I will introduce the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999. Last year the Government agreed to the planning, building and funding of an institute of technology at Blanchardstown in Dublin. The institute is now one of the largest third level educational building projects in the country and its first students will be enrolled from this September and accommodated in an advance building. Applications have been strong and the institute already has in place a group of highly qualified and motivated staff.
To facilitate the establishment of the institute, a company entitled, Institute of Technology Blan chardstown Limited, was incorporated under the Companies Acts on 11 December 1998. The company is and was intended to be merely a device whereby the institute could be given legal personality pending the enactment of the appropriate legislation.
Early in 1998 the Minister set up an establishment board under the chairmanship of Mr. Donal Connell, general manager of 3 COM Technologies and vice president and the 3 COM Corporation. When he appointed the board, he gave it the task of completing strategic planning for the new institute and making arrangements for the commencement of courses. I pay tribute to the work of the members of the board who are drawn from the private and public sectors and who have given freely of their time since their appointment. The members of the establishment board were subsequently appointed as the members and directors of the company entitled, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown Limited, which was set up to facilitate the establishment of the institute.
Following this, the institute was designated by the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Finance under section 20 of the NCEA Act, 1979, on 15 December 1998 and has received NCEA approval for the following new courses: national certificate in engineering – electronics and computer engineering; national certificate in computing – information technology; national certificate in business studies; national diploma in business studies – information technology and French and national diploma in business studies – information technology and German.
In time the range of courses will be expanded as the institute develops. Because it will have a crucial role in extending opportunity and meeting the needs of this region, the institute will, in due course, like other institutes, also offer apprenticeship courses.
The design and construction of a long-term purpose built campus for the institute necessarily takes considerable time and the target completion date of autumn 2001 is some way off. This is why preparations are under way to provide a system built advance building on the site to immediately provide accommodation for 450 students. This will enable the institute to offer about 250 places on the courses beginning this coming September. A standard prospectus is available and was sent to all second level schools.
While it was not possible to have the institute included in the CAO Handbook for 1999-2000, applications for its courses in September 1999 are being handled by the CAO. School leavers and mature students seeking third level places for 1999-2000 were able to specify courses in the institute in their list of choices when filling in their CAO applications before 1 February 1999. I understand that the response from students has been very positive and that the institute is very pleased with the number of applications received for its courses.
The institute worked very hard over recent months to recruit staff and has filled the senior management posts of registrar, secretary-financial comptroller, head of development, head of school of informatics and engineering and head of school of business and languages. It is also currently engaged in filling other necessary academic, administrative and support posts and these appointments will be made in the lead-in to the commencement of courses in September 1999.
I see the new institute at Blanchardstown as a model for the future in many respects. Like the other institutes in the sector, it will help to meet the skills needs of emerging industries but it will also devote itself, in particular, to improving the level of participation in third level education and training in north west Dublin. This is an area with one of the lowest participation rates in the country, a situation we cannot continue to countenance. The institute will only have achieved its mission if it succeeds in making a significant impact on the level of participation in this region.
As it develops, the institute will provide a flexible education and training framework that is responsive to economic and social needs both locally and nationally and will be fully supported by my Department in its work. The emphasis will be on specialist higher education for leading edge industries in the region; upgrading specialist skills to higher technical-technological levels; continuing education and the needs of mature students; in-service courses, retraining and updating of skills in third level education; special needs arising from educational disadvantage or disability and apprentice education in liaison with FÁS.
The institute must adopt marketing, admissions and student support policies to ensure that a high proportion of students are non-standard entrants. This means applicants, including mature applicants, who meet the entry requirements other than by way of the Leaving Certificate examination, students with disabilities and students from a disadvantaged socio-economic background.
The second part of the institute's remit is equally important, namely, helping to meet the skills needs of emerging industries. In this respect, the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology will have a distinct advantage. Some commentators have started to compare the greater Blanchardstown area with Silicon Valley in the United States. Without doubt, the concentration and growth of high technology industry in the region over approximately the past five years has been spectacular. There are great opportunities for the new institute to forge links with these companies, to establish innovative models of co-operation and for mutual benefit from the synergy between industry and education. This work is already under way and has, to a large extent, been greatly facilitated by the representatives on the establishment board and the board of the company who come from a range of backgrounds.
There was a constructive and comprehensive debate in the Dáil on the special mandate given to the institute and the need for a legislative mechanism to formally underpin this special mission. As the Minister indicated in the Dáil, there is already provision in section 5(2)(a) of the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, which enables him by order to assign functions to the college from time to time. He proposes to make such an order when the institute is established, following consultation with the new governing body and other interests. This will require the institute to publish a statement of its strategy to address the special mission assigned to it, with particular reference to retention measures, liaison with business and industry, linkages with local second level schools and the community generally and the promotion of adult and second chance education.
The Blanchardstown Institute of Technology can offer what industry wants – talented, hard working people equipped with cutting edge skills. I have no doubt business and industry will support the institute in whatever way they can, including providing input to course development, offering co-operative education opportunities and sharing resources. I am also confident that the institute will make a significant contribution to the development of the area and its community. That will be a great catalyst for development generally in the region.
