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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Vol. 619 No. 5

Institutes of Technology Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. There is a certain sense of déjà vu about some of the contributions to date. I was not in the House when the original Dublin Institute of Technology Bill was debated. However, I was a member of the City of Dublin VEC and was chairman of the governing body of the DIT at that time.

I compliment Deputy Burton on her, as usual, coherent and incisive contribution to the debate. There are two areas where I disagree with her, which will come as no great surprise. I am an unreconstructed opponent of the abolition of third level fees, but I will argue my point in that regard later. The other issue is the binary system. I do not want us to go down the road taken by the United Kingdom, where it has been an enormous mistake.

There is no doubt that the landscape of further and higher education has been dramatically transformed in recent years. As Deputy Burton and others have said, the institutes of technology and their precursors, the regional technical colleges, played no small part in that. We should pay tribute to the contribution of those who ran the RTCs in the days when money was not plentiful. They built them up and managed to transform the local economies which they served. As Deputy Burton and others stated, without them places such as the hinterlands of Tralee, Athlone, Sligo, Letterkenny and elsewhere would not have been able to benefit from the opportunities provided by a growing economy. The vocational education committees were very vilified organisations. However, their chief executive officers and members were a bunch of adventurers because they were willing to try out educational opportunities and provide them at a time when the universities were not prepared to do so. Maynooth and others provided outreach courses in adult education, but that was the height of it. The VECs and regional technical colleges certainly did and built up a very high level of participation in higher and third level education, which few enough people probably envisaged.

I remember when the Bill was originally drafted. Many of the staff and academics in Dublin Institute of Technology and the institutes of technology could not wait to get out of the clutch of the City of Dublin VEC and other VECs because they felt they needed a more enabling and freer environment. The VECs also recognised that. The ITs have grown and developed and the contribution they have made has been phenomenal.

The part which the European Social Fund played can never be underestimated. When the opportunity of that funding was presented, very good use was made of it. We are now at a time when the Government is anxious to provide greater autonomy, flexibility, access to funding and other assistance which is necessary for the ITs to develop further. When this legislation is passed and DIT and the ITs are within the ambit of the HEA, they will begin to develop and grow even further.

I wish to put down this caveat, and Deputy Burton made a similar suggestion. The ITs must be very careful when they are within the HEA that they are not shouldered out of the rich pickings which the university sector is a past master at getting for itself. Perhaps reform of the HEA might be prudent to ensure parity of esteem and equality. The lure of potential funding is great and I hope it is not the only reason the ITs and DIT want to come within the ambit of the HEA. While they will thrive, they will also experience a sharp learning curve and will need to be very careful.

While I hope the binary system will continue, its preservation faces danger. I am not hugely wedded to a unitary system of education. However, I believe the traditional university sector and the newer providers of higher education have served this country well. Others mentioned hands-on research, the provision of smaller class groups and the possibility of having a wider range of courses. Deputy Burton is correct to state that Cork, Waterford and all other institutes of technology are great examples of what can be achieved by that type of innovative approach.

The academic councils which have emerged in the IT sector have shown what is possible. If one looks across the water and examines what the polytechnics did prior to becoming universities, one sees they did a much better job of reflecting the needs of their regions than they do now. They are hidebound by procedure and I am not certain that the issue of reflecting the needs of their communities, and they can speak for themselves, is adequately addressed.

The other danger in abandoning the binary system is the tendency towards upward academic drift. A great deal of research evidence shows this. I strongly support research-based activity, such as more masters and doctorates, in the IT sector. However, I am also concerned that those at the lower end of the academic stream, such as apprenticeship, certificate and diploma education, will not get the same prominence and attention in a single system. That danger exists within the HEA.

My principal experience is through the DIT. I was always very conscious that the DIT provided a platform for apprenticeship education for one and two-year diplomas and for part-time education. I always felt it was great that one could become an architect in Bolton Street by studying on a part-time basis. One could move from being a carpenter through the apprenticeship school and the FÁS system into full-time education if one chose to do so.

I am concerned that area of education may not be given the concentration it deserves. Areas of this country, including parts of Dublin, have a low level of third level participation. In my humble opinion, one of the great ways to attract people into mainstream third level education is to provide this ladder of opportunity. I acknowledge that HETAC and FETAC do a very good job in developing that ladder of opportunity. However, it is in its early stages and while the vertical trip can be done reasonably well, I am not sure it is possible to enter on different stages of the ladder.

I give credit to the VECs for identifying the emerging further education sector as an area of educational need. However, there is a need to link it more closely with mainstream third level education. When we tried to get funding for non-mainstream courses in the DIT from the Department, all sorts of questions were raised and hurdles presented as to whether a course could be validated or met the needs of specific sections of the community. A certain level of experimentation is required to allow the further education sector to develop. The next area on which we must concentrate is validating the further education sector as the entry point for many people who otherwise find entry to third level quite difficult.

Regarding the origins of the report, people in Government know if the OECD is asked to carry out a report, it will be carried out. In some respects perhaps its findings are those it has been hinted we would like to see as outcomes of the report. Nonetheless, that is where we are at. The report is good and the reasons for moving in the direction we have taken are worthwhile and valid.

I have never been convinced that just because PhDs and high end research take place, a facility should become a university. Waterford and the DIT are campaigning for this. It is regrettable that not one of our existing universities is in the top end of the world class league. Why do we need to add to that sector a further group of struggling quasi-universities? I suggest to DIT and others that they wait for the situation to develop academically by way of course provision and through a track record. Within ten years it is very likely these institutes will become universities, if not in name, in all but name. MIT has managed to do a very good job on the world academic stage without being called a university. That is a note of caution.

With regard to Deputy Burton's point on participation in education, it is true there is an increasing level of participation in third level education. We can see it everywhere. We should identify the types of courses in which some of the new entrants are engaged. It is important to acknowledge that many of these are one and two year courses. Some are sub-degree courses. This is important, and it takes a generation for us to improve participation.

With regard to fees, I have always held the view that those in high income brackets, like ourselves, ought to pay for education. The resources which would be freed up by people like us and those more wealthy than us should be made available to provide supports for those at the entry points of third level education. I have stated repeatedly, here and elsewhere, that it is unfair that the son or daughter of a person working in a bar, for example, cannot get a maintenance grant, but the son or daughter of the person who owns the bar, as it is incorporated as a company, can get it. It is unfair and the issue must be examined. The Minister is considering it.

