Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.
Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 32, after line 39, to insert the following:
(a) a listed awarding body is a body established under the law of a state, other than the State, and
(b) apart from the provision made by this Act for the Authority to exercise powers in relation to it, that awarding body is subject to regulation or quality assurance by an agency established outside the State,
the Authority may, for the purpose of conducting a review under subsection (1) in respect of that awarding body, cooperate with that agency.”.
These amendments transfer a subsection from section 55(1) to section 55G and they make the relevant consequential changes. These are technical amendments to correct a drafting error identified in section 55(1) following the passage of the Bill through the Seanad.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 35, lines 20 and 21, to delete all words from and including “and” in line 20 down to and including line 21.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 35, line 40, to delete “Framework.” and substitute “Framework.”.”.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 35, to delete lines 41 to 43, and in page 36, to delete lines 1 to 7.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 42, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
“(r) an institution, other than a recognised school or a university, which—
(i) is a company limited by guarantee within the meaning of the Companies Act 2104,
(ii) is registered or deemed to be registered in the register of charitable organisations maintained under the Charities Act 2009,
(iii) offers early childhood education, adult or continuing education, or vocational education or training to economically disadvantaged persons, and
(iv) is designated as a not for profit community college by the Minister for the purposes of this paragraph,”.
These amendments are somewhat different but they are being discussed together. The background to the tabling of these amendments is that the Bill passed through the Seanad quickly. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills and we had indicated that we wanted to hold hearings on the Bill. We were informed, however, at the committee that we could not do so because Bill had gone to the Seanad. We had to wait to hold hearings until after the Bill had completed its passage through the Seanad and Second Stage in this House.
The joint committee then held hearings and a number of different organisations came in to talk to us about the Bill. We are quite happy with the general purpose of the Bill and with the different measures in it. I will not go into them now as we had an opportunity to speak about them on Second Stage. I tabled these two amendments in response to concerns that arose at those hearings. Amendment No. 5 arose from a presentation from AONTAS, the body that represents adult and community education. It was concerned that, as a not-for-profit provider, it might have to pay into the fund being established by this legislation. The fund is intended to ensure that if a college goes to the wall, particularly in the English language teaching sector, students will not lose out on the fees they had paid or on continuing with their course. We do not have any quarrel with ensuring protection for the students. My concern in this amendment is to ensure that not-for-profit community providers will not have to pay into this fund. Those who have to pay into the fund have to do so every year.
A series of exemptions is provided for in this section. I will not quote all of them but they include universities, Teagasc and SOLAS, as well as education and training boards, ETBs.
Perhaps the Minister of State can clarify if the not-for-profit community sector will be protected under that. My concern is that these providers might end up having to pay in. A lot of this fund concerns the teaching of English. There are many non-Irish people who do not have English as a first language living in our communities. In many cases, community educators provide English language education for those people. These educators may be seeking to have their qualification registered on the Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, list of qualifications into which we are trying to slot everybody.
I tabled the amendment to clarify this concern with the Minister of State. In many cases, not-for-profit community providers serve people who have had the least benefit from the education system, whether they are Irish people who had to leave school when they were young or people who came to live in this country for whom English is not a first language. They are nearly all not-for-profit providers, to which my amendment specifically refers. I want to be absolutely assured that they will not have to make a yearly payment into a fund. In recent years they already faced an issue about having to pay to re-register. This would be an added burden on voluntary organisations that do not have the capacity to pay extra money. That is the purpose of amendment No. 5.
Amendment No. 6 arises from a presentation to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills from an umbrella group of providers of English language education to students from outside the European Union. For some time, this group of colleges has organised an insurance fund which I understand fully covers students if there is a problem with a college or if a college folds. It also provides coverage for teachers. We had a big issue here around Christmastime, when some teachers were not paid because the college they were teaching in closed.
I have worded this amendment in a way that should protect the public purse. It does not envisage a subjective judgment on the part of a school that its cover is better than that offered under the proposed legislation. There is a three-year lag. If a provider has insurance, that can cover it for three years. It then comes into the system and has to pay in. If a provider has insurance cover that is better than that provided under this legislation, it should be allowed to continue with what it has and should not have to pay into the central scheme.
