Amendment No. 4 was discussed with amendment No. 2.
Higher Education Authority Bill 2022: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 13, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
“ “relevant body” means a designated institution of higher education referred to in any of subparagraphs (i) to (v) of section 53(1)(a);”.
I will press the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 5, 6, 43, 47 and 48 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 13, to delete lines 28 and 29 and substitute the following:“ “students’ union” means an independent and self-governing body, recognised by a higher education provider or by the Minister, that is established for the purpose of promoting the general interests of students of a designated higher education institution, and of representing students, both individually and collectively, in respect of their well-being and academic, disciplinary and other matters arising within that institution;”.
Many of the amendments I have put forward are to strengthen the role of trade and student unions, to provide greater transparency and ensure that too much power is not vested in one individual. We are trying to have a better definition of a student union in the Bill.
Amendment No. 6 seeks to insert the definition of "trade union" as stated in the other amendment. The Government has tabled a number of amendments that reference trade unions without including a specific definition, therefore we wanted to provide one.
I thank Deputies Ó Ríordáin and Conway-Walsh for the amendments which, as they have said, largely refer to how we define and protect the autonomy and independence of a student union. Deputy Conway-Walsh had a view on the definition of a trade union.
I will deal with the student union piece first. I am supportive of what Deputy Ó Ríordáin is trying to achieve. The only reference to a student union in the body of the Bill is in section 16. The other references to a student union are amendments to the Universities Act, the Technological Universities Act, the Regional Technical Colleges Act and the National College of Art and Design Act. The amendment, if passed, would not change the definition of students in those Acts. It is always frustrating when Ministers give technical reasons as to why an amendment does not work, but we need to reflect on how to achieve what the Deputy wishes to achieve.
I fully accept and want to be clear about the fact that student unions are independent bodies. They are autonomous and established for the purposes of promoting the general interests of and representing students. We all engage on a regular basis with the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, and I want to thank it for that engagement, in particular during the Covid pandemic. I met its representatives and discussed their views on what the Deputy is trying to achieve in the Bill. I will consider this further between now and Report Stage. I may accept the Deputy's amendment at that point or introduce an alternative. I need to flag that there is some legal concern in terms of how we do this correctly and ensure there are no unintended consequences which I know the Deputy does not wish to have.
On amendment No. 6, I also intend to obtain some legal advice on this before Report Stage. I note that the terminology recognising trade union and staff associations is used in other legislation in the education sector without a definition. To be truthful, what we have tried to do is replicate what has been done in other legislation in the education sector. I need to make sure there are no unintended consequences or knock-on effects in terms of definitions and how that transposes across other legislation. I will consider amendment No. 6 further and may bring forward an amendment on Report Stage. If the Deputy wishes, she will have an opportunity to further pursue this.
I am happy to work with the Minister on that. Our concern is that the Bill contains the phrase "student union or other student representative body", which could mean anything. It could be a number of students without any mandate or who have been appointed by the education provider.
The Minister can understand our need to nail into the legislation a more robust definition of what a student union is. I will take the bona fides of the Minister and work with him on it, however. I will not be pressing the amendment.
Likewise, I will work with the Minister.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 13, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:
“ “trade union” means a trade union which is the holder of a negotiation licence under Part II of the Trade Union Act 1941.”.
Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 14, 16, 17 and 212 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 15, line 27, to delete “(including the promotion and use of the Irish language)”.
My amendments and those of Deputy Conway-Walsh endeavour to achieve the same aim, relating to the promotion and use of the Irish language and strengthening its provision across the sector, although we may have different views on how best to do it. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are my attempt to do that. I note the Deputy's amendments Nos. 14, 16, 17 and 212.
These amendments address the objects of the Higher Education Authority, HEA, which provide that the HEA shall have regard to certain objects in performing its functions. I am proposing an amendment to the object set out in section 8(1)(b). The intent is to strengthen the provision with regard to the Irish language in the Bill. It is now proposed that this object will read:
To support designated institutions of higher education in contributing to social, economic, cultural ... and environmental development and sustainability through leadership, innovation and agility; and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, such support shall include the promotion and use by those institutions of the Irish language.
The HEA is required to have regard to this object in performing its functions. I acknowledge Conradh na Gaeilge's work in bringing forward this amendment.
