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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 9 Mar 1999

Vol. 158 No. 11

Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

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

Is pribhléid dom bheith i láthair sa Seanad chun an Bille seo a léamh agus a chur os comhair an Tí.

I would like to introduce the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999, to you today. Over the last year and a half I have brought a number of pieces of legislation before this House and each has received a very constructive and thorough debate. Particularly because of this, I am pleased to be in a position to commence this very important Bill in the Seanad.

While it may appear quite technical in many ways, this Bill is no less than crucial to the future work of much of our education and training system. The one essential principle which informs all of its provisions is that the interests of the student must be to the fore. In order to achieve this, quality must be guaranteed and appropriate routes of progression provided.

The Government reached an important milestone with the publication of this Bill last week. The establishment of a more coherent and effective system of certification for the higher education and training as well as for the vocational education and training sector has been endorsed by successive Governments and by the European Union which also supports it as part of the current operational programme for human resources.

The 1992 Green Paper on education proposed that a new council for education and vocational awards should be set up. The Green Paper stated:

It is vital that we develop a national framework of certification for our various vocational education and training programmes, involving both the education and training agencies and the social partners, which would facilitate the mobility of our young people, both at home and in the wider European context.

The National Economic and Social Council's report, Education and Training Policies for Economic and Social Development, 1993, welcomed this proposal to establish a national education and training certification body. The 1993 Report on the National Education Convention recorded widespread approval for such a unified national awards framework.

The EU funded operational programme for human resources development, which is now in place, endorsed the policy for the setting up of an integrated certification board. The proposal that had emerged at that time was for a national education and training certification board. It was envisaged that such a board would take over the certifying functions of vocational education and training institutions and provide a structure for the formal involvement of industry and the social partners in programme development and assessment of vocational training programmes, other than those provided in universities, in the education and training sectors. The operational programme, of course, only directly concerns the programmes that are funded under it and through the European Structural Funds.

Teastas, the Irish National Certification Authority, was established as an interim authority in September 1995. Teastas issued its first report in January 1997. In this report it recommended a single structure which would operate as a certifying authority for programmes, assuming the functions of the National Council for Vocational Awards, and the certification functions of CERT/National Tourism Certification Board, FÁS and Teagasc. In addition, the report recommended that the structure would be a supervisory and regulatory authority, providing for delegated approval for certification by the Dublin Institute of Technology and a new single regional technical college awards body. There was a substantial debate on, and consultation in regard to, these proposals with Teastas further developing its thinking in this process.

In its second report in January 1998, Teastas recommended the development of an overall qualifications authority which would be the ultimate guarantor of quality in the higher and further education and training system, other than the seven universities, and which would ensure flexibility and coherence throughout education and training through promoting progression and linkages between the various strands.

It further recommended that two awarding bodies would be set up – the National Institute of Technology and the National Certification Council for further and continuing education and training. In addition, it recommended that the Dublin Institute of Technology would be a third awarding body within the framework.

I wish to express my deep appreciation for the important contribution made by members of the Teastas board to the process which has led to these legislative proposals. It was a difficult task that the board undertook to begin to advise on how to put in place a nationally and internationally accepted certification structure. They have performed their task admirably. In particular, I wish to express my gratitude to Mr. Dick Langford, the Chairman of Teastas and to the staff of Teastas, for the level of their personal commitment to this endeavour.

In February last year, and arising from the second Teastas report, I hosted a forum on development of a national qualifications framework, where the main partners in education and training played a full role and proposals were discussed.

It is clear that a great deal of time and energy has already gone into the consideration of the issues surrounding the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill. It is clear from the extent of the debate and from the continuous commitments from Governments and in reports that there has been general agreement for a number of years that there is much to gain from a national framework of qualifications.

The variation of proposals has also been very noticeable over the years. Discussion has continued for all this time and has focused on all the different ways a new framework can be developed. I would summarise developments by saying that there has been a general support for what is needed and many views on precisely how this should be done. I believe this Bill represents an effective and constructive means of achieving shared objectives.

The Government has now published the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999. The principal aims of the Bill are, first, to establish and develop standards of knowledge, skill or competence; second, to promote the quality of further education and training and higher education and training; third, to provide a system for co-ordinating and comparing education and training awards and, fourth, to promote and maintain procedures for access, transfer and progression.

My focus in setting out these aims is based on the need to ensure the needs of the individual student can be met by the Bill. The Government's analysis of the issues arising in the Bill has been built around the needs of learners. "Learners" is the term used in the Bill for all students and workers who are participating in education and training or who seek to participate in education and training. There is no distinction in the Bill between education and training and there cannot be. There is no gain from trying to make distinctions between education and training. Similarly, students and workers accessing education and training are not dealt with in a separate manner in the Bill.

In the debate on the issue of developing the framework, institutional concerns have arisen continually. This is natural enough as education and training institutions and certifying bodies have been striving to meet the needs of learners in many diverse ways and continue to do so. The rights of the individual learner have often been raised. When raised, however, it is often in the context of how the institution or provider in question has served the needs of the learner but when it came to the consideration of progression to another institution, it was not always possible for that other institution to recognise fully what had gone before. There has been no authority or body with overall responsibility for ensuring the needs of learners are met. I aim with this Bill to ensure the learner can see all options before an initial choice is made and can continue to see the options that are there. All providers of education and training will need to inform learners of the transfer and progression routes that are available for them if they undertake a particular course. The transfer and progression routes themselves will be much improved on the existing situation and all learners will gain from this. In addition, new arrangements are put in place to ensure that across education and training, learners can have confidence in the quality of the programmes they are taking.

In my view this can only be achieved by having a coherent national basis for co-ordinating and comparing all education and training awards. If there is to be such a national basis, it follows naturally that there is a need to ensure appropriate standards of knowledge, skill or competence are set and mechanisms are put in place to ensure these standards are met. When all these elements are in place it is then possible to set out mechanisms for access, transfer and progression.

I do not think that it is possible to set out the precise detail of a framework of qualifications in the Bill. Such an approach would result in freezing the existing position until such time as further legislation is passed. Furthermore, it would not allow for continuing innovation and the introduction of new ideas. I am convinced that the only feasible approach is to set out in legislation who is responsible for developing the framework and to put mechanisms in place to ensure it can be continually revised and updated.

The Bill establishes the National Qualifications Authority with three principal objectives. These are to establish and maintain a framework of qualifications, to act as the overall guarantor of the quality of further and higher education and training awards, other than in the existing universities, and to facilitate and promote access, transfer and progression into and within education and training.

The National Qualifications Authority is the key implementation body established under the Bill and the new arrangements that are to be put in place arise from the objects and functions of the authority. The establishment of the authority meets the key need that there needs to be a body set up with the statutory responsibility to develop the framework of qualifications and, arising from the work of the authority, the implementation of the aims of the Bill will come into effect.

The Bill also establishes two new awarding bodies – the Further Education and Training Awards Council and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. The aim is that these bodies will be the certification bodies for all the education and training in the State other than that in primary and post-primary education and in the universities and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

The awards councils will work within the ambit of the National Qualifications Authority. The principal functions of the councils will be the establishment of policies and criteria for the making of awards and the validation of programmes in further or higher education and training, as appropriate, and the determination of standards of knowledge, skill or competence which must be acquired by learners, before an award may be made.

The general approach is that each council would validate the programmes of the providers of further or higher education and training, as appropriate, subject to the setting of certain key conditions. One of these conditions is that where a programme has been validated, a provider must implement the procedures for access, transfer and progression that will be set out by the qualifications authority. In addition, in these cases, there will be new quality assurance mechanisms put in place to ensure that the relevant programme remains of a high quality.

Learners may also approach the new awarding councils directly to seek certification or recognition for their existing knowledge, skill or competence. It will be a matter for the new awarding councils themselves to determine how this prior learning and prior experiential learning can be assessed and they may seek the assistance of providers of education and training in this regard.

There is provision in the Bill to allow for delegation of authority from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council to make higher education and training awards, within a national framework, to institutes of technology, which are former regional technical colleges, who may seek such powers, and similarly from the Further Education and Training Awards Council, to FÁS, CERT or Teagasc in respect of further education and training awards should they seek it. The provisions for delegation of such authority in respect of further education and training awards build upon the existing arrangements for FÁS, CERT and Teagasc and provide that they may seek such delegation.

The arrangements for delegation of authority in the technological sector of higher education build on the work of the interim review group, chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly. The review group has been processing applications from institutions seeking such delegation. The interim review group is also carrying through the process leading to the delegation of authority to make awards to the Waterford Institute of Technology, within the national qualifications framework. I have received the reports from the interim review group in relation to the Waterford Institute of Technology and Cork Institute of Technology, and the Bill provides the necessary legislative background to implement the relevant recommendations of these reports.

I consider that the arrangements set out in the Bill for the development of the technological sector meet the Government's twin objectives for these institutions in that sector – that they be given the scope to develop and, at the same time, that there is a certainty that they will continue to meet the needs of their existing students and successive students as well as the needs of the economy and society as a whole.