The coherence brought about by this move is important. It will not happen just because we wish it to. There was an article in yesterday's The Irish Times by the director of the institute in Dún Laoghaire which raised many of the issues raised by people here. We may not need to be all that worried about whether people know that the institutes exist. It may be a question of branding. As the problem exists, it may need to be considered, especially if awareness is as low as 35%.

There may be a need to examine where the lack of awareness comes from. There has been a tendency, although it may be changing, for career guidance counsellors in second level schools to put less emphasis on the opportunities available in the institutes of technology side of higher education. There is a tendency to advise students to go to one of the more traditional universities because of its reputation and links etc., as there is a notion the student will probably fare better.

The governing bodies of the institutes of technology must have a significant number of "heavy hitters" who are from the local industrial base. I commend the Minister on the welcome move of considering this. As far as I know, the vast majority of the chairs of the boards of the institutes are now drawn from the industrial sector. If people from the industrial hinterland are around, they will be able to do a number of things. It is a confidence building measure, which is important to any academic institution, and the governing body would be able to find ways of accessing research funds etc.

On the other hand there is an argument regarding whether the balance between private and public funding is right. It probably is not, but I am not sure how it could be redressed in the short term. Having strong people on the governing body will give some clout to the institutes of technology, which they need to establish themselves and attract funding.

The issue of drop-out rates has often been mentioned with regard to institutes of technology. It has been an unfair criticism. The resources which have been allocated for support services have never been the same as they have been in the broader third level sector. I was always critical that there was only a token medical service and student support service when I was associated with DIT. We were putting it together incrementally, and I know there is a better service there now. As a result, there is a better level of student retention in that sector. This must continue.

I have doubts with regard to linkages with second level schools. Working within the HEA sector, there is a danger such linkages would not be forged as well as I would like. I have a recollection of what occurred previous to the other institutes of technology Acts being enacted. I was a member of the academic council in DIT at the time, and we had developed a weighting of points scheme with the advice of a person who was an education officer in the City of Dublin VEC at the time, and he went on to work in the third level sector. I believed it to be a good scheme, as the weighting of points would top up a student's leaving certificate points, thereby giving assistance in getting into a course. That was dropped very quickly as soon as the institutes of technology were distanced from the VECs. I am concerned that such a sundering of the link between second and third levels might continue.

The investment in premises and plant will be necessary, although the institutes of technology have benefitted enormously in recent years from Government support. There is a multi-million euro package of capital investment in the institutes of technology, but they need more. For example, they are still lagging behind universities with regard to library and IT services.

There are innovative ways of trying to get funding, but sometimes the funding is limited to a number of years, or perhaps to a particularly enlightened chief executive of a large multinational company. When that person moves on to greater things, going back to the United States, for example, the funding is in jeopardy. This is a matter with which the institutes of technology should be careful, in order that they are not caught in a trap.

I strongly support the Bill, with the caveat that the HEA is not just a cosy club. There should be vibrant interaction between participants from the traditional sector and the new providers of further education. If it is possible to get that mix right, I have no doubt the growth of third level education can continue. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, made significant provision with the Minister for Education and Science in the recent budget for the research area. That must continue, as unless we have a new research and skills base, we will not be able to compete with the new arrivals in the area of the knowledge economy, which includes areas such as biotechnology.

I strongly commend the Minister's initiative in bringing this Bill forward. I wish the higher education sector well, and I wish increasing progress to the institutes of technology sector. If it can develop incrementally as well as it has since the regional technical colleges arrived in all towns on the backs of lorries — they were prefabricated buildings — there is a bright future for third level education and, more importantly, the consumers of third level education.

I wish to share time with Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Previous speakers have declared an interest in terms of working with various institutes of technology. Some have participated on governing bodies. My particular interest derives from the fact that I twice attended an institute of technology. I welcome the introduction of a Bill that raises standards and gives adequate recognition to the qualifications that are offered by institutes of technology.

However, we need a wider debate on Second Stage on the role of institutes of technology within the wider third level sector. To paraphrase George Orwell, some third level institutions are "more different than others". Very often the status that attaches to university education still remains resolutely unattached to institutes of technology, despite the fine work that is being done there and the highly skilled people who emerge from them.

My attendance at what was then Cork Regional Technical College was first on a course in business studies and then, after a damascene conversion a number of years later, a course in child care. I have always thought that made me qualified to sell babies. I have always been grateful for the years I spent in Cork RTC, which has subsequently become Cork Institute of Technology, because of the many ideas that I gained from my time there, especially in the second period. It was not much of a wrench to return to third level education during the 1980s because there were no jobs. Enrolling in third level education was an opportunity that might otherwise not have existed.

The institutes of technology have always been innovative and flexible in developing new courses in ways the university sector has been unable to do. The child care course I took was, in effect, a course in community care and has subsequently officially become that. In Irish education at that time, however, there was no standardised third level qualification which recognised the desire of people who wanted to work in youth and community work. Now there is a basket of choices in that regard but it was the RTC or IT sector that first developed that work. That is why it is frustrating when the drafters of various Bills before this House, of which there was an example a number of months ago, provide, at the behest of the Department of Education and Science, that there be a number of representatives of the third level sector on registration boards for particular areas.

In the past I and other Members tried to amend such provisions to allow equal representation of the IT sector to the university sector but the Minister and her predecessor were not amenable to that. When legislation is left vague the representatives tend to be drawn from the university sector rather than that of the institutes of technology. If we are serious about this legislation we must ensure equal recognition.

The question has been asked whether institutes of technology are equal among themselves. I welcome the provision in this Bill to declare the constituent parts of Cork Institute of Technology members of the institute as a whole. These include the Crawford College of Art and Design, the Cork School of Music and the National Maritime College. That an educational institution can be so broad in terms of the courses it offers, its qualifications, the number of students attending and the number of staff working there indicates there are differences between institutes of technology. A Bill such as this, with its one size fits all approach, may not properly address that.

It is important that the Higher Education Authority is given a remit to endorse qualifications and standards from institutes of technology. If we want to avoid the experience of Britain from the 1970s, where polytechnic colleges became universities lite, and to maintain the distinction between education in institutes of technology and universities, we must find a middle way between the practice where universities can award qualifications independently, but for the most part, institutes of technology must refer to a body such as the Higher Education Authority. Speaking parochially, and as a representative of a Cork constituency, the Cork Institute of Technology has the right to be a self-awarding institution, without assuming university status. I would like this Bill to have addressed questions like that because the third level sector should be as far from a one size fits all approach as possible.

