Institutes of Technology Bill 2006: Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister and her officials for presenting the Bill to the House. It is probably the most important recent Bill concerning third level education as it gives autonomy to the institutes which they have sought for a long time. It takes responsibility from the Minister's jurisdiction and puts it under the Higher Education Authority. It also provides a level pitch for the institutes with regard to the other third level institutions.

We all agree that the work of the institutes over the years, particularly in the regions, has been of tremendous benefit to the development of industry. Their close links with industry have benefited many small industries that needed expertise, support and guidance, which they received from the institutes in many different ways. The institutes in Athlone and Galway are both flagships in terms of their close identification with the development of industry in the area and, consequently, the creation of employment.

The institutes have many advantages over other third level institutions in that they have initiated many of the links with industry and have developed and extended those links. As a result, many new courses have been devised. It is appropriate, following the Minister's recent announcement with regard to science and technology, that the number of students enrolled on science-related courses in the institutes has increased. That is a great vote of confidence from those studying for degrees and other qualifications at the institutes.

I ask that every possible encouragement be given to the institutes to encourage adults to study there. If the OECD report highlights anything, it is the small number of adult students in third level institutions.

I hope the institutes will continue to grow and benefit from this legislation. All of the directors who communicated with public representatives in recent years have indicated the importance of allowing the institutes the increased autonomy which they have now been given. I hope it leads to continued success for the institutes.

It is obvious from her bringing forward of the Bill that the apprenticeship the Minister served from 1985 onwards, and her educational reskilling, coming as she did from a rich educational and teaching background, was not lost on her. The mission she embarked upon then has been taken to a further and much higher stage of fruition today by her enabling, facilitating and empowering the DIT and other institutes throughout the country to go forward with a mission, a vision and the pioneering spirit. It is a clear acknowledgement and demonstration by the Minister of what she saw then and sees now as leading to a holistic journey for education, and the central and constituent role the institutes of technology play in that journey.

Well done to the Minister. She served her apprenticeship well from 1985 onwards, as she is clearly demonstrating today. I congratulate her on it.

I thank the Minister and her staff. I reiterate the point made yesterday by Senator Ryan that it is very important for the Government and the State to provide the type of facilities available in universities for students in institutes of technology. The level of resources available has an effect on students. While students will consider the type of course and what they intend to do after college, the choice of where to study will be influenced by the type of facilities available. I know of students who have been happy with their education at institutes of technology but felt disadvantaged by the comparison with facilities at the universities.

I refer particularly to the facilities that help students to enjoy college life, not just those related to classes or the canteen. Some colleges have more space for clubs, societies and sports facilities and are effectively mini-campuses. Students might be in college until late at night and can spend the bulk of their time there. They need somewhere to mix and relax with fellow students. The institutes of technology need more resources to provide that service to the level that is available in some universities.

It is important that the institutes of technology have a role in terms of what is planned for the new type of medical education. If we want to develop access to medicine courses by people from different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, and mature students, it is important the institutes of technology feed into the postgraduate medical courses and perhaps develop a role in postgraduate medical education.

I thank Senators for their consideration of the Bill, which has given rise to a considered debate. It is always interesting to hear the range of direct experience — as students, teachers, board members, authority members and so on — that Members of both Houses have had. That experience has fed into the Bill, ensuring it gives the institutes of technology extra status, which not only concerns education but has also been backed up by considerable investment. Within a five year period, at least €8 billion will be spent on the higher education sector, which is an investment not just in students but also in the future of the country.

I must pay credit to the officials in my Department, including Mr. Gerry Murray and the legal officer, Mr. Dalton Tatton, who has given sterling service, but who unfortunately is leaving me for higher things. He certainly has put a great deal of work into this particular Bill. Go raibh maith agaibh.

Question put and agreed to.