Issues around competition were raised by some other members of the committee. They asked if it would be anti-competitive not to allow for an option that would be better than what is offered in this legislation. That is what amendment no. 6 seeks to do. It provides:
The Minister, having considered any particular arrangements put in place by a provider under section 65 and continued in being by subsection (2), and after consultation with the Authority, may by order declare that the arrangements concerned offer greater protection to enrolled learners than would be offered under the relevant substitution and that paragraph (a) [which concerns paying into the scheme] shall not apply in respect of those arrangements.
That is the purpose of the two amendments.
I wish to comment on some of those points. My colleagues who would usually address this Bill cannot be here for various very good reasons. As a Dublin Deputy I spoke on Second Stage and outlined my interest in the area. As most of the international language schools are based in Dublin, this is important to the Dublin economy. I am told that putting students up during their period learning English in Dublin can be worth a significant amount of money per month to the families who do so. It is really important for local economies.
I also noted that the reason the State never got involved in establishing its own language schools is beyond me. We seem to keep every part of education at arm's length. It would have solved an awful lot of problems. However, private enterprise established the first English language schools in this country 45 years ago. According to the figures in some of the ministerial briefings, more than 140,000 international students come to learn English in Ireland. That is a phenomenal number. We know about the things that happened with students going missing, visas and rogue colleges. It is right that these issues are addressed.
I share Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's concerns. One might ask why the charitable groups should be exempted while others are not. Equally there is a question of why they should be included when there is a charge. The Minister of State may have a response to that.
Regarding amendment No. 6, I would like to ask the Minister of State some questions arising from the submissions that were made. My question concerns private cover that may be equal to or greater than what the Government is offering through this learner protection fund, which I believe is modelled on what has been done in Australia. Learner protection funds in the private sector have expanded to cover teachers who lose their jobs. That has not been done before. I read in some of the submissions I have received that the Government's proposed bond for the protection of enrolled learners does not cover teachers. The Minister of State might respond to that. The Government is hoping that this bond will cost €5 for each student in the various colleges and would accumulate a total fund of about €5 million. It will be a kind of sinking fund in case something goes wrong. It is meant to cover the cost of continuing students' education in their college. There are a lot of small providers. Can the Minister of State talk us through what will happen in the event that a large college with 3,000 or 4,000 students is in danger? How will this scheme work? Second, what happens if such an endangered college exhausts the sinking fund the established by the Government?
The Minister of State can correct me if I am wrong, but I understand private insurance cover ensures that if a college collapses for any reason, students will complete their course and teachers will be provided in the same or another location. Students will enjoy tuition until the absolute completion of their courses, not just the completion of their current year. In Australia there is an initiative called the Tuition Protection Service. That name is probably familiar to the Minister of State's officials, who raised this point in one of their reports. The Australian Government ended up taking out insurance on its own Tuition Protection Service because the fund it had established to bail out colleges was almost exhausted. My point is that there is a cost to the taxpayer and the State. With private insurers, there is no cost to the State as the person involved pays his or her premium. I absolutely understand the sinking fund proposed by the Minister of State. That is fine if there is no call on it but what if there are multiple calls on it in a single year? There have been multiple closures before. If there are multiple calls on that fund, who pays?
I suspect the taxpayer will pay, because if the fund is exhausted, who else can? I may have misinterpreted this completely, but that is the difference between something being covered privately and something being covered by the State. The Minister of State might be able to offer some clarification.
I support the amendment but will await the Minister of State's response on community not-for-profit education. It is reasonable to exempt that sector but it may be the case that it is already accepted under the cover of the ETBs. In any event, it is a reasonable proposition and a good amendment which is supported by Aontas, which is one of the organisations that has been vocal on the issue. Likewise, if the pre-existing insurance cover for a school or institution is superior to what is proposed in this procedure, I see no difficulty in such a school or institution maintaining that cover. Presumably, it is running a good operation.
I understand the points the Deputies have made. I have worked with Deputy Thomas Byrne, who has done a great deal of work here, and with Deputy Funchion, who has moved to another portfolio as spokesperson. I might be a bit long-winded in the following but I want to answer the Deputies' questions fully.