The essential point is that the Bill sets out a process whereby institutes have a full opportunity to develop, subject only to an objective assessment of academic quality and procedures. The Bill sets out further important provisions for the technological sector of higher education in that it ensures that an institute of technology can only be set up under the Regional Technical Colleges Act where there is a positive outcome to an independent review and where the Higher Education Authority supports such a proposal. This new provision is important as it ensures that there is a statutory review process for institutes of technology paralleling that for universities in section 9 of the Universities Act. The independent review must look at the need for additional education and training provision and, if it is needed, whether it is possible to meet the needs by expanding existing institutions. I am confident that this new review process will help, together with other elements of the Bill, to ensure that the status of the technological sector of higher education is copperfastened under this Bill. This provision will not apply to the new institute of technology at Blanchardstown, which will be formally established under legislation which I will shortly be bringing forward.

The principal provisions in relation to the Dublin Institute of Technology are included in Part V of the Bill. The role of the institute under the Bill will essentially be to facilitate and assist the National Qualifications Authority to implement procedures for access, transfer and progression set out by the authority and to put in place the new statutory arrangements for quality assurance which are set out.

The Dublin Institute of Technology is a unique third level institution in this State and the new statutory arrangements that are set out in the Bill will ensure that the institute shall continue to play a dynamic role in the technological sector of higher education.

The institute has recently been reviewed under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997. The recommendations of the Higher Education Authority in relation to the review were published last week. I would like to thank the Higher Education Authority and the review group which was chaired by Dermot Nally for the extensive work on the application of the Dublin Institute of Technology to be designated a university. I congratulate the institute on the quality of its courses which is reflected in the comments of the bodies involved in the independent assessment procedure. Now that this procedure has been completed I have asked my officials to contact that institute in order to discuss with them the detailed recommendations to the Government from the authority. In addition, I have asked my officials to begin detailed discussions with the Higher Education Authority concerning the transfer of appropriate funding and regulation powers for the institutes of technology from the Department to the authority.

It is also the case that the Bill envisages a similar relationship between the National Qualifications Authority and any new university that may be established in the future. In addition, in relation to any such university, the Bill sets out provisions to ensure that in determining money to be allocated to such a university the Higher Education Authority shall ensure that there is an appropriate range of education and training provision and may make binding directions to such a university in that regard.

These provisions are in accord with recommendations contained in the report of the review group on the Dublin Institute of Technology's application to be established as a university. The review group stressed the difference of multi-level institutions and the need to protect the balance of provision so as not to undermine provision for sub-degree courses in particular.

The Bill also sets out a number of provisions to ensure the existing universities play a key role in the new arrangements that are to be developed. It is of note that it was not envisaged by the then Government in 1995 that Teastas would have a strong role in relation to the existing universities. Nevertheless, it is essential that the universities are linked as much as possible into the new arrangements.

The Bill sets out that the existing universities will have a nominee on the National Qualifications Authority and will be advised by that authority on the implementation of access, transfer and progression arrangements. Furthermore, the qualifications authority will work with the Higher Education Authority in reviewing the implementation of those arrangements and shall publish the outcome of any such review. There is nothing in these provisions which conflicts with the principle of academic autonomy.

The Bill also sets out new arrangements to ensure that learners are protected. As I have said, all providers of education and training will need to inform learners of the transfer and progression routes available to them if they undertake a particular course. The transfer and progression routes themselves will be much improved and all learners will gain from this. In addition, new arrangements are put in place to ensure that across education and training, learners can have confidence in the quality of the programmes that they are taking.

There are specific provisions for the protection of learners where a provider operates programmes of education and training on a commercial and profit making basis. Learners can have the confidence that if a programme of any such provider which is more than three months long leads to an award of either of the two new awarding councils, protections are in place. The learner must be refunded the most recent fees paid where the rest of the course cannot be provided. In addition, the appropriate awarding council must seek to find a place for the learner on another course to help the student to complete the course.

State certification will also mean that learners can have confidence in having the opportunity to finish a course they have commenced. These provisions represent a fair and balanced response to an important issue.

The Bill will replace the existing National Council for Educational Awards Act. The NCEA has been in place since the early 1970s and has been on a statutory basis since 1979. It has played an essential role in the development of certification for higher education in the State, particularly in the development of the technological sector. Throughout its lifetime it has helped to ensure that the quality of those completing its courses is equal to all other graduates in the State. The NCEA has also played a key innovatory role, most recently in the way in which the NCEA has worked with the institutes of technology and business in developing new technician courses and, in particular, the National Certificate in Manufacturing Technology.

Similarly, on a non-statutory basis, the National Council for Vocational Awards has been essential in developing the further education sector, in particular, in the development of certification for the post-leaving certificate sector. The combined initiative of the vocational education committees and the NCVA in this sector have played a key role in ensuring the relevance of education to the economy and to society as a whole.

The work of the NCEA and the NCVA, as well as that of FÁS, NTCB and Teagasc, will provide a base for the developing work of the two new awards councils and I hope to work in tandem with these organisations to ensure that this can be the case. It is essential to maintain the confidence in, and acceptability of, the education and training awards of the new councils. There needs to be a clear continuum between what happens currently and the developing new arrangements. I am confident that this will be the case.

The new arrangements in the Bill essentially deal with progression, quality and making awards. They will not change who are the providers of the education and training programmes. It may, and indeed should, bring the providers closer together and ensure there are clear and developed linkages between their various provisions. The nature and content of the provision may change over time. Of course, it will do this anyway and the arrangements in the Bill will facilitate these developments.

Progression and transfer arrangements for learners will be provided between, and within, levels of awards throughout education and training. The existing providers of education and training will implement these developing arrangements. These can build upon existing progression arrangements and they will expand and be much more comprehensive. I do not see the new arrangements as a threat to institutions.

My aim in this regard is to promote access and opportunities for all learners. This will not mean, for example, that a holder of a national certificate in business studies will have credits which will reduce the amount of study required for a degree course in Irish. However, it will be expected that such a certificate holder will have credits for entering a related diploma or degree course. It will not be easy to develop such a qualifications framework. The new structure needs to be put in place to resolve these difficulties. In the short-term, the learner has lost out. Furthermore, institutions of education and training have not been able to develop or to fulfil their potential without fully developed progression routes.

Another major issue is the need for greater partnership, co-operation and cohesion between the education and training sector on the one hand and industry, business and the wider community on the other. It has been a central aim of mine since I came into office that education and training interests and business interests should work closely together for the mutual benefit of both, and for the benefit of society as a whole. All of us are aware that human capital is continually identified as one of the keys, if not the key, to our current prosperity. International studies have found that Ireland has a significant advantage over potential European rivals because of its well educated workforce.

A major consequence of the identification of the key role of education and training is the realisation that what is done to improve the level of co-operation between the education, training and business sectors needs to be continually examined and that any opportunities for improvement are grasped. I see the development of a new national qualifications framework as a real opportunity to enhance this co-operation. There are many effective ways across the entire education and training sector where such co-operation is being put into action.

The joint education/industry task force, chaired by Dr. Seán McDonagh, which looked at the expansion of education and training for technicians is one example. As an immediate result, a pilot scheme for the recruitment and training of 300 technicians for high technology industries was initiated in 1998 and expanded this year. Senators will be aware that the Government announced the setting up of a forum of business and education/training interests of which Dr. Chris Horn, chief executive of Iona Technologies, is the chair. Skills identification mechanisms were already in place but the Government considered that they could be widened and improved and I am confident that the new arrangements will prove effective. Effective links and consultation between providers of education and training and business and industry need to be further developed at all levels. They are already there in many cases at the level of provision. However, they need to be built upon, in some cases, at certification level.

In its first report, the expert group on future skills needs emphasised the crucial role the education and training sector in co-operation with industry had in ensuring a rapid and in-depth response to future skills needs. The expert group pointed to the need for a comprehensive approach to delivery and accreditation, a greater use of student work placements, accreditation of prior learning, awards of credits for elements of courses and more flexible progression to higher levels. In these respects, the establishment of a national framework of qualifications as envisaged in this Bill will be of fundamental importance.

The key relevance of the framework of qualifications in relation to competitiveness has also been stressed by the National Competitiveness Council which, in its statement on skills last year, stated that "a national system of certification should be put in place immediately, covering as broad a range of skills as possible". The council awaited the publication of this Bill.

The introduction of new awarding arrangements and the development of a national qualifications framework must be viewed as an opportunity to build on innovative developments. I consider that the practices of FÁS, CERT and Teagasc, in particular, and the key way in which each of these manage to involve business in their curricular development, can help to inform educational institutions on future possibilities.

I would like to point out that the provisions in the Bill are not just reflective of national concerns in the area of education and training and the manner in which these might be harnessed more effectively to meet the skills needs of industry, business and society at large in the 21st century. They are also very much reflective of international concerns.

The establishment of national bodies to set up and maintain qualification systems so as to ensure standards and meet the future skills needs of economies and societies has been a feature of educational and training developments over the past decade. The National Skills Standards Board in the United States, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in the United Kingdom are but some examples of the endeavours of governments and those involved in education and training to bring greater cohesion and openness to national systems of awards and qualifications. National qualification frameworks have been established in both Australia and New Zealand in the past decade.

A key aim of the introduction of a new framework is to promote international recognition of awards and international mobility. By putting in place a national framework it will be possible to link with other countries where qualifications frameworks have been developed or are developing. This, in turn, will help to bring a new international dimension to our education and training system and may help to put us to the fore in the development of international policies in that regard.

