Amendment No. 1 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1, 2, and 4 to 6, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 9, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
" "academics" means tenured officers of the institute;".
I thank the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and her officials for the briefing we received last week. It was certainly very helpful to us. As a result of the consultation, we will withdraw during the course of this debate some of the amendments we have submitted. I thank the Minister for ensuring there was no guillotine imposed on the Bill. We asked for this on Committee Stage.
Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 are just technical amendments to better clarify who and what is intended by certain definitions in the Bill as a result of other amendments we have proposed.
I thank Deputy O'Brien for his comments. My officials did brief Opposition members. I met some members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, TUI, who expressed concerns to me. We had met them before that also. I have a number of amendments tabled that I hope address some of the issues raised by the two Opposition Deputies here in the Chamber, Deputies Jonathan O'Brien and Maureen O'Sullivan. We have no intention of restricting this debate in either the Dáil or the Seanad. It is very important legislation and we want to ensure there is sufficient parliamentary time to debate the issues.
As I outlined on Committee Stage, amendments Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 6 would insert definitions for words that are not used in the Bill, nor in any of the amendments put forward by the Deputy. For that reason, they are unnecessary. Amendment No. 4 would insert a limited definition for the word "programme", a word that is used in the Bill. However, the extensive definition of the term "programme of education and training" is referred to in the Bill by reference to that set out in the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012. Introducing an additional definition of the word "programme" would, therefore, introduce uncertainty. That is the reason I cannot accept the amendments.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 10, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
" "Department" means academic unit within a school of the institute;".
Amendments Nos. 3, 18, and 60 to 79, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 61 to 79, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 60. Amendments Nos. 3, 18, and 60 to 79, inclusive, are to be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 11, to delete lines 8 to 15.
As I am sure the Minister is aware, these amendments would remove all references to the term "merged" or "merged institutions" from the Bill. I know she will argue in her rebuttal that this would defeat the whole purpose of the Bill, but I ask her to hear me out. As she is aware, we are in favour of the introduction of technological universities, but not in the way she is proposing and the way the Department has brought forward this legislation. As she said in her opening contribution, this is very complex legislation. Despite her claim that there has been ongoing engagement with the trade unions and staff on this, I do not believe, having spoken to members of the TUI, that this is the case. The TUI has informed me that it has had three meetings in the past year with the Department and that it was very clear at those meetings that they were briefings rather than engagements. In the TUI's opinion, none of the significant concerns raised has been taken on board.
In the absence of an allocation of proper funding for the merger process, it is difficult to regard this Bill as anything other than the bandying about of the word "university." Many staff members feel it is just a smoke screen for rationalisation, which would have severe detrimental effects not only on staff but also on students in terms of both access to third level education and the quality of service therein. That there is no guarantee that the technological university designation will be conferred on a merged institute of technology entity, and that the provisions of the Bill apply to both merged and non-merged institutes of technology and technological universities, is of concern.
We still have concerns over the potential consequences of the Bill, given the current crisis owing to under-funding, under-staffing and precarious employment in the institutions, which we believe has still not been addressed. Between 2008 and 2015, funding for the sector was cut by a massive 35%, or nearly €190 million. Over the same period, lecturer numbers fell by almost 10%, or by 535, while student numbers rose by a staggering 32%, or in excess of 21,000. There is no guarantee that the mergers, if they were to proceed, would not result in a reduced number of courses.
As a result of the massive cuts in funding, the resulting loss of lecturers and the staggering increase in the number of students, many institutes are just keeping their heads above water. The intention to effect such considerable additional change without appropriate resourcing in an era of significantly damaging cutbacks to the sector is, at best, ill-advised. We believe the requirement that institutes of technology must merge before they can apply for technological university status is more related to a programme of rationalisation than to any academic considerations based on the various missions, values and ethos of particular institutes.
Those mergers that are envisaged must be appropriately funded, and the regional mission, including multiple programmes, which is central to the institute of technology ethos, must be retained. Institutes have a proven track record of excellence in programme development and content, in addition to a significant commitment to regional equality and equity of access. They provide multiple programmes from National Framework of Qualifications level 6 to level 10, ranging from apprenticeships to doctorates. The mission of the sector is distinct, with a strong focus on meeting local and regional needs.
A rationalisation agenda will lead to a dramatic reduction in the provision of some of the programmes, in my opinion and that of many of the academics. There are serious justified concerns about a risk of geographical inequity in respect of access to higher education as a result of this Bill. Towns and communities with an existing institute that is being coerced or forced to merge under the requirements of the Bill have real cause to worry. As matters stand, an invaluable part of a local economy may effectively be downgraded or asset-stripped as a result of this Bill. Throughout the whole process, there has been in some institutes a consistent failure to properly consult the real experts, the academic staff.
