper structures for the institutes of technology, we are considering this Bill, which the Minister described as a small technical Bill.
The situation is being grossly overstated. What we are dealing with here is a mechanism to put the new institute of technology in Blanchardstown on a statutory footing, and it is important we do that. At present, it is a limited company in terms of the hiring of staff and its development as a college. It will open its doors and take in students in September. That is why there is a sense of urgency about the matter. It is not something we are dispatching.
Comprehensive legislation was introduced in 1992. The 1992 legislation, particularly the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, facilitated a change of name for any college under its First Schedule. Section 3(4) of that Bill gave authority to the Minister, following consultation with the governing body of a college, to change the name of the college.
Regarding the mission statement of the new institute, the 1992 Act facilitates and provides for the Minister of the day to put an order before the House outlining the content of the mission plan of the college in terms of a strategy statement and so forth. The 1992 legislation is comprehensive and allows for this. There is no point in reinventing the wheel every time we endeavour to introduce legislation to establish an institute.
From time to time I have stated that we engage in ongoing consultation with institutes and colleges. The Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, provides that the Minister may by order assign additional functions to an institute and such an order is subject to positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I would be happy to review, in consultation with all the institutes, the extent to which an explicit policy direction or order would be helpful on this matter.
I am not closing the door on issues that were raised in subsequent amendments that pertain to mission statements and so on of this institute. We have moved quickly in terms of securing funding – which most people did not think was available – for the new institute. If we had not set up the education and technology investment fund, the money would not have been available for the Blanchardstown institute and it would have been a non-event. Given that we were able to secure the funding so quickly and to progress matters so fast, the next part of the jigsaw is this legislation. There is nothing undesirable about that. It is a laudable objective and it is good that the House is dealing with it in this manner.
I am puzzled by the Minister's response. Is he saying this is a rushed job because the college must open its doors in September and that, rather than the Oireachtas giving timely consideration to the objectives its wants to set for the Bill, it must make do with pouring the wine into old skins? Is the Minister saying it is essential that the new institute is established on a statutory basis because otherwise it would not be able to do what it seeks to achieve? I find that difficult to accept. Even if it takes more time to introduce a satisfactory Bill, I would prefer to wait until we can produce such a Bill.
We spent a good deal of time in the Dáil and in Committee dealing with the objectives we set for the education institutions which govern primary and second schooling. We took great care to set out the objectives we believed those schools and institutes of learning should pursue. It is my understanding that none of those objectives set by the Oireachtas that govern issues such as equality of opportunity, access, priority for the disadvantaged and people with disabilities – important pillars on which colleges should be based and that should guide a governing body in deciding its mission, strategy and policies – will be provided for the institutes of technology. That is the difference between the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992 and the later 1998 Bill. The 1998 Bill set out broad parameters to guide the way schools should deal with pupils. Everyone welcomed those broad objectives, but the Minister does not seem to realise the need to provide for similar objectives on a legislative basis for this sector. I thought this institute of technology would be underpinned by legislation which would set out broad objectives that would define its mandate.
I am not convinced by the Minister's arguments that we need to have legislation in place because we were proceeding at such breakneck speed and that it is better to have some legislation in place, unsatisfactory and all as it might be, than to slow matters down to a pace where we would proceed in a considered way. I do not accept that the establishment of the Blanchardstown institute would be held up if we had a more thoughtful and long-lasting statutory base provided for it.
My position on this Bill is clear. The Labour Party and I are anxious to assist in every way possible to ensure this new institute is set up and that no obstacles are put in its way. I was the spokesperson for my party during the debate on the 1992 Bill. The issue of renaming a college was controversial and the Minister helped stir it up.
He was good at that.
I did not start that.
We sometimes like to forget such matters.
The Deputy also pitched for it.
We all know that power was provided for in legislation. The qualifications legislation was necessary to give statutory effect to the upgrading of regional technical colleges to institutes of technology. There are also other factors provided for in that legislation, including the awarding of powers which were delegated to the authorities. We are amending the existing legislation when it would be more efficient to provide for this new institute in the qualifications Bill.
That is fundamentally different legislation. The qualifications authority Bill is about progression and the quality of all programmes involving further education. It would be totally out of place to put the establishment of one institute in the context of the qualifications authority Bill. I never use language such as "rushed" or "ill-thought out". The 1992 Act provides a solid legislative base which is meant to facilitate the creation of new institutes where we deem it desirable. The Blanchardstown area was given priority in the Higher Education Authority study some years ago but very little progress was made then. We have made progress and the institute will open its doors this autumn. It is important it is legislatively underpinned.
There has been a great deal of overstatement, particularly from Deputy Richard Bruton. I accept that Deputy O'Shea is anxious to co-operate with the progression of this legislation. However, I do not believe we are putting the cart before the horse. It is important that this Bill is enacted in respect of Blanchardstown in its own right and incorporated in the body of legislation which underpins the governance of the other institutes of technology and is, therefore, part of that network. That makes sense.
When the qualifications authority Bill becomes law and the Minister of the day wishes to establish a new institute of technology, will the same pattern have to be followed? Will the Regional Technical Colleges Act have to be amended, even though the qualifications authority Bill will then be an Act? That is the essence of the difficulty.
The qualifications authority Bill may provide for the establishment of colleges. I will check that information. The core function of that Bill is the quality assurance of courses and their progression. It will also implement mechanisms to delegate authority to colleges to make awards. If an external review body decides a college is in a position to make awards, the qualifications authority Bill will facilitate that, and the same applies to degree awarding powers. I do not understand the Deputy's problem.
It is simple. For example, if the establishment of an institute of technology is required in an urban area similar to Tallaght or Blanchardstown, under what legislation will that happen and what body will establish it? It will be under the remit of the qualifications authority Bill.
That is not a difficulty. What will happen in the future is a matter for the Oireachtas and the Minister of the day. They will choose the mechanisms to legislatively underpin any new institution. I will check that for the Deputy.
As the qualifications authority Bill stands, institutes of technology will be established under its remit, not by the route we are taking today.
Yes, but there are reasons for that. It outlines a process in terms of awarding degrees and diplomas so the upgrading of colleges is not subject to the whim of a politician. There must be a process.