This Bill creates an enabling rather than a pre scriptive framework, one which is concerned solely with promoting the quality of courses and student mobility. We need to do this in the interests of all those involved in education and training. Our citizens are entitled to clear and unambiguous structures to support their learning and development.

I know that many Members will have views on the Bill and I look forward to listening keenly to what they have to say and to teasing issues out in more detail during the subsequent Stages of the debate. I know we will have a constructive debate based on doing all we can to recognise and promote the interests of the many thousands of students who participate in education and training each year.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus molaimse é as ucht an óráid spéisiúl a chuir sé os ár gcomhair inniú. This is a very interesting time of change in the education sphere. A new education Bill only became law recently after lengthy discussions. The Government has also published a Green Paper on adult education which will hopefully lead to the publication of a White Paper in due course.

The Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999, relates closely to all aspects of adult education and, as someone involved in the education process, I welcome it. To say the least, a great deal of confusion prevails as to who awards what in the education area. We have a plethora of awarding bodies and students and providers alike could be forgiven for being confused.

An important aspect of the accreditation process which we must consider is whether the awards people receive will qualify them for entry to their chosen profession or career. When someone with a qualification from one awarding body moves to an institution which issues different types of award, great difficulty can be experienced. This can cause considerable confusion and frustration for the student involved. I wrote to the Minister recently about someone who moved from a VTOS to a PLC programme. The student was not allowed to retain financial assistance on the second programme. I do not intend to go into the matter in detail here but the confusion which exists must be addressed.

Discussions have ranged over ten years about bringing some kind of order to the rather cumbersome situation which exists in regard to qualifications. The European Commission has advocated the need for such order to be implemented. We now have draft legislation for the establishment of a national qualifications framework. I sincerely hope a mechanism will emerge from this legislation which will ensure that students' needs will be met clearly and decisively. Students should be able to see all the options before making an initial choice in regard to a course of study and they must continue to see the options all along the line. When this legislation is enacted, there will be a greater degree of clarity in this area. It is vital that a proper qualifications framework is brought on stream. This will be even more important in the future when the notion of lifelong learning really takes root. I hope a governing body for adult education will be set up in the future and that specific legislation will be drafted in this area.

I am reasonably familiar with the activities of the NCVA, being a member of one of its boards of studies. Many of the ideals and views encompassed in this Bill are those which the NCVA would support. I refer specifically to access, progression and the creation of more flexible playing fields. Speaking from a personal viewpoint, not as an NCVA board member, I feel the NCVA will look favourably on this legislation.

Of course, some questions must be asked. I do not see any real reference to Teastas in the Bill. However, the Minister elaborated on that point in his speech so my question may be unnecessary. Perhaps a representative of the agricultural sector could be appointed to the authority; in spite of the current problems being experienced in the sector, it remains very important and although industry will be well represented on the authority, there does not seem to be any provisions for real representation of the agricultural sector. This issue can be discussed again on Committee and Report Stages when we will doubtless also discuss the issue of student representation.

What is the relationship between the Higher Education Authority and the National Qualifications Authority? Is the NQA assuming some of the roles of the Higher Education Authority in regard, for example, to funding and quality assurance? There is a need for educational foresight in regard to both councils. "Educational foresight" seem to be buzz words on university campuses at the moment in regard to advice on future educational needs and it is very important that we obtain the expertise of educators as well as industrialists. I did not see any reference to Trinity College in the Bill. I wonder whether section 9 of the 1997 Act applies to it. Is the National Qualifications Authority assuming a primary function of the universities, namely, a validation of educational programmes, as outlined on page 37 of the Bill?

There are obviously grey areas in any legislation. Some of the questions I pose may be rhetorical but I am confident the Minister will address my concerns and allay my fears. These questions can be fleshed out on Committee and Report Stages. It will be a matter for the new awarding council to determine how prior learning and prior experiential learning can be assessed.

It is also very important that the membership of the council be drawn from the providers of education and from people with expertise in the various areas concerned. Youthreach and the VTOS programmes are two of the very important movements in training and education. I am very familiar with both programmes which are creating many opportunities for people and leading them into employment. Youthreach is taking many early school leavers off the streets who otherwise might be involved in less meaningful activities. I sincerely hope that the people involved in both programmes will have representatives on the new councils.

It is also very important that the key people in the provision of adult education, namely, those in the adult education organisers associations, are represented on the councils. As I stated in the debate on the Education (No.2) Bill, I hope the adult education organisers will be strongly represented on the new adult education authority which I hope will come on stream and which is an aspiration for everybody involved in adult education.

I have no great problem with the Bill and in the main I welcome it. However, I sincerely hope the framework being put in place will be very strongly representative of the people who are working on the programmes in the specific areas of education. Often when bodies are established some of the people appointed to them come from political parties or are political nominees. I have great confidence that the Minister, who is very much involved in the education process, will ensure that the people on these bodies have a background in education and experience in these areas. We are talking about legislation which impacts on the most important and fastest growing sector of education. Therefore, it is very important that the people who will outline the programmes and the qualification framework have a deep knowledge and interest in the provision of education.

I commend the Minister on bringing forward this legislation. I will have more to say on Committee and Report Stages, but I am strongly recommending and advocating that the people nominated to these bodies are involved in the process, have knowledge of it and have a contribution to make, and that there will be no political nominees as such who do not deserve to be nominees.

It is time this legislation came before us. It is welcome and important and will deal with something which has huge implications. At times it is hard to comprehend the many activities taking place in education. It is a wonderful time to be involved in education and it is important that there be qualifications and certification because, no matter where one looks for a job, that little piece of paper is very important.

I hope the Bill will be effective but it can only be so if the Minister puts the proper framework in place. If that is done we will all be happy.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Before discussing the Bill I wish to congratulate him on his wonderful announcement yesterday concerning the reduction in class sizes in primary schools. I do not think there is an education body or teacher who does not speak very well of the Minister at this time.

There has been much confusion over who awards what outside the university sector. The NCEA, the NCVA, the NTCB, the Dublin Institute of Technology and all the institutes of technology are involved in this area. There are also FÁS qualifications, Teagasc certificates and the Teastas which was to be in charge of all these organisations. Is it any wonder that the education and training world is in confusion when it comes to qualification awards and that many students have lost out in planning their career path?

There was no career path for those who did not reach the points system. I know we have had many discussions and consultations over the past number of years and that the Minister hosted a forum some time ago on the development of the national framework of qualifications. The Minister embraced all the partners in education and training in this discussion. I am delighted to be able to congratulate him on the way he has put this new structure in place. It did not come easy, with much discussion, pulling back and moving forward because of the number of educational institutions concerned and the representations from the many fields of education, training and the employment and business sectors which had a contribution to make.

Finding a platform which allowed the bringing forward of this national qualifications framework was a great day's work on the part of the Minister. The qualifications framework will be the ultimate guarantor of quality in higher and further education training and in all education and training institutes other than universities. It will ensure flexibility and a coherent system and will achieve promotion, progression and links within the various institutes of education and training.

The remit of the National Qualifications Authority is to create a framework for the recognition and award of qualifications in the State based on the knowledge, skill and competence acquired by the learner. It brings about a framework of qualifications which will facilitate a standard of awards and which will also acknowledge the knowledge of the learner. This is a fundamental statement which constitutes the point of departure. It will also facilitate the promotion and maintenance of these standards of awards through the two new structures which will be established, namely, the council for higher education and training and the council for further education and training. Taken into account also will be the Dublin Institute of Technology and any university which may be formed in the future under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997.

The authority is concerned with facilitation of "access, transfer and progression", a term I like having come from the education sector and in the context of the young people who did not reach the points bracket. We lived in an era of points for university – that seemed to be the criterion of education up to leaving certificate. Many students who did not reach the points system could not go any further. They had access to PLC courses, but many such courses were not vali dated and found it very difficult to get validation through the NCVA or the NCEA.

The authority will set in motion a structure by which we can create a career path for such students. That is very welcome. It will be a watchdog establishing procedures for the performance of the functions of the awarding councils on access, transfer and progression, and making sure the Dublin Institute of Technology and universities that may be established also implement procedures laid down by the authority.

This is a responsible role for the authority and it will be important that its membership is top class as it will be difficult to determine what is higher education and training and what is further education and training. The membership will also have an important task in assessing the standard of knowledge attained by learners and whether it merits a higher education or a further education and training award. The Bill stipulates that the membership will be widely representative and it is important that we have high calibre people. The Minister is adamant that we will not have people on the authority for the sake of it. We must have top class people who will understand the courses, the contents of programmes and the students. It is also important that we have quality assurance and validation and a career path laid out for students. This is an important task and the membership will be of crucial importance.

The Bill has two other key elements. The Further Education and Training Awards Council will incorporate further education and training certificates awarded by FÁS, NCVA, the Tourism Certificate Board and Teagasc. The Higher Education and Training Awards Council will incorporate the higher education and training functions of the NCEA and other bodies. These councils will deal with the criteria for making awards, the validation of programmes in further and higher education and training, based on the standard of knowledge acquired by the learner, and the evaluation in the quality of programmes, including assessment procedures. It will also promote its awards, assist the authority and consult with and advise the Minister.