What is the Government's priority? It is all very well to produce legislation that sets out a reporting and awarding procedure in a particular education sector but we also need to know if the Government is serious about allocating resources in a fair and proportionate way. There is a sense that, whether in primary, secondary, further, higher or third level education, imbalances exist, which this Government's policies seem only to exacerbate. The emphasis on fourth level education in the last budget risks leaving many people behind. We have unacceptably high levels of functional illiteracy and, despite free university tuition and education grants, access to education is still denied to many. Recent studies show that many years after the policy of free university tuition was introduced, as few as 8% of the people in the area immediately next door to University College Cork attend the college, which is not in my constituency but across the river. That indicates systemic problems with how people access education.

Where a person lives determines the type of primary, secondary, further and, if they are lucky, higher education they receive. The Government is failing spectacularly in that regard but is silent on the issue. Education adds to the individual for the benefit of society, but the education philosophy of the Government is still geared towards the economic rather than the social advantages.

In general this is a Bill that deals with technical details and tidies up some of the legal anomalies that put institutes of technology in a difficult situation. It constitutes, however, the bare minimum. I would like to have seen more boldness, innovation and radicalism, though I am not sure I want to encourage radicalism in this Government. There is another way to deliver education and if it was more evident on the benches opposite I would be more confident of having better legislation.

This Bill deals with the institutional arrangements for a sector which has evolved over many years and made a significant contribution to third level education. It would be difficult to imagine the third level sector without the institutes of technology and many of the provisions of the Bill are welcome in that they make arrangements for further progress to be made in this area.

In the pre-Celtic tiger days, when there were queues at the unemployment offices and the ports were full of those seeking opportunities in other countries, one group of colleges, the regional technical colleges, was producing graduates who found it easier than others to secure work in the economic climate of the time because they possessed relevant skills. The RTCs have since transformed into institutes of technology which have continued to cater for the needs of those seeking education to gain employment and have maintained links with industry, an approach that has worked well.

The institutes of technology complement the university sector, thus creating a clear space for them as individual entities. This contrasts with the position in the United Kingdom where the polytechnic sector was amalgamated with the university sector. A strong argument can be made for maintaining and expanding the independence of the institutes, and this is the clear purpose of the legislation.

I read the article on institutes of technology which featured in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times. It can be difficult to construct a corporate identity when a sector is spread over a series of campuses, each of which comes under a separate authority. The Dublin Institute of Technology’s physical move to Grangegorman is a step in the right direction in that it will consolidate the identity of the institute in the capital. This consolidation stands side by side with a real example of decentralisation in action. It would be difficult to imagine towns and cities such as Carlow, Waterford and Athlone without institutes of technology. In this respect, I am surprised that spontaneous recognition of the sector is as low as one third of the population, given the number of people who have studied or are studying in the institutes. I was also surprised to learn that 90,000 students are enrolled in the institutes, a figure equivalent to the population of a decent-sized county.

A measure of the importance of the institutes of technology and university sector is that counties which do not have ITs view the establishment of such an institution as a fundamental necessity given the proven linkage between having a third level institution and the ability to generate employment. Their role in creating research and development linkages is also important.

While I welcome the Bill, a number of problems have been highlighted. The Teachers Union of Ireland, although it welcomes the Bill, has expressed disappointment and concern about the diminution of security of employment for future appointees in institutes of technology. The union has highlighted the difference in job security between future employees of institutes of technology and employees in the university sector for whom the concept of tenure is enshrined in legislation. The TUI describes the statutory right to tenure as an essential bulwark for academic freedom. Such a right could be enshrined in the legislation by way of amendment, but this hinges on whether the Government views the role of the institutes as equal to that of the universities. If it takes this view, academic freedom will be an essential requirement if institutes and universities are to operate on an equal basis. The fears in the sector concerning security of employment must be addressed.

The institutes of technology have already established a pattern of accommodating students from disadvantaged backgrounds and I have no doubt this trend will continue. I also welcome that this function is provided for in legislation. It is essential for those with disabilities that adequate financial provision is made to ensure their inclusion. With significantly more funding available to the university sector in this respect, the funding issue for institutes of technology will need to be addressed if inclusion in this sector is to materialise.

The flexibility afforded to students, many of whom study part-time, is an important component in the education system. With jobs for life no longer available, it is vital that workers are facilitated to engage in life-long learning. Co-operation between institutes of technology allows students to accumulate credits towards academic qualifications which are recognised nationally and internationally.

From my dialogue with some of the industries located in my constituency, I am aware that specific courses are designed with the needs of employees and industry in mind. This approach works very well and benefits both parties. The institutes of technology have been at the forefront of developing such linkages.

The institutes of technology developed out of the regional technical colleges when the need to develop the sector was identified on the basis of a bottom-up approach. The post-leaving certificate, PLC, sector has developed in much the same fashion. In light of the perceived lack of commitment to deliver on the recommendations of the McIver report, what was the purpose of commissioning the report in the first instance? One expects that reports are commissioned with a view to completing the project in question. A timeframe for the implementation of the McIver report must be announced soon if the widespread frustration in the PLC sector is to be addressed.

Under the new arrangements students should be a given a role on the boards of the institutes of technology because students are a key component in feeding information to boards and ensuring they are inclusive.

It is difficult to understand the reason certain graduates are precluded from participating in Seanad elections while others, with whom they compete in the jobs market and every other walk of life on an equal basis, have a right to vote in them. Given that graduates have equal qualifications, all of them should be entitled to participate in Seanad elections. While I favour extensive reform of the Seanad, at a minimum, this inequality should cease.

Bills of this nature show the House in its best light. This Bill, for example, gives Deputies an opportunity to work together for the betterment of the institutes of technology sector. It is clear from the contributions of Opposition Members that their views do not differ from those Government Members.

We are all conscious of the role the institutes of technology have played and will continue to play in third level education and this legislation facilitates them in fulfilling their role with greater power and confidence. As Jim Devine, chairman of the council of directors of institutes of technology, noted in a newspaper article published yesterday and referred to in this House, the institutes are different but equal. It is important that the Bill enhances the status of the institutes of technology and gives them autonomy. It is also vital that any organisation seeking to provide educational courses should be autonomous and have the ability to determine and award its own degrees.

I listened with interest to Deputy Boyle's contribution in which he made valid points about the need for organisations to be able to award their own degrees. The Bill will deal with this area. I also agree with the previous two speakers who said that the effect of the Bill will be much more positive than the development of the third level education sector in the United Kingdom where polytechnics were amalgamated with universities. The method proposed in this legislation is a better way.

