Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Jun 1999

Vol. 159 No. 21

Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1 and amendment No. 1 may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

"2.–The Institute established by this Act shall prepare a strategy statement as soon as may be after the establishment date and at least every three years thereafter and shall include therein its policies in relation to the following matters, in particular–

(a)educational strategy and in particular the improvement of retention rates within the Institute;

(b)the development of relationships with local industry;

(c)linkages with local second-level educational institutions and the local community generally;

(d)the promotion of adult and second-chance education.".

I will accept Senator Coogan's amendment to my amendment.

This is the crux of the legislation, apart from the simple technical matter of establishing on a statutory basis the new institute of technology in Blanchardstown. The next question is the nature of its remit and how it is to fulfil that remit. The legislation is silent in that regard, other than the Minister of State's statement on Second Stage that the Minister would intend to establish an order under the 1992 legislation. However, to my knowledge, no such order has been established in the seven years the legislation has been in existence. It is far preferable in any case for the legislation's intention to be included in it rather than in some secondary legislation or regulation.

The amendment seeks to require the institute to prepare a strategy statement or development plan after the establishment date and to update it at least every three years. It would be a statement of the institute's remit and how it intends to fulfil it. I have outlined in the amendment a few of the central matters.

The first element is the need to address "educational strategy" and "the improvement of retention rates within the institute". Institutes of technology, regional technical colleges and, in particular, universities have very high drop out rates. There does not seem to be any provision for ensuring students are retained in this educational facility, which will be based largely in a disadvantaged area. According to the Minister of State's remarks, he intends that this institute will respond to the needs of the community. Many of its students will need support systems. It is very important that we address the drop out rate and ensure that students who enter third level education receive its benefits.

The second element is "the development of relationships with local industry", which is a key area. The business park in Blanchardstown and the business community in the north-west part of the city, particularly the computer sector, will be linked to the new institute. The Bill is silent on how that is to happen. It should be incorporated in an educational strategy plan.

The third element is "linkages with local second-level educational institutions and the local community generally". This is very important. Second level institutions need to link up with third level institutions. All we have at the moment is stand alone second level colleges and schools, which are not related downwards to primary schools or upwards to third level institutions. Part of the problem, in terms of interface and access, is that there is no mutual structure or framework linking second level with third level, which would facilitate access. We need an alternative entry system. The old City of Dublin VEC had a system of enhanced points which, as I said, was done away with by the Dublin Institute of Technology. We must examine methods of access and support systems, which could be assisted by the institute and second level schools in the community and would ensure the local community benefits, as is intended.

The fourth element is "the promotion of adult and second-chance education", which I would like to change to "continuing education". The Minister of State is concerned about this area and has produced a Green Paper on it. He might tell us when he intends to produce the White Paper, to which we look forward. In addition to the youth section, which needs to get every opportunity to access third level education, adults who missed out on education also need to get every opportunity to do so.

These are all important points. Another one, to which everyone referred but which I have not included in the amendment, is the question of apprenticeships. Given that the Dublin Institute of Technology has largely opted out of fulfilling that important role, which is very disappointing, and that apprenticeships need a boost in that respect and to be brought back into the institute of technology or regional technical college sector, that should also be included in the Bill.

The amendment is seeking to have incorporated in the primary legislation the model which I know the Minister of State wishes to see established but for which provision is not made in the legislation. The only provision that may be made is for the Minister to do so by means of an order under the 1992 Act. That is not focused enough or good enough for this Bill.

I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1:

In paragraph (d), to delete "and second-chance education" and substitute "second-chance education and continuing education".

Senator Costello has covered the major points in his amendments. I propose to include the words "continuing education" because it gives the institute a broader opportunity and more flexibility to modify and change itself.

Senator Costello raised the point which the Minister of State made on Second Stage but which is not included in the Bill. The Minister of State has paid lip service to adult, continuing and second chance education but it would be appropriate to include it in the Bill.

In regard to the educational strategy, particularly the improvement of retention rates within the institute, I pointed out on Second Stage that research indicated a drop-out rate of over 35 per cent from first year in Tallaght Regional Technical College. We must approach in a scientific manner this cost to the country and to the young people themselves, in that they waste a year of their lives trying to decide what they want to do or else drop out completely. This must be addressed, which is why I am supporting these amendments.

I support the spirit of the amendments. It would add status to the regional technical colleges if such a description were included in the Bill. It is unfortunate that all third level institutions seem to feel they must be universities. Such a strategy statement would add to the value of these institutions in the eyes of those attending them. The polytechniques in France would take it very badly if they were told they had to become universities. Institutions such as these need to have a pride in their status. Spelling out that status, as the Senators have done in their amendments, would enhance that.