The Blanchardstown Institute of Technology will offer a modern, accessible campus, set in some 60 acres at Blanchardstown Road North. It will have state-of-the-art computer and electronic laboratories and modern well designed lecture theatres equipped with the latest audio-visual teaching aids. It will be able to offer students a welcoming and supportive academic and social environment through a fully resourced library with on-line facilities, restaurant and a range of student support facilities, including its own playing fields. It has the capacity to become a new focal point for north-west Dublin.
The institute will be a landmark in other ways. It will join former regional technical colleges, now institutes of technology, as part of the national provision for third level technological education. This sector has rightly earned public esteem by making and continuing to make a significant contribution to our economic success. As the newest member of the group, we want the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology to make its presence felt right from the start. In particular, I expect it to be courageous and innovative in its approach to access, second chance education and life-long learning.
The institute will be located on Blanchardstown Road North. It will be established in conjunction with a new business park currently being developed as a joint venture by Fingal County Council and IDA Ireland. I see the institute as a flagship, operating at the heart of a network of business parks and clusters of industry.
Planning permission for the provision of internal roads and services and for the widening of the adjoining public road has been received from Fingal County Council and work has commenced on a temporary access road to the advance building which is also under construction at present. The design team for the new institute has been appointed and architectural planning is advancing with a view to completion of the new campus in time for the 2001-2 academic year.
The general aim of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown on a statutory basis and for the dissolution of the company known as the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown Limited. It will place the institute within the institute of technology sector and provide for the application of the legislation which governs institutes of technology, the Regional Technical Colleges Acts, 1992 to 1994, to the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown.
In relation to the institute, the main provisions of the Bill are as follows: the dissolution of the company; the establishment of the institute within the Regional Technical Colleges Acts' framework; and the appointment of the governing body of the institute. The need to expand educational opportunity has been central to the policies of the Minister for Education and Science and he has viewed the establishment of a third level institution in Blanchardstown as a crucial element of this.
On 30 September 1998, he announced formally that the Government had allocated £20 million to fund the capital costs of the first phase of the institute. The new campus will have 900 full-time student places in this phase of development which is scheduled to be ready for occupation for the academic year 2001-02.
The Bill is the final part of this initial process to formally establish the institute under the Regional Technical Colleges Acts. The amendment to the Regional Technical Colleges Acts is required to ensure the institute will have the same powers, functions and management and governance arrangements as the existing institutes of technology.
Section 1 is the definition section. Section 2 provides that the Minister may, by order, determine the day on which the new institute will be established. Section 3 provides for the dissolution of the company. Section 4 provides for the establishment of Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown within the regional technical college sector. Section 5 provides for the composition of the governing body of the institute.
Section 6 provides for the transfer of assets, liabilities and property from the dissolved company to the newly established institute. Section 7 provides for contracts entered into by the dissolved company to continue in force with the newly established institute substituted in the company's stead. Section 8 provides that the institute may be substituted in the company's stead in any legal proceedings which have commenced prior to the establishment date. Section 9 provides for the transfer of staff from the Institute of Technology, Tallaght to the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown. Section 10 provides for an exemption from capital gains tax on the disposal of assets by the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown Limited.
Section 11 is essentially a technical provision to ensure any legal doubts about the constitution of vocational education committees in the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire area are clarified. Section 12 amends the Local Government Act, 1925 by allowing employees of vocational education committees to be members of local authorities, including vocational education committees in the same or an adjoining local authority area. Section 13 provides that the short title of the Act will be the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Act, 1999.
The Vocational Education Act, 1930, provides that every county borough and every county shall have a vocational education area and each such area shall have a vocational education committee. Before the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1993, came into effect, there were three vocational education committees for the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire area corresponding with the three local authorities, Dublin city, Dublin county and Dún Laoghaire. The 1993 Act altered the local authority structure for the county and Dún Laoghaire by creating in this area three new local authorities, namely South County Dublin, Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. In the normal course, given the provisions of the 1930 Act, this would automatically have precipitated the establishment of three new vocational education areas with committees. However, section 19 of the 1993 Act ensured maintenance of the status quo as it existed before the commencement of that Act. In other words, both the committees and the vocational education areas of County Dublin VEC and the Borough of Dún Laoghaire VEC were left unaltered. Accordingly, as the law stands, while County Dublin VEC and Dún Laoghaire VEC as statutory corporate bodies, remain in place, the law does not provide a mechanism to appoint members to the committees after the local elections. Section 11 is designed to deal with this.
As to the long-term structure of vocational education in the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire area, the Minister intends to engage in consultation with the interested parties on this matter as part of the preparation of the Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill which he means to publish later this year. In the meantime, section 11 will, as far as possible, retain the status quo and allow for those consultations to take place without affecting the effective operation of the committees concerned.
We have made considerable progress since a regional college was first mooted for Blanchardstown. Much has been done and it is now the largest single third level building project in the country. While much remains to be done to meet the schedule of commencing courses next September, I am confident everything necessary will be done to facilitate the opening.
I take this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to my officials in the Department and to the acting director and his staff for their incredible work. The commitment of the establishment board has also been exemplary, although it has involved a major imposition on the time of people who are usually busy. The enthusiastic reaction of the local community and the support already evident in the number of applications for enrolment this year show that Blanchardstown has a great future ahead of it.
This Bill will place the new institute at Blanchardstown firmly within the family of institutes of technology. It is, therefore, an important Bill which deserves wide support and I commend it to the House.