For example, if Coláiste Dhúlaigh were to aspire to institute of technology status, which is on the cards because it is developing many courses and the north-east of the city is not served by any institute of education, would it undergo this process—
—or, as we should be doing in this case, would it be dealt with as a different model from that which was thought appropriate for the legislative collectivisation of the 1992 batch of regional technical colleges as they then existed? This is an evolving area and the Oireachtas should set a new mandate for these new colleges as they face new challenges.
The 1992 Act gives the Minister the power to set a new mandate for institutes of technology. We are moving away from relevant matters. However, the qualifications authority Bill provides the mechanisms whereby colleges can make different levels of awards. In the case of Coláiste Dhúlaigh, it would have to undergo rigorous external review mechanisms before the qualifications authority could make a decision. The qualifications authority Bill envisages a new era where education is more learner-centred than institution-centred and concentrates more on the level and quality of awards than on who provides them. If anything, Irish third level education has been bedevilled by the institutional approach. The reason this college was established so quickly after the Government entered office is to respond to the significant under-participation in third level education in north-west Dublin which has been illustrated in report after report. This is a bona fide exercise designed to legislatively underpin the institute before it opens its doors in the autumn.
We are having a Second Stage debate on the matter.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and both may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, before section 2, to insert the following new section:
2.–The Institute established by this Act shall prepare a strategy statement as soon as may be after the establishment date and at least every three years thereafter and shall include therein its policies in relation to the following matters, in particular–
(a) educational strategy and in particular the improvement of retention rates within the Institute;
(b) the development of relationships with local industry;
(c) linkages with local second-level educational institutions and the local community generally;
(d) the promotion of adult and second-chance education.
This amendment arises in the context of the discussion on section 1. The Regional Technical Colleges Acts do not provide for strategy statements. The Labour Party favours a requirement that all regional technical colleges should produce strategy statements. Schools must make a school plan under the Education Act and universities must make a strategic development plan under the Universities Act, 1997. However, no such provision is made for regional technical colleges. We tabled this amendment so that this college will have a strategy statement and direction. What changes will there be in this regard when the qualifications Bill is enacted?
I strongly support Deputy O'Shea's proposal that there should be an explicit strategy statement and that the partners in education should have an opportunity to participate in the framing of that strategy statement. We had a very lengthy debate in this House on the merits of that approach for schools. It is important in that, not only does it get all the players to pursue consistent objectives, but it also becomes the vehicle for very considerable reform.
The making of strategy statements should be a key to budgetary developments for colleges. Ad hoc once-off applications for new courses to be added on is not a very satisfactory approach. It would be far preferable to see a very broad strategy statement with a set of objectives and new policy initiatives being developed by the college, with subsequent programmes. When colleges are developing new dimensions to their work, funding should follow the setting out of such strategy statements. That is true at primary, secondary and, even more so, at third level.
The presence of a strategy statement also gives those who would normally have an input into the development of colleges an opportunity to have their say, particularly members of the broader community. The Minister has frequently recognised the failure of our third level institutions to attract people from less well-off communities. Many of the reasons for that are cultural, in that the cultures of the various colleges do not support participation by people from less academically oriented backgrounds. There is a huge attrition rate in the first year, in particular. It is important the framing of a strategy by a college, such as that in Blanchardstown, should receive input from communities which have, at this stage, developed considerable experience in adult, continuing and further education. Such groups have a great deal to add to the framing of a strategy statement.
It is important that this approach, as outlined by Deputy O'Shea, should be adopted by the Minister. Perhaps, the wording of his amendment needs some further legal elucidation on Report Stage. For example, I would like input by the broader community to be enshrined into the process, rather than it being solely an internal matter dictated by the governing body and the insiders of the system. There must be a broader partnership, particularly for the Blanchardstown institute.
My amendment is complementary to Deputy O'Shea's. When one is new to education, one may have new insights, or perhaps one is just innocent. I was amazed, when looking at the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, that no attempt was made to define the colleges' mandate.
They have been very successful, have carved out a particular niche and have reached out to communities which did not previously go onto third level. It is very evident from the figures that they have been much more attractive to such communities. As third level participation has widened, the regional technical colleges have grown far more rapidly than the traditional universities. That is a very fine testament to their success. However, we should, in the way we did for schools and other bodies participating in the education system, give them a mandate, which would be the ten commandments or the stone to which the governing body would turn every so often to see the extent to which it is fulfilling the role given to it by the Oireachtas.
In this regard, I have tabled an amendment, which is by no means comprehensive and I have no doubt the Minister, with his access to the drafting capacity of his Department, could considerably improve it. I am proposing that the Oireachtas give the Blanchardstown institute a certain mandate. That mandate would include "promoting equality of access to and participation in education and in particular tackling the low participation arising from educational disadvantage or disability". We would like to see that mandate enshrined in the policies and programmes adopted by the college as it develops.
It should also include "promoting successful participation in education by adults, and in particular adults who as children did not avail of or benefit from education in schools". We have moved into a period in industry where lifelong learning is the key to survival, let alone progress. Jobs are changing extremely rapidly. The key to preventing many people from becoming tomorrow's unemployed is to invest in them while they are still at work. It is very important that an institute such as that in Blanchardstown has a very clear mandate to reach out to workplaces in its catchment area and to recognise that people may become unemployed if investment is not made in their education. Not only should its door be open to such people, there should be very clear supporting policies to ensure that adults returning to education after a long lapse have a chance to succeed. I would like the Oireachtas to statutorily give that mandate to the Blanchardstown institute.
The mandate should also include "building links with industry and with the community in developing education programmes, and, where appropriate, forming partnerships with them in the delivery of quality education which mixes theoretical learning with practical application". The Minister rightly recognised on Second Stage that Blanchardstown and its surrounding area is something of an Irish silicon valley. There are many industries there which will be anxious to build links with the institute, particularly given the staff shortages in key skill areas. The Blanchardstown institute has already started to build those links.
It must equally recognise, as I said earlier, that it needs to build links with the surrounding community and industries which do not belong to the silicon valley belt. If we want to upgrade many of our traditional industries, we must get the message through to industry that, if it does not invest in the training and qualifications of its workers, it will fail. There is a golden opportunity for the Blanchardstown institute to reach out, not only to the silicon valley companies, which are well geared up to train staff and will simply look on this as a way of expanding their work, but to the many smaller companies which need to upgrade their workers.