On amendment No. 5, I acknowledge the valuable role the not-for-profit community education sector has played in the provision of education and training opportunities to marginalised communities. This is reflected in the significant funding resources provided from my Department to the sector to undertake these important training and education activities. During the Bill's drafting process and following debates on the Bill in Seanad Éireann, my Department and QQI considered a number of proposals to provide for a blanket exemption for not-for-profit community education providers from the annual charge for the learning protection fund. However, the Department's view is that none of these proposals meets the dual requirements of, first, clearly defining a not-for-profit community education provider for the purposes of such an exemption and, second, ensuring that enrolled learners are protected. It is very important to me to ensure that, ultimately, enrolled learners are protected. The not-for-profit community education sector is not homogenous. QQI has approximately 116 providers that have self-declared as community and voluntary. This is a very diverse group of providers with an equally diverse cohort of learners. Some self-declared community and voluntary providers operate programmes on a for-profit basis and charge fees to their students. There is no suitable mechanism available for QQI to disaggregate this group completely and to categorise them appropriately and in such a way as to allow for a fee waiver or exemption system to operate. We have done our very best on that and I can provide the House with an answer in that regard later.
As a number of these providers charge fees to their students, protection for enrolled learner, PEL, measures are necessary to ensure payments made by students are safeguarded. An analysis of not-for-profit community education providers currently engaged with QQI indicates that the annual charge for the protection of enrolled learners will be mitigated in many if not most instances. The annual charge for PEL will only apply when a provider accepts moneys from or on behalf of a learner in respect of a programme with a minimum duration of three months. QQI has advised that approximately 25% of providers in this category deliver programmes up to level 3 on the national framework of qualifications, NFQ. These tend to be short-term programmes of less than three months' duration and, therefore, they are automatically exempt from the annual charge. Indeed, in reviewing all activity in the sector in 2018, 92% of all programmes offered by the sector as a whole were found to be of less than three months in duration, that is, 92% of the 116 education providers referred to above. In addition, where programmes are funded publicly by the Exchequer through, for example, back to work schemes or ETB upskilling programmes, such programmes will also be exempt from the annual charge. Similarly, any programmes where moneys are not paid by or on behalf of a learner will be exempt from the fund.
The approach that has been adopted in the Bill to the PEL annual charge is proportionate and does not place an undue burden on not-for-profit community education providers. QQI has been empowered under the Bill to vary the date of payment of the annual charge which will allow a provider to pay the annual charge in instalments where necessary and when agreed with the authority. During the Bill's passage through the Seanad, it was agreed that the operation of the learner protection fund and the associated annual charge would be subject to periodic reviews at a minimum of five-year intervals. The Bill was amended to give effect to this proposal and to include a requirement that QQI consult in the review process with those providers whose learners are protected by the fund and which are obliged to pay a charge. The review mechanism was developed to give providers, in particular in the not-for-profit community education sector, the opportunity to have their say on the operation of the fund and the charges being levied in respect of it. This input will inform QQI's future policy recommendations on the development of the fund.
On amendment No. 5, I said earlier that we had conducted an analysis of the 116 providers. I can work through that with the House if Members wish. Approximately 90% of them are not charging fees. Of those which do, for example, providers of special educational needs assistant courses, they seem to charge approximately €500 per subject up to a limit of approximately €2,000. When learners pay €2,000, I feel strongly that there should be an assurance for them that their moneys are protected. That is what we are doing here. Members can come back to me on that issue if they wish.
I will not ask the Minister of State go through all 116 of them.
No, but I have the list here and can go through it in general terms for the House. QQI engages with 116 self-declared not-for-profit providers. Of this cohort, 85 have QQI validation for programmes which exceed three months' duration. However, this validation has been obtained in many cases via links with providers and their local education and training boards. Such programmes represent a small fraction of the activity undertaken by the community and voluntary sector. Interestingly, in many cases, they are not currently offering any courses to learners at all. They have moved away from that and are doing something else. In 2018, 7,322 awards at NFQ levels 1 to 6 were made by community and voluntary providers.
Some 92% of those related to minor awards arising from programmes of that short duration of less than three months. From a preliminary analysis, none of this activity would meet the duration threshold for PEL purposes and would therefore not come within the scope of the PEL scheme. The remaining 539 awards, or 8%, were major awards, most of which were level 5 and level 6 awards in areas like healthcare, early childhood care and education, and special needs assistant training. A number of the programmes leading to these awards would also be exempt from PEL because not all of them would have had a duration of more than three months. While PEL will not apply in many cases in the community and voluntary sector, it is essential that learners are protected when they undertake longer programmes and have paid fees to the programme provider. This is a reasonable and proportionate measure to take to protect vulnerable learners. It will not place an undue burden on the providers in this sector.