I am also proposing other amendments in the Bill to strengthen the provision in relation to the Irish language, including an amendment to section 9, which we will get to later, regarding the functions of the HEA, and to section 33 with regard to the strategy for tertiary education. As I said at the previous outing on this legislation, I am proposing ten Committee Stage amendments to strengthen the role and promotion of the Irish language. As I did at the previous meeting, I again acknowledge the work of Deputy Conway-Walsh on this and, indeed, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, who I see has joined us now and who also corresponds with me on this matter.
Amendment No. 24, in section 9, which relates to the functions of an t-údarás, provides that the HEA shall support "the educational and skills needs of persons in Gaeltacht areas ... and outside of such areas with regard to the promotion and use of the Irish language”. I will flag at this stage that I may even look to further strengthen that. I intend to engage with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media further on this between now and Report Stage.
Similarly, I will mention amendment No. 58 in section 33, which relates to the strategy for tertiary education, now so I do not need to speak to it later. This provides that the Minister shall have regard to "policies relating to ... the promotion and use of the Irish language" when preparing the strategy for tertiary education. This will ensure that the promotion and use of the Irish language will form part of the strategy for tertiary education. This is important. It is quite significant because the strategy will set the policy direction for further education for training and higher education and research for a period of up to ten years. My team and I believe that we are achieving the same aims with our amendments Nos. 7 and 8 and the proposed amendments I outlined to sections 9 and 33 as Deputy Conway-Walsh's amendments Nos. 14, 16 and 17. I am not being argumentative on them. I think we have potentially landed at the same place between amendments Nos. 7 and 8 in this section and the amendments I am bringing forward in sections 9 and 33.
Amendment No. 212 proposes to insert “to provide for the strengthening of Irish medium higher and tertiary education” into the Long Title of the Bill. I am not proposing to accept this amendment as the Long Title lists the general key provisions for the Bill. I think this provision is too specific for inclusion in the Long Title. We believe that the provisions have already been included to strengthen the Irish language. I am proposing not to accept the Deputy's amendments on the basis that I think we are arriving at the same point between amendments Nos. 7 and 8 and the amendments to sections 9 and 33.
I thank Deputies and acknowledge the cross-party interest at this committee in arriving at this point. I will flag formally for the record that I am not finished yet in terms of intending to engage further with colleagues in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media who have engaged with my officials in recent days. I am flagging my intention to potentially bring forward further amendments at Report Stage.
I acknowledge in the first instance the recognition that has been given by the Minister in his amendments. I welcome the news that he will look again at further amendments. That is good news. One of the reasons I submitted these amendments along with Deputy Conway-Walsh was to try to get a debate around the additional - it should not be a burden - responsibility on the HEA. Without sight of those, we will still argue these out and maybe persuade the Minister when he is putting his amendments together to take on board some of the content of the amendments we tabled.
With regard to amendment No. 8, I am not sure about the wording and what is meant by "without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing" in this context. What could be unfairly prejudiced by a duty to promote the use of Irish? It is the phrase "without prejudice" I am querying. It is a good debate and hopefully we will move forward with some of the amendments that myself and others have proposed. I believe this would be important, even if the Minister mentioned that amendment No. 212 should not be included in the Long Title. Often, when changes like that are suggested, they are left to one side. If it is not in the Title, it is seen by those who have a duty to implement the legislation as not having been stated. We have a job of work to do to make sure that as we amend the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022, nobody can be under any doubt regarding the duty the HEA already has in terms of the promotion of the use of Irish. It is not that we are proposing an additional duty; we are seeking to restate what is already there but has not been delivered on.
For those reasons, I think we need to go ahead with that amendment. We are all on the same page. It is about making it as strong as we possibly can and getting to the destination we want to get to.
I call Deputy Ó Cathasaigh.
I will be very brief. I want to acknowledge the engagement the Minister has had with Conradh na Gaeilge. He has been very proactive in terms of addressing what I, along with other Deputies, identified as a weakness in the Bill that was brought in on Second Stage. Deputy Ó Snodaigh will correct me on this if I am wrong, but my understanding is that "Gaeilge" was mentioned just once, and then only in brackets, in the course of the full Bill as it was published in advance of Second Stage. I acknowledge that the Minister has been very proactive in engaging with Conradh na Gaeilge, in particular, and has moved some distance to improve that facet of the Bill. I very much welcome the amendments.
I agree with what Deputy Ó Cathasaigh said.