I expect we will return to this in the education welfare Bill, but I am very keen to see institutes, such as the one in Blanchardstown, develop with employers the sort of flexible programmes that can give people who participated in programmes such as Youthreach real qualifications, with a mixture of on and off the job training. A college such as the Blanchardstown institute needs a mandate in that area and we should provide one.
The fourth element of the mandate set out in my amendment is "promoting best practice in teaching methods with regard to the diverse needs of students and the development of the skills and competence of teachers; and ensuring that appropriate quality management policies are in place to promote excellence in all of the Institute's activities". In some senses that is taken for granted, but it was an important element that we introduced to the previous Bill, the Minister coming back from the Seanad with the Bill precisely to make such an amendment to the mandate he was giving to schools. Institutes are learning organisations and it is they who must search out and apply the most successful teaching methods, particularly those that are successful in reaching out to groups that have not previously participated at third level to the extent that we would desire.
The last of the broad-brush objectives I have set out in my amendment is to facilitate life-long participation in education. It is strange that, despite having had the Year of Life-long Learning a couple of years ago – and it made a mark at the time – we still have not succeeded in getting recognition of life-long learning in the statutory framework that sets out to develop our education system for the future.
I hope these two amendments will commend themselves to the Minister because they attempt not only to set out the broad-brush objectives, what we would like to see guide the governing body over the coming years, but also the very practical mechanisms, namely, a strategy statement with the participation of a wide range of groups in its formation. That would be a nice grouping that would set for the Blanchardstown institute a good mandate for the future. As we develop Oireachtas education committees on a long-term basis, it would give us the opportunity to look at how successfully this mandate was developed by the Blanchardstown institute, to learn for the next occasion when we come back to this House to, perhaps, celebrate the establishment of another institute of education to meet the needs of other groups.
I hope the Minister will support this approach. I am sure he will say he could add to it, and I would welcome him adding to it. In anticipation of what I suspect will be his response, that the Minister can influence programmes through his budgetary and other sanctioning approaches, let me say that that is not the same thing. We will not get another chance as an Oireachtas to set the basis on which we would like to see development. The Minister may have such an opportunity, but controls over budget and over individual programmes is a very incremental type of control, and it is not the sort of control I would like to see used to develop the broad objectives of the college. I hope these amendments will commend themselves to the Minister.
I support my two colleagues in both these amendments.
In his Second Stage speech the Minister set out a very ambitious policy for the institute of technology. However, that is only an aspiration. Where the Minister will have some control over the institute of technology, for us it is important that we enshrine that in the legislation before us. That is what we are trying to do in tabling these amendments. I hope the Minister will look seriously at the amendments. We are bringing a new emphasis to this new institute of technology. It is an ambitious emphasis and I hope it will work. However, it is necessary to have some structure in place. These amendments can facilitate putting that structure in place, and it needs to be written into the legislation.
The strategic statement about which Deputy O'Shea talks is something to which we should give serious consideration. We should ensure that all our institutes of technology and our third level institutes in general have such a statement because it will enable an input from the local communities served by the institute and from industry. Having only recently gone through the third level sector it was obvious to me that one of the biggest problems was that there was very little connection between universities and industry, particularly in UCD during the time I was there. I ended up with a degree in industrial microbiology without ever seeing industry. We need to have liaison between industry and third level institutes and also local communities, and we need to ensure that not only in relation to the institute in Blanchardstown but in relation to all the other institutes of technology throughout the country.
There are two things I would like to see included in Deputy O'Shea's amendment. The first relates to research which the Minister did not even mention on Second Stage. Research is the backbone of third level institutes, and in that context we are talking about industry. We are talking about a new approach in Blanchardstown, a new liaison between Blanchardstown Institute of Technology and the various industries located in the area. We need to ensure that those industries are willing to put funding into research and that the structures are in place for that.
The Minister also spoke about disadvantage. There are disadvantaged communities around Blanchardstown and in the Dublin area and this institute will target those people. However, I fear that people will tend to think that because this institute will bring people in through a new structure, we will forget about people outside the Pale. We need to look at distance learning in this new approach in this institute. Disadvantage is not only an issue in Dublin, it is an issue throughout the country. The qualifications Bill will ensure that that door is opened for communities throughout the country. However, it should be included here because one of the biggest problems is that the institutes and people in and around Dublin forget about what is happening outside the city.
Deputy Bruton made a very valid point about life-long learning and upskilling. Upskilling is crucially important. It is important that there should be a relationship between industry and the institute to facilitate staff to retrain because over the next couple of years there will be greater demands on people and they will have to be able to upskill. Numerous reports have stated that in five years' time the jobs people are doing today will not exist. Unless people are continually upskilling, they could be out of a job. This is particularly important in the case of people in their mid to late thirties because they will be in their late forties or early fifties by the time their jobs are gone and they will be coming back into the cycle again. Now is the time to ensure that those people are retrained and continually upskilled so that they can take up new jobs as they arise.
Paragraph (d) of Deputy Bruton's amendment relates to the promotion of best practice and teaching methods. We are talking about a new type of institute which will have new structures for bringing in people who will not be coming through the CAO system. Therefore, it is crucially important that these teaching methods are studied and if they are successful that they are implemented in other third level institutes around the country. I remember speaking recently to a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology on the question of bringing in people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The institute has to put in additional resources and additional time for those pupils because it cannot afford to have them dropping out, because if they drop out and go back to their own communities, no one else from that community will attempt third level education. I hope when the Minister is talking about this new approach to Blanchardstown that he will ensure that funding will be available and that it will not be just the basic minimum funding that is available in the other institutes. Additional money should be put in place to tackle educational disadvantage to ensure these people come through the system and are successful. To do that we need a structure like that advocated by Deputies O'Shea and Richard Bruton.
I am satisfied that the amendments, although they contain reasonable proposals, are unnecessary for a number of reasons. This Bill places the institute of technology in Blanchardstown within the statutory framework for all the institutes. It is important for the status of the institute within the wider group of institutes that its legislative basis differs as little as possible from the main Act.