The councils will also have to be familiar with the needs of industry, business and the community so as to reflect the needs of students in particular areas. The way forward is to work closely with industry in a combined technological and academic approach so that all students will have a role in developing their careers. This provision stands on its merits and the question is how it should be implemented. I have no doubt this can be done if it is set out in principle.

I welcome the section which deals with the validation of programmes. Recognised institutions such as FÁS, BIM, second level schools and institutes of technology must apply to the appropriate council to have their further or higher education and training courses validated. In endorsing such a programme, the appropriate council must also ensure that the provider of the course or programme implements procedures relating to access, transfer and progression. It must also ensure that such courses are up to the appropriate standard and that students will attain knowledge, skill or competence to qualify for an award from the council. This speaks for itself and puts education and training on a new platform.

The section dealing with assessment procedures must be fair and consistent. Too often educationalists have expressed concern that assessments vary from institution to institution. We must ensure that the procedures introduced will be consistent and fair in every educational institution. The council will have an important role in monitoring this aspect of education and training.

The section dealing with access, transfer and progression routes will be widely acknowledged by educationalists and career guidance teachers. Too often students who obtained qualifications from one award body found that their State-awarded certificate did not guarantee them entry elsewhere. This is a great step forward in planning career paths where all the options and choices are laid out beforehand. Career guidance counsellors will congratulate the Minister on this measure.

Where the appropriate council provides the delegation to an institution to make awards, such institutions will have to adhere to procedures agreed with the National Qualifications Authority and must meet the necessary criteria for the performance of their functions on access, transfer and progression. In order to ensure quality assurance, all programmes must be evaluated regularly and the findings of such evaluations must be published. The council will also review the effectiveness of procedures dealing with such evaluations. This measure will inspire confidence.

I wish to refer to the development of the technological sector of higher education. Coming from the vocational sector this is close to my heart and I was concerned at how we could advance young people in the technological sector. The Bill allows for further development of the technological sector in higher education. The principle objective is to develop a framework for the structured development of institutions in the technological sector so as to address changing local and national demands. I welcome the decision that the diversity of institutions will be maintained to ensure maximum flexibility to reflect the needs of students and acknowledge the wide variety of social and economic requirements.

Institutes of technology, formerly Regional Technical Colleges, are incorporated in the Bill as the recognised institutions of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. As such, they will continue to have a key role in higher education and training and will have a strong representation on the higher council. This is great and I compliment the Minister as we are progressing in the right direction.

Institutes of technology have expanded enor mously in the past ten years in terms of student numbers and the development of their educational, training and research activities. The intention of the Bill is to further focus the development of the institutes and to anchor this development in the framework of education and training. The Bill allows the institutes to apply to the higher council for delegated authority to make awards. This is a recognition of the tremendous strides made by the technological sector over the past decade.

As well as allowing for greater autonomy, this measure will also involve greater responsibility and a recognition of the fact that the objects of the Bill can only be achieved through partnership and subsidiarity. Waterford and Cork institutes of technology have completed their review processes and have been accepted as delegating bodies for making awards.

Institutes with delegated authority to make awards will also have a charter which recognises that they have a greater level of autonomy by virtue of the fact that they will be able to make awards. This will also facilitate them in making a mission statement as to their role and function. I welcome the important step which gives autonomy and independence to educational institutes and gives them a high standing in their fields. Institutes of technology making an application for delegation should follow the example of Waterford and Cork and recognise that it is possible to establish their own autonomy.

The Bill also provides for more open and inclusive procedures in establishing new institutes of technology. Further institutes of technology will be established as the result of an independent review. This is an important provision as it ensures a statutory review process for institutes of technology, parallel to that of universities in section 9 of the Universities Act.

I was also interested in the principle provision concerning the Dublin Institute of Technology as the institute which will facilitate and assist the National Qualifications Authority and implement procedures for access, transfer and progression. It is worth pointing out that all the educational bodies must facilitate this access. They will have to consider the position of each student and how best they can progress to the next stage.

The certificate programmes often stopped short because students did not achieve sufficiently high marks and they were not allowed to proceed to diploma courses. Often they were unable to progress any further. Many students are good at practical subjects but they may not be theoretically oriented and they found they were unable to reach the next stage. However, that possibility will be open under the Bill. The thrust of the legislation is that students will be allowed to move and this will create great confidence in education in the future.

A welcome aspect of the legislation is the provisions to protect students. Colleges operating programmes on a commercial and profit making basis will be obliged to have a reserve fund with an authorised institution. If a programme collapses, the provider will have to refund the student from the fund and the council will be obliged to facilitate transfer to another college. This information must be available to students prior to the provider accepting any money for courses.

This is a great section. Many students told career guidance teachers that they wished to attend a particular college. However, they found half way through the course that it was not validated and they could not progress any further. They had paid huge sums of money but found there was no back up and they could not get their money back when the courses collapsed. I am pleased this area has been incorporated in the Bill because it will create great confidence, and not only for students. There are many courses in private colleges which are not available elsewhere and people are able to pay for them. However, there was a fear that such courses would not materialise.

The measure is a great step forward. It opens many doors for young people who may want to study law but cannot get into university. They may have the opportunity to go to the Dublin Institute of Technology or the Portobello Institute to study the first stage of a law course before they move on to a proper law career. The section will provide great openings for young people and I hope more opportunities will be provided in relation to universities. A way should be found for students who cannot get into university under the points system to study medicine, physiotherapy or veterinary science. There should be an opportunity in the future for students who have a natural aptitude but cannot get any further. The Bill provides for people who cannot progress under the points system and creates a career path for them along other routes . A path should be created for those who are committed to other faculties but cannot get into them in the traditional ways. Perhaps that is another day's work.

This is a worthwhile Bill. It will create quality new structures in education and training. It will also create student mobility and great confidence. It will work if the right people are in place to implement the procedures laid down in the national authorities qualifications framework. It is early days and it takes time to grasp the details of the Bill. I read it many times and it is obvious much work was put into it. I look forward to teasing out small points on Committee Stage.

I wish to share my time with Senator Henry and Senator Quinn.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It appears the Independent spokesperson should be Senator O'Toole, but the Bill deals with a wide range of institutions and in common with many others, the Senator would welcome a little longer to acquaint himself with the detail of the legislation. Therefore, I will deal not with the detail but certain issues of principle.

The Minister will be relieved to learn that I will not parrot his deathless prose. Some of it was very good, but he was parroting the explanatory memorandum. There is no need for me to establish the four principal objectives of the Bill with which we all agree. The legislation provides for the establishment of a 13 member National Qualifications Authority and two award bodies in succession to the existing ad hoc NCVA and the statutory NCEA. Provision is made for the dissolution of the NCEA.

According to the explanatory memorandum, two people will be nominated by the Minister for Education and Science, one by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and one by the universities. This is extraordinary. I presumed it would be good if more than one person was nominated by the universities when a body, which is intended to act partly as a quality control mechanism on standards in universities, is being established. More than one person should be nominated by the universities.

Subsection (3) provides that membership of the authority shall also include two persons nominated by the authority with special knowledge and experience of the functions of the authority. How can these people possibly have that knowledge and experience when the body does not yet exist? That can only come later. Who are these people? Everybody knows that ministerial appointments invariably turn out to be hacks.

Not mine.

Perhaps the Minister is different but one of his colleagues was on the radio recently and he was honest when he said that it is a method of pay back. People are appointed but they are not always the best.

Not by me.

I am concerned about this area.

The authority does not appear to be an awarding body. I ask the Minister to clarify if it will ever be in a position to award degrees rather than monitor and control. Its function appears to be to establish and maintain a framework for the development, recognition and award of qualifications in the State based on standards of knowledge, skill or competence which it will, in turn establish, maintain and promote. It will also promote and facilitate access, transfer and progression and exercise functions with regard to mutual recognition between Irish and foreign qualifications.

This is a most important area. I have dealt with discrepancies between the recognition of fine Irish degrees in America by idiotic, paid hack boards who presume to state whether a degree from Trinity College, Dublin, or UCD is of the same standard as the qualifications available in America. This aspect needs to be examined if the future of graduates is to be safeguarded.

The authority will determine the line between further education and higher education and replace the Higher Education Authority as the funding authority and the successor body to the NCEA. I pay tribute to the NCEA. I did not have many dealings with the body but it was located in Mountjoy Square. It had a broad range of interests and some wonderful musical evenings in the gracious house on Mountjoy Square. I am glad it was there to keep the house going.

In relation to the higher education training awards council, the authority will, in consultation with the council, establish and review the procedures in accordance with which the council will carry out its functions. Any recommendations of the authority in this regard must be implemented by the council and the authority will publish the results of such a review. It will establish policies and criteria for the validation of the programmes and the granting of awards. It appears it will operate in respect of two categories of institutions – the first is recognised institutions and public bodies, including future new universities, which must have their programmes validated by the council and which may apply to have awarding powers delegated to them and the second is other providers.

I echo the points made about other providers. It is splendid that the Minister is examining this area. It states in the explanatory memorandum in relation to Part VII that the authority shall be satisfied that the provider concerned has a reserve fund or insurance cover with an authorised institution. It is unacceptable that young people pay for courses and then find half way through that they have fizzled out and there is no recompense. I hope the students will be able to transfer and complete their degrees in another institution or get a full and proper refund.

