Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage (Resumed)

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 15, to delete lines 11 and 12 and substitute the following:

13. (1) A college (in this Chapter referred to as “applicant colleges”) may jointly apply to the Minister for an order under section 18.”.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 51.

  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kitt, Michael P..
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.

Níl

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Connaughton, Paul J..
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Durkan, Bernard J..
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jonathan O'Brien and Maureen O'Sullivan; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 19 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 are physical alternatives, as are amendments Nos. 81 to 83, inclusive. Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 81 to 83, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 16, to delete lines 28 to 30 and substitute the following:

“(2) A notice under subsection (1) shall state that the applicant college and staff of the college and trade union representatives of these staff may make representations to the Minister in relation to the proposed decision not later than 30 days after service of the notice.”.

We covered most of this issue yesterday. It relates to the request for technological university status. Under the Bill, that would be done through the governing bodies. Our amendments propose that the request should come from that body, but with the agreement of all stakeholders, including trade unions. The Minister stated that this would be tantamount to giving trade unions a veto, but unless all of the stakeholders are in agreement, technological university status could be bestowed on a merged entity that was experiencing an industrial dispute with academic staff who were being asked to teach the courses. Before any request is made to the Minister, there should be consultation with and agreement by all stakeholders. This is the basis of the amendment.

I am in favour of the Bill, as it is important that we have a technological university. Deputy O'Brien spoke about engagement. Recently, we were part of the engagement process with CIT and IT Tralee when Dr. Brendan Murphy held a meeting for public representatives and candidates. Deputy Creed and I met the TUI on Monday night and I met it previously. I am concerned by the large number of academic staff members who voted against the Bill. They numbered in excess of 80%. In my dealings with CIT's staff, they have been professional and committed. Notwithstanding the level or quality of the engagement between CIT and the TUI, Deputy O'Brien is correct, in that there must be a continuum of engagement at various levels.

It is important that we get this right and that the foundation be put in place now so as to ensure that the edifice that will be the technological university is of benefit to students and the cohort of people in the wider catchment area that it serves. Fundamental to this is the level of staff buy-in.

The representation that I received on governance and engagement centred on disillusionment in CIT and the appointment of academic staff and student representatives to the governing body. I was told that there should be a broad diversity of views among stakeholders. A concern has been expressed in the Chamber and elsewhere in this regard. To be fair to the Minister, she has been open to discussion and we have had conversations about this issue. She met TUI members in Cork on Monday night. In the education and training board, ETB, mergers, we brought people with us. It is important that we be open about the future appointment of staff, including academic staff, to the governing body, as the concern in that regard has been rightly expressed.

Another concern expressed to me during the dialogue centred on the six-month period at the beginning when there could potentially be no staff members or students on the governing body. That is not the right move. This relates to the question of engagement. Who better than the staff to be on a representative body? They are committed and interested and their remit does not end at the classroom or research door. Their role is much greater than that. As a director of adult education, I engaged with CIT and, in particular, Mr. Paul O'Mahony. The regional provision of outreach services for continuing education, back to education and upskilling was in its infancy and helped many people. The then Regional Technical College, Cork was good at doing this. It afforded people the opportunity to become part of higher level education in various shapes and forms. The Bill allows for this.

In this critical period of the merger, though, we must focus on ensuring access for students who might not otherwise get to college and on maintaining the core ethos along with business development, which is something that we have all accepted. What the Rubicon Centre and Dr. Murphy and others in CIT have done with the business case model, for example, the research and development of new thinking, new ideas and innovation, is to be applauded and commended. In keeping with this, there is an obligation to ensure that the ethos of upskilling and further education is preserved, but I am concerned that it will be lost during the opening six months. I say this conscious that we have high calibre people on the governing body, for example, Mr. Bob Savage of EMC, who do Trojan work and have no vested interest beyond the further advancement of the college and its students and staff.