I thank all the Deputies for their work in this regard. This is an example of where the work of a committee makes a difference.
Sometimes people only see the ruaille buaille in the Dáil Chamber and set pieces during the day, but it is the detailed, collaborative cross-party work that gets done in committees that sometimes genuinely improves legislation. It does not just improve legislation but rather it improves what we are trying to achieve. I acknowledge and thank Conradh na Gaeilge. It is important that we take on good ideas and suggestions. It did not just come to me giving out in any way, as it had a right to do, it came to me with very practical suggestions and worked intensively with my officials, whom I also thank. We are definitely in a better place. No doubt we will debate again on Report Stage whether we are in the best place we can be, but I am happy with the significant progress we have made. Truthfully, I am grateful to the Deputies for raising these issues and making sure we improve the Bill.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 15, line 29, after “agility” to insert the following:
“and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, such support shall include the promotion and use by those institutions of the Irish language”.
Amendments Nos. 100 and 102 are related to No. 10 and they may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 15, line 31, after “performance” to insert “, improve transparency with regard to private funding streams,”.
All three amendments are mine. The central word in each of the amendments is “transparency”. A matter being discussed by the committee at the moment is the future funding of third-level education. We all acknowledge that there needs to be improved funding at third level, and while the State does make a very significant contribution to third-level institutions in this country, it is not the exclusive funder of third-level education. We have a responsibility in paying over money to third-level institutions to make sure that the values of this State are reflected in how the money is spent. For that reason, there should be an obligation on third-level institutions to provide details of transparency or from whence their other funding is derived so that the State can be happy that the values behind the other funding sources are commensurate with the values of the State.
Amendment No. 10 is a very simple one. It proposes that after the word "performance" to insert "improve transparency with regard to private funding streams". If I am honest, I would prefer if it had even more teeth than it currently does. It strikes me as an innocuous enough amendment at the moment.
Amendments Nos. 100 and 102 are perhaps more detailed. Amendment No. 100 refers to "including disaggregated data regarding private and public funding sources, and funding streams from entities outside of the designated higher education institutions that operate substantially for the benefit or under the auspices of the institutions, both inside and outside the State". The reference to "outside of the State" is important in terms of knowing where the money is coming from.
Amendment No. 102 refers to "a transparent, ethical framework for selection or acceptance of private funding streams". That again is about ensuring that the funding that arrives into third-level institutions that complements the funding given by the State should be commensurate with the values of this State. In one way or another, these three amendments go towards making those changes within the Bill.
I support the three amendments because we need greater levels of transparency on the private revenue. It is important to ensure that there is no compromise or negative impact on academic independence.
I thank Deputy Ó Cathasaigh for submitting the amendments, outlining his rationale and engaging with my officials on the matter. For the record of the committee, I will state the factual position as of now in the legislation. It is noted that conditions of funding apply when Exchequer funding is provided to a funded body. As the Deputy has alluded to, there are not conditions relating to private funding sources, but he is arguing for the need for transparency around it, or at least more transparency in that regard.
Having looked at the matter, there are two areas in this Bill that are relevant to trying to achieve some of what the Deputy is trying to achieve. Section 48 provides that: "A designated institution of higher education" or a funded body shall furnish to the HEA any non-personal data requested by the HEA, "in the format so requested". This data may include financial data. What we are doing in this legislation is enabling the HEA to request any data once they are not personal data - we all understand the reason for that - and the ability of the HEA to request it in a certain format, and being very clear that the provision does include financial data being provided to the HEA. We believe that the enabling ability to do this is already provided for and that there is an ability through this legislation for the provision of data on private funding streams to be sought and secured by the HEA.
I also note the second change. I am not sure we have discussed enough in regard to this legislation that under section 126 the HEA may "issue guidelines, codes or policies to designated institutions of higher education". Again, it would be entirely appropriate that a guideline, code or policy could include the issue the Deputy is seeking on private funding streams.
It is important to give my clear view on the matter. While colleges and universities in the sector have every right to seek private funding - some of that can be very good in terms of relationships and collaboration and we all agree with that - the duty in regard to being more transparent is important. It is important not just for reasons of transparency but for the reputation of an institution. I am aware that the joint Oireachtas committee has considered issues concerning human rights, for example, so I am entirely in agreement with Deputy Ó Cathasaigh on the need for transparency. The idea of ethical frameworks, guidance and codes of practice is entirely where we need to be. Where I am not necessarily disagreeing, but where I intend to reflect further between now and Report Stage, is whether we need to be more prescriptive in legislation or whether we have achieved what we are seeking to achieve in sections 48 and 126.