The position under the NCEA Act, 1979, where providers only had access to NCEA awards if they had been designated by the Minister as an institution to which the Act applied, is gone. It appears that any provider may apply to the new council for validation of a course. Will the Minister clarify if individuals may have direct access to the council for the provision of awards? He is nodding, so the record shows the Minister is agreeing through body language. Provision is also made for consumer protection, which is important, an interim chief executive and the preservation of rights and entitlements of staff. All that is fair enough.

However, there is a worry that a two tier education system is being imposed and that two types of university will exist, the current ones and ones which may be created in future. All new universities will come under the control of the National Qualifications Authority with regard to quality assurance issues rather than the HEA, and will be required to implement access, transfer and progression procedures required by the NQA. Section 24 is confusing. Subsection (2) states:

The Minister may by order designate an educational or training institution established—

(a)by or under an Act of the Oireachtas, or

(b)by a Minister or by the Government,

as a recognised institution of the Council.

This is a little opaque. Will the Minister and his advisers clarify these two provisions? One of my principal objections is that the Bill negates any aspirations the Dublin Institute of Technology has to become a university under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997. The Minister is shaking his head, but that is what I understand from his speech and also from the explanatory memorandum, which deals clearly with universities on the one hand and the Dublin Institute of Technology on the other. The language of the Bill makes a separation, even though it pays some compliments to the Dublin Institute of Technology.

The Bill will, in my opinion and that of others who have briefed me, create a two tier university system. Section 9 universities will have the functions of their governing authority reduced, in that the new national authority will impose quality assurance and the university must obey, even if it believes the proposal is impractical or unreasonable. This should be compared with section 35(3) of the Universities Act.

The statutory role of the academic council in the Dublin Institute of Technology and any new section 9 university will in effect be amended by this legislation. Sections 38(2) and 41(2) will remove from the academic council its functions under section 11(3)(e) of the Dublin Institute of Technology Act "to make recommendations to the Governing Body for the selection, admission, retention and exclusion of students" and under section 11(3)(f) "to be responsible, subject to the approval of the Governing Body, for making the academic regulations of the Institute". This seems to be a serious interference with the limited autonomy the institute has already.

The Minister apparently trusts no one in this regard, and his views of a binary system with equal parity of esteem do not seem to have come into operation as far as this section is concerned. This provision means the CAO system could be dismantled by the authority for the non-university sector at least. An extreme form of this interference would be a regulation that institutes were only to accept students from a defined geographical area. That is an absurd situation but a logical conclusion. I do not accuse the Minister, rather I point out that the apparatus could be used in this way and that we should be aware of it.

Section 24(2) appears to give the Minister sweeping powers to designate an institution, including existing universities, as a recognised institution of the council, irrespective of whether that institution wishes to be so designated. The Bill is apparently self-contradictory. For example, section 8(2)(e) suggests there will be consultation with the Dublin Institute of Technology and section 9 universities about access, transfer and progression. However, sections 38(2)(b) and 41(2)(b) remove the consultation and impose procedures.

The concept of a national framework is misleading. Section 40(1) requires that universities "shall co-operate with and give all reasonable assistance to the Authority", but there is no guarantee of acceptance of transfer arrangements, etc. Given that the greatest problem in transfer at present relates to transfer to the university sector from the non-university sector, how will this help? If this statement is good enough for existing universities, why is it not good enough for the Dublin Institute of Technology and the new section 9 universities?

I noticed also that FÁS, CERT, Teagasc, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and second level schools must apply to the council to have their programmes in further education and training validated. This is very interventionist. As a former teacher, I am concerned that all these programmes must be validated by this State authority. I felt as a teacher that some of my best initiatives were outside the framework and were stimulating and interesting to students. I remember a student being badly penalised for an essay she had written for a term mark, an important part of her course. It was sent to an external marker rather than to me. Instead of writing the formal essay, she did a series of parodies of Joyce, from Dubliners through to Finnegan's Wake, which demonstrated a superb knowledge of the text. However, because it was not in the required form, she failed. I had the paper returned to me immediately and gave her an A for it. When I see the phraseology in the Bill that everything must be validated, even secondary school programmes, I become concerned because it is interventionist.

The situation with regard to Trinity College was raised and I do not want to be too parochial about this. The Minister and his predecessor have treated Trinity College well. There was a series of battles in the Seanad and we believe we obtained what was required from the Government, which was generous. A Private Bill was introduced to copperfasten areas of intellectual freedom, academic autonomy, etc. Will the Minister indicate the state of the Bill? Will it be progressed? There have been pestiferous interventions by certain parties unnamed. I hope it can be cleared and enacted because it is what we want. Trinity College wants to see it enacted and there should be pressure to see that is done.

I have some reservations about the Bill, especially regarding the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Minister said:

The Dublin Institute of Technology is a unique third-level institution in this State and the new statutory arrangements that are set out in the Bill will ensure that the Institute shall continue to play a dynamic role in the technological sector of higher education.

Were I not aware of the fate of an unfortunate senior political adviser in Washington, I would describe this as niggardly praise – it says the Dublin Institute of Technology is doing fine and can fire ahead. That is not what it wants. It wanted to be recognised as a university and that is why it went before various boards of assessment. I argued, as did Senator Henry, that it should be recognised as a university. It seems there is backtracking here and that it will not be a university. The Minister is shaking his head again. I am glad and would like to afford him the opportunity—

It is not for the Senator or me to decide. It is a matter for the independent review process which will be encapsulated within the framework of the Bill. It is important we do not become the judges.

I agree and that is why the Minister should not overload this unfortunate board of 13 – unlucky for some – with ministerial appointees. Only one board member will be from the universities.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator should not indulge the Minister in response at this stage.

I like indulging the Minister. We have had a wonderful afternoon. My good friend, Senator Ormonde, said she was deviating and I was tempted to say we cherish deviance in this House. Now I am encouraging or indulging the Minister. Where will it all end? I had better finish now and yield to my colleagues.

I welcome the Minister and this important Bill, although I wish we had more time to study it before we had to comment on it. It is so important because the validation of qualifications is important not only nationally but also internationally. Given that many graduates now go abroad to work for some time and gain experience, it is important they are in a position to produce certificates which will stand up internationally. I welcome the Bill from that point of view.

I am also glad that someone has taken in hand the situation regarding private institutions which were in a position to do much as they liked with the money of those who paid for courses and perhaps provided very little in return. There has been the unhappy spectacle over the past few years of institutions going out of business leaving people with no tuition or diploma and all their money gone. Perhaps the Minister could try to assure people that they should beware before they become involved with these institutions so that they have some back-up because I have found people attending institutions where they have no idea of the validation of the certificates they will receive. This is sad because some of the institutions charge large fees.

Like Senator Norris, I must consider seriously the case of the Dublin Institute of Technology because many of the Dublin Institute of Technology graduates are my constituents and we were so involved from their point of view in the debate on the Universities Bill, 1996. I agree with Senator Norris that it looks as though there will be a two-tier university system. Those universities, which already exist and are governed by the Universities Act, 1997, under which the Dublin Institute of Technology hoped to become a university, will be in one tier with greater autonomy than those which are set up under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997, because the Minister and the authority will have huge control over the universities set up. They will be different from those which exist at present. That must be admitted.

I was disappointed to read the findings of the review group. As the Minister said, it is not for him or us to say whether the Dublin Institute of Technology should become a university; it is for an independent international review group. I was disappointed that the Dublin Institute of Technology did not get recognition as a university.

The Dublin Institute of Technology has probably done more for the third level education of the citizens of Ireland than any other institution. I recognise the difficulties which the review group found, that the Dublin Institute of Technology did not conduct enough research, the staff profile should be developed consistent with such a research profile and it should put in place appropriate academic structures. The review group's opinion was that these were a great challenge to the Dublin Institute of Technology and these would have to be taken on board before the institution could be considered a university. Great praise was given to the institute but the review group stated that it should not be established as a university now. It concerns me that many of the students who entered the Dublin Institute of Technology last September anticipated the Dublin Institute of Technology having university status by the time they finished and this will not be the case. Sadly the review has not come to the conclusion I wanted.

Senator Norris made many important points. The review group encouraged the Dublin Institute of Technology to reapply – I see the Minister nodding approval. It is important to note that the university status which the Dublin Institute of Technology will acquire in the future will not be the same as that of existing universities. The functions will not be the same. The governing authority of a new university will not be the same as that of the existing universities because the national authority must impose quality assurance, that is if my reading of the Bill is correct. The quality assurance will be given by the new national authority and not by the governing body of the university. There will be an important subtle difference between these institutions. The academic council will not have the same autonomy as the academic councils of existing universities. We must recognise that whatever universities are set up under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997, with this legislation will not be the same as existing universities.

Senator Norris pointed out some of the features in the legislation, for example, that the authority will have control over access to these institutions. Does this mean that it will be able to interfere with the common applications organisation? The Minister is shaking his head. We can clear up these matters on Committee Stage. It is important that we retain a hands off approach to applications to third level institutions. The applications process has not been satisfactory for some but at least it has appeared fair. If others interfere in the access process, we may soon be accused of causing unfairness.