A refreshing aspect of the education provided by institutes of technology is their close collaboration with industry. In my constituency, the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology provides a good example of this. It is a pioneering institute in the area of digital media, including photography. As the institute develops, we are getting great incubation spaces for the key element of research. Students are learning about the cutting edge of technology and its close application to industry. That is vital as we develop our knowledge economy, which is where Ireland needs to prosper if we are to make further progress.

My one concern is that institutes of technology have not had tremendous success in gaining access to research and development funding, which is worrying. Nonetheless, the Government has demonstrated its commitment to research and development, especially in the previous budget with the development of the strategic initiative fund. Concerns have been expressed that before we develop fourth level education, we need to ensure that primary, secondary and tertiary education are well resourced. It is one of those radical measures that Deputy Boyle was lamenting the Government does not have enough of and, from time to time, I share that sentiment.

It is important to get added value from our education sector. Looking back, anyone would recognise that Ireland's economic success was built on the education system provided to citizens from the 1960s to date. This includes the measures initiated by the Labour Party when last in Government, such as the abolition of third level fees.

The disparity of access to research funding between the university and IT sectors is slightly worrying. A report commissioned by the institutes of technology entitled Building Research Capacity indicated that while 44% of all new entrants to higher education have entered institutes of technology, such institutes' access to funding has been minuscule. The report stated that of a total research funding by PRTLI to date of €600 million, the institutes have received €14.5 million or 2.5%. The institutes have received 1.5% of capital expenditure. It is no wonder, therefore, that this causes a certain level of concern in the IT sector which feels at a significant disadvantage given that it caters for 44% of all new third level entrants.

Deputy Boyle asked how we can redress that imbalance. The ITs provide an excellent service so we must ensure that they also have access to research and development funds. We need to be careful in examining how that can be done. All research funding should be allocated on a competitive basis but the statistics are worrying. We should try to address this matter within the provisions of the Bill. We are all used to flying the flag for our constituencies.

Indeed we are.

The Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology is an extraordinary establishment in many ways. I am familiar with the Minister of State's institute of technology in Galway, which is a fine establishment and, like the Dún Laoghaire one, a fine building has been provided for it. The Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology has 1,500 students. It has provided cutting-edge research in digital performance, not just concerning the arts but also business and new technology. It has provided a very good service with added value not just for our local area but for the country generally.

I met the institute's administrators during the week and they said that the autonomy provided for in this legislation will allow the establishment to grow and become more audacious. We need to cultivate such boldness in the institutes of technology and freeing them from direct ministerial control will facilitate that process.

The provisions of the Bill will lighten the load of external regulation, allowing the institutes to deliver what the OECD report identified as their pivotal role in addressing the knowledge economy. The provisions will also enable the institutes to respond quickly and efficiently to national and regional needs. For all these reasons, the Bill should be supported.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on the Institutes of Technology Bill 2006. Higher education in Ireland has undergone a major transformation over the past generation. Considerably more than half of school leavers now proceed to third level compared with just 20% in 1980. The institutes of technology have been at the centre of this remarkable expansion which has, in turn, been a key factor in our current economic success.

The institutes have done a first class job in responding to the need for economy-linked skills. This success has led to dramatic growth in student numbers, the range and level of courses provided and the development of concentrated research strength. Awards from sub-degree to doctoral level are now made in the IT sector. These are rigorously quality assured and retain a vital relevance to wider social and economic needs. The institutes now have a vital role as we look to the higher education system to support our wider national objectives for social and economic development in the new knowledge age.

Over the past ten years in particular, the institutes have built a strong reputation, engaging in applied and basic research and technology transfer programmes with industry. The institutes, which have only been a feature of Irish higher education since the 1970s, have demonstrated the ability to respond to economic changes in a regional, national and international context.

The technological sector now accounts for almost 50% of those pursuing third level educational qualifications in Ireland. The chief executive of IDA Ireland, Sean Dorgan, praised the institutes for their "real world" quality, their openness and accessibility, and for how they cater so flexibly for so many ambitions and needs. They are relevant, connected and responsive to changing demands and expectations. The institutes also reflect many of the features that make Ireland attractive — our creativity and ability to initiate and innovate without waiting for direction, our agility and ambition, and our continuing wish to improve.

Mr. Dorgan also noted how all the qualities and work of the institutes are essential for our future as global competition is ongoing and relentless. We need to step up the skills of everyone, from bricklayers to biochemists, receptionists to researchers, so that we can fulfil the potential and satisfy the aspirations of all in society. Yet, surprisingly, there is a feeling that the institutes of technology need better public relations and that they are not universally recognised or acknowledged for their many attributes.

Two weeks ago a national institutes of technology survey was published which showed that the institutes have a surprisingly low profile. Apparently, only 35% of people are aware of the institutes of technology when spontaneously asked, although awareness does rise to 85% once prompted, and is higher in areas near a campus. According to Jim Devine, chairman of the council of directors of the institutes of technology: "The trouble is, the public is still not as aware as we would like it to be, and that is a challenge we as a group aim to take up."

The report's authors note that there is uncertainty in the public mind as to how many institutes of technology there are and whether each is independent or if they operate as a group. Some 55% of people are aware that institutes award nationally recognised qualifications but just 35% realise the institutes award internationally recognised qualifications. Just 42% of those surveyed were aware of the honours degree courses offered by institutes and a mere 14% of the public seemed to be aware of the significant contribution being made by the institutes at postgraduate or fourth level. This clearly is an issue we will have to address as we seek to build and develop a knowledge economy in Ireland. The serious intent of the Government to do this was highlighted in last December's budget.

Many believe that our economic success has been caused by our low tax policies and there is no doubt of the major contribution these have made, but a huge indicator of our economic success has been the exceptional wealth of intellectual capital available to investors, whether domestic or from overseas. Ireland has become synonymous with the quality of its graduates.

The basis for future growth and prosperity is investment in the knowledge, skills and innovation capacity that will drive economic and social development in an increasingly competitive environment. The higher education system must deliver people who will expand knowledge-based business located in Ireland. This will require substantial change and quality improvement in universities and centres of higher learning and the promotion of system-wide collaboration that can draw on the collective strengths of the institutes of technology.