The Bill, despite the changes and additions the Minister has proposed regarding the social and cultural objectives, is still excessively focused on the concerns of business and enterprise. It would be a grave mistake to prioritise the short-term needs of employers over the long-term needs of students and society. An appropriate balance is required.
I am concerned about the threat the Bill poses to national collective bargaining and the terms and conditions of staff members. Other concerns related to the Bill include the weakening of staff and local representation on governing bodies and the weakening of the academic voice. That is the reasoning behind the amendments we have proposed.
I thank the Minister for the engagement and extensive discussion on Committee Stage and the follow-up meeting with officials, as promised by her. It was good that some of the points we made on Committee Stage were taken on board for Report Stage, but there are still major concerns.
I was outside tonight at the protest organised by the Teachers' Union of Ireland and there is clearly a great deal of anger, frustration and concern among its members. The common denominator that I noted was the assumption they had made, based on the Minister's statement that this was complex legislation, that adequate time would be provided to examine its complexities. They did not expect the Minister to rush the Bill.
The introduction of technological universities is a good and positive idea in principle and one to which no one objects. However, the concerns of TUI members have not been addressed. The union does not regard the briefings provided by the Minister as engagement. The concerns it expressed have not been taken on board.
On the amendment, the text, as it stands, requires colleges to merge before they can apply for technological university status. What will happen in the case of institutes of technology that merge but whose application for technological university status is subsequently rejected? What are the implications for merged colleges in such a scenario?
The Fianna Fáil Party supports the idea of introducing technological universities. The discussion of the Bill in the Select Sub-Committee on Education and Skills was very useful and the engagement on the part of the Department was good. There is no rationale for the decision to rush the Bill in recent weeks. The Minister did not engage in any real consultation in advance of Committee Stage and Report Stage.
Academics and staff in various institutes of technology are concerned about the contents of the Bill and the impact some of the proposals will have, specifically the requirement that mergers must take place in advance of approval being given for technological university status. This issue must be revisited. Mergers should not be a prerequisite for technological university status being granted, especially as there is no guaranteed outcome for institutions that proceed with a merger. Naturally, the institutes of technology have genuine and well-founded concerns about what the merger process may mean for their individual identities and ability to continue to serve their local regions, as they have done so well until now.
Since their development, the regional technical colleges and, subsequently, the institutes of technology have played a major role in their regions in seeking to ensure participation in education as well as integration with the local business community. They have done so by serving the needs of the local economy and the educational needs of the communities they serve. There are genuine concerns that this function will be eroded by the merger process required of institutes of technology seeking to advance to technological university status and that mergers will create a gravitational pull towards the centre.
For these reasons, the Minister must further consult trade unions and institutes of technology staff on her proposal. I have grave concerns about the approach she has adopted and oppose the requirement that institutes of technology merge in advance of a decision being made on applications to become a technological university.
I will address the various points raised by Deputies. With regard to the issue of time, the Second Stage debate was not guillotined and we had a long and good debate on Committee Stage. We also left sufficient time between Committee Stage and Report Stage to allow a significant number of amendments to be submitted by Opposition Deputies and a smaller number to be submitted by me in response to the concerns expressed on Committee Stage. The Report Stage debate will not be guillotined either. As the schedule for the week indicates, we will have time to discuss the Bill today, tomorrow morning and on Thursday morning. If we do not conclude the debate, so be it. We have provided considerable parliamentary time for the debate, nor do I intend to rush the Bill in the Seanad should it reach the Upper House. I do not know what will be the arrangements in the Seanad as they will depend on what happens in this House in the near future. I want to ensure we have sufficient time to debate the issues and I hope that will be the case.
As Deputies will be aware, the national strategy for higher education for the period until 2030 recommended significant reforms to position the institutes of technology sector to meet national strategic objectives. In particular, the strategy recommended consolidation in the sector and a pathway of evolution for consolidated institutes of technology, should they so wish, to allow them to demonstrate significant progress against robust performance criteria and to apply to become technological universities. I stress again that there is no obligation on institutes of technology to take this route. The Bill, in providing that applications for technological university status can be made only by merged institutes of technology, simply reflects this long-standing policy.