A range of fees is charged by providers in this sector. The most common fee level is between €250 and €300 per component of a level 5 or level 6 major award. This would result in an overall cost to a learner of between €2,000 and €3,000 for the completion of a major award. QQI's analysis has highlighted that the number of self-declared providers in the community and voluntary sector is decreasing for a number of reasons. In many cases, the local ETBs have absorbed responsibility for the quality assurance procedures of providers. This happens in circumstances in which the ETB has resourced the provider by providing tutor hours and designing the programmes and the curriculum. QQI has been encouraging and supporting this type of rationalisation because it strengthens quality assurance standards. In these circumstances, the provider no longer receives funding for its training activities. Consequently, many providers have changed their strategic direction. That is what is behind our approach to community and voluntary sector.
I will deal with some of the other questions that have been asked with regard to these amendments. The review mechanism that we have put in place will strengthen what is being delivered in our English language schools and further and higher education colleges. The operation of the fund and the charges being levied on it will inform QQI's future policy recommendations. The proposal to allow PEL arrangements that appear to be stronger than those contained in this Bill to stand separate from the learner protection fund would undermine the rationale for and operation of the fund. The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 imposes an obligation on QQI to assist learners who are affected by the cessation of a programme of education and training or the non-commencement of a programme in respect of which a learner has paid programme fees. The 2012 Act allows providers to satisfy PEL requirements through academic bonding or financial bonding arrangements. However, the practical implementation and operation of these arrangements have proven problematic.
The most significant challenge is that none of the existing arrangements provides QQI with the necessary resources to enable it to fulfil its statutory PEL responsibilities, as set out in the 2012 Act. This will be addressed by the establishment of a learner protection fund, which will apply to all providers engaging with the NFQ, with the exception of named public education bodies. Each provider that offers a programme leading to an award included in the NFQ of three months' duration or longer, and accepts money from or on behalf of a learner in respect of that programme, will pay an annual charge to the learner protection fund. The fund is designed in this manner to ensure QQI will have the necessary funds available to it to enable it to pay for the services required in the event of the closure of a provider or the cessation of a programme. The fund will need to be universally applicable to all providers to give QQI sufficient resources to fund successfully the teaching out of a programme or the transfer of learners to a similar programme. The operation of other PEL schemes alongside the learner protection fund would ultimately obstruct QQI's efforts to fulfil its statutory PEL responsibilities and would weaken the operation of the fund, which is intended to provide a comprehensive, cost-effective, equitable and transparent approach to the protection of enrolled learners in the State. It is on this basis that I cannot accept these amendments.
Deputy Lahart asked a specific question about what would happen in the event of the closure of a large provider. As a response to that question, I will add to what I have already said. The 2012 Act imposes an obligation on QQI to assist learners who are affected by PEL events. However, there is no provision in that legislation to fund any QQI activity in this sphere. As a result, the cost of QQI's involvement in PEL events in the past has been borne mainly by the Exchequer. It is now intended that all providers that offer programmes on the NFQ that are of three months' duration or longer and accept moneys on behalf of learners, with the exception of certain named publicly funded providers, will pay an annual charge to the learner protection fund. It is important for us to provide for this. My understanding is that the teachers' fund, to which the Deputy has referred, was introduced by the providers recently. It is great that this fund has been provided since Christmas. I encourage the providers to continue to do this for their teachers. However, we are talking about learners. Following the enactment of the legislation before the House, all providers that engage with QQI will be subject to corporate fitness checks to ensure they have sufficient financial robustness to deliver programmes and awards to the standards required by QQI. As part of those checks, QQI will conduct fit and proper persons tests in respect of those who own and manage these providers to review their track record.
This is not happening at the moment. These assessments will ensure that these providers whose learners will be covered by the learner protection fund are strong, well managed and sufficiently resourced. Such assessments will also support QQI in developing its risk profile for potential PEL events. These considerations will enable the agency to determine the level to which the learner protection fund needs to be resourced and to cater for any such events and the level of the annual charge providers will be required to pay to ensure the fund is fully resourced.