In budget 2006, a commitment was made to the establishment of a new PhD level of education, a fourth level. Last year the Minister for Education and Science signalled the Government's intention to create a multi-annual strategic innovation fund for higher education. To achieve what we must achieve will require a commitment to substantial change in all our third level institutions. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, noted:

We must strip out unnecessary duplication. There must be an appetite from within the sector itself for greater collaboration. This is a small country. It is not sensible to have our third level institutions pitched against each other across all key disciplines. Instead, what we need is the promotion of a system-wide collaboration that can draw on the collective strengths of all of our third level institutions [universities and institutes of technology].

We are competing in a global world. To compete and to retain the strength of our offer demands an investment in the knowledge, skills and innovation capacity of this nation. Our edge in education is being challenged not just by the established sources of excellence but also by emerging nations across the globe. The Government believes such a programme is fundamental to our economic and social development and the allocation of €300 million to the strategic innovation fund for higher education over the next five years is a real statement of intent.

In addition, it is essential that investment in modern facilities is maintained in university and institute of technology campuses around the country. As a result, we are committing €900 million to the third level sector over the next five years as part of the Department of Education and Science capital envelope. The physical development will have to reflect the changed approach whereby there must be greater co-operation between the institutions involved. This brings planned investment in capital spend and the strategic innovation fund for third level to €1.2 billion over the period 2006 to 2010.

These strands of planned investment in higher education form a core element of the Government's strategy for developing skills and competencies. This will be an important element of the investment strategy for the new national development plan. The landmark OECD report on third level education recommended greater freedom and autonomy for the institutes, which is what we are dealing with in the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to give statutory effect to the Government policy of transferring responsibility for the day-to-day management of the institutes of technology from the Department of Education and Science to the Higher Education Authority. The overall thrust of the Bill is to facilitate the designation of the institutes of technology under the Higher Education Authority and to remove the Minister and the vocational education committees from the normal operational activities of the institutes, thus providing greater autonomy for the institutes to fulfil their missions.

The provisions in the Bill signify a fundamental change in the management of third level education. The Bill will produce a unified framework for higher education. For the first time the 14 institutes of technology and the seven universities will come under the control of one body, the Higher Education Authority. At present the institutes are managed by the Department of Education and Science. The Higher Education Authority currently has responsibility for universities only. The Bill will also extend significant new managerial and academic autonomy to the institutes of technology, which is aimed at facilitating further development of their roles. A key aspect of the Bill is the freedom it will give the institutes of technology. In the past there has been criticism that the Department's control of the institutes restricted them from developing further.

The Bill will allow for a cohesive approach to the considered development of higher education, drawing on the various strengths of all our universities and institutes. There is no doubt this is a landmark Bill which will provide our institutes of technology with a managerial freedom and support they will require as they enter the next phase of development. The Bill provides the institutes of technology with the recognition they deserve. They have contributed enormously over the years to Irish society and the current economic boom. I commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputy Timmins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I join other speakers in welcoming the Bill. As one who has spent a long time in the House, I believe there was genuine debate on the subject, which is close to the hearts of many. Many speakers came at the issue from different angles during the debate, including some who had spent time as lecturers, graduates and board members. I have been around so long I still regard the institutes as RTCs.

The Government has got it right in this regard. The proper place for the institutes of technology is within the remit of the Higher Education Authority. To explain the matter from my vantage point, it reminds me of two blades of grass emanating from the same stem, but they will never be the same. They will always have different characteristics but they can co-exist under the remit of the Higher Education Authority. I congratulate Deputy Carey on his excellent contribution. He has an in depth knowledge of how the system works.

There are some in-built problems for the institutes of technology in their new home, but that is to be expected. I shall refer to some of those problems in a moment.

The history of the institutes of technology goes back to the original eight regional technical colleges. I was education officer with Macra na Feirme when they were introduced in 1970. If ever there was a need in Irish education it was for regional technical colleges. There was no place for those who were outside the normal vein — either one got to university or one did not get a third level place. At that time there were no travel arrangements with the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland universities, but we have come a long way since then.

Looking at the eight locations of the regional technical colleges it is clear they have become vibrant centres for economic development, although many others have since been established. This is not an anti-university debate. We are proud of the university structure here. On a parochial level I am proud of NUI Galway which has taken its place on the world stage. I am equally proud of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and Athlone Institute of Technology as they are the two about which I am most familiar. Those two institutes have very different characters. While both are located in the west they cater for different aspects of education.

Usually when one thinks of Athlone Institute of Technology one thinks of the technology of plastics which it has pioneered down through the years. It is easy to see the connection between some of the industries in that midland region and the place where they started in the plastics industry. From a Galway point of view, it has had a major success with the development of Galway city and its environs. A definite type of graduate comes through the system in the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

It has been graphically stated that when the institutes of technology go to their new home they will be rubbing shoulders with the university sector, but as far as research and funding for same is concerned, they are the poor relation. That cannot be allowed to continue. For a number of years some of the institutes were in the market for the funding which universities have been so good at securing through the industrial sector. The universities have a network through which they are able to get that funding and they have been extraordinarily good at it. The institutes of technology will have to be given more or less the same route to such funding. I cannot see them being able to acquire the same level of funding as universities for many years. Institutes of technology get only 1%, 2%, 3% or 4% of what universities have been able to get.

Incidentally, why are the new directors of the institutes of technology not called presidents? The connotation of director might be that one is on the board of directors or that one is the chief executive. If one is on the American scene with potential investors or people who want to be connected financially with such an institution, a telephone call from the president, rather than the director, of the local institute of technology would carry more weight. While that is a small issue it is an important one. I do not understand the reason they are not given the title of president.

As regards what the institutes of technology should do, I have always believed that for young people starting out it is about what the educators are able to do with them when they walk through the gate on their first morning at third level that is important. It is not about the directors, the board of directors or the governors. I have said down through the years that from the young person's point of view it is not from where they started but where they finish that is important. We are all aware of the wide range of capabilities in families, some of whom have no trouble academically getting through all the way up to university. There are also those who struggle but get a foothold on the ladder without a great leaving certificate. They complete a certificate course in one of the institutes of technology and if they have a belief and a confidence they will succeed.

In hundreds of cases I have had the great pleasure of being with these young people on the occasion of a postgraduate conferring at the local university. It is a long journey but there is no problem in the end provided they are serious about it. I give the gold medal to the institutes of technology. Were it not for the fact that they were involved at that level and were able to dovetail the various capabilities of the students with the particular courses, they would not have been so successful. Nowadays there is a great deal of sideways movement. That many students have access to the institutes of technology is important. There are many people who if they hear or read this debate will understand what we are getting at. That is the reason I hope there is never an ultimate merger between the institutes of technology and the universities. There are horses for courses. However, that does not mean one is better than the other. Rather it is what is done for students that counts. I hope the Higher Education Authority will have the ability to see the best possible opportunities for the institutes of technology in their new role.