This is something I would like to see addressed. The Minister said he will consider the matter between now and Report Stage. I draw his attention to the fact that the HEA initiated a review of higher education funding in 2017 and it emphasised the inconsistent and incoherent nature of the administration of funding, poor data collection and a lack of overall transparency in funding for higher education institutions, HEI. Each HEI functions independently in sourcing private income and this makes assessing the full scale and source of the private funds in the sector difficult. I accept what the Minister has said regarding the sections he cited and I will review the Bill with a view to seeing whether I agree with how much teeth they have. Based on what the Minister said, I am happy to withdraw the amendment at this point.
Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 20, 21, 28, 29, 31 and 200 are related. Amendment No. 12 is a physical alternative to No. 11. Amendment No. 21 is a physical alternative to No. 20. Amendment No. 200 is consequential on amendment No. 31. The amendments may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 15, line 31, to delete "value-for-money from" and substitute "value for money in".
Amendments Nos. 11, 21 and 200 are in my name. I do not think they are controversial and I will take the Deputies through them. Amendment No. 11 is a technical amendment to align the wording of section 8(1)(c) with section 9(1)(c). We are changing the word "from" to the word "in".
Amendment No. 20 amends section 9(1)(c) to "secure and evidence value for money in the expenditure by An tÚdarás of moneys provided to it under section 19". The previous subsection had provided that the HEA should "secure and evidence value-for-money in the expenditure of public moneys in higher education allocated to funded bodies" but this amends that provision to provide that the HEA is required to "secure and evidence value for money in the expenditure", so it strengthens what we were originally planning to do.
Amendment No. 31 includes a new provision to "assess the performance of funded bodies with regard to securing value for money in the expenditure of funding provided to them by An tÚdarás under this Act". This is a new provision to replace the old section 9(1)(c) to provide that the HEA can assess the performance of funded bodies with regard to securing value for money in the expenditure funding provided to them by the HEA. Amendment No. 200 is simply a consequential amendment reflecting the new provisions in section 9.
The other amendments in this grouping are from Deputies Conway-Walsh and Ó Cathasaigh, namely, Nos. 12, 21, 28 and 29. They are similar to some of my amendments but they are seeking to provide accountability and transparency in the use of funding under the Act. I would argue that amendments Nos. 11, 20 and 31, which I am introducing today, provide for accountability and transparency and we have strengthened the original Bill as published. It should also be noted that the designated institutions of higher education are fully accountable for the use of the funding provided under this Act in accordance with Part 3, Chapter 2, sections 37 to 42, inclusive, of the Bill, which provide for the provision of funding, conditions for funding, compliance with the conditions of funding and remedial and other measures. We will get to a section on autonomy later in the Bill and we have been clear that while institutions are autonomous, they also have to be accountable for funding. The idea that conditions of funding can be attached is an important development on Part 3, Chapter 2 of the Bill. Section 63 of the Bill, which is the section on the accounts of certain higher education providers and the provisions on the keeping and auditing of accounts in the sectoral legislation, also provides a significant degree of accountability for the use of Exchequer funding. It is in light of the amendments I am bringing forward today and the provisions we have put into this new Bill in section 63 and in Part 3, Chapter 2, that we are addressing and strengthening accountability in the Bill. Therefore, at this stage I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 12, 21, 28 or 29.
I want to speak to amendments Nos. 12, 21 and 28. We oppose the term "value for money" because institutional autonomy means making choices on what does or does not constitute value. For the HEA to be tasked with securing and evidencing value for money is not practically achievable or appropriate. Transparency is not negotiable but dictating what represents value for money could potentially infringe institutional autonomy. It is not always easy to draw a line between education, research and beneficial outcomes for society but we know that all evidence internationally shows that strong and independent institutions provide the best education and research outcomes. On amendment No. 21, again we oppose the term "value for money" because institutional autonomy means making choices on what does or does not constitute value for money. Amendment No. 28 is again about how we quantify value for money and that is why we think that substituting: "full accountability" is more suitable.