It should also be noted that where international students have paid fees in advance to a provider for a place on a programme, these funds must be held in an escrow account and will be secure in the event of a sudden closure. In the event of a closure, QQI may use the learner protection fund to fund the teaching out of the original programmes, where possible, to fund the payment of fees for the transfer of the enrolled learner to a similar programme of another provider or in circumstances where the learner considers, with the agreement, of QQI that it is not practical to complete the programme with another provider, QQI will refund the learner or the person who paid the moneys on his or her behalf the moneys most recently paid in respect of the programme for that current academic year.
They will cover the costs incurred by QQI in operating the fund and managing PEL events. In the event of a closure of a large provider, QQI's priority will be to ensure that the students are catered for in the first instance. It will call on the wider education sector to support its efforts. QQI will be responsible for deciding how best to manage any PEL event and how to most effectively utilise the resources available in the learner protection fund. While the Bill does not provide an option for the Exchequer to pay into the fund, it is the strong policy intention that the fund will be completely resourced from provider contributions and that any Exchequer exposure to PEL events is minimised. The learner protection fund is based on a tried and tested international model that has operated successfully in jurisdictions such as Australia and New Zealand in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
I wish to tease out a few issues. What would be the effect of accepting amendment No. 6? What does the Minister of State read as the impact of that? Would it completely dilute what she is trying to do? I am talking about the amendment in the name of Deputy Jan O'Sullivan relating to the existing learner protection schemes in place that are at least equal to or possibly better than what the Minister of State is proposing. If that amendment were accepted, what would be its impact?
How much has it cost QQI to bail out students since 2010? How much will it cost the State to establish the learner protection fund? Presumably, if there is a fund in place, there will be administrators of that fund and thousands of students will be involved. Someone has to administer it and set up an infrastructure to maintain it. General data protection regulation, GDPR, issues also arise. Where does the money come from to cover that cost? It must come from the State because one cannot harvest the money without having the infrastructure in place. It cannot, therefore, come from the students or the college. Will the Minister of State clarify that?
I want clarification on this matter. The Minister of State should not misinterpret what I am saying as being negative. It is just that there are issues that I want to tease out. I addressed two questions to her. The Australian model involved having a modest fund. What if a negative event occurred that exhausted the moneys in the pot and a second negative event subsequently occurred? We have experience of multiple colleges failing in one year. What if there was a second negative event and there was nothing left in the pot? Under the existing system, the affected students and their teachers would be insured but if there was a second event and the pot was exhausted, under the system proposed by the Minister of State, the only recourse would be to the taxpayer. The Minister of State did not answer my question about what would happen if one of the big colleges failed and the liabilities exceeded the moneys available in the learner protection fund? Who would be liable for picking up the cost if such a substantial failure occurred?
The system in place in Australia is known as the Tuition Protection Service. Our system will be known as the learner protection fund. A few years ago, the director of the Tuition Protection Service entered into an insurance contract under which all claims would be met in the event of a large closure carrying heavy liabilities. This is what the Minister of State is modelling the learner protection fund on and that is fine. The Australian system has many good and positive aspects. Australia took the decision four or five years ago to take out insurance on its fund to ensure it could meet claims carrying heavy liabilities. What is the point of the State taking out insurance on a fund and thereby admitting that the fund it is providing may not be sufficient? That is what some of the private providers are saying. They are saying the cover they give is equal to or greater than what the Government is offering. What the Australian approach seemed to imply was that its fund or sinking fund may not be up to the task and needed to be insured against a major draw being taken on it. Will the Minister of State tease out that issue? Does she envisage her Department or QQI having to take out an insurance policy in the event of a large closure carrying heavy liabilities that would not be covered by the learner protection fund? It is a simple question and I apologise for repeating it. If there was a significant closure that exceeded the potential of the fund to resolve it because the liabilities accrued were heavier than the total amount in the fund, the taxpayer would have to pick up the bill, whereas under the existing process, insurance companies would pick up the bill and the taxpayer would not be liable. Will the Minister of State tease out those issues?