We are lucky in that many people are at work, including many young people. I guarantee that most of the people of whom I speak today will still be working in 20 years' time. They will not be doing the same job, however — they certainly will not be doing it in the same way. Whatever problems we had retraining in the past, they were nothing compared to what we will have to do in the next 20 years — upscaling and so on. If ever there was a role for the institutes of technology, it is in this area.

I am very impressed with the GMIT in Galway, for example. The chairman of its board of directors, Rory O'Connor, the managing director of Hewlett Packard, sends out the message that it wants a close connection with the industrial world. When such people are linked to a college, funding will certainly be available from outside for research as well as from inside, from the HEA. It is against that background that I see a brilliant future for the institutes of technology.

I have been around since the formation of what were called the regional technical colleges. They are being put on a proper footing. They will stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in education in this country. Of course they will not be an answer to all our problems but there is a great niche for them. I hope that funding will come their way in an easier manner than before. With the commitment, the expertise and the absolute sincerity, which is evident on conferring day — I had the great pleasure of seeing members of my family and others celebrate on such days — there is a great future for the institutes of technology. On this occasion, the Government has got it right.

There is broad welcome for this Bill. I will concentrate on some specific aspects and on education in general.

The Schedule states that the director of an institute of technology shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government, or a Minister of the Government, or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy. The Government will argue that is a long-standing convention with respect to the Civil Service, but it appears to be a draconian measure. If that applied to Iraq or the former Soviet bloc, we would be a little startled. That the directors of the newly developed institutes will not be allowed express an opinion on policy is a barrier that must be broken down. This Bill would have been an ideal opportunity to start that breakdown. My party will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage to deal with that and I hope that the Government will look at it in a positive manner. Otherwise we will ask in the future how we put up with such a situation. We must examine that convention right across the Civil Service. If Secretaries General of Departments were allowed speak publicly about issues such as decentralisation, we might adopt a different attitude.

I hope this Bill will be a precursor to allowing graduates from institutes of technology to vote in Seanad elections, and that they will not be kept as the preserve of a few universities. Society has evolved and I ask the Minister for Education and Science, in conjunction with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to consider permitting graduates of these colleges, the former regional technical colleges and ITs, now the institutes of technology, to vote in Seanad elections.

In her speech, the Minister referred to access to third level education and stated that all our citizens should have a fair and equal opportunity to share in the considerable personal benefits of participation at these levels. I acknowledge participation has increased from 44% in 1998 to the present 55%, but in vast areas of the country, it is very low. While it is important to put funding into third level, until such time as we provide sufficient funding for educational disadvantage at the initial stages of education, we will hinder many people with educational difficulties. Such people generally come from poorer backgrounds because people with money can pay for intervention. Until that is done, there will always be that disadvantage.

For a number of years I have been talking of literacy difficulties. We do not have the ability in our educational system, due to the curriculum in the teaching colleges, to identify literacy difficulties. This leads to juvenile delinquency. I asked the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, to initiate research on the issue to find the correlation between literacy difficulties and juvenile delinquency, because I believe there is a strong correlation. In a few years' time we will see possibly a "Prime Time" programme, with dramatic music, showing what has been "discovered", when many of us know the situation has existed for years.

My county of Wicklow, which borders many counties and is divided geographically, does not have a third level institution, either a university or an institute of technology. The county is generally served by Carlow, Tallaght, Waterford and Dún Laoghaire. The local authority has taken an initiative to purchase the old Claremont convent in Rathnew. We are hoping to establish a third level outreach centre with the institute of technology in Carlow and I ask the Minister to give whatever support she can to its establishment. Access to third level from Wicklow is down the list. We are possibly in the bottom quarter of counties with regard to third level access. Due to historical reasons, we did not have educational facilities.

Deputy Carey spoke of third level funding. There are mixed views on this. There was much merit in Deputy Carey's argument that, for example, a bar owner might get an educational grant while the bar worker or his or her family could be denied it.

I feel strongly about one issue. Graduates of third level institutes should give back something to the State, be it by working here for six months or a year after graduation. Someone who qualifies as an engineer should perhaps have to work for a local authority for a period, or for a State body, while someone who qualifies as a doctor might help in the public health service. Those graduates should give something back to society. The local authority in my area has received approval for 12 engineers on non-national roads, a subject dear to the heart of the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, but it can currently get only four engineers. Despite the copious amounts of cash we are getting from the Government, we cannot use it. We must bring in a system whereby graduates will give something back to society.

I broadly support the Bill but will repeat my objections. The draconian measure whereby the directors of the institutes of technology cannot express opinions on policy must be re-examined. If we are serious about putting the institutes of technology on a level playing pitch, there must be Seanad voting rights for their graduates. In regard to my constituency, the Minister should give some backing to establishing an outreach centre at Claremont college, which is dear to my heart.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Institutes of Technology Bill 2006. I am pleased to see further reforms in this education sector, which has been developed over a number of years since the regional technical colleges were first set up. Various legislation has been passed in this area over the years and we see further advances today.

I will address some of the issues Deputy Timmins raised. I agree with some of his assertions and perhaps not with others. For graduates of the institutes of technology to be allowed vote in the Seanad elections to the third level panel is long overdue. I think the first time I voted was in a referendum in 1979 to allow for the change in representation. Until then the NUI and TCD had three seats each in the Seanad. It was elitist. I was probably a student in UCD at the time but I was happy that people in other third level institutions should have equal rights in terms of representation in the Seanad. That was passed overwhelmingly; only a very small percentage of the people opposed the proposal.

Nevertheless, it has never been enshrined in legislation. I made inquiries about this a few years ago. This issue is a hardy annual, as it were. People ask why the Oireachtas will not implement the legislation and the will of the people but I have been told, although I have not seen it officially in writing, that the wording put to the people was deficient. Like some other constitutional referenda, when an attempt was made to implement the wording it was discovered it would not achieve what the people were told it would achieve. The people who drafted the legislation were probably graduates of one of the universities but they did not do their colleges any favours on that issue. I support Deputy Timmins's sentiments in that regard.