Section 13 of the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, the principal Act in this area, provides for the preparation of operational programmes in the institutes. I have received, in my capacity as a member of vocational education committees, such operational programmes, which are in essence a strategy statement for the existing colleges. Those programmes must be related to the two academic years following the year in which they are made. The Minister has powers over their content. Following consultation, for example, the institutes have been provided with guidelines on the content of the programmes. They should include the education plan and mission statement of the institute, budgetary and financial overviews, skills shortages provisions, analysis of retention levels and proposals for new courses. In this way much of what the Deputies wish to achieve in the amendments is already provided for in the existing scheme.
There is a great deal of linkage with industry. The strength of the technological sector has been its ongoing collaboration from the outset with business and industry in that sector. More recently many colleges have appointed a head of development and industrial liaison officer to improve co-operation with industry and ensure that courses are industrially relevant. We have embarked on new initiatives in the past 18 months on skills issues in collaboration with industry. A clear illustration of that is the 18 month accelerated technician courses. There are also special summer courses within the institutes. Those arose as a result of proposals made by the technician task force which I established two years ago and which included representatives from industry and the institutes. It was driven by a former director. These new courses were pioneered from that type of collaboration. The support for the technician development centre and institute of technology in Tallaght was given in conjunction with local high-tech industry to provide short upskilling courses.
The expansion of continuing education programmes in the institutes in Cork, Dublin and Tallaght is complemented by tax relief on fees. New foundation qualifications have been developed by the NCEA. These are aimed at mature students who wish to return to education. There has also been a significant development in links with the post leaving certificate college sector, with a reserved number of places for entrants from this sector.
The Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, provided that the Minister may by order assign additional functions to an institute. The Minister can bring an order to the House to assign additional functions. That order is subject to the positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I commit myself to bring such an order before the House in relation to Blanchardstown which will incorporate the concept of the mission statement for the college and which will focus on local disadvantage and links with industry.
The site of the institute was not decided by accident but because there is much industry around it and because of high participation rates. I am prepared to bring a separate order before the House which will detail the strategy statement and mission statement of the college.
In view of the undertaking which the Minister gave, I am happy to withdraw my amendment. Much good work is being done in the community. Yesterday we mentioned the home-school community liaison scheme. Parents are being reintroduced to the education system through that scheme. The linkage is not sufficiently strong, however, to give a clear pathway for people to re-enter the formal sector. I ask the Minister to make it clear to the institute that this area should be addressed.
I will. Some of the institutes are doing that now by breaking down barriers with second level schools in their areas or in areas where there is significant socio-economic disadvantage – the BYTE programme in the Ballymun area is one such scheme. A number of institutes are now undertaking similar programmes.
I welcome the Minister's decision to introduce an order to the House assigning certain functions to the Blanchardstown institute of education. How does he see this developing? There are two dimensions to this. As well as a mission statement, a process must be started. That was the merit of the approach set out in the amendments. We sought to set out certain broad objectives to be pursued, against which we can judge the success of the institute, and to develop a clear strategy statement. It is necessary to ensure that the order the Minister introduces embraces those concepts. A process of involving a wider range of players in the development of the strategy needs to be put in place. I would like to see the scope of the Minister's proposals. Will he come back before the House with not only functions for the institute but a process which will embrace the broader approach outlined in the amendments?
The Minister said that this is a brand new approach to tackling problems at third level in terms of an institute which would be significantly different and which would do exciting new things. I was surprised when he said at the same time that he wants to minimise any difference between Blanchardstown and the other institutes. It does not make sense to design something innovative and then to say that it cannot be different in its legislative basis from its predecessors. This is a distorted form of snobbery. The Minister does not want to call it different in case people will see it as being inferior. It is the desire of this House for it to be regarded as different because it is superior and is doing things which have been neglected for a long time. That is at the root of the discontent – pouring this new institute into the old skins of the Regional Technical College legislation suggests that it is not different.
The Minister said that things are now radically different and colleges have developed significant links with industry. That is true at the high-tech end of the industrial scale but it is far from true at the low-tech end. An institute such as that in Blanchardstown should foster a more radical approach to the development of smallscale indigenous companies.
I recall the initiative of the chambers of commerce which developed the PLATO programme to upgrade company managerial skills. That was done entirely outside the education system. It seemed extraordinary at the time that a quintessentially skill and management development and educational role was being developed outside the education system. It was looking to middle management in other companies to develop programmes and polices to upgrade the skills of owner-manager companies and medium and low technology companies. It seems that part of the mandate for an institute such as Blanchardstown will be its role in filling that gap. If we do not develop owner-manager and small scale companies which have the management capability to look beyond survival and at where the opportunities lie in the longer term, we will end up with a type of dual economy with the strong high technology companies, which are largely foreign owned, with some associate Irish owned companies, which have moved across the threshold to become part of that scene, and another bloc of companies which are not as innovative. The Blanchardstown Institute is well placed, if given an explicit mandate in this sphere, to try to address those issues.
If one looks at analysis of where the skill gaps in Ireland lie, one will find it is very often in management capability and in that we have not developed successful management training programmes and approaches. It is important the Oireachtas gets a chance to put some type of frame on this. It will be easy for the Blanchardstown Institute or any other institute to form its alliances with the silicon valley companies, but we want to see something different. Just as we want to see something different in relation to the students coming through the colleges, we want to see something different in terms of the links with industry.
I am interested in the Minister's proposal to come back to the House with an order which will assign some additional functions to the institute. That is a hopeful sign but it does not fully respond to the two amendments. I would like the Minister to elaborate on how he will do that, the type of things he will include in the new order and the type of things which cannot go into it. For example, can the issue of framing a strategy statement be included in it? Is that a function under the terms of the Minister's power under the existing Act? Do we need to give him a slightly broader power on Report Stage to come back with an order not solely relating to functions, but to the broader approach and policy approach adopted by the institute?
We would endeavour to go along that route. I have already given a mandate to the acting board of governors of the institute which embraces almost everything that has been said today in respect of disadvantage, industry and business links, quality teaching, skills shortages and so on. I envisage consultation with the governing body of the institute prior to the order being made and that there will be consultation with groups in the community and in the immediate hinterland of the college. It is worth mentioning that the acting board is chaired by a person who is involved in a major industry in the area and that it has plc representation as well. One can see that already much of what has been said is happening. The procedure would be that we would consult the institute and, as Deputy Bruton said, have a wider consultation procedure which could involve Opposition spokespersons as well. The order would then be brought to the House for debate and resolution in the autumn.