I thank the Minister of State for the clarification regarding amendment No. 5. She is saying providers will only have to pay into the fund if they accept money from learners and that the requirement to pay into the fund will not apply if the course is of less than three months' duration. In addition, providers will not have to pay into the fund if an education and training board is the certifier of the course. I would like clarity on all of those points. The Minister of State must communicate with the community education sector about all of these matters because, as she noted, it is a highly diverse sector. Based on my knowledge of the sector, it does not charge fees so in that sense, community providers should be okay. Courses leading to a State certificate such as the junior certificate and leaving certificate and other post-primary programmes are exempted in any case under section 32. I want absolute clarity that a voluntary or community body that teaches English to people for whom English is not their first language, or anything else for that matter, and does not charge students will not have to pay anything into the fund.
In the case of a voluntary community body teaching English to people for whom it is not a first language, if it is not charging the students, is it the case then that it will not have to pay into the fund? Will the Minister of State clarify if the fee is in accordance with the charge? In other words, if one school charges €2,000 a term while another charges €200 a term, presumably the latter does not have to pay as much as the former.
Groups, which are looking to maintain their existing arrangement with an insurer, are the ones which have been responsible. The ones which closed were the ones which were not conducting their business properly. In many cases, they are bringing students in from distant countries but not providing them with proper educational facilities. In many cases, those students were primarily coming because they wanted to work here rather than study here. Those are the ones which closed as soon as they started being inspected. That is why our reputation in the international education market for people coming from outside the European Union to learn English here is important. It still does not get away from the fact that the ones which do not abide by the rules will be bailed out by the fund, while those abiding by the rules and protecting their students and teachers have to pay for it. Essentially, a school which may not do things well and whose business goes will be bailed out. There is still an issue there.
My amendment proposes that the Minister, in consultation with QQI, decides these schools have better cover. My amendment is well drafted. It would have to be verified that it was greater protection.
I was not aware of the issues that Deputy Lahart raised about the funds having to be bailed out by insurance. There is an issue of fairness. The ones who break the rules are being protected through the contributions of the ones doing things by the book. Amendment No. 6 proposes to address this matter.
Will the Minister of State clarify that the not-for-profit sector realises that, if it is not charging fees, then it will not have to pay? That sector has had to re-engage with QQI and it has cost it in some cases. Many in the sector have grouped together to ensure they can continue with the good work they do.
On the question of different providers paying into different insurance funds, that actually dilutes the fund. It gives fewer options then to place students in providers outside the scheme. If an event happens, QQI will do its level best to ensure that students affected get the programme they need from other providers within that insurance piece.
While this is good legislation, we have had problems and everything is not rosy in the garden. There is one main provider of insurance in this sector which has worked. However, QQI has gone in on many occasions to sort out problems for students. The international reputation of Irish education is tarnished as a result.
Administration costs will be paid from the fund. The fund can be reinsured if QQI feels it needs to be done. The Exchequer can resource the funds. It does not have to but the provision is in the legislation if it is necessary. It would be refunded over time by future provider contributions.
On the point about a larger college failing, QQI will be able to offer the students of that academic year another course. If we were not to have this legislation, it would be ten times worse. We have a good and well-resourced protection of enrolled learners, PEL, fund. That is much better than where we are at the moment.
A provider does not have to pay if it is less than three months, if it is being delivered and they are students of education and training board, ETB, colleges. The community and voluntary sector does not need to pay to the PEL fund.
ETBs often provide adult education teachers to some providers in this sector.
If it is being delivered through an ETB and the students are enrolled as ETB students, it will have to pay. If the students are paying to other providers which are not ETB and over the three months threshold, QQI will be engaging with them and will expect them to pay towards the PEL fund.
If the students are not paying, then the provider does not have to pay towards the PEL fund.
Yes. QQI will talk to the providers on the fee being in accordance with charges. One would not expect a college charging a €2,000 fee to be paying the same as one charging €300 and the provider collecting that money.
Is that definite?
Yes, that is definite.
What about those which went by the book and will now have to bail out the ones which did not?
We need a strong PEL fund. We have had numerous schools going out of business over recent years. We need to have that fund to ensure we can guarantee students will get the courses for which they paid.
I thank the Minister of State for going into detail on this. I recognise the efforts she is taking to strengthen this area. It badly needs it from an international reputational and a student point of view. There are some gaps here, however, which I would like the Minister of State to acknowledge.
