I am sure that can be arranged. We will make copies available.
The Bill provides a legal basis for the functions of the HEA and the role of the Minister. HEIs are independent entities established under statute or as not-for-profit or private institutions. The HEA is the statutory body that acts as an intermediary between autonomous HEIs and the State. Crucially, the HEA is responsible for securing the achievement of Government objectives for the higher education system and ensuring accountability and securing value for money in the use of hard earned public funds.
This legislation is a key part of the Government's reform agenda and should not be read in isolation. As colleagues will be aware, I published a landmark policy document, Funding our Future, which charts the various reforms made in higher education, in May. After years, if not decades, of people ducking and diving the question as to how to sustainably fund higher education, the Government is answering that question. The initiative will: include additional Exchequer investment in higher education, because we recognise that education is a public good; increase student supports; and reduce the cost of education. Investment in higher education and helping families with the cost of education are not mutually exclusive.
The legislation will recognise that autonomy and flexibility are essential features of HEIs. As we carefully go through this legislation on the different Stages, Senators will see that there is a strong recognition of academic freedom, autonomy and flexibility and that there is not a one-size-fits-all model in the context of the higher education landscape. That must, however, be matched with transparent governance and with accountability to students, stakeholders, staff and the public. It is important to note that the legislation will not impinge on the academic freedom of HEIs or their staff in any manner or means. This is a core tenet that will continue to be enshrined in legislation. Institutions will continue to be supported to do what they do best, namely, deliver excellence in education and research and provide places of engagement and insight to support a flourishing democratic society.
The objective of the higher education system is to provide high-quality education that is: innovative and adaptive to the needs of the learner; advances equality, diversity and inclusion; strengthens engagement with the wider education system and wider society; creates knowledge; and maximises the contribution of higher education to social, economic and cultural development. The Bill will provide a detailed and modernised framework to provide for the achievement of these objectives within an appropriate oversight and accountability framework.
The Bill was published in January. It has probably been consulted on more than any previous Bill in the history of the State. It has been discussed over a long number of years by quite a few Governments. Good luck to anyone who wants to state that there has not been consultation in respect of it. The Bill completed its passage through Dáil Éireann last week. I am in Seanad Éireann today to seek to advance the Bill during this legislative session. I realise that this is an ambitious timeframe, but I have come here in the spirit of co-operation and wanting to work together.
As stated, there has been extensive consultation on the Bill, including three formal consultation processes in 2018, 2019 and 2021. The general scheme was scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science during a pre-legislative scrutiny process between July and September 2021. There has been ongoing engagement with key stakeholders throughout the development of the Bill. I have made significant changes to the Bill as a result of that engagement.
We have had meaningful engagement. What do I mean by that? We brought forward or accepted the themes of 179 amendment on Committee and Report Stages. We did not just rock up with a Bill and say off we go. We teased out a number of significant matters, including the structure of the governing authority, environmental sustainability - I compliment Deputy Ó Cathasaigh on the excellent work he has done in that area - the student voice and student engagement. We also did major work in the context of 20-odd amendments relating to the Irish language and strengthening its role. In the Dáil, 97 amendments were made on Committee Stage and 82 amendments were made on Report Stage. These amendments were brought about after engagement with the Oireachtas, stakeholders, representatives and civil society groups, including students, during the passage of the Bill. This has placed us in a stronger position as we debate the Bill in this House.
I will now list some of the matters we have covered so far. We have increased the student voice from two to three representatives on the governing authorities or boards. We have strengthened teaching and research through Irish. We have strengthened provisions for sustainable development, including climate action and biodiversity. We have put in place additional consultation provisions for key stakeholders, including students, HEIs and trade unions. We have strengthened the provisions relating to the autonomy of HEIs, specifically in the context of their relationship with the HEA. We have provided for the incorporation of educational institutions into a technological university, which is very important in terms of St. Angela's College being incorporated into the Atlantic Technological University but which could be important more broadly. We amended the Student Support Act 2011 to provide for the awarding and payment of bursaries and scholarships to disadvantaged students to pursue further and higher education. We have done a lot of good work through amendments in the other House to strengthen the functions of the HEA in terms of cross-Border co-operation.
I will now outline the key sections of the Bill. Part 1 contains standard provisions for a State agency and includes the interpretation section. A key amendment to this part was the inclusion in section 2(3) of a definition for environmental development and sustainability, which significantly strengthens the provisions in this Bill for sustainable development and climate action.
Part 2 includes provisions on the HEA, the objects and functions of the HEA, ministerial powers and information, the board of the HEA, administrative co-operation with other bodies, funding and accountability of the HEA, the CEO of the HEA, and the staff of the HEA. Some key amendments made to this section have strengthened the objects and functions in terms of the Irish language. The functions were also expanded to incorporate an international function for the HEA, and provision has been made to strengthen cross-Border collaboration. An amendment was also made to provide that guidelines issued by the Minister to the HEA may be published, which is an important step in terms of transparency.
Part 3 includes provisions for strategic planning in respect of tertiary education and funding. The strategy for tertiary education is a key provision that enables us to set a long-term strategic direction for tertiary education for the next ten years. Again, key amendments were made to the relevant section with regard to the Irish language and environmental development. This will ensure that these issues are central to strategic planning in the sector. Amendments were also made to provide for consultation with a list of relevant bodies, including institutions, students and trade unions.
The Bill provides for the funding of HEIs and other bodies in accordance with conditions of funding as specified by the chief executive. Important amendments were made with regard to the balance between the powers of the CEO and the board of the HEA. There was a useful debate in this regard during the Dáil engagement.
Part 4 provides for engagement with students, including engagement at national level, and HEIs and contains provisions with regard to a student survey. Part 5 provides for the development of an equity of access, participation and promotion of a success plan and provisions for lifelong and flexible learning. Part 6 includes provisions for the supply and processing of personal and non-personal data. Part 7 provides for the designation of institutions of higher education and the obligations of certain designated institutions of higher education. Part 8 provides for the oversight provisions by the HEA of designated institutions.
A number of amendments were made in the Dáil to strengthen the autonomy of HEIs. These include: providing that the CEO must have significant concerns prior to requesting a HEI to undertake a review; providing for HEA board approval for a number of remedial measures that which could have a reputational impact on an institution; removing the provision with regard to providing assistance to a HEI following a review and replacing it with a provision that a HEI may request assistance, which is an amendment that was sought by the sector; and incorporating an appeal of the appointment of a reviewer and a stay on the appointment. Part 9 provides for the establishment of an appeals board by the Minister within 28 days.
Part 10 provides for amendments to the Universities Act 1997, including provisions relating to the appointment of new smaller, competency-based governing authorities. Again, key amendments were made to this part. Ultimately, what we are trying to do here is have smaller governing authorities and more external representation. That does not mean representation necessarily appointed by the Minister and can be more broad in terms of how external appointments are made. What we are trying to do is move to a competency-based composition of a governing authority.
Trinity College Dublin is legally different and will therefore be permitted to appoint an additional six fellows to its governing authority in recognition of Trinity's distinct legal basis and, in particular, the distinct role played by the fellows of the college.
Part 11 provides for amendments to the Technological Universities Act 2018. Part 12 provides for amendments to the Regional Technical Colleges Act and the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Act. Part 13 provides for amendments to the National College of Art and Design Act 1971.