I welcome the point the Minister made. I know it will not happen in Blanchardstown but I had the experience in a third level institution where the head of a department would have nothing to do with industry because he felt it compromised the academic standing of the education he was giving his students. Resources were not received from industry and there was not any liaison with it. I fear that unless we copperfasten that link in legislation or, I hope, in the order, this may arise again at some stage in the future. The institutes of technology have led in terms of co-operation and participation with industry. Given that the legislation is before us, now is the time to ensure that type of liaison is copperfastened in it.
Deputy Bruton made the crucial point that on the one hand, the Minister said we want the structures regarding the legislation dealing with this new institute as similar as possible to what has gone before but on the other hand, we want the institution to be radically different in certain areas than what has gone before. How will we strike that balance? That is the question raised in both the amendments. I hope the order will help to strike that balance.
It is important that we have a certain amount of control like that to which the Minister referred on Second Stage when he set out the commendable objectives. However, I am afraid that if the Minister is not in office in a few months, the objectives may not be fulfilled. The next Minister's eye may not be on the ball in terms of that institute of technology. Although the goals have been set for the institute, they may not be reached unless we have a control mechanism in place.
I would like to be sure the Minister at least accepts the point I made about medium technology industry. The temptation for the Blanchardstown Institute will be to go for high technology—
We have already identified that there will be apprenticeship in Blanchardstown.
It is wider than just apprenticeships in that the large deficiency in Irish based industry is in the management area. An institute such as Blanchardstown is well placed to provide a type of back-up in that area – an outreach service which would encourage companies which might otherwise struggle in the medium-term. If the Blanchardstown Institute is to make its mark, it must develop those type of exciting programmes, such as PLATO, in a small way which will reach out to owner managed and small indigenous companies and bring something new to them. I am not an expert in the field but the introduction of computer aided design, for example, to some Irish based operations would dramatically change their potential. There is a need for the Minister to be cognisant of that when introducing an order.
In terms of timing, we would like to see the order at an early date. The Minister rightly said the institute is at full tilt now and is preparing to take in students in September. I would be interested to know when the Minister envisages publishing an order for discussion and consultation so that we would have an early response from the governing body to the terms the Minister is considering. We would then have the chance to consult on what might be in such an order. It would be useful if the Minister came forward with his ideas at an early stage. If we were not taking all Stages of the Bill, I would be keen to see it before Report Stage. However, I do not know if the Dáil schedule would permit that.
We have to consult the institute.
The Minister can consult but the process of development should be started. Draft heads could be produced for consultation.
I envisage publishing an order for discussion and consultation in the autumn, which will be early in the next session.
Section 2 says "The Minister shall by order appoint a day to be the establishment day for the purposes of this Act." I am surprised the Minister has not used the term "upon enactment". What is the reason for this more cautious approach whereby the Minister will withhold establishment of the institute of technology until a later date? I thought once the Act was in place the process would be triggered.
It is a question of having all the pieces in place. In other words, dissolution of the company must happen more or less simultaneously with the establishment of the college. This will happen very soon after the Bill is passed.
The Bill provides for the dissolution.
There is not a big deal in this regard. My advice is that people are anxious to have all the "i"s dotted and "t"s crossed.
Amendment No. 2 has already been discussed with amendment No. 1.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 4, before section 4, to insert the following new section:
4.–Section 15 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion of the following subsection:
‘(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the Minister may delegate to the Higher Education Authority or such other body constituted by order for the purpose of the payment of amounts to each college, as may be approved by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance.'.
I am keen to open the debate regarding the funding approach to the institutes of technology and in particular for this new institute. Under section 15 it is the Minister who has the sole relationship with the colleges. This was much like the old approach the Minister for Health took to some of the acute hospitals which were not under health boards. This issue concerns situations where there is a relationship between the Minister and a front line agency. In many areas we have seen the desirability of developing a more integrated approach to funding and developing specialist agencies outside the Department which develop a skill in monitoring and supporting the development of programmes by colleges. It certainly strikes me that the Higher Education Authority has developed such a skill and its track record is very well respected in the various bodies currently under its remit. It may be time to think about giving the Higher Education Authority the role of mediator between the colleges and the funding agency. This would give the Minister and the Department a greater opportunity to be a policy making body rather than a hands-on, fire brigade-type body which tries to respond on a daily basis to issues arising from colleges. It is similar to the reform of the Aireacht envisaged many years ago. There is merit in developing the sort of skills the Higher Education Authority possesses. It has depoliticised to some extent the relationships between the colleges and the Higher Education Authority compared to the situation pertaining when there is a direct link to the Department and the Minister. Many advantages have been gained from the establishment of the HEA.
It strikes me that we should be thinking not about the immediate change, which will be abrupt, but that the Minister should take upon himself the authority to delegate the power he currently has to a body such as the HEA. In an earlier draft of this amendment I included all other institutes of technology and acknowledged that the Minister may wish to have a different body constituted by order. However, those elements of the earlier draft were out of order because of the danger of imposing a charge on the Exchequer and of going beyond the scope of the Bill.
It is important to raise this issue of principle in relation to the development of the institutes of technology and I am interested to hear the Minister's view. It is my understanding that the Higher Education Authority has on occasion expressed an interest in playing such a role and it would be well able to respect the binary approach which has been a particularly important dimension of policy over the years and one the Minister and I are very keen to see retained. However, this does not necessarily preclude us from having a specialist authority, such as the Higher Education Authority with its name suitably adapted if necessary, doing this sort of work. My feeling is that the Higher Education Authority has done much good work and that the Department, due to the pressures on it, cannot do such work with equal effect. The work of the Higher Education Authority has depoliticised some issues which would otherwise have become causes célèbres with people hammering on the Minister's door, sometimes resisting desirable reforms and sometimes looking for things to which they were rightly entitled.
We must professionalise the approach being taken by the Department. In general the Department has sought to preserve far too much power and has not devolved enough power. The Department suffers as a result as it is trying to do too many things and satisfy too many demands.