For example, students may be in South America and may have applied for a course and then they may hear the college has closed, and this seems to happen quite often. If they have paid a fee, and part of that fee includes insurance, they will be reimbursed that fee. Under the proposed fund, if that college closes and the sinking fund is in place, the college-----
It is in an escrow account.
Yes, but the student in Brazil gets nothing in that instance. His or her fee is gone as I understand it because he or she is not covered, whereas at the moment he or she would be covered by insurance.
It is good that the market responded. Maybe it came a few years too late but teacher protection is available now. I am not sure I agree with the Minister of State when she says a larger school would be in a better position under the proposed legislation if it were to go bust. My point is that this would not be a cost to the State, and one of the themes of the Government has been money messages and things coming with a cost to the State. I call this a sinking fund and in Australia they have a fund with the equivalent of €5 million. If a large college went wallop, at the moment those students would be insured and it would be up to the insurer, according to the policy, to find those students a place until the completion of their studies. The Minister of State has admitted that if such a large college did not have enough money, the State would step in so there is a cost to the taxpayer-----
The Government is stepping in.
-----but at the moment there is no cost to the taxpayer because private business covers these costs.
I am sure we will wrap up soon so I want to acknowledge the international education mark, IEM, contained in the Bill. That is long overdue and I welcome it. I welcome the attempts to strengthen learner protection measures.
The Minister of State is saying the amendment would weaken the fund and that is where the colleges come in, as Deputy Jan O'Sullivan said. The Minister of State sees it as weakening the fund and the colleges see it as akin to double taxation. The Government is now forcing the colleges to participate in something that is essentially another form of tax. They are already insuring their students and now they have to contribute to a central fund.
I also welcome the fact that QQI will have the authority to list awarding bodies, giving additional statutory powers to investigate these colleges and make sure they are running properly. The legislation will strengthen and improve QQI's approval process for providers and quality assurance procedures and all that is really necessary. I am not sure whether all this has been teased out completely to my satisfaction but I see that we are probably moving to the point of exhausting discussion on it.
QQI will deal with these colleges and providers. It will be able to see into their accounts. They have to prove they are pro bono, they have to be able to show bank accounts, they have to be able to show they are able to pay their teachers and they have to be able to prove they have not had another school outside this jurisdiction where they have failed to meet their financial commitments. QQI will know, whether it is a big college or a small college, how dangerous that college would be if it was to go to the wall. It will know when it needs to step in and in some instances, it will know not to give them the IEM. That is all in this legislation. I am confident the legislation will greatly improve what is going on at the moment. This is the best legislation we can enact. It is important that we protect the learners. On numerous occasions I hear about teachers, and as I said, a new measure the colleges have brought in since Christmas is insuring their teachers. I ask them to continue to do that but I have drafted strong legislation to bring certainty around what teachers will be paid in the future and I want the colleges to step up to that mark.
QQI will use corporate fitness to make sure it excludes bad providers. It will be able to look at the books and will be able to decide what is acceptable and what is not. That is the reason I am confident that robust and good colleges will not go to the wall.
To reinforce the point Deputy Jan O'Sullivan made, the colleges that are robust are the ones that have made representations to us. At the moment, if one of those colleges was unexpectedly threatened, all their students and teachers would be covered. Their students would be placed in different colleges to complete their courses-----
Those colleges that are at issue in this amendment, namely, those that have made representations on this issue, that have insurance and are covered and that are unlikely to go to the wall or to meet a crisis have all these protections and on top of that they have even more protections. They are saying they have more protections, that their teachers are protected and their teachers would get paid. What does the Minister of State say to them? The Government is asking them to contribute more to a product that might not be as good as the product they have.
In respect of amendment No. 5, the Minister of State has confirmed that if they are not charging, they are not covered, which gives me some assurance. I am also pleased that there will be a review because in some senses we are rushing the Bill through. We had intended to take Committee Stage at the select committee last week and then come to Report Stage this week, giving time to tease these issues out further. There will be a review as a result of the Seanad amendments, which is important in this regard. I would not like to see community education being affected and having to pay money it cannot afford. I would not be reassured by them being allowed to pay in instalments. I am more reassured by the Minister of State's clear response that if they are not charging the learner, they are excluded from having to pay anything.