We have a different view on this in that I see the benefit in the value for money. I take the Deputy's point on what value for money is and value for money is not defined in that sense but the analysis of it is entrusted to the HEA. The HEA's board is appointed under legislation with an accountability back to this House through me and through the likes of the Committee of Public Accounts. Our institutions do excellent work. We can all point to areas where there has not been value for money and there have been some high-profile cases that have damaged institutions, which none of us want to happen. I want to be clear that there is no disagreement on autonomy or academic freedom and academic freedom remains the law of the land. We have worked to strengthen autonomy and be clear throughout the Bill on the importance of same but it is entirely possible to be autonomous and at the same time be asked to satisfy the HEA on value for money. I would be more inclined to agree with the Deputy if we were putting a rigid definition into the Bill on what value for money is whereas instead it is entrusted to the HEA. We have a different perspective on how best to achieve accountability and transparency.
I will briefly comment on amendment No. 29, given that it is in my name. It probably refers to the previous group of amendments we discussed in that it again seeks to insert the word "transparency". The arguments made by the Minister in addressing the previous group of amendments pertain to this as well and on that basis I will be withdrawing No. 29.
Will Deputy Conway-Walsh be withdrawing her amendments?
No. I will be moving my amendments.
Is amendment No. 11 agreed to?
As amendment No. 11 has been agreed to, amendment No. 12 cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 15, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
“(d) to protect and enhance the public nature of the higher education system;”.
The principle behind this amendment is the most important point we would like to see reflected in the Bill. Nowhere in the Bill makes any reference to the public nature of our higher education system. The value of having a public education system cannot be overstated and the public nature of same should also not be taken for granted. We have seen the wholesale commercialisation of higher education over the last ten years and in some cases we have seen piecemeal privatisation. Most people would be shocked to find out that more than one third of the primary school teachers we train come from a single for-profit private college and that the same college is moving into nursing this year. People would also be shocked to find out that we provide millions of euro in funding to private colleges through competitive funding.
This represents a chance to draw a line in the sand. This limited reference to the public sector in the general scheme was taken out and in the Minister's briefing note on the Bill he highlighted the Bill's role in providing a pathway for private colleges to become designated institutes for higher education, which we discussed in the previous meeting. This is also included in the Long Title as one of the key aims of the Bill. I understand that nothing in this Bill specifically states that designated institutes of higher education will be entitled to public funding and having met the Minister's officials to discuss this, they assured me this was not the intention. However the Bill is full of references to the HEA's role in supporting designated institutes of higher education. I believe this creates a huge grey area. Once private colleges become designated institutes of higher education, they will want State funding. They already get roughly €20 million per year of public funding and their case will only be made stronger by this Bill as it stands.
We want the public nature of the higher education system to be referenced and protected in the Bill in order to remove that ambiguity and place a strong emphasis on the importance of maintaining a public higher education system.
I wish to speak in support of the Bill and to reiterate a point made by Deputy Conway-Walsh in respect of primary school teaching. Currently, more primary school teachers are trained by a private online college than in any other way. That does have an impact. It could have a negative impact in future if it is not regulated and if the ethic that underpins the Bill is not stated, such as in the form proposed by the amendment. It started as an add-on to teacher training but it is now the primary provider of teacher training. The amendment is an important rebalancing of the ethics behind what we are trying to achieve.
I thank Deputies Conway-Walsh and Ó Ríordáin for their contributions. I wish to be clear in respect of wanting to develop, enhance and protect a public higher education system. Deputy Ó Cathasaigh referenced the funding discussions on how to sustainably fund higher education. I intend to bring proposals to Cabinet, likely this month, in that regard. I look forward to coming back here to debate that. My proposals will robustly address that commitment to properly support and fund a public higher education system.
I do, however, need to make a couple of brief points. Deputy Conway-Walsh referred to her engagement with my officials on this issue. It is important that there is a pathway in the Bill for an institution to seek to become a public institution, or a designated institution in the first instance. I know the Deputy and I do not disagree on this. I am not trying to suggest that we do. There are institutions, however, such as Mary Immaculate College and the National College of Ireland, that do not currently have clear legislative pathways in respect of how they become a designated higher education institution, HEI. It is important that we do not have to come back to primary legislation every time that happens because this is a sector that is evolving and changing. That is the policy intent behind the pathway - no more and no less.