When staff vote in such high numbers, it raises a flag and demands that an issue be examined. Undoubtedly, this Bill is about a future vision. The amendment referred to by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is about stakeholder engagement. The governing body is best served by having a wide diversity of opinion and membership. If we had done nothing in this Oireachtas other than pre-legislative scrutiny, it would have shown that true engagement and participation, beyond the normal shuffling of paper involved the compilation of Bills, works. In this case, it is important that we see further engagement.

The Minister is aware that those of us who are interested in education and have been involved in it for a long time recognise that a Bill is about winning people on the journey towards a particular point of view. It is about arriving at a consensus, if possible. It is important that we have a Bill that reflects the views of all of us. The Minister has gone some way towards this with the many amendments she has accepted since the consideration of the Bill began. The members of the academic council should be elected by the academic staff to ensure a diversity of views, as a TUI member said to me on Monday, and also to ensure a constructive challenge to management and the maintenance of academic quality. We must always ensure this.

I am very much cognisant that there is an excellent management council in CIT. It comprises people of the highest calibre who have done considerable, transformative work in bringing the institute to where it is today. In the fullness of time, this Bill will prove to have been the correct approach for both the students and staff. However, concerns have been expressed and views have been articulated that we must listen to and take on board.

I note how we have changed. Yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, commended a new skills strategy, on which I congratulate him. He is correct that we need to challenge one another in this area and reach out to young people to invite them to become part of the new skills era of our country. With a view to making this legislation better and having and a meeting of minds, I hope the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will listen to and reflect upon some of the views expressed to us at our meetings on Monday and during the week, and in the emails we received.

This is good legislation. It represents the right thing to do for CIT and IT Tralee. As I stated, we must now proceed in a calm, measured way. If we can do so, we will have a better Bill that will serve the needs of the staff and students, which is what we are about here today.

I wish to make only a couple of points because we have discussed this on Committee Stage and yesterday with the Minister. If mergers, the technological universities principle and what is being proposed here are to work, the process will require the support of all the stakeholders. The staff are vital in this regard. Staff are extremely critical of the proposal, and there is a lot of opposition from them. When the Minister of State says there was engagement with staff, I say it could not have been meaningful and real. If it had been, the issues of the staff would have been taken on board and we would not be noting the extent of the opposition to what is being proposed. Staff are not being included. Unless they are included and listened to, this merger will not work and we will see a further escalation of industrial unrest.

As it stands, the merger is being imposed. When mergers and such arrangements are imposed on people, they are just starting off on the wrong footing. It was stated we can come back to this at a later stage but, unless we get it right in the beginning, it will be disastrous at later stages. Later stages will be futile and very difficult.

We know about the opposition and criticism, and we note their extent in the content of the amendments before us. There is a disconnect in that, although we have engaged, the stakeholders are saying they have not been engaged with and that they have just received briefings at which they were given information. I ask again that this matter be examined in the best interest of what is being proposed. People are in agreement with the concept of technological universities but the way the arrangement has been imposed on staff at this stage will lead to much unrest.

I wish to deal with a couple of issues. Colleagues are correct that some of them were dealt with already by the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, yesterday and probably on Tuesday and on Committee Stage. Deputy Buttimer might not have been present for the full debate so I will clarify the position for him. The TUI has consistently sought a full process of consultation in regard to the process and legislation. This has been followed through by the Minister and the Department with the respective institutes involved in the processes. We are disappointed that the TUI has chosen to withdraw from all the WRC engagement processes in respect of technological universities because I believe that all the TUI concerns can be addressed through discussion and negotiation via the normal industrial relations processes, including that of the WRC. The processes were employed in the recent successful ETB mergers in the education sector, to which the TUI was a party. They were not rushed. All of us wanted the reform of the full education and training system in respect of the ETBs but the process was not rushed. There was ample time for the issues to be worked through and negotiated at the desired level. That is what happened. In the case of the technological university proposal, the position is similar. There has been ongoing engagement and discussion. Everyone might not have got his way but there have been ongoing discussions and engagements for the past three or four years. There are new procedures in place allowing everybody a chance to have his or her voice heard. There is ample opportunity for all the concerns to be dealt with. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is correct that most people seem to agree with the principle of what we are trying to achieve here. However, many of the problems she is raising can be sorted out. It is not necessarily a matter for this legislation. It is to be dealt with under the WRC; that is what it is for. The processes are in place. Looking back at what has occurred in all the institutions of the past three or four years, I note there were many meetings and much engagement and consultation. New procedures were put in place to allow for that and to allow a safe space or forum for conversation.