The other point he raised is the provision whereby the director will be unable to express a view different from or in opposition to Government policy. The Deputy has great difficulty with that and he indicated the Fine Gael Party will put down an amendment to change it on Committee Stage. There is good reason for the provision. It might be interesting if Secretaries General were free to express different policy views from the Government of the day but in a democracy the elected Government has been given authority by the people to set policy. When it passes legislation people are required to implement the policy. If people do not like the policy, it will be possible in a subsequent election to change the Government.

To provide for a situation where accounting officers for institutes of technology can work to a different policy agenda from the Department of Education and Science, the Higher Education Authority or the Government would be a recipe for disaster. There would be mayhem across the third level sector if every officer was free to paddle his or her own canoe in terms of what he or she considers suitable policy. I urge the Deputy to reconsider in depth before putting down such an amendment on Committee Stage. I would be surprised if the Fine Gael Party accepted that this is the appropriate way to proceed.

I serve on the Committee of Public Accounts with Deputy Noonan, who is the impartial chairman of that committee. The strength of that committee is that when dealing with the financial affairs of bodies — sections of this legislation deal with the administrative and financial functions of the institutes of technology — it is always clear that Secretaries General, Accounting Officers and members of the committee do not get involved in policy issues. They examine the administration and implementation of policy, as set down by the elected Government, and whether it is being implemented according to proper procedures.

If the remit was widened further to allow different policies to be implemented, the public would be entitled to ask who is speaking for a Department or college — the elected Government or Minister or the Secretary General or director. I hope the Fine Gael Party will consider that broad issue. If it proposes to change the situation in this case, the logic of its argument is a fundamental breakdown in the relationship between the Civil Service and the Government, a relationship that has served the State well since its foundation. I do not believe that is the party's intention so I hope it considers the matter carefully.

I am pleased that participation rates in third level education have increased in the last decade or so from 44% to 55%. It has always been a concern for me that people in County Laois had one of the lowest levels of participation in third level education in Ireland. It is one of the reasons I entered public life and put my name forward for election. Public representatives are regularly asked, particularly when they visit schools, why they entered politics. One of the reasons I offer is my hope to do better for my county, and one of the ways of improving life in one's county is improving the level of education there.

Members will remember being told in their youth that a good education is essential. That maxim continues to be true from one generation to the next. We must ensure that what our generation achieved is passed on to the next generation. County Laois is adjacent to the Carlow Institute of Technology, formerly the regional technical college. I am extremely proud of the institute. In my capacity as a Deputy I have visited it on a number of occasions, given that I represent the native county of many of its students. Many of them commute to the college daily while others stay in Carlow during the week and return home at weekends. A number of people in County Laois attend Athlone as well, but to a lesser extent.

Carlow Institute of Technology is a model institute. I consider it to be a south Leinster institute, given its wide catchment area. The college authorities have been working with local authorities in the surrounding counties to broaden people's awareness in those counties of the role of the Carlow institute with a view to improving the educational facilities in the region. I am pleased with the synergy between the Carlow Institute of Technology and the operation of the national development plan. The only reference to Portlaoise in the national development plan is its designation as an inland port and transport hub for the country in view of its proximity to Dublin and to some of the main motorway routes to the south and west. Furthermore, many of the mainline rail services pass through County Laois.

In that context, there is a proposal, which is just at gestation stage, that there be an outreach from Carlow Institute of Technology in Portlaoise to provide third level education on logistics. This is in line with the national development plan. On the outskirts of Portlaoise, close to the motorway, the local authority has identified a large tract of land for logistics purposes. It would be a tremendous boost and would be complementary to the commercial activity in the town if there were an outreach facility from Carlow Institute of Technology to provide third level education in transport and logistics. I am not aware of any such facility elsewhere in the general region and I believe it would be an excellent facility.

It would have the additional advantage of establishing a formal outreach programme from an institute of technology in County Laois, something that does not exist there at present. It would also be of benefit to prospective students of Carlow Institute of Technology in that there would be an opportunity to participate in a new range of courses which would be developed in consultation with the Higher Education Authority.

There has been a long-standing debate about the difference between the universities and the institutes of technology, which are called polytechnics in England. We have a dual system and the colleges have separate functions. In England, the colleges have been combined to some extent but I do not know if that has been a success. Some people believe this legislation is a step along the route of giving university status to the institutes of technology, but I do not believe that is the case or that it is necessary. Given the population of Ireland we are more than well served by the number of universities in the country.

It is important to increase the international standing of our universities rather than dilute it by automatically adding more. There is a benefit in bringing the universities and the institutes of technology under the HEA's remit. It can strategically examine how they are operating and act as a conduit for finance, administration and policy decisions. It is not necessary for the institutes of technology to merge with the university sector. Most people involved are practical on the matter and see the benefits in the continuation of the current system

As a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I cannot help considering the Bill from a financial perspective. The legislation is concerned with the administration of the institutes, leaving the implementation of curricula to institute directors. Many sections outline the director's role in the event that an institute runs up a deficit, borrowing is required and property is to be disposed. That is essential and the traditional approach is taken, but I am concerned more about what happens when there is a surplus of funding — maybe that is set down in the legislation.

The building up of surpluses is, in a curious way, as serious as running up a deficit. A surplus build-up means that the Government, through taxpayers' money, has provided funds to a third level college for educational facilities and courses. For a variety of reasons, the courses may not take place and the students who should have benefited from them are losing out. That has been evidenced at the Committee of Public Accounts. I accept the Department of Education and Science has come to grips with these issues in the past few years, but this can still happen from time to time, depending on economic cycles. Mechanisms must be in place to ensure unspent moneys are not accumulated, especially if the Department or the HEA could utilise the funds more productively elsewhere.

For example, during the IT boom some third level colleges found it difficult to recruit lecturers for IT courses. Anyone with the qualifications to teach in the area were being snapped up by IT companies offering much higher salaries. Although teaching posts were advertised in colleges, many were not filled. For many of them, the recruitment process had to begin again six months into the academic year. Often in such circumstances the courses never got off the ground, even though funding was in place. A mechanism must be in place whereby if such problems arise they are reported and the funds can be diverted during the academic year for other current expenditure purposes in the college or to another college with a shortfall for other courses. The same problems with recruitment can easily arise in the sciences too. My concern is that the students who could have benefited from such courses may not have had the opportunity of doing so.