It is extremely important to emphasise second chance education. I have always been very impressed by the effort put into second chance education by some of the third level institutions in Northern Ireland.

Senator Costello's point about apprenticeships is well made. The Dublin Institute of Technology, in its desire to become a university, has had to take action on apprenticeships. They are valuable educational processes but no longer have the status they should in the eyes of school leavers. Any efforts which can be made in that regard should be made. I urge the Minister to consider these amendments.

I understood that was the ethos of the institute of technology – that it would reflect such education and how it could reach out to the public. In my experience as a guidance counsellor there are established links with second level schools and the Minister of State has indicated that this can be addressed with the govern ing body by order. These points are relevant. We need links with industry and schools and we must understand why there may be a drop out rate. I would, however, have hoped that this would be part of incorporating the concept of an institute of technology. That is the ethos of the institute so it is not necessary to insert it into the Bill.

On the White Paper on adult education, without giving any hostages to fortune, I am trying hard to get the Department to produce it before the end of the year – hopefully in November on the anniversary of the publication of the Green Paper.

I am satisfied that amendment No. 1, although reasonable, is unnecessary for a number of reasons. The Bill before the House places the institute of technology at Blanchardstown within the statutory framework for all institutes. It is important for the status of the institute within the wider group of institutes of technology that its legislative basis differs as little as possible from the principal Act.

The principal Act is the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992. Section 13 of that Act provides for the preparation of operational programmes for the institutes. These programmes must relate to the next two academic years following the years in which they are made. The Minister has powers over their content. The 1992 Act provides that the Minister may by order assign additional functions to an institute. That order is subject to the positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. During discussion of a similar amendment proposed on Committee Stage in the other House, the Minister gave a firm commitment, from which we have no intention of deviating, to bring such an order before the Houses for Blanchardstown which will incorporate the concept of the mission statement for the college and will focus on local disadvantage and links with industry. Accordingly it is not necessary to incorporate this amendment into the Bill.

I agree with Senator Coogan that the institute should have a role in second chance and continuing education. However, I am satisfied that the existing powers under the Regional Technical Colleges Acts will support the institute in exercising this role. Section 5(1), for example, of the 1992 Act provides that the principal function of a college shall, subject to the provisions of the Act, be to provide vocational and technical education and training for the economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial, social and cultural development of the State with particular reference to the regions served by the college. That is broad enough. In view of the concerns expressed by the Senator, however, I am prepared to ensure that this issue is specifically covered in the order to be made by the Minister in the autumn.

Amendment to amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

Why does the Minister include agriculture in section 5(4)(c) as one of the professions of expertise from which people would be appointed? This is an urban college. Does the Minister envisage that it will offer courses in agriculture or horticulture?

In section 5(5) provision is made for academic staff and students to be on the governing body. There is no such provision, however, for parents. The Minister for Education and Science has indicated to us that he expects parental involvement in the vocational education committees. Does he intend to extend it in this case?

Section 5(8) mentions an appropriate gender balance. What does the Minister mean when he uses the word "appropriate"? There is either a gender balance or there is not. When is a balance appropriate or inappropriate? Does the Minister look into his heart to decide this?

Section 5(14) makes provision for the functional area of one or more than one vocational educational committee to be represented on the board besides the County Dublin VEC. The hinterland of Blanchardstown Institute of Technology will involve broad swathes of the City of Dublin VEC, which is not represented on the board at present. Areas such as Cabra, Finglas, Coolock and Ballymun will form a hinterland for the new institute. Does the Minister feel that is a reasonable assessment of the position and that section 5(14) is appropriate in that regard?

I worry when I hear gender balance mentioned. I have said many times in this House that I am all for gender balance but I want people on boards who reflect what is necessary for their administration. I do not want gender balance for its own sake. The push for gender balance worries me. There are many fine women who are highly educated but to make an issue of it so that we must talk about "gender balance" irks me. It is a natural way of life today. We do not need this tokenism.

I agree with Senator Ormonde. There is no point in paying lip service to an idea if it does not allow a board to carry out the function for which it exists.

On the matter of parental representation on the board of the Blanchardstown institute, it is difficult for a regional technical college because the catchment area is so large, for example, Galway Regional Technical College covers counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. In such a case, how can it be ensured that representation will reflect the geographical area? It is very difficult. In this case, however, because the catchment area is confined to Dublin city, it would be possible to include parental representation on the board.

The reason agriculture is included is that it is considered desirable that this legislation mirrors the parent legislation as closely as possible. There are no plans to provide for parental representation on governing bodies. That would require amendments to the 1992 and 1994 Acts. I am not aware of any such plans at present.

The standard for gender balance is for at least 40 per cent representation of either gender. Every effort will be made to adhere to that.