The Minister is to be praised when he says that he wants to see progression. It is splendid that a diploma can now be taken into account when one wants to go on to take a university degree. I liked where the Minister pointed out that a diploma in business studies would not count towards a degree in classical Irish, for example, but that is understandable. Have the universities agreed to take account of these diplomas wherever their origin? I have found that various professional schools are extraordinarily difficult about taking account of diplomas and even degrees from other institutions. The Minister is in a position to do more with them than I would ever have been, but it is a matter on which I hope we will hear more from the Minister. If the universities have not agreed to this progression, the fact that we provide for it in the legislation will not do much good because they must agree – that it will be part of the process.

Although this may annoy Senator Ormonde slightly, I am glad that the Minister mentioned something about gender equity, which was mentioned also in the Universities Act, 1997. Over 50 per cent of third level students are women. It is important to have gender equity so that men are represented. With regard to the membership of the authorities and the various councils, I noted that the Minister said that if an institution may put forward two people, they should try to make sure there is one from each gender. That is important. I suggest that the Minister tries to get them to do a little better than that. I refer often to the ridiculous situation in the Department of Health and Children where a manpower committee was set up to look at medical employment, and manpower is what it was. When I saw the photograph of the 14 of them I could barely believe my eyes. Every last one was a man. Given that between 60 and 70 per cent of medical graduates are women, this was patently ridiculous because women's work patterns are different from those of men.

The Minister pointed out how much he wanted industry involved with the various institutions who are awarding certificates. Women's work patterns are different and it is important that we have people on these councils who recognise that women may leave education for a while but want to come back and do more. This is just the sort of item which the Bill should address. I urge the Minister to make an effort in the appointment of the 13 members of the authority – one cannot have six and a half of each gender – to take account of the fact that we are trying to encourage greater involvement of women in the workforce.

If someone said that in Northern Ireland people must progress on their own efforts to have the Nationalists given more opportunities, we would be hurt and think it ridiculous. Our attitude should be similar when people say that women will just have to come forward on their own merits. It is difficult to persuade people to give up power. There is no point appointing women to positions which have no power. They must be given power if they are to achieve anything. This Bill could be very important in giving women more power in third level education and, particularly, in further education.

When I attended a conferring ceremony in the Guildhall in Derry some years ago I was very impressed by the number of people receiving just the sort of certificates, diplomas and degrees which this Bill will validate. I looked at the ages of the people who were receiving qualifications and I wished we could do the same. We are making progress in this area but the more we do the better. I welcome the Bill because it will make certificates of this sort more valuable on the international as well as the national scene. The Bill will be helped by a few amendments which I hope the Minister will accept on Committee Stage.

Senator Norris will be glad to know that the Committee Stage of the Trinity College Bill has begun, under the chairmanship of Senator Manning. I hope it will be expedited as fast as possible because there is a three year limit on getting the Bill through the Houses. I am pleased to know that things in the other House have steadied up because if the Bill had been delayed until after the summer there would be only one year left in which to complete its passage, and we all know how quickly time passes in these Houses. I am sure the Minister will do his utmost to expedite the passage of the Trinity College Bill which means a great deal to us. It is necessary to maintain independence which is important for so many institutions. There is a little of the old Universities Bill in the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill with regard to control of institutions. Some institutions may not need quite so much control as is provided for in the Bill. However, that is a matter for Committee Stage. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this Bill.

It is a long standing tradition and deeply held belief here that education is the key to opportunity. Even in the darkest times of major emigration, which was always such a cause of heartache, we held fast to the belief that our emigrants brought with them a guarantee of their future personal success in their educational qualifications. We are fortunate in these times in having little forced emigration for the first time since the Famine. The economic tide has turned for Ireland with all the implications this holds for the future policies and programmes on which we embark.

In both rural and urban areas, including the inner city constituency where I am a councillor, the prospects for young people are better than ever in terms of education, training, job opportunities and quality of life. It is right and proper that we look at each sector of economic and social life in turn and assess and evaluate the present systems and the necessity for new systems which will be the handrails to future educational and economic success.

If education for living was the catchphrase of the 1970s when Fianna Fáil inspired free second level education and the new third level link and the institutes of technology began to have a real impact, then the war cry today must be education for life. Our primary aim must be to address the needs of a lifelong learning society. No longer do we live in a world where a certificate at 19, a diploma at 20 or a degree at 21 is a passport to adequate lifetime satisfaction. In fact, the opposite is true.

Planned obsolescence which was a feature of household products is now a phenomenon of the world of transient employment where rapid technological change can wipe out a traditional industry and supplant it with a new one in a very brief time span. Instead of the old mantras of permanency, promotion, 40 years service and pension we now hear the buzz words of systems architect, systems analyst, designer, developer and technical writer.

This is important legislation. It recognises the transformation which has taken place in the world of education and training and seeks to put quality accreditation systems in place in a context which embraces the richness and diversity of qualifications and employment opportunities in the Irish labour market. If we are serious about becoming an important global village on the super highway, being a key world centre of e-commerce, attracting world class and hi-tech jobs to our shores and letting the old assembly job drift – as I believe they will – we had better get the mix and match of education and training right.

The Bill signposts us in the right direction. It sets out to establish and develop acceptable standards up to the highest qualification a person may want to achieve. It promotes quality and evaluation. It seeks to link, to network, to co-ordinate and to combine all that is best in education and training. Most of all, it seeks to give individuals maximum independence to access, cross-transfer, accumulate and extend progress to multiple goals if that is what their lifestyle demands.

The recommendation of the second Teastas report that an ultimate guarantor of high qualification with in-built flexibility and internal coherence be set up which would cater for a broad spectrum of certification within its framework is a welcome step forward in addressing this complex area. In this Bill the National Qualification Authority is that guarantor. The Further Education and Training Awards Council and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council will be umbilically linked to the further education programmes and higher education courses of the institutes of technology. The structure is innovative and negotiable. It is sufficiently pliable to allow the institutes to develop courses of excellence at their own rate and is sufficiently anchored to ensure that there will be a universal acceptance of the high quality certification awarded.

The Bill also allows institutes of technology, at whatever stage of development they are, to apply to the Higher Education and Training Awards Council for delegated powers to make awards. This recognises, in a very public and tangible way, the huge strides the institutes of technology have made over the past ten years. Already they have built their foundations and have become recognisable and visible landmarks in the Irish education and training world. Many of them have already acquired an aura of expertise and commitment to excellence. This Bill will allow each of the institutes to chart its own passage though the seas of difficulty to the harbour of achievement.

One of the things I like about the Bill is that it is a charter for the loner. Each individual, whether formally attached to an official seat of learning, will be able to plug into the ready made system of accreditation whatever his or her career path.

I am glad to see the prominence given to the Dublin Institute of Technology whose wonderful system of satellite colleges makes it unique in third level education. I want to ensure that the dynamism and unique synergies of the Dublin Institute of Technology are confirmed, supported and promoted. We are probably on the brink of greatness which a consolidated Dublin Institute of Technology would bring to the country and its capital city.

I also laud the significant contribution of the private sector which, through its substantial investment in education, has contributed enormously to a world of choice in academic qualification and consumer confidence. The Bill also recognises and fortifies their positions and, more importantly, the interests of the student, which the Minister mentioned. It is right and proper that the structure is student based.

If an institute achieves delegated status, as would appear to be already the case with Cork and Waterford, what checks will there be on the continuing standard of its courses in the future? I am sure there will be such checks. Will the proposed new authority oversee awards for courses with a full or substantial research development element? This would be desirable where an institute has close ties with an industry and is in a position to gain a great deal from it and be able to produce highly specialised courses. In addition, the ability of an institute to enter into a collaborative arrangement would be very attractive to industries, both those which are already established in an area and those which are considering setting up there.

Will the authority have a representation on the board or would it consider such a representation for students with disabilities or other special needs? Perhaps it could be charged with the responsibility of deciding on the appropriateness of a course depending on the different forms of assisting technology that a student might need to produce course work or sit examinations. Such students may also request time allowances to facilitate difficulties with their learning process.

One of the more satisfying elements of this Bill is that it leaves open the door of possibility for further institutes which may not have been dreamt of yet. The statutory review process which is outlined leaves the door open for courses, faculties and institutions, the shape of which will probably only become clear when their necessity becomes part of the public view. The Ireland we all want is one of equal opportunity, innovation, adaptability and, most of all, high standards and extreme flexibility to market demand. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward the Bill.

I welcome the Bill. I also welcome the Minister on a day when he has announced some good news and some very ambitious plans for the primary sector. He is setting standards which we hope we will be able to follow in many other areas. I also appreciate the fact that he is introducing the Bill in this House.

This Bill goes to the very heart of the revolution in our working lives, which the education system must reflect if we are to succeed in our goals. I commend the Minister for his initiative in seeking to put order on what he recognises has become a chaotic system, full of gaps and inconsistencies.

As an employer I feel that qualifications have become the currency of employment. An employer looks increasingly at qualifications as a means of checking a person's knowledge, ability, skills and competency, although employers also look for other qualities.