Regarding amendment No. 6, it is fundamentally unfair to force colleges which have done things properly and have provided insurance for their students, and more latterly for their staff, to pay into a fund. It is compulsory to pay into the fund. There is no opportunity to cover themselves otherwise. I have worded the amendment carefully enough that it is not their judgment that they offer greater protection. It is judgment in consultation between the Minister and the authority. It is an objective judgment by the people who are administering the fund. I am not satisfied that my issues under amendment No. 6 are addressed.
How stands the amendment?
I will not press amendment No. 5. I will take the Minister of State at her word in that regard.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 44, to delete lines 12 to 15 and substitute the following:
“(3) (a) Subject to paragraph (b), on the expiration of 3 years from the relevant commencement or such earlier date as may be appointed by order made by the Minister under subsection (4), the arrangements referred to in subsection (2) shall cease to have effect.
(b) The Minister, having considered any particular arrangements put in place by a provider under section 65 and continued in being by subsection (2), and after consultation with the Authority, may by order declare that the arrangements concerned offer greater protection to enrolled learners than would be offered under the relevant substitution and that paragraph (a) shall not apply in respect of those arrangements.”.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Connolly, Catherine.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Ellis, Dessie.
- Healy, Seamus.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Mitchell, Denise.
- Munster, Imelda.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- O'Brien, Jonathan.
- O'Reilly, Louise.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- O'Sullivan, Maureen.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Pringle, Thomas.
- Quinlivan, Maurice.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Sherlock, Sean.
- Stanley, Brian.
- Brassil, John.
- Brophy, Colm.
- Browne, James.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burke, Peter.
- Butler, Mary.
- Byrne, Catherine.
- Cahill, Jackie.
- Calleary, Dara.
- Canney, Seán.
- Cannon, Ciarán.
- Carey, Joe.
- Cassells, Shane.
- Chambers, Jack.
- Chambers, Lisa.
- Collins, Michael.
- Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
- Coveney, Simon.
- Curran, John.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Deasy, John.
- Deering, Pat.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Doyle, Andrew.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- English, Damien.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Healy-Rae, Danny.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Heydon, Martin.
- Humphreys, Heather.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kyne, Seán.
- Lahart, John.
- Madigan, Josepha.
- McEntee, Helen.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McHugh, Joe.
- McLoughlin, Tony.
- Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
- Moran, Kevin Boxer.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
- Murphy, Eoghan.
- Murphy, Eugene.
- Naughten, Denis.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Neville, Tom.
- Nolan, Carol.
- Noonan, Michael.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Connell, Kate.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Dowd, Fergus.
- O'Loughlin, Fiona.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Rabbitte, Anne.
- Ring, Michael.
- Rock, Noel.
- Scanlon, Eamon.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Smyth, Niamh.
- Stanton, David.
- Troy, Robert.
Amendments Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 49, to delete lines 31 and 32 and substitute the following:
“(ii) by the substitution of the following subparagraphs for subparagraphs (iii) and (iv):
“(iii) the level at which the award is included within the Framework for the time being, and
(iv) the award type and class of award as identified within the Framework for the time being;”,”.
These are technical drafting amendments that will better align the text of section 79 of the principal Act with provisions introduced elsewhere in the Bill. This will allow QQI, when establishing its database of awards, to more accurately represent the different classes and types of awards that are included in the NFQ.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 49, line 36, to delete “and”.
I move amendment No.9:
In page 49, line 38, to delete “Framework”.” and substitute the following:
(iii) by the substitution of the following clause for clause (II):
“(II) the award type and class of award as identified within the Framework for the time being,”.”.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 50, line 5, to delete “section 29 B(3)” and substitute “section 29B(4)”.
This is a technical amendment to correct a cross-reference in this section.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 59, line 10, to delete “that” where it secondly occurs.
This is a technical amendment to correct a drafting error.
I thank, in particular, Deputy Thomas Byrne, the other Deputies present and the Members of the Seanad for getting this Bill through.
I also thank the people who helped us, namely, William Beausang, Padraig Hennigan, Wendy Ross and Joe Gleeson. We have worked on the issue for years and tonight we are successful. The Bill will be transformative for education. The Royal College of Surgeons will receive university status, strong legislation will underpin English language schools, and the QQI will be a strong international education mark.
The Bill, which is considered to be a Dáil Bill under Article 20.2.2° of the Constitution, will be sent to the Seanad.