My point about agriculture is that the subsection states, "such organisations shall be representative of industry, agriculture and commerce"– there is no option. That it is contained in the 1992 legislation does not necessarily mean it should be transposed into the legislation for all institutes of technology. Whether one likes it or not and whether agriculture is represented on the course programme, the Minister has no choice but to choose a representative of agriculture. That is my concern and why I looked for clarification on the range of courses. If agriculture is not included, then it would seem surplus to needs and it might be more appropriate to include a more appropriate area, profession or concern.

The Minister said legislation would have to be amended if we were to include a parental representative, but this Bill makes provision to amend the VEC legislation. I do not see why we should be constrained in amending any legislation to make such a provision. It would be desirable to have a parental representative on the governing body. As Senator Coogan said, this institute has a specific hinterland and it would be of value to have a parent, both in their own right and as a representative of the community they would serve, on the governing body. Why not if all it takes is to amend the legislation? That should not be a stumbling block.

The Minister said he understood there would be a 40 per cent gender balance. Would that not be wonderful if it was written in the legislation? The only reason we want a specific statement in the legislation is that we know how difficult it is to achieve it. If it is not specifically stated, it will not happen. History has taught us that such representation does not occur unless it is specifically included in legislation. The argument has been made in the House that in industry and the professions, one would not find enough qualified women to do the job. In the educational sphere – we are talking about a considerable range of educational programmes – statistics indicate there are more qualified women in third level education and education generally than men. There is no reason equality of gender should not be specified in the legislation.

Women are more involved in education than men, so perhaps we should be talking about bringing men on board rather than women.

The Senator could bet her life that would not happen.

It would be the other way around in terms of gender balance if we were to go down that road.

In relation to gender balance, the present situation has worked well. In the governing bodies of the institutes, appropriate gender balance has been provided and I have not heard anyone complain. A brief perusal of the membership of those boards will bear that out and there is no need to write that into the legislation. We do not propose to do so.

On Senator Costello's point about representatives of the agriculture sector, he will note that section 5(4)(c) states that five people shall be appointed from among persons nominated by such organisations as the Minister considers, including those mentioned. It also states, "such organisations shall be representative of", but there are only five places. It does not follow that someone from any one of the listed areas will be automatically appointed to the board. There are more areas from which people may be drawn than places. The Minister will have to make the appropriate decision.

I support the concept of parental representation. In relation to amending the primary legislation, I will convey the views of the House to the Minister on that matter.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 6 to 10, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 8, subsection (4), line 39, after "council" to insert "; and that Committee shall after the passing of this Act be known as the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Vocational Education Committee and shall have a function area co-extensive with that council".

The purpose of section 11 is to resolve a difficulty created for the structure of vocational education in the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire region by the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1993. Effectively, as the law stands, while County Dublin VEC and Dún Laoghaire VEC, as statutory corporate bodies, were retained in place after the enactment of that Act, the law provides no mechanism to appoint members to the committees. To deal with this issue, the law will require amendment as proposed in section 11. A Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill is in preparation in our Department and we hope to publish it before the end of this year.

The wider issue of the structure of vocational education in the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire area will be addressed by this Bill following consultation with the councils concerned and other interested parties. The issues to be considered include whether to divide the existing County Dublin VEC in two to accommodate the counties of Fingal and South Dublin and the functional areas of the vocational education committees. The Minister has an open mind on these issues.

The effect of the Senator's amendment, however, would be to pre-empt the outcome of these consultations. I propose, as provided in the Bill, to address the immediate problem associated with the composition of County Dublin VEC and Dún Laoghaire VEC but to make no change to the status quo pending the enactment of Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill. In this way, the immediate problem can be resolved, the areas concerned will have fully functioning committees and the wider issues will be fully addressed in the next few months.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 11 agreed to.
Sections 12 and 13 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister and his staff for the way they handled the legislation. I would have liked some of the provisions to reflect our concerns but the Minister made a commitment that he will include many of those concerns in the order which will be passed. I look forward to debating that order in the House. I thank the Minister for his courtesy in dealing with all the issues.

I thank the Minister and wish every success to the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology. I am sure it will become a viable body in time, particularly if the Minister takes on board the points raised today, which he said will be included in a ministerial order.

I thank the Minister and Minister of State for introducing this legislation creating a new vision for the future of education in north-west Dublin. I also thank the staff for their co-operation during the drafting and teasing out of the Bill. Much work has gone into the legislation to bring it to this stage. Young people in north-west Dublin will benefit greatly. I am delighted to be associated with the passing of this legislation.

I thank Senators for their constructive approach and contributions, which were thought provoking and will be borne in mind. On the order which goes to the core of the Bill, the Minister gave a commitment in the other House on its introduction before the end of the year. The House can rest assured that commitment will be honoured.

Question put and agreed to.