The technological university process is not a rebranding process for the institutes of technology sector. We will continue to have institutes of technology after groups of institutes proceed to technological university status. We very much value the institutes of technology and are offering an opportunity, should institutions so wish, to start on the path of becoming technology universities. Each group will be given an indication, when it moves from stage of the process to the next, as to whether it is on the right path to ensure it is aware of what bar it must reach to become a technological university. Technological university status can be achieved only by merged institutes of technology. This policy has been in place for some time and was included in the criteria from the outset.
The technological university process will require a step change in the performance of the institutes in question in order that they can meet the robust performance criteria, details of which have been in the public domain since 2012. By merging, institutes of technology can achieve greater scale and an increased capacity to provide the quality of education and research which will allow the new institutions to provide an exceptional service to their students and the regions in which they are situated and to compete at an international level. They must reach bars that have been set with regard to research, quality of teaching and so forth if they are to be granted technological university status.
For the reasons I have outlined I cannot support amendments Nos. 3, 18 and 60 to 79, inclusive, in so far as they provide that applications for technological university status can be made by unmerged institutes of technology. It has been clear since 2012 that mergers would be part of the conditions.
On the issue of institutes of technology merging and then somehow failing to achieve technological university status, the Bill provides that this is a possibility. This returns me to the earlier point that this proposal is not simply a rebranding exercise. What is being created through designation as a technological university is a new type of university in Ireland. To gain credibility nationally and internationally, the bar that has been set must be achieved. The objective criteria for redesignation as a technological university, which are set out in section 38, were first published in 2012 and the consortiums concerned have had ample opportunity to assess their progress against these criteria. The Dublin and Munster consortiums have both been positively assessed by an international expert panel as being on a clear trajectory to meet the criteria. I expect, therefore, that any consortium seeking to merge under the Bill would assess current performance and develop its own trajectory to achieve the level required by the technological university criteria before it applies to merge. As such, institutes of technology which have not yet proceeded to that point should ensure they are comfortable with the criteria they must achieve. These have been set out in respect of every step of the process. That is the purpose of providing this information.
Reference has been made to the argument that the merging of institutes of technology is simply a ruse to allow for rationalisation and cost saving. That is absolutely not the case.
I wish to touch on the issue of geographical equality or inequality raised by Deputy O'Brien. Merged institutes will be multi-campus entities which will continue to provide a broad range of programmes of education and training in each of their campuses. Indeed, by creating institutions of greater scale and strength, high-quality multi-campus technological universities will be able to bring greater social and economic benefits to their respective regions.
I have had discussions with TUI representatives as well as public representatives in areas where there are merging institutions. Like Deputy O'Brien, they have raised the point around certain young people from a given area. For example, perhaps no one from the family has gone on to higher education, yet these people may have done so because there was an institute of technology in their local area. I am very conscious of that and I have no wish to put anything in the way of people in those areas to prevent them from continuing to look at their campus as their campus in their community. There is no intention to water that down in any way. The regional focus of the technological universities is clearly set out in the Bill. In particular, section 22 sets out the overall functions of a technological university.
Amendment No. 60, proposed by Deputy O'Brien, seeks additional amendments to the criteria over and above the deletion of the word "merged". Firstly, the amendment includes a reference to "community development organisations" and "learners" in the proposed section 38(1)(k)(iv). This criterion reflects the function of a technological university to develop programmes with the involvement of business, enterprise, the professions and other related stakeholders, which is part of the distinctive mission of a technological university. This is specifically about the programmes. We will be addressing the issues of community later, but this particular subsection is about the programmes they are developing. Similarly, the proposal to delete subsection (2)(b) from the criteria, which relates to this involvement, would go against the mission of a technological university. The amendment also seeks to amend the same subsection and include a reference to programmes being developed in a time and place to suit their needs. I note that the functions of a technological university at section 22(1)(b) provide that technological universities will provide programmes that reflect the needs of citizens and other stakeholders in the region in which the campuses of the technological university are located as well as facilitating learning by flexible means. Having given this issue careful consideration, I believe that the existing provision addresses the concerns raised by Deputy O'Brien, and I cannot support amendment No. 60 for that reason.
This is Report Stage and therefore each Member can speak twice. As the proposer, Deputy O'Brien can speak three times. It is now time for your second contribution, Deputy.
The Minister said at the outset that the policy was one of consolidation of institutes and, I presume, the provision of higher education. However, by bringing in this Bill the Minister is going from a two-tier system involving universities and institutes of technology to a three-tier system involving universities, technological universities and institutes of technology that will not be part of the process, such as the institute in the Minister's constituency. That institute has decided to opt out and remain as an IOT, yet it will be governed by many of the issues relevant to this Bill.