Deputy Timmins was brave enough to say that graduates from all third level institutes should make a professional contribution to society by working here for a certain period after graduation, and he has a legitimate point. Last year I attended a debate at the Literary and Historical Society in UCD as a Government Deputy. It was a difficult job because when I was in college, the only self-respecting action of each student was to give out about the Government. It was the same that night where the motion was about how badly the Government was doing its job. The debaters challenged me on the problems with the health service. I returned the challenge by asking how many in the audience were medical students who would graduate that summer. There was a fair number in the audience. When I asked how many were going to stay in Ireland to work in the health service, they unanimously informed me they were all going abroad to America, Australia and the UK. I can understand the benefits for young medical graduates going abroad to further their professional experience, but inevitably many of them will settle abroad if their careers there are good. Irish society, meanwhile, will have invested taxpayers' money for 20 years in their education, yet it gets nothing in return.

There is a point in asking graduates to make a professional contribution to society. It is a serious issue that merits debate. As Deputy Timmins stated, the shortage in engineering graduates means we have to recruit abroad, yet at the same time our graduates are going abroad. It may simply be a sign of the global village we now live in.

It is important that directors of institutes of technology are accountable to the Dáil and can be called to discuss matters arising from reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General. They are responsible to speak before the relevant Oireachtas committee if necessary. I am pleased with the reserve functions of the governing bodies as opposed to the administrative, day-to-day functions of the director. The director's main function is the provision of a course of study. If a college does not have provision for proper courses of study, it should not be in business. The function of the governing body is to appoint a director and an academic council. The director is required to prepare a strategic plan. I note the term of office for a director is ten years and boards can be appointed for up to five years, both positive developments. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the thrust of the Institutes of Technology Bill 2006, which aims to put the State's 14 institutes of technology on an equal footing with our universities in running their affairs and allowing them to pursue options for greater self-administration and expansion. In contrast to our seven universities, administered by the Higher Education Authority, the institutes of technology are under the control of the Department of Education and Science. The Bill will address this by passing control of the institutes to the HEA and simplifying the complex higher education model that prevails. I endorse the statement of the chief executive of IDA Ireland, Mr. Sean Dorgan, that the institutes have been distinctive for their real world quality and their accessibility.

Thousands of students have passed through the ITs over the past three decades and there are more than 90,000 students in full and part-time study in them. I am proud to say that I count myself among that number, having attended the school of building in Limerick during the 1970s. It has since closed and the Limerick Institute of Technology in Moylish opened in its place. It was a small building when I was there. The expansion that has taken place since reflects its success in recent years. Results in Limerick Institute of Technology are phenomenal and many students who have passed through it went on to enjoy great success. The same can be said for Galway-Mayo IT and Tralee IT, where students from County Clare would go.

It is timely that I should speak on this Bill a fortnight after a survey by the institutes themselves revealed some of the problems that result from having a dual model of administration at third degree level. The public remains unaware of the precise nature of the IT sector, the range of education opportunities it provides and the qualifications that can be received. The survey revealed that just 35% of people are aware of the IT sector as a whole and that there is confusion about the number of institutes, their precise status and the degrees they offer. They award graduate and postgraduate degrees, just as the universities do, along with diplomas. They offer a much broader range of courses than the universities, including e-business and enterprise, computing and information technology, applied sciences, nursing studies, social sciences, architecture, media and digital media, tourism, art and design, and film and animation. They must also be recognised for the role they play in providing an astonishing array of evening adult classes to those wanting to pursue educational opportunities part-time.

The role of the ITs, along with the universities, must be recognised. They have opened their doors to thousands of people, currently amounting to 50% of all students entering higher education. This does not include the 20,000 who study part-time either on campus or in the workplace as part of an IT accredited course. That luxury is only available to those living in close proximity to such an institute. While Ennis is well positioned regarding access to Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Limerick Institute of Technology and Tralee Institute of Technology, it is sufficiently far from these places not to be able to avail of them for day or evening courses. The vocational education committee in Ennis has worked on this in conjunction with the universities but there is an opportunity for them to work with the institutes of technology.

Ennis, with its expanding population of 25,000, should one day soon be considered for an IT, perhaps in partnership with one of its neighbouring ITs. An institute of technology is an enriching facility for any town or city, acting as a natural draw for youth, industry and ideas. A company recently established a base in Cork because there was an institute of technology and a university in the town. In my constituency of Clare, however, people still grow up with no firm expectation that they will be able to settle in their areas. A training college in the vicinity would be a wonderful means of drawing young people to the area and perhaps retaining them there. I have seen in my area of rural west Clare where people move out for education purposes and then move on. It is difficult to bring them back if industry does not exist to provide them with employment.

There are wonderful advantages native to County Clare, with its pristine coastline and beautiful beaches and landscape. The Burren has benefited from the school of art in Ballyvaughan that draws people in every year in conjunction with NUI Galway. It is very important to the area. Clare would be served well by its own institute of technology.

In the short term, I hope the enactment of this Bill will go some way towards meeting the recommendation of the institutes' survey that they need to strengthen their profiles in the public consciousness. Nothing works like funding and the continued advancement of moneys towards the IT sector will enable the institutes to get their message across.

The survey found that while there is a high degree of awareness of lTs in one's local area, there was a great deal of ignorance of the others or that there are 14 ITs in total. The role they have played and must continue to play, however, cannot be overstated. They are the major component of the Celtic tiger, despite this Government's illusion that it is responsible for this success. IT graduates have been central to Ireland's economic growth and in contributing to the skills base that makes lreland a top world location for inward investment, especially with manufacturing industry moving away from Ireland to cheaper countries where labour costs are lower. We must have a well educated pool of graduates leaving ITs and universities to attract high tech industry.

As Fine Gael spokesman on small business, I am conscious that, as knowledge industries replace manufacturing as the key driver of foreign direct investment, the education sector must continue to play its role in drawing in the maximum number of people. It must offer the widest range of courses and continue to develop inquiring minds among our student population. It must also strive to build links with the small to medium-sized enterprise sector which represents a critical gap in the links between industry and education in transferring research and knowledge to the industrial sector. There are more small to medium business interests in Ireland than large industries.

More work must be done as well to expand educational opportunities to the children of marginalised families and to adults wishing to return to full-time or part-time education. The opportunities for working adults for lifelong learning opportunities remain limited, to the shame of this Government. Tax incentives are measly and nothing yet has been heard of the great plan to expand the number of our population who have PhDs. I look forward to some meaningful results from the €300 million strategic innovation fund. lreland produces just 75 science and engineering PhDs per million of population compared with 180 per million in Finland. This is because, as in so many aspects of our education system, from primary level upwards, there are critical funding gaps. In supporting this Bill, I hope it signals some much needed and real change for our institute of technology sector.

Debate adjourned.