Deputy Conway-Walsh is correct. There are occasions when funding is provided to private and not-for-profit higher education institutions. In fairness, she acknowledged that such funding is generally competitive funding. If I withdrew that funding, I think she would give out to me because it is generally provided for very good reasons. It is provided where we identify a sectoral challenge or issue. It could relate to a specific group - I do not like the word "cohort" - of students in a certain region or a certain grouping such as disadvantaged students. It is generally done where there is a need to respond quickly to an emerging issue. I could reference specific examples - I am sure the Deputy could do so too - but I do not want to single out examples. That is the purpose, however.
The strategy for tertiary education is the show in town in terms of an outline for how we want our higher education system to develop in the next ten years. One of the key parts of the Bill is that the Minister of the day will prepare a strategy. We will get onto that later in the Bill. That strategy will show the policy intent for the following ten years. That is where the policy intent should always reside, rather than in primary legislation. Ministers come and go and elections happen. The Bill allows the Government of the day to set out in the strategy for tertiary education how it intends to develop policy for the sector for the next decade.
The Deputy stated that designation does not entitle funding. There will be institutions that want to be designated HEIs but are not seeking to become public institutions. There will also be institutions that may wish to become part of the public system. Indeed, the Deputy may wish them to become part of it. I do not propose to accept the amendment for those policy reasons I have outlined. I know the Deputy would not do this to me but I would not like to be in any way misrepresented in respect of the clear commitment to developing a robustly and sustainably funded public education system that will on occasion partner with not-for-profit and private institutions on sectoral issues or regional issues or for certain groupings of students.
I hear what the Minister is saying. I agree with him in respect of institutes being able to be designated. I still have a fear, however, that we have not underpinned the Bill with our intention to have a public education system at third level and, for that reason, I will be pressing the amendment.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Harris, Simon.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
- Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 15, line 33, after “education” to insert the following:
“, including for those who wish to pursue study and research opportunities in the medium of Irish as the national language”.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 15, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
“(e) to ensure good quality working conditions for academic and non-academic staff in designated institutions of higher education;”.
This amendment would ensure good-quality working conditions for academic and non-academic staff in designated institutions of higher education. Precarious employment has been allowed to spread throughout higher education. This needs to be a specific responsibility for the HEA. Governance of the sector must relate to the working conditions of all workers in the sector. According to the OECD, Ireland's student to staff ratio is 23.4, which is far out of line with the OECD average of 15.1. This can only be addressed by a new, sustainable funding model.
In an effort to address the need for student-facing staff, colleges have engaged occasional or hourly-paid lecturers. These employees are not technically lecturers as lecturing staff are defined as those contracted to undertake a range of academic duties encompassing teaching, research and contribution and scholarly activity. Across the higher education sector, different job titles or terms are used to describe those engaged in this manner, including part-time teaching assistants, part-time assistant lecturers, occasional lecturers, etc. Those engaged in this manner are usually on short, fixed-term contracts and are only paid for their teaching. They have no opportunity to engage in research work, even though being active in research is core to the role of a lecturer and the higher education sector. Trade unions recently informed this committee that some institutes of higher education have failed to afford the terms of the public sector agreements to those engaged in this manner. The precarious nature of this engagement is further compounded by the fact that there is no sectoral engagement on industrial relations matters across the university sector. None of this will be new to the Minister. I hope he will accept this amendment, or at least the principle that the HEA should have a role in this area. It is something we have to tackle head-on.
I accept the need to address the issue of precarious employment, and the need for the HEA and funding institutes more broadly to be active in this space. I accept that and I know they would too. However, I do not believe this is the appropriate place for this amendment in legislation. Due to where it would be in the Bill, and the Bill it would be in, it would not achieve what the Deputy wishes to achieve. Working conditions are covered by employment legislation. If we were trying to achieve something in this regard, it would be better placed in employment legislation. We also have industrial relations procedures. All our universities, technological universities and institutes of technology are required to have industrial dispute mechanisms in place in accordance with relevant sectoral legislation.
It is for that reason, albeit somewhat of a technical one, that I am not in a position to accept the amendment. However, I do not disagree with the broader point the Deputy is making, and which she has asked me to agree with, on the need for the HEA to be active in this space. I am sure she will reflect on this between now and Report Stage. I do not believe the amendment will achieve what she wishes it to achieve because employment legislation is the appropriate place for it.