I await the Minister's response with great interest as it is not very often we get an opportunity to discuss issues of broader principle in the development of our education system. We should examine the merits of change in this area, given that the Higher Education Authority has been signally effective and successful in the approach it has taken.
This amendment raises a number of very important issues in terms of the structures which exist and which are about to be introduced to the sector and also in the manner in which funding is disseminated to the various institutions.
In 1992 two Acts, namely, the Regional Technical Colleges Act and the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, moved simultaneously through the House. All current institutes of technology receive moneys from the same fund, with the allocation being divided among the various institutes, with the exception of the Dublin Institute of Technology, the funding of which is separate. On Second Stage of the Education and Training (Qualifications) Bill I made the point that to facilitate the growth of colleges in terms of the validation over time of their qualifications, namely, national certificates and diplomas, and for colleges to then apply for review under the Universities Act, 1997, as the Dublin Institute of Technology has done, there should be an interim phase in which colleges, on being delegated powers to award their own certificates and diplomas, should be given an existence similar to that which the Dublin Institute of Technology currently enjoys. If the institutes of technology will have the opportunity to gain university status, which will be open to them following the enactment of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill [Seanad] as the Universities Act, 1997, is in place, this interim phase is important.
On the points raised by Deputy Bruton, the NCEA will cease to exist as soon as the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill [Seanad] is enacted and the Higher Education and Training Council will take up many of the powers which the NCEA held to date. Essentially, the NCEA was a validating body. The universities validate their own qualifications and funding comes through the Higher Education Authority. The funding for the institute of technology sector has come directly from the Department heretofore and it appears that will continue. I favour the idea that all funding would come through the HEA. That will bring about inclusion. It will result in the review of Higher Education Authority funding to see how it may be used most effectively to serve students, which is most important. The quality and extent of qualifications must be in tune with the demands of the marketplace. However, the marketplace cannot be the only determinant. The humanities area must enjoy independence. That is important but it is a philosophical question into which I will not go now.
There are areas related to the finance of the third level sector which do not make sense, are inefficient and are unco-ordinated. Whereas I would not support the idea that one of the institutes of technology should be funded through the HEA, I certainly would favour the entire third level sector receiving its funding through the Higher Education Authority in time because the taxpayers and the students would get a better deal and it would be more efficient.
When the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1991, was being discussed there was a sub-agenda which did not arise often in the debate. It related to where the PLC students would go because a numbers game may apply with colleges. The PLC students are in the area of the education structure, to which they are best suited and from which they will receive the best education. My point is that all institutes of technology should have a growth path and we must make appropriate provision for them.
I have a constituency interest in this which I am not shy to talk about, but this involves a broader concept. As Deputy Bruton stated, the idea that all the institutes of technology should be financed through the HEA, cannot be achieved overnight and would involve a lead-in time but I cannot see the logic of not having such a provision after a reasonable period.
There is no great argument about the content of the debate so far on this issue. The amendment is not necessary to achieve its objective because it could be achieved just as well by ministerial regulation made under section 1 of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971. In other words, the Minister already has the power to bring the funding of institutes under the wing of the HEA. However, to transfer the Minister's functions as regards the institute in this way would be premature. There are other issues to consider – my comments relate to the whole technological sector coming under the Higher Education Authority for funding and regulation. We must take on board other issues such as the composition of the HEA, which would have to change to reflect the inclusion in its remit of the new institutes. Other structural and financial issues would also have to be considered, including the possible transfer of other powers of the Minister to the authority. These issues will require more extensive planning and legislation than is comprehended in this amendment. To that end, I have requested the Higher Education Authority to reconvene the working group to plan for the extension of the authority's remit to the institute.
It would also be entirely inappropriate to single out this institute for inclusion under the Higher Education Authority funding remit while retaining the status quo for all the other institutes. The transfer of the functions to the Higher Education Authority should take place in an orderly and comprehensive way not on a piecemeal basis. We can accommodate the wishes of the Deputies in the manner I have outlined. That is the correct approach to take.
I welcome the Minister's response, which seems positive. However, I want to push him further on it. I would like to look at "the blacks" of the report to see precisely what he said. I am not sure he said he believes in principle that this should happen. I think he said he does not need new powers to do it, and is asking someone else to look at it rather than expressing support in principle for the approach. I would like him to be a little more clear about this approach because it has many merits, some of which Deputy O'Shea and I outlined.
I said I had no argument with the debate. That was my opening remark.
What does that mean?
It means I am in favour of bringing the funding of the institutes under the HEA. The timing of this is an issue. I have asked the Higher Education Authority to reconvene a working group to work out the issues I outlined and, according to the Department's higher education section, it has done so. I would favour bringing the institutes under the Higher Education Authority but I have not yet given a commitment on the timing of the legislation. The Department has two or three other Bills in the pipeline.
I am quite happy with that. It is the right direction to take. While we obviously want to retain the binary system, which has been successful, one of the things Porter diagnosed as setting successful nations apart from those which do not succeed, albeit in economics, is the development of a sub-university sector which is closer to industry. That is a feature of many successful industrialising nations. No doubt I will be told by the Minister that our forebears who had the foresight to establish the Regional Technical Colleges were members of Fianna Fáil.
We must see this develop. Retaining within the Department powers over budgets and programmes and the sort of minutiae which is involved here is not particularly healthy. The sooner the Minister gets this work moving, the better. Like other decisions taken years ago, I believe this one will prove fruitful in the long-term. It will result in a more rational allocation of funding, promote excellence and bring additional quality control pressures to bear which may be difficult to exercise from within the Department. Taxpayers, students and those devoting their professional careers to the institutes will benefit from the decision.
Perhaps we are handing out too much praise but I welcome the Minister's response to this amendment. Where a particular institute has been awarded the power to validate its own national certificates and diplomas, as was the case with the Dublin Institute of Technology when the Dublin Institute of Technology legislation became law, has the Minister any problem in principle with such an institute standing alone in the funding area in the same way as the Dublin Institute of Technology? Funding for the Dublin Institute of Technology does not come out of the institute of technology pool per se, rather separate funding is provided by the Department.