The Minister said that the Bill would allow technological universities to operate on a greater scale and allow them the capacity to compete at an international level. In itself, that may be the case, but the organisations cannot compete at an international level or operate with a greater scale and capacity unless they have the resources to match. We can merge institutes, but unless we actually put the funding in place to enable them to increase their capacity and operate at a greater scale, then I do not believe the policy can work. In my opening contribution I went through the cuts to the sector. Funding was cut by €190 million over seven years. There was a reduction in the number of staff by almost 6% and a reduction of 20,000 students. We can only imagine the additional resource implications for a merged institute with no guarantee of obtaining technological university status.
The Minister said this was not a rebranding exercise. However, the question being asked is whether it is an exercise in rationalisation. I have not heard any convincing argument from the Minister to the effect that this is not simply about rationalisation.
The Minister referred to the Munster technological university consortium. I am familiar with the MTU consortium. There are major issues around the process in this case. If the Bill passes in its current form, we could end up with a merged institute applying for technological university status while still having industrial relations disputes involving members of staff. There is industrial action on the way in the Cork and Kerry case. To the best of my knowledge and on the basis of my discussions with members of the TUI in Cork and Kerry, there has been a significant lack of meaningful consultation and engagement. Those involved are seriously disappointed with the level of consultation provided. Despite the Minister's engagements with the TUI at a national level, those involved believe the process has involved providing information rather than actually listening to most of their concerns.
I made reference to multi-campus organisations and set out the fears among some communities that assets may be stripped. I do not believe the Minister's answer on the suggestion that the merged institutes of technology would be multi-campus organisations. Let us consider the Cork and Kerry example. A new entity could retain many of the assets and the buildings in Tralee as well as Cork. However, there is an issue with the criteria for the duplication of courses. To the best of my recollection, there is a specific reference to the effect that the duplication of courses should be eradicated. Let us consider a scenario whereby someone from Cork is currently able to access a course in Cork Institute of Technology. Then, when the merged institutes form a technological university, what happens if that particular course is also being provided in Tralee Institute of Technology? Under this Bill, there would be an argument to the effect that the new entity would have to do away with at least one of those courses in one of the campuses. We could have a situation whereby someone who is currently able to access a course in Cork may no longer be able to access that course and would have to travel to Tralee or vice versa. The multi-campus argument does not add up in respect of the point about the provision of courses. That is one of the reasons for the concerns around the reduction in the number of courses.
I have tabled amendment No. 60 because we are proposing to remove the word "merged" or "merger" and, therefore, we would need entirely new eligibility criteria. This is what we have provided in our amendment. We have set out new eligibility criteria based on the requirement for institutes to have merged before they can obtain technological university status. It is not simply about tinkering with one or two subsections; it is about creating altogether new criteria.
The Minister will argue that we cannot make such a change at this stage because the criteria have been laid out and some of the proposed technological universities are so far down the line that it would be unfair on them to change the criteria in mid-stream. I imagine that is the Minister's opinion. However, if the criteria are flawed, they are flawed. Whether the necessary changes take place mid-stream or at the beginning, we need to get the criteria right, and I do not believe the Minister has got the criteria right in this regard.
We agree on the value of the institutes of technology. From my life before coming to the House, I know very well about the great work that has been done.
My dealings were with DIT, Blanchardstown, Tallaght and Dundalk. The ladder system and progression routes were valuable. Someone could progress from a certain level right up to PhD level through the institutes of technology. Their connections with PLC colleges were invaluable.
The concerns are that those IOTs that do not merge will be at a disadvantage. As Deputy O'Brien said, certain colleges offer the same courses. If a particular college no longer offers a course it means that students will have to move from one campus to another, which undermines the regional basis of IOTs. It also creates a funding issue and affects SUSI grants. Students in Cork IT may not receive a grant that would enable them to attend Tralee IT and stay there because of the grant situation.
There is another issue regarding those working on PhDs. Doing a PhD requires considerable finances and time. I do not think that issue has been taken into account. If an institution meets the criteria, why can it not apply for technological university status in its own right? I know this refers to the criteria, but where was that issue in the discussions?
The Minister has so far failed to answer a key question. How can she ensure that when there is a requirement on IOTs to merge that part of their achievements, namely, increasing participation levels within their regions, will not be eroded by the consolidation of courses? It is a real concern of those in the regions and individual institutes of technology. When they see the structure of the Bill and the erosion of local input into their IOTs within the wider merged technological universities, there is inevitable concern that courses will be consolidated away from local campuses and, as a result, there will be a reduction in the participation levels of local students, something into which great inroads have been made in recent years. I ask the Minister to address this issue.