I have visited the CIT on probably seven or eight occasions in the past 18 months. It is a fabulous place and is doing unbelievable work, including through the Rubicon Centre, the innovation centre. Unbelievable work is being done with local enterprises and people are being given a start-up opportunity. The students are being turned into entrepreneurs and business people who are creating jobs. The institute is an exemplar and I cannot commend it enough. This legislation will only enhance the good work and give further opportunities. There is ample time to sort out all the concerns.

Let me refer to the specific amendments, namely, amendment No. 19 and the rest of the amendments in the group. Sections 17, 44 and 52 all relate to the making of a decision by the Minister on an application made by a higher education institute or institutes. Each of these sections provides that the Minister, having come to a proposed decision, will inform the applicants of the proposed decision and allow them to make representations on a proposed decision within 30 days, and that those representations will be taken into account before a final decision is made. This is a common step in such processes, particularly statutory processes, and it is designed to ensure fair procedures are adhered to. More important, it allows the applicants the opportunity to point out any errors that might have been made in coming to a decision before the decision is finalised.

It would not be appropriate to open this process up to a wide range of other stakeholders. For that reason, we cannot accept amendments Nos. 19, 20, 81, 82 and 83.

It strikes me as illogical. Surely the concerns of the staff have to be addressed now and not at a later date. If there had been all the engagement and discussion the Minister of State mentioned, surely it would have led to some kind of resolution that staff would have bought into. The staff fears still feature. Definitely, the staff do not feel confident that they will have an opportunity to talk about those fears and they do not believe their fears and issues will be addressed.

While the Minister of State has argued that this can all be done afterwards, staff fear they will be sidelined once the legislation has been passed. The statements by the Minister and Minister of State have not given them any confidence in that regard.

I do not agree with the analysis provided by the Minister of State. He indicated that the 30-day process could not be opened up to all stakeholders. We are discussing a key stakeholder, namely, academic staff. The Minister of State's position is that the House should pass the legislation and the various issues can be dealt with subsequently. Once passed, the Bill becomes law. Section 17(2) states: "A notice under subsection (1) shall state that the applicant colleges may make representations to the Minister in relation to the proposed decision not later than 30 days after service of the notice." Nowhere in the legislation is it stated that representatives of staff may make such representations. As such, passing the legislation would effectively silence the voices of the very people who have been asked to deliver a new, high-quality educational service.

Staff in the institutes of technology must work under extreme conditions. As I indicated yesterday, the budget for the institutes of technology sector has been reduced by €190 million, while the number of lecturers has fallen by 10% and student numbers have increased by 35%. In addition, the Bill provides that technological universities will have budget overruns deducted from their budget for the following year. While an option to apply to the Higher Education Authority for a supplementary budget is provided, the legislation prescribes that each institute must not exceed its annual budget.

The Bill also provides that technological universities may set their own registration fees for students, which gives rise to a potential scenario in which different technological universities would apply different registration fees, albeit subject to the approval of the Minister.

Once the Bill has been passed, it will not be possible to address many of the issues Deputies have raised. It is disingenuous, therefore, to claim that all of the issues can be resolved and ask Deputies to pass the legislation. To do so would prevent many of the issues from being resolved.