A great deal of reference has been made today to the Dublin Institute of Technology. I am one of the few speakers today who is not involved in education or teaching. However, I have had the pleasure of being invited to speak in some colleges on a number of occasions, particularly the Dublin Institute of Technology, where I have spoken to the students and have got to know it very well. I am referring here to tourism and catering, in particular, the skills on which this nation will depend in the future. Many of the qualifications required in those areas are easily measurable, particularly the ability to get on with and greet people and to smile. We, as employers, can measure some talents but for others we must rely on a candidate's qualifications.

Qualifications are the first stop for many employers. They are the barrier over which one must leap in order to be considered for one's first job. Without the right qualification, one is simply not in competition for a job. In business terms, it is called the threshold – if one does not get over the threshold of getting one's first job, one has no chance of being promoted or taking the next step forward.

However, this is not just about people getting their first job. Senator Kett referred to lifelong learning. People now need additional qualifications at each stage of their career. We are moving decisively away from a world in which one got all one's qualifications at the beginning, then went into the working world and did not have to learn again. Instead, we are moving towards a world in which the qualifications one gets early in life are only a foundation on which one has to build throughout one's career.

I was with the Minister a couple of weeks ago in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, where the leaving certificate applied was being presented to a large number of youngsters. The pride with which they held that certificate, which is a qualification with the Department of Education and Science's harp on it, was a reminder that it is a worthy first step towards the other qualifications they will have to get. I am glad the Minister is moving successfully towards his target of having 90 per cent of students finish school.

One is going to need extra qualifications to update one's knowledge throughout one's life, to deepen and broaden one's experience and to equip oneself for all the new challenges when one moves into management. There is a hunger among people for recognition and the necessary qualifications. This will lead towards a plethora of qualifications, with which there is nothing wrong. However, it could also lead towards a plethora of qualification awarding institutions, all jealous of their own turf and making life very difficult for people who wish to have qualifications from several institutions. We have been heading down that road and I hope the Bill will set us in a new and better direction.

A by-product of this massive change, and a large reason for this Bill, is that in this new world teaching will increasingly be provided by new providers of education. Traditionally, we relied on the State or universities to provide education. In future, there will be far more sources and providers of education, which will come from other areas, such as the Irish Quality Association with which I have been involved, and the Irish Management Institute. Many of these providers are tied in with universities but many of them are offering qualifications which are greatly in demand and which we must find some way of assessing, regulating and controlling. Specialised providers will appear in areas which we cannot even identify at the moment.

Providers in the private sector are filling a need in the marketplace and are making a profit, which is a worthy objective. We are already seeing the emergence of entrepreneurship in education, of which we will see a great deal more in the future. We should encourage that but we must watch it very carefully. It is to be encouraged, in general, because private sector profit focused organisations are likely to respond more quickly to the needs of the ever changing marketplace.

However, that raises the need for a system of quality control by the State so that learners are protected in their role as consumers and also so that all learning is of the highest standard. Our future national competitiveness will depend crucially on maintaining, enhancing and enlarging the quality of our education at all levels, particularly post-school education.

It was interesting to hear Senators Henry and Norris talk about the Dublin Institute of Technology and the fact that it has not achieved the university status we hoped it would achieve. Clearly there is recognition of the need. I hope it will be able to achieve it in the near future. The ability to do this in a fair manner is now in the hands of the State. As the Minister said it is recognised that it is outside the control of the Minister and individuals. We will encourage that development. I hope to see the work of many institutions being recognised in the years ahead because, there is a need for that recognition. Many people in education know there are different standards and recognitions. We must find a way to ensure that is controlled.

The primary tool of quality assurance in this area is to control of the process of awarding qualifications. If we control that effectively we control everything else. The whole system falls into place behind it, hence the importance of this Bill as a building block for our education system into the next millennium.

Apart from extending a general welcome to the Bill, I wish to make two specific points. First, with regard to transfers and progression in qualifications, in the past a qualification was an end in itself. For many people the end of the process was receiving the qualification. Nowadays, a qualification is far more likely to be a stepping stone to something else. A successful career will have many of those stepping stones and it is important that we encourage as many people as possible to step on as many of those stones as possible. This means making it easy for people to move from one stepping stone to another, instead of making them go back to the start each time. It means accepting the notion of equivalence between qualifications so that people gain full credit for the work they do in one field when they seek to move to another field. In particular, it means making it easy for people to have a second, third or fourth chance to gain a qualification. We can do this by providing different routes to the ulti mate qualification, routes which allow people to make the education system serve their needs rather than forcing them into a rigid system, into which many people have difficulty fitting.

My second point goes back to my earlier statement about qualifications being the currency of employment. The more important qualifications become, the more desperate becomes the plight of those without them. There was a time when someone could drop out of school without even a primary certificate yet there would be somewhere that person could fit into society. That is no longer the case. If one leaves school now without a qualification, one is heading straight for long-term unemployment, or in many cases a fate even worse.

The existence of this Bill emphasises that as a society we cannot afford to let a large number of people fall by the wayside as is currently happening. Even if the number of drop outs being failed by the system remains constant – which I think it is – the problem gets bigger all the time as the threshold is constantly being raised. Those left behind do not seem to have any chance of crossing it. In looking to the future with the Bill, let us not only see what is ahead of us but let us look back and take heed of what is past. Let us recognise those who are not getting qualifications and see if we can find a system which will enable them to do so. I recognise this Bill is a stepping stone to opening the door for many other qualifications in the future. Let us not forget those who are left behind. We should continue to strive to bring them forward too.

I do not intend to repeat anything which has already been said. There have been a number of fine contributions from Senators. The Minister mentioned his openness to debate in this House today.

Having read the Bill and heard the Minister's comments, the one area that I feel is neglected is the independent or private colleges and organisations which provide a valuable service in the training and development sector. Due to the difficulty of accessing third level education for many years, many organisations have been established throughout the country to provide a third level equivalent qualification to people entering the job market. This is different from the PLCs provided in VEC schools and FÁS courses. The training is provided by private operators in training centres around the country which may be carrying out a variety of work for individuals, companies and organisations such as FÁS. It is important to bring them all into the loop and to ensure their work and qualifications can be included in the standardisation of qualifications.

Often in the past – I speak from experience having tendered for FÁS courses and contracts – there were questions regarding external certification. For many small companies all that was available were City and Guilds or RSA certifications from the UK and some certification through the Department of Education. That has changed slightly and we now have qualifications, such as the European computer driving licence, which are recognised throughout Ireland and Europe. Some of them are also recognised in the United States. However, there is room for expansion in this area and recognition of the contribution it is making to training and development. Often a small organisation with a number of tutors and a forward looking chief executive officer may be in a better position to respond more quickly to the changing needs of industry and the requirements of the businesses entering Ireland. If we do not support them we will lose out on an important part of the training market.

In the spirit of debate and in the spirit of involving this important part of the industry, I ask the Minister not to become too focused on the institutions, universities, institutes of technology, vocational education committees and FÁS as training providers. I ask him not to forget, in a partnership approach, the very valuable contribution these types of organisations have made in the past.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the Bill. It is time we consolidated accreditation at further and higher education level. There is no longer an examination at primary level, but at second level, although there are schools all over the country, we have a national system of validation, accreditation, programmes, courses and syllabi. While we have a diversity of second level schools – community, vocational, comprehensive or secondary – we have a structure and framework providing accreditation on a national basis.

It is not possible in the higher level system to tie it down so neatly. However, there is need for an overall framework under which we can operate. The developments which have taken place in the past 25 years in education and training have been enormous. It is not a total coincidence that it has coincided with our membership of the European Community. Our membership of the European Community has resulted in funding being available for a more flexible, broader approach to education, training and the workplace than was the case in previous years. This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the curriculum development units in Shannon and Dublin. Since the coincidence of the overlapping of time related to the fact that funding was coming from Europe, curricular development could have taken place to a greater degree than previously.

There have been many developments in FÁS in the last number of years in terms of tens of thousands of educational and training programmes, many of them with a view to employment and providing skills which would eventually lead to employment. The numbers of post leaving certificate courses have grown phenomenally in the last number of years. At present there are in the region of 18,000 courses, covering many areas, for which a flexible number of accreditation bodies are needed. At present, in many cases it is impossible to have adequate accreditation. For example, Dublin City University must go abroad for its B.Tech. and higher national diploma accreditations; they are obtained from Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a shame that we do not have sufficient accreditation bodies to deal with further education. The National Council for Vocational Awards has gone some way towards dealing with this problem, but it is still at an early stage of providing accreditation and there are a number of third level courses for which it cannot provide accreditation at present.

This an important aspect of the burgeoning number of courses which respond to the workplace, training and educational needs that are in limbo between post-primary education and third level education. It is important that further education has a council in its own right which will be in a position to put some structure on the accreditation required.

VTOS is another area where there is considerable development and CERT is also expanding. These bodies will come within the remit of further education. Beyond that there are the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. All these colleges have expanded in the last 25 years and much of this can be attributed to ESF funding from Europe. Consequently, they have been tailored to the provisions under which the funding is available. This will raise questions for many vocationally minded people, but I am sure the Minister will ensure that the State will pick up the tab where funding may become slack in the future. Europe has made a major contribution in terms of further education and IT courses. This differs from the universities which also received funding, but there would be a disproportionate shortage if ESF funding was to be curtailed in the future. However, I have no doubt the Minister will make Exchequer funding available to make up the difference.