I will try to address some of the issues raised. I refer to the general point on access. On the concern that the number of students who currently attend institutes of technologies in the region might decline or that students would be less encouraged to do so, I wish to categorically state that is not the intention of the Bill. In fact, the Department is planning for consistent increases in the number of students that will attend higher and further education over the next decade. It is policy to provide those options. Obviously, it is also policy to provide other options, such as apprenticeships and so on, but that choice should be available to students.
In my previous contribution I said we committed, as per section 22 of the Bill, to retaining the regional element. Merging institutions does not mean the focus on individual campuses will be in any way diminished. Separate individual campuses will be retained in the merged institutions with, I expect, increased numbers of students for individual campuses, whether they are individual IOTs that remain separate or are merged and subsequently become technological universities in conjunction with other institutions.
I repeat what I said. It would not be fair to change the criteria mid-stream, when it was clear to anybody who was involved in, or stayed out, of the process that mergers were one of the criteria. It remains one of the criteria and, therefore, we cannot say that an IOT does not need to merge in order to meet the criteria. It is one of the criteria that was very clearly explained at the time; it was not hidden.
We have already provided extra resources this year to facilitate the process. There is no intention of using this as a way to cut down on the resources available to the sector. There were some resource elements to the process, but they mainly involved ensuring there was proper consultation. For example, the institutes in the Munster region have agreed to free up four trade union representatives on a full-time basis. There is a problem with that because I understand the TUI does not trust the process. We have asked the institutions to free up the staff members concerned and they have agreed. The Department, the Higher Education Authority and I have reiterated time and again to the institutions concerned that they need to consult properly with their staff, academic and otherwise. We will reiterate the point if there is some doubt that is not actually happening.
Deputy O'Sullivan referred to SUSI. We will address the issue. She suggested students would not receive the non-adjacent rate if, for example, they lived in Cork and attended Tralee because they were adjacent to the Cork campus. That issue will be dealt with by SUSI to ensure that if the campuses in which students' courses are situated are far away enough from their homes to qualify under the current system for the non-adjacent rate that they will qualify for the correct rate. I would not want any students to be disadvantaged in that way.
We will not reach agreement on this. That is the reality of Government and Opposition. Genuine concerns have not been addressed and that has led to a situation whereby industrial action is taking place, such as those involved in the Munster technological university proposal. Trade union members feel they have not been listened to or consulted properly. Ultimately, these are the people that will be asked to deliver the high-quality education the Minister stated will be the result of merging institutes to form technological universities.
The Minister has not addressed the issue of the duplication of courses. From reading the documentation, I understand that one of the objectives is to remove course duplication. If the Minister said today that is not the case, perhaps she could be clearer. My understanding is that it is one of the major concern. For instance, if Tralee and Cork both provide the same course and are merged into a technological university, specific campuses would focus on specific areas. Tralee might focus on catering, food and beverage courses and Cork might focus more on metalwork and engineering. Therefore, the courses which are currently provided in both institutes would be eradicated.
We would end up with campuses focusing on particular areas of excellence or expertise. If that is the case, the issue raised by Deputy O'Sullivan, namely, SUSI grants and the ability of students to travel comes into play. Those living in Cork can do practically every course they want in CIT, but under a merged entity, that is, a technological university, there is no guarantee that will remain the case. They may have to travel.
- Aylward, Bobby.
- Colreavy, Michael.
- Cowen, Barry.
- Ellis, Dessie.
- Healy, Seamus.
- Keaveney, Colm.
- Kirk, Seamus.
- McConalogue, Charlie.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McLellan, Sandra.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- O'Brien, Jonathan.
- O'Sullivan, Maureen.
- Troy, Robert.
- Wallace, Mick.
- Carey, Joe.
- Collins, Áine.
- Conaghan, Michael.
- Daly, Jim.
- Deasy, John.
- Dowds, Robert.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Harrington, Noel.
- Keating, Derek.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kelly, Alan.
- Kenny, Seán.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- Lyons, John.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Neville, Dan.
- Noonan, Michael.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Sherlock, Sean.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 11, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“ “Programme” means a recognised course of study;”.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 11, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
“ “Researchers” means tenured officers of the institute;”.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 11, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
“ “School” means organised grouping of academic units within the institute;”.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 12, to delete lines 3 to 7 and substitute the following:
“ “student”, in relation to an institute, or technological university, means a person registered as a student by the institute or technological university or a full-time officer of the Students’ Union who was first elected to his or her office while he or she was a registered student by the institute or technological university;”.
This is just a technical amendment. As a result of the removal of the word "merged", we put in a new section to reflect that.