This is a new issue; that demand has not yet been made. The issue forms part of an overall debate in regard to the directions in which institutes want to move. I am in favour of maintaining the broad binary system and of having a broad framework which can oversee and facilitate the growth and development of colleges, both in terms of having the capacity and delegated authority to make their own sub-degree and degree awards. I am in favour of putting clear mechanisms in place for that purpose. It will be sufficient to put in place a framework which allows for development and growth in accordance with established and objective procedures.
In regard to funding, the idea of institutions coming under the Higher Education Authority would encompass everybody. I would find it anomalous if, in the future, we were to bring all institutions of technology, bar one, under the HEA. It would seem logical that we should deal with all of them under the one umbrella from a funding point of view. Staff grades and other aspects of the institutes are very similar. The staff all belong to the same unions so there are many practical issues involved. Perhaps we can tease out an amendment to the Higher Education Authority Act when we are considering the Higher Education Authority which would involve bringing the institutes under a new funding regime. All of the institutions, including the Dublin Institute of Technology, are currently funded in the same way.
Dublin Institute of Technology stands alone.
The same funding arrangements apply to it as to the other institutes.
The Minister would not win much support for that interpretation of the current situation within the sector.
That is the reality. The higher education section of the Department applies established funding mechanisms and procedures. I do not get involved in the details of the funding of institutes, nor has any other Minister for quite some time. Procedures are in place between the Departments of Finance and Education and Sci ence through which funding is allocated in terms of numbers, staffing, courses and so on. The fact that a particular Act was passed in regard to the Dublin Institute of Technology does not mean it gets a head start on other institutes in terms of staffing and funding.
That may be an over-simplistic view of the situation. An allocation is made in relation to all other institutes of technology.
It is not. All of the institutes submit their budgets to the Department and argue their individual cases. If new programmes are submitted, they will have staffing and funding implications. If this matter were transferred to the HEA, it would be responsible for the distribution of funding.
I take the point that that might be the case in the future. If a particular college or institute of technology is allowed to award its own certificates and diplomas and subsequently wishes to expand, it will be unable to do so if it is kept within the family of institutes of technology in which other institutes are not moving in the same direction. Restrictions would have to be imposed on the type or level of funding such an institute should receive.
That would not be a tenable position. I sense the beginning of a new campaign here. In fairness to him, the Deputy has fulfilled his constituency remit. To suggest that because a particular institution comes under the same legislative framework as other colleges, its capacity for growth is undermined or it is somehow contaminated, is simply untrue. The evidence of the past 18 months proves that.
The reality is that Waterford Institute of Technology has not ever received so much capital or current funding from any previous Government as it has from this one. The current structures did not inhibit that. The establishment of the educational technology investment fund was a great boon for Waterford because it put flesh on the institution's change of title. We can all change names but resources are the bottom line.
We must do away with this business of everyone watching everyone else. There is too much of the attitude in the sector that "if the other gang are not far enough behind me, I am not far enough up the ladder". People are chasing after baubles, rather than concentrating on real issues such as resources.
The Waterford Institute of Technology is doing very well. The objective review carried out on it was very good. The fact that the review was objective is very important. As a Minister from Cork, I cannot interfere in the objective review of the Cork institute. Likewise, I cannot interfere with an objective review of the Waterford institute. It is very important that academic reviews are objective. It is not fair to say that because all of the institutes operate under the aegis of the Department, they are being inhibited in some way. The Waterford Institute of Technology is not being inhibited; it is growing quite dramatically. There is sufficient campus activity in terms of planning and design teams to keep it going for quite a while.
The Minister was incorrect in stating that the institutes of technology come under the same legislation. Separate legislation is in place for the Dublin Institute of Technology. The problem in Waterford relates to regional deficit as distinct from one institution versus another. I put it to the Minister that if Waterford and the south-east region is to raise itself to the necessary level of degree provision, my proposal is the way to go. I am not merely referring to Waterford; the Cork institute might well raise itself to the same standard. If colleges reach a certain standard, their further growth will be inhibited unless they are accorded a stand-alone existence. Any institute which wants to move forward should be able to do so.
I urge Deputies to confine their comments to the content of the amendment.
In deference to the Chair, I will take up this debate again at a later stage with Deputy O'Shea. Institutions will not be held back because they come under the same funding structure. All of the universities operate under the same funding structure.
Deputy O'Shea made a very valid point. Certain institutes of technology, including the Dublin Institute of Technology, to which I referred in my Second Stage speech, do not even have proper computer facilities. Some students only get two hours access per week to computers in spite of the fact that they have an immense amount of project work to complete.
The required funding structure is not in place. The Minister is talking about a new approach and the provision of computer laboratories in Blanchardstown Institute of Technology but this will place it on a different level to some of the other institutes throughout the country which have not been upgraded to the same standard.
I gave a particular example on Second Stage.
Dublin Institute of Technology, Bolton Street. Students only have access to computers one morning per week for one or two hours for project work. The same applies to Athlone Institute of Techology. Deputy O'Shea made a valid point. The development of these institutes has been restricted as the necessary resources are not readily available. Blanchards town Institute of Technology, in which additional resources are to be invested, is located on a 60 acre site.
The largest ever investment programme in institutes of technology is under way. Every campus is being transformed because of the unprecedented level of investment released by the Government under the technology investment fund. More will be done. Extra land has been purchased in Galway, Waterford, Cork and Dublin where Grangegorman is on the agenda. We are doing all we can to increase capacity to allow the institutes to grow.
Perhaps the Minister will consider purchasing a site in Roscommon town for Athlone Institute of Technology.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 5, subsection (4)(c), lines 26 and 27, after "professions" to insert ", local community interests".
If this amendment is accepted, subsection (4)(c) will read:
five persons shall be appointed from among persons nominated for such appointment by such organisations as the Minister considers ought to be represented (having regard to the particular courses provided by the College) on the governing body and which have been invited by the Minister to make such nominations for the purposes of this paragraph, and such organisations shall be representative of industry, agriculture, commerce, the professions, local community interests and other interests which are appropriate to the activities of the College.
The thinking behind this amendment is that there is a great need for full community involvement in the governing body of the new college.
It was our hope that the provision was broad enough to accommodate the Deputy's proposal but I have no difficulty in accepting the amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 6, subsection (8), lines 6 to 8, to delete "an appropriate gender balance as determined by the Minister from time to time" and substitute "that in nominations for appointment under subsections (4)(a), (4)(c) and (5), at least one third or resultant appointments would be of each gender".