The Dublin Institute of Technology, regional technical colleges and institutes of technology have come into existence in the last number of years and have received their own status under the 1992 legislation, under which they were established. Previously these colleges came under the remit of the vocational education system. It is appropriate that these colleges now have a certain level of consolidation and that there is a framework within which they must operate.

I welcome the proposed structure. An over-arching body is needed and the Further Education and Training Awards Council and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council are probably the appropriate bodies to be established. I am not happy that the universities are not included. The role of the universities is covered in a small section and the Minister speaks only about the relevant institutions covered by the legislation. All universities should come within this framework which should apply to the future of the colleges. We should not establish a two-tiered system of education at third level; there should be a continuum at third level which would straddle further education through to third level. Universities can now be seen as having a status over and above this legislation.

A major thrust of the legislation is the pathways through for accreditation and course programmes which will be provided. The legislation is very specific about how institutions must indicate where these pathways of education will lead. I worry that if universities are not included in the legislation they will go their own way, be totally separate and not respond properly to the need for transfer and pathways through education. There has always been a certain arrogance within universities that they are part of the academic world, they are outside, beyond and above other mere mortals in the education sector. Clearly they are anxious to protect their independence. However, no man is an island and no part of an education system can operate in isolation. I would like the universities to be included in this legislation. I am concerned that in the future it will be much more difficult to obtain pathways through the system in terms of the needs of pupils studying for relevant certificates, diplomas and degrees.

I would quibble with very little in the legislation. It is an improvement on the early and secondary Teastas proposals which were more cumbersome. However, I wonder how this will operate in practice because three structures are being created – an authority of 17 members and two awarding councils. The Minister, in consultation with others, will appoint the majority of members to the Further Education and Training Awards Council. I wonder whether it is desirable that the Minister should have the authority to appoint nine of the 17 members. I worry also about the relationship between the various bodies and whether we create new names for the sake of it.

We are not dissolving FÁS, NCVA or Teagasc. Is it appropriate to dissolve the NCEA? I know all its personnel will be transferred and that no jobs will be lost but what will happen to the NCEA awards that have been granted up to now? There will be no more NCEA awards and another body will confer them. Will the new awards have the same value? If so, how will the Minister ensure this? The Minister has said that under this legislation the NCEA will be incorporated into the new body but the public and the workplace will view it differently. He must ensure the new awards are valued as highly as those granted previously.

I am delighted that quality assurance has been emphasised. In some sectors there may be a question mark over quality assurance and the quality of the awards and programmes. However, one of the positive aspects of his Bill is that we will now have a centralised system which will provide a standard and determined quality assurance that will be monitored regularly.

I am glad private colleges have been brought under the ambit of the legislation and that requirements will be specified to ensure they are properly bonded, that a reserve fund is set up and that there are proper courses and programmes in place. That is important for the students or learners. If anything goes wrong there will be a pathway to ensure they do not lose out on their education.

I welcome this legislation. We will have a number of Committee Stage amendments. It is time we provided consolidation for the qualifications.

I thank Members for their constructive contributions. They will inform our deliberations as we move on to Committee Stage.

One fundamental principle that underpins this legislation is that this Bill is student driven, not institution driven. While a number of Members referred to the needs of individual institutions we should realise that this Bill is geared towards the student. It will provide the student with a route of progression through the various sectors and give quality assurance.

The issue of the membership of the qualifications authority and the various awarding councils has been referred to. We can examine this issue in more detail in the context of the committee system. We have arrived at a very fine balance. The concept of a national qualifications framework, the idea behind this Bill, has been around for a long number of years and there have been many discussions about it. When I came into office everyone agreed that it was a great idea but there were many different views on the mechanisms necessary to achieve it. After a while I became sceptical about people's reservations and I thought they were designed to block any progress. We must be careful that this does not happen as we proceed with the Bill.

Senator Quinn made an interesting contribution because it was from an employer's perspective. He pointed out that employers and the market expect the State to provide a proper qualifications framework because they determine a person's life chances. There is also a strong interdependence between employers and people coming forward.

The Dublin Institute of Technology issue has been discussed. The Bill provides that the procedures underpinning quality assurance have to be agreed between the Dublin Institute of Technology and the qualifications authority. It is not a question of one imposing on the other.

Senators Norris and Henry articulated concerns about an essentialist interventionist approach that could be overbearing and involved in all the details. That is not envisaged by the Bill. The framework articulated in the Bill facilitates that growth and progress of Dublin Institute of Technology and other institutes of technology over time. That growth is within a framework that allows students to progress and gives quality assurance. I do not see how anyone could object to this provision.

A two-tiered university system is not envisaged but two different types of universities could emerge over time via a vigorous independent review. All institutions who wish to progress, receive delegated authority or become universities via the section 9 procedures will all be assessed by an international independent external review of processes and procedures. The qualifications authority will ensure that those procedures are in place but the process itself will be conducted by an independent review.

However, an institution can become a university over time but it may be different from those founded in the 1840s. What is wrong with that? Why is everyone complaining about having different types of universities emerging over time? They will have multi-level provisions and they can make a unique contribution that is different and perhaps better than earlier institutions.

There is also a need for people in the technology sector to come forward with more self-confidence and to stop looking at the universities, the godless colleges of the 1840s, as the yardstick by which they measure their own ultimate success. The attitude that if they are like Trinity they will view themselves as successful is no longer true. Our institutes and the technology sector have been very successful. They have adopted a radical approach to access to third level education in a manner that traditional universities did not. It is time institutes of technology reflected on their own success and their outstanding contribution to broadening access to third level education. They gave many young people opportunities that were not there previously. They also provided quality programmes.

Many industrialists from the pharmaceutical, electronics industries, etc., have said that the key to their success has been the quality of the students who emerge from the institutes of technology and the Dublin Institute of Technology. The quality of apprenticeships owes a lot to FÁS, the institutes of technology and the Dublin Institute of Technology. This is evident by the fact that over the years Ireland has been very successful in the International School Olympics competition where graduates and apprentices in the Dublin Institute of Technology and other institutes of technology do well.

The Bill does not prevent an institution from growing. It does the opposite as it will allow a structured framework for growth and development and create processes that will have credibility and integrity. Recent independent reviews were carried out of Dublin Institute of Technology and Cork and Waterford Institutes of Technology by the interim review group chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly. A series of recommendations was made and the Bill will facilitate their implementation in terms of the delegation of authority. Therefore, the Bill involves delegation of authority to institutes that desire it where an independent review process determines it to be correct. Such delegation of authority does not square with comments made by Senator Norris, in particular, who felt that it was somehow centralist, dictatorial and controlled.

The essence of the Bill is to ensure procedures are put in place to underpin quality assurance and progression but not to control. Everything cannot be reinvented and this has gone on for years. The Universities Act, 1997, was debated excitedly and passed in this House during the previous Seanad and, in response to Senator Henry, through the forum that was held as part of the consultative process leading to this Bill universities agreed to co-operate fully with the national qualifications framework in terms of progression. That is why there is a clause in the Bill which obliges universities to co-operate with the qualifications authority on progression and access issues so that it can be ensured that students can transfer to universities without having to start again in first year if they have completed a three year diploma or degree as has been the case over the years.

We accept that the level of transfer and interaction has not been what it should. It has improved in recent years but in the past appalling instances were revealed where people found it extraordinarily difficult to enter university at the right level from an institute of technology. The same can be said of interaction between post-leaving certificate colleges and institutes of technology. The Bill will establish structures and it is hoped that they will be built up. However, the dynamic must be created comprising the qualifications authority and the two awarding councils.

Senator Norris provided an interesting illustration of quality assurance. I am not sure I would wish to be the victim of the pendulum where one could be failed by an external examiner but awarded an A grade by an internal examiner on the basis of the manner in which one answered a question on Joyce. That matter may be revisited in time. Systems are needed for quality assurance and we cannot be as loose as that with regard to validation. It would be no harm if from time to time the third level sector, particularly universities, looked at the processes which the Department has put in place to examine second level students. The leaving certificate, in terms of logistics, systems and marking schemes, outshines everything else with regard to the integrity and standard of examinations.

There will always be subjectivity with regard to the assessment of certain subjects, such as English and history. I have examined in great detail how leaving certificate English is assessed and I marvel at how precise a process it is. It is not as wide ranging as people might like to think and there is a great deal of hyperbole about this. I do not agree that we can have loose arrangements for assessment and that it should be left to the subjectivity of lecturers and academics to decide who gets an A or an E. That is undesirable and more coherence is needed.

Senator Quinn raised the issue of early school leavers and that is encapsulated within the quali fications framework. People who left school early but want to return to college to gain qualifications will be facilitated through a ladder of progression which begins at foundation level. I thank Senator Ormonde for her endorsement of the Bill and I acknowledge her comments and those of Senator Kett on the absolute importance of qualifications in terms of an individual's capacity to get a job and have a good quality of life afterwards.

I thank Senators for their contributions. On Committee Stage we will tease out specific issues. Senator McDonagh raised a number of them in regard to the membership of councils and adult education. There will be time between now and Committee Stage to formulate our views.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 23 March 1999.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 2.30 p.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 March 1999.