My amendment No. 8 is grouped with Deputy O'Brien's. Can I speak to my amendment?
Yes, amendments Nos. 7 and 8 may be discussed together.
Deputy O'Brien raised this issue during discussion on Committee Stage, so I considered what he had said and following further discussion I also met the student union representatives. I propose amendment No. 8, which will have the effect of deleting "or appointed" from the definition of student set out in section 2, in line with Deputy O'Brien's proposed amendment. I think we are in agreement on that.
Yes, we are in agreement. I will withdraw my amendment.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 12, line 5, to delete “or appointed”.
Amendments Nos. 9, 36 to 39, inclusive, 84, 86, 87, 98, and 109 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 12, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
“ “Trade Union” means a registered representative body with a negotiation licence.”.
This is something we discussed on Committee Stage and which we discussed with the officials. The Minister has taken on board some of our concerns in respect of it, particularly around the trade union side of it. Her amendment No. 37 is designed to include all trade unions and we are very happy to support that.
Amendment No. 9 relates to trade unions. Amendment No. 36 mandates consultation with trade unions. Amendment No. 37 removes the term "staff association". I know we discussed this with the Minister's officials before Report Stage and one of the reasons we were given for this being a common phrase in legislation was that trade unions do not cater for college presidents. However, having done a bit of research, I am aware that a number of college presidents are currently members of trade unions. That means the rationale for having staff associations, based on the fact that college presidents would not be members of trade unions, is counter-productive when we know some of them are members of trade unions. We will be pushing this amendment to remove the term "staff associations". Amendments Nos. 84, 87 and 98 are designed to exclude the term "staff associations" and to protect the terms and conditions of teaching staff in the new technological universities.
As discussed on Committee Stage, Deputy O'Brien's amendments Nos. 9, 38, 84, 87, 98 and 109 all relate either to the definition of trade union or use of the term "staff association". In all such cases, the standard wording used can be found in a wide range of similar legislation. Recent examples include the County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Act 2014, the Industrial Development (Forfás Dissolution) Act 2014 and the Education and Training Boards Act 2013. The proposed amendments would have the effect of varying the standard wording and for that reason I cannot support them.
To be clear, the use of the term "trade union or staff association" in the Bill does not in any way undermine the position of the trade unions, which represent the staff of the institutions concerned. Rather, it is included to ensure that all relevant staff interests are consulted, where appropriate. While I understand that there are currently no staff associations within the institute of technology sector, that is not to say there will not be in future. The Bill should reflect this possibility. With regard to amendments Nos. 36 and 39 put forward by Deputy O'Brien, these relate to the establishment of dispute resolution procedures by technological universities. Amendment No. 36 would remove from that section the standard reference to staff associations as well as trade unions. It also unnecessarily distinguishes between the dispute resolution procedures that would apply to staff and those that would apply to students.
Amendment No. 39, in providing that the method of publication of those procedures must be jointly agreed with the parties concerned, goes further than is necessary. Institutes of technology and universities currently make those procedures available both in hard copy and electronically. This would also be the case for technological universities. For these reasons, I cannot support amendments Nos. 36 and 39.
However, following the discussion of this matter on Committee Stage, I propose amendment No. 37. This amendment makes absolutely clear that a technological university will be required to consult with all trade unions and staff associations representing its staff when developing its dispute resolution procedures.
With regard to amendment No. 86, proposed by Deputies Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger and Joe Higgins, I repeat that the proposed amendment would alter standard wording that is found in a wide range of similar legislation. Furthermore, the sole outcome of this amendment would be to remove any flexibility available to a trade union to enter a revised collective agreement in relation to remuneration. For both reasons, I cannot support this amendment.
The fact that the phrase "staff association" is used in other legislation is not a good enough reason for it to be used in the Bill. As the Minister stated, none of the institutes currently have staff associations and there are a number of college presidents who are members of trade unions. The staff association could be used to undermine trade union representation. That is one of the concerns I have. In my opinion, it is anti-worker. The provision should be removed. As I stated, if I had my way, I would probably remove it from other legislation as well. Just because it is in previous legislation, it does not mean it is right.
In relation to consultation with trade unions around disputes, we also included the issue of students. If there is a dispute with a student, the student union should be recognised as a party to that dispute. That is the basis of that amendment.
The latter is included. Certainly, my interpretation is that it is already catered for.
In the section of the Bill that talks about the rights of students unions, which we discussed earlier on.
