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.