It is crucial that the Government work with staff representatives and trade unions from the outset when it proposes reform. We have seen the impact of its failure to do so when it proposed other reform measures, specifically reform of the junior certificate examination, when it did not work with all stakeholders and failed from the outset to engage with them and ensure they had an input in the process. Stakeholders must be comfortable with the reform's objectives. It would be a mistake to pass this Bill before the general election without allowing sufficient time to ensure the outstanding concerns of trade union representatives are addressed. The Government must learn lessons and engage further with the relevant trade unions to try to ensure everyone is comfortable with the legislation.

On the amendments, it would be appropriate to make clear in the Bill that the voices of trade union and staff representatives should be heard and that they are able to make representations. I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendments.

To respond to some of the comments made by the Deputies, particularly with regard to reform of the junior certificate examination, engagement and consultation do not mean solving everyone's problem or ensuring all stakeholders get everything they want. There was significant engagement and discussion with all stakeholders in recent years on junior certificate reform. The majority of them agreed with the reform, although some did not. At some stage, a decision must be made to move on. Consultation does not mean that every problem is resolved. One does one's best to hear everyone out and have a fair process.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide the legal framework for consortiums of institutes of technology to be granted technological university status. Many issues remain to be discussed, and there are appropriate forums for doing so, but not all of these issues should be addressed in legislation. We will tease them out in this debate, on which we will not impose a guillotine. Deputies are giving the impression that the Bill is being rammed through when that is not the case. Further debate is scheduled on three days next week, if it becomes necessary and the Dáil is still sitting. There will be time to tease out the amendments.

We do not deem the amendments in this group to be appropriate. They are not the way to do business in these matters. We have gone to great lengths to engage in consultation in recent years and the consultation process continues. It is not the case that it is game over, as it were, because this is a long process. The purpose of the legislation is to advance the process to the next stage, and in some cases there is a strong demand that we do so. Most people are in favour of the idea or concept behind the Bill. If we do not enact this legislation, people will conclude that technological universities will never be established and there will not be any consultation or progress. These proposals will benefit most, if not all, of the stakeholders concerned. While I accept that issues arise, the purpose of consultation is to address outstanding issues. Ample mechanisms are in place to do so at the appropriate time and place. Not everything must be dealt with in the legislation.

Will the Minister of State outline what opportunities for further engagement will be available once the legislation has been passed? It is unclear how the outstanding issues will be addressed once the legislation has been passed because the section states clearly that only applicant colleges can make representations to the Minister on the proposed decision and they must do so not later than 30 days after the proposed decision has been made. It does not state that members of staff can make representations, nor can I find any other reference in the Bill to allowing recognised trade unions representing staff members to make representations to the Minister. Despite this, the Minister of State argues that Deputies should pass the legislation and the outstanding issues can be dealt with subsequently.

I am seriously concerned about the manner in which the Bill is being proposed. I do not have a problem with the introduction of technological universities, as I believe they will transform the quality of education in the regions. However, this will only come about if all the stakeholders buy into the process. We are trying to deal with a process that was flawed from the outset, while pursuing the common goal of achieving technological university status for institutes of technology.

Under this proposal, institutes of technology will be forced to merge without any guarantee of securing technological university status. Furthermore, the Bill does not provide any guarantees on course provision before technological university status is granted, nor is there a guarantee in place that the process will be adequately funded. There is no guarantee that agreement will be obtained from all the stakeholders before technological university status is granted. Notwithstanding all of these flaws, the institutes of technology must agree to merge before technological university status can be secured. The Government is putting the horse before the cart. Agreement should be found among all the stakeholders, and if that is not possible, the Government should at least enable stakeholders to make representations to the Minister. The failure to do so is wrong because it disenfranchises a key stakeholder in the process, namely, the staff who will be asked to operate the terms of the legislation and, to use the words of the Minister, give technological universities the capacity to compete at an international level.

Debate adjourned.