With regard to the use of the term "staff association," this legislation is for the future, and even if there are not any staff associations now, we do not want to preclude them, if there were any in the future, from being covered under the Bill. As I stated, the term is used in a pile of other Acts. This is not to say that we want somehow or other to turn trade unions into staff associations. It is simply to cater for possibilities that could arise in the future, even if they do not exist at present in this sector.
I would argue that members of staff should be represented by trade unions and that by creating the option of staff associations, we are providing that they may not be represented by trade unions in the future. As the Minister stated, such associations do not exist within the institutes currently. We should not be encouraging them to exist in the future by making provision in legislation which would allow them to be created within the sector.
Amendment No. 10, in the names of Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Jonathan O'Brien and Charlie McConalogue, arises out of committee proceedings.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 12, line 14, after "section" to insert "7, 10,".
Section 3 states "Where an order under section 18, 46 or 53 is proposed to be made, a draft of the order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the order shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House." We propose to include sections 7 and 10, which is, the dissolutions of the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown and Institute of Technology, Tallaght and of the Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Tralee, respectively, in the order process. Those should be included. The draft order for their dissolutions should be laid before each House and the order should not be made until a resolution approving that draft order has been passed by both Houses.
Section 3 provides that an order of the Minister to merge institutes of technology under section 18, to establish a technological university under section 46 or to incorporate an institute of technology into a technological university under section 53 shall require a positive resolution of each House of the Oireachtas before it can be made by the Minister. Because those sections give the Minister broad authority to merge institutions which are not specifically identified in the Bill, this requirement ensures that the Oireachtas cannot be found to have delegated excessive powers to the Minister in that regard. Obviously, the other two groups are specifically referred to in the Bill. Sections 7 and 10 provide for the making of orders by the Minister to give effect to the mergers in Dublin and Munster. In both of those cases, the Oireachtas, in passing this Bill, will have specifically identified these institutes of technologies involved and, therefore, will have simply delegated to the Minister the power to implement the mergers it has identified. Therefore, it cannot be argued that the Minister has been given excessive authority by the Oireachtas, and there would be no need for the Houses of the Oireachtas to approve the orders in those cases. It is really to distinguish between those that are specifically mentioned in the Bill - that is, the Munster and Dublin mergers - and the ones that are not specifically mentioned in the Bill, which are presumably the other two regions that have currently indicated their interest, as well as other regions in the future.
I understand the reasoning for not including sections 7 and 10, because they are already in progress. We have amendments that will deal with sections 7 and 10, which we can discuss later. I believe that in the interest of consistency, these sections should be included in the orders which will be laid before the House. These are separate sections within the Bill and we will deal with them when we get to them. The amendment stands.
Amendment No. 11, in the names of Deputies Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger, Joe Higgins and Jonathan O'Brien, arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 11 to 17, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 13, to delete lines 30 to 35.
This relates to what we have just discussed - that is, the provision for merging the institutes. Under the legislation, a draft order would be laid before the Houses, as the Minister explained, and it would be voted on by both the Dáil and Seanad before the resolution could be approved.
We include this amendment because we do not want to see a situation arise in relation to section 7, which relates to the merger of the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown and the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, and to the merger in Munster, that of the IOTs in Tralee and Cork, which is currently in progress, particularly given that the merger involving Cork is the subject of industrial action. As part of this grouping, Deputies Maureen O’Sullivan, McConalogue and I have tabled amendment No. 16, which states:
In page 14, line 20, after "subsection (2)" to insert the following:
", which order shall be made following application from the governing bodies and presidents of each of the constituent colleges and said application shall include a statement that the terms of the merger have been agreed with the staff trade unions".
We propose that before the order comes to the Minister's desk, there would have to be agreement at governing body level with the staff and the trade unions, and at that point a request can be made for technological university status. If we do not put that in, we could have a situation in which a request is made even if there are still industrial relations disputes or issues within the proposed merger, and the Minister would have the power to place the order before the Houses.
Before an order arrives on the Minister's desk, there should be agreement by all parties, namely, the governing bodies, presidents, staff and trade unions.
I support the amendment. I met staff representatives at Cork Institute of Technology, who are very angry. There has been an abject failure to bring the staff along through the process. This is reflected in the overwhelming rejection in the TUI ballot. They are deeply disappointed with what they regard as a significant shift from the heads of the Bill to the detail of it, which we are discussing on Report Stage.
There are serious concerns about many issues with which the Minister is familiar, such as pension entitlements, terms and conditions of employment and security in terms of the provision of certain programmes at a regional level. The concerns are not just about the impact on individual staff members but about the impact on the quality of the education the institutes of technology can provide. There has been a failure to bring the staff and their union along at a management level. They are very concerned that the Bill will be rushed through with very serious ramifications for them personally and for the students to whom they provide a service.