Subsection (8) reads:
In making appointments to the governing body pursuant to this section the Minister shall have regard to the extent to which each sex is represented on the governing body and shall ensure an appropriate gender balance as determined by the Minister from time to time.
The current provision introduces a difficult process for the Minister in that he will make appointments from the persons nominated by the various bodies mentioned. There is a need to ensure the process of nomination is governed by a provision which provides for gender balance. A provision which stipulates a balance of one in three would not impose an undue burden. It would mean that where two or three persons are being nominated at least one would have to be female. A difficulty would arise where one person is being nominated, as happened in the case of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Leaving the section vague, however, is not satisfactory. There is a need to introduce a more explicit requirement.
The same wording is used in section 6(5) of the 1992 Regional Technical Colleges Act. The institute is being firmly placed within the same statutory structure. This provision has worked well to date and ensured a gender balance of at least 40 per cent men and 40 per cent women on governing bodies by Government direction. There is no reason to assume that it will not work equally well in Blanchardstown Institute of Technology. The amendment could have a negative effect.
Is the Minister saying that at least 40 per cent of the members of every governing body are women?
The Department recently provided me with a report of a governing body of one of the institutes which I shall not name and, bar one or two, all are male.
I do not want to libel anyone—
In appointing the new governing body of Cork Institute of Technology under the earlier Act the VEC of which I was a member I was informed that the figure of 40 per cent had to be achieved. It was achieved following negotiations with all the nominating bodies. This figure must be achieved on all State boards.
Will the Minister check the position before Report Stage?
That is the position.
The Department provided me with reports of two governing bodies and the figure of 40 per cent has not been achieved in at least one. Perhaps the Minister will clarify before Report Stage that such a direction has been given.
Such a direction has been given.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 6, lines 12 to 21, to delete subsections (10) and (11).
This amendment simply seeks to delete the extension of time for the interim board. Under the amendment, the interim board could exist for two years when the full board would have to apply. Under the Bill, the interim board could last for five years, which is an excessive period. Two years is adequate for the interim board.
It is intended that there would be a full board as soon as the college is established on a statutory basis and students and staff come on stream. It would not be a case of keeping the interim board in place for five or seven years, but the section gives the Minister the flexibility to give the first governing body five years, if necessary, as it would be a green field situation.
I wish to clarify the following point. Is the Minister saying that if there were insufficient staff or students to fill the board after two years and before five years, the board could be left unfilled or fully filled?
The purpose of the section is to allow flexibility. The section establishes the first governing body of the institute in a manner which is as consistent as possible with the Regional Technical Colleges Acts. The term of office of the first members of the first governing body is limited to two years in section 5(9). However, as this is a start-up situation, circumstances may arise in which it would not be advisable to remove a governing body after two years. In such a situation the Minister may extend the term of office for a further period of up to five years. This is the term of office of all governing bodies in the institute of technology sector so it is by no means unreasonably long. An additional safeguard is provided in section 5(11) whereby an order extending the term of office of the governing body will require positive approval by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I too am seeking clarification. My understanding is that the existing Regional Technical College Act provides that the governing body should include two representatives of the academic staff, one of the non-academic staff and two of the student body. What if a governing body passes the two year mark without including representatives of staff and students? Could such a body fail to trigger section 5(5), or give the Minister notice that it wants to appoint the staff and student representatives and obtain another five years without the appropriate, balanced representations of staff and students? That seems a valid concern.
It can only obtain another three years on top of the two years.
Can the Minister give an assurance that there will have to be a balanced board before any extension is given? We are allowing the governing body to be established without student or staff representation. We do not want to see extensions provided without such representation. That would be ludicrous.
That is obvious.
It seems possible from reading the Bill.
The Minister would have certain powers regarding this matter. It would be unthinkable for a Minister to approve of a situation in which student or staff representatives were not on the board.
I do not intend to pursue the amendment. On balance, the Minister's suggestion seems to have merit as the college develops. I do not know how it can be done, but I want to guard against a situation in which, for example, the academic staff is not amenable to student representations and finds methods of prevaricating so that the agenda cannot move forward. The concept of all sections moving forward is important. I can see practical difficulties arising. However, we need to guard against unnecessary delays in appointing student and staff representatives. I agree with the principle of allowing room to develop but I am a little concerned that three years allows for some type of exploitation of the situation, if some individuals are so disposed.
I wish to refer to section 5(4)(a) dealing with the nomination of appointees by County Dublin Vocational Education Committee. Blanchardstown is on the border of County Dublin and County Meath. Why was County Meath VEC not included? I have not been prompted by Deputy Bruton but County Meath VEC should be represented as many of the students will probably come from that county.
Section 5(14) deals with this issue. It states:
If the region likely, in the opinion of the Minister, to be served by the College includes all or part of the functional area of one or more than one vocational education committee, other than the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee, the Minister may direct that one or more than one, but not more than four in all, of the persons to whom paragraph (a) of subsection (4) relates, shall be nominated by such of those other committees as the Minister may specify.
I note that section. The trouble is that we are talking about "likely" and "may". There will be many students from County Meath as Blanchardstown is on the county border. It would be similar to reconstituting the governing body of Athlone Institute of Technology without including anyone from County Roscommon, which is two miles away. That would not make sense. The Minister should consider this issue.
I also wish to refer to the matter of student representation on the governing body, dealt with in section 5(5). The academic staff on the governing body of some colleges may not be amenable to student representation. I am aware of one university in which the president of the student union, who is automatically a member of the governing body, did not become a member of the governing body for eight months. The president was elected in March, took office in July but was not a member of the governing body until the following January. The previous union president had already left college so there was no student representative on the governing body for six to eight months. That student representative then left after a few months so the president of the student union was only there for a couple of months when her term of office expired.
This is the problem with the original Act which stipulates that two persons, one woman and one man, being registered students of the college, shall be chosen in accordance with regulations made by the governing body. I am dubious about the intentions of some governing bodies. This may not happen again but it has happened and we want to avoid a recurrence. The Minister should examine the legislation to see if we can include such a safeguard in the Bill. It is crucially important that students are represented on the governing body. I made this point on the Education Bill and the Minister is very positive on this matter.