Even at this late stage, I ask the Minister to desist from pushing it through. I am sure she is receiving this feedback directly through her Labour Party representatives, from the TUI nationally and at a local level. It is not the way to do business. We are heading for very serious industrial strife, which is unnecessary. In my experience from talking to the staff members concerned, while they are not against the principle of a technological university, the way it is being done flies in the face of co-operation and the spirit with which these fundamental structural changes to third level education are normally introduced. It is not the way to do it, and I ask the Minister to rethink it.
There is no doubt about the anger outside tonight from representatives of the TUI. Their anger relates to the conditions of service, which we will discuss in a later amendment. It comes back to the respect for the staff trade unions. There seems to be more concern to include staff associations, of which we have none, to allow them to make an appearance at some stage, than respect for the established trade unions which have been representing their members' interests.
The unions must be included because of another aspect regarding staff. Earlier, we discussed the movement of students. Staff may have to move from one college to another. There is a bigger picture around conditions of service. The main concern is that staff are not bringing their existing conditions of service with them into the merger. There will be an escalation of action unless this is addressed.
As I said earlier, I have no intention of rushing the Bill through. We have given it full time on all Stages so far and have had very good engagement at the committee. We have three scheduled time slots in the Dáil this week. If we have not finished it by then, we have not finished it. I am not rushing it through.
Last night, I met representatives of staff in Cork. They have serious concerns. I was aware of it in previous meetings with the TUI. We are trying to address the concerns we can address and make as much progress as we can in the Dáil. Although I do not know what will happen in the Seanad or what the arrangements are, I do not intend to rush it through either House.
Chapter 3 of Part 2 provides a general mechanism for the merging of consortiums of institutes of technology to form new institutions of greater scale, which includes assessment by an expert panel of their application to merge. In 2014, consortiums in Dublin and Munster were assessed by an international expert panel and found to be on a clear trajectory to meet the very robust performance and quality criteria that had been set down for merging institutes which wished to apply for the new technological university status. Therefore, the Dublin and Munster consortiums have already completed the stage of the process set down in Chapter 3 of Part 2 and are working towards a full merger in the near future.
To repeat a point I made on Committee Stage, the mergers in Dublin and Munster provided for in the Bill are not forced mergers. Each of the consortiums has, of its own accord, decided to come together to work towards achieving technological university status. The purpose of Chapters 1 and 2 of Part 2 is to reflect the reality of these consortiums, that they have been proceeding along this path for some time, and to ensure they are not required to go back to square one and be reassessed by an expert panel. This is why I cannot support amendments Nos. 11, 14, 15 and 17.
Regarding amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 16, the Deputy is asking that we give the trade unions a veto on the proposed merger. Providing a veto on the proposed merger for anybody would not be in the best interests of everybody involved, including staff, students and the citizens in the wider region who are also to be served by the technological universities.
On the broader issue of consultation with staff, I have repeatedly stated that good communication between the leadership of any institute of technology entering into a merger and the staff and students of the IOT is vital so that a shared vision and understanding of the new institutions can be developed. The HEA and my Department have conveyed this message from the outset of the process. I have spoken about it here before. We have facilitated staff to be given the time to get involved on behalf of the TUI and other representatives of other people working in the institutions. We want such engagement and I will, if necessary, repeat it to the institutes concerned that it is to be real engagement, not what some people appear to think is not real engagement. This is my intention and we have allocated resources to ensure it can happen.
In the Munster region, the Cork and Kerry case, the merger is very far down the line and they are meeting all the criteria. The Minister mentioned the expert panel report which found they are on course. However, the very people who are being asked to deliver the high quality education in a technological university are in dispute. They have no faith in the process and they feel excluded from it. While the Minister may say the governing bodies and institutes should consult the academic staff, in reality they are not engaging constructively. This is the major issue.
While the Minister may say the amendments would give a veto to the trade unions, I say they would ensure there is full co-operation from all stakeholders in the project before an application is made for technological university status. Although the Minister may say it is not a good idea to give vetoes to any one particular organisation, we had no problem giving vetoes to banks regarding personal insolvency. We cannot have it both ways.
The purpose of the amendments is to ensure the Minister cannot make an order for designation as a technological university until all the stakeholders are in agreement. It is a very fair and rational proposal.
If the Minister proceeds with a proposal that would allow one group of stakeholders to make an application while another group of stakeholders feels completely isolated from the process and not part of it, she will be heading for serious industrial strife.