It is important that this provision be in this Bill and, therefore, I am pressing the amendment.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Harris, Simon.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
- Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 15, line 34, after "system" to insert ", including the Irish medium sector,".
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 15, after line 38, to insert the following:
"(h) to promote the attainment of the national aims of restoring the Irish language and preserving and developing the national culture, including by promoting teaching, learning and research across the wide diversity of disciplines at higher level through the medium of Irish.".
Amendments Nos. 18, 19, 30 and 99 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 16, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
9. Nothing in this Act shall be construed as modifying or restricting the principle of academic freedom as provided for in section 14 of the Universities Act 1997.".
We want to protect the concept and the principle of academic freedom within the Bill. The definition of academic freedom is, "A scholar's freedom to express ideas without risk of official interference or professional disadvantage." It is obviously something we should respect and cherish in a democratic society. Therefore, it needs to be explicit within the Bill. That is why I have tabled amendments Nos. 18 and 19.
I am supporting the amendment for similar reasons.
I thank the Deputies. To be very clear, academic freedom is something on which we are all agreed. It becomes more important by the day. To be very clear in relation to democratic values and everything else, academic freedom is the law of our land and remains so. There is nothing in this Bill that in any way dilutes, modifies or changes the reality that academic freedom is fully and robustly defended and legislated for in this country. I want to state categorically that this Bill does not affect the autonomy or the academic freedom of a university or any other higher education institution. I do not think anyone can say this is a rushed Bill. The process has gone on for a number of years. There has been a lot of engagement and consultations with stakeholders, as is right and proper, to get this right. At all times during the drafting and development of the legislation, protecting the autonomy and academic freedom of institutions was a key principle that was considered to ensure it would not be affected. While I alluded earlier to the improvements we have made to the Bill by working together, I wish to be very clear that academic freedom is not something that was in any way missing or absent from the Bill. Indeed, long before the Bill was even drafted, the key principle of academic freedom and institutional autonomy was protected.
Academic freedom is specifically provided for in section 14 of the Universities Act 1997, section 10 of the Technological Universities Act 2018 and in section 5A of the Institutes of Technology Acts 1992 to 2006. This Bill does not amend those provisions relating to academic freedom. They come with us, as it were. In addition, the objects of the Bill include a provision on academic freedom. According to section 8(1)(f), in performing its functions, An tÚdarás shall have regard to the object of respecting "the academic freedom of higher education providers and academic staff in those providers".
As Deputy Ó Ríordáin has suggested, it is important to protect the freedoms of academic staff. Given there is already provision in the sectoral legislation which comes with us as we pass this Bill, and considering the reference relating to the objects, we are categoric in our view, and on the basis of legal advice we have taken, that academic freedom will not be affected, diluted, modified in any way, shape or form by this Bill.
There is also a provision in the objects of the Bill on autonomy, which is interlinked somewhat, relating to designated institutes of higher education, "to acknowledge the responsibility of designated institutions of higher education for the performance and governance of those institutions". While we are trying to get the balance right around transparency and accountability in some of the issues we were discussing, the autonomy of the institutions is very clearly recognised and protected in the provisions on the objects of the Bill.
I should also say that section 37 relates to a funding framework for all designated institutions of higher education. It relates to the schemes and programmes run by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, with the use of public funds, and not the courses run by higher education institutions, HEIs. Therefore, in relation to amendment No. 99, it would not be appropriate to include provisions in legislation around courses and student numbers. However, such a provision may, and indeed, one would imagine will be, included the performance agreement by the institutions and the HEA.
I genuinely accept the bona fides of Deputies Ó Ríordáin and Conway-Walsh, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin on this issue, but I am very satisfied that academic freedom is protected in the legislation.
I appreciate the Minister's response. Effectively, he is saying there is nothing in the Bill that undermines academic freedom and academic freedom is protected in separate legislation. That is all the more reason for it to be enshrined or explicitly referenced within the Bill. As the Minister is aware, we live in turbulent times. One never knows what is around the corner. On that basis, the principle of academic freedom should be in every piece of legislation we deal with. That is why I will be pressing these amendments.
It is very important. The Minister has stated what is intended and has said there is nothing to be concerned about. Therefore, it should be explicitly stated in the Bill.
I believe we all agree that academic freedom is of the utmost importance. It is expressly stated to be one of the objectives of An tÚdarás. Looking at the functions of An tÚdarás, the first function of it is to promote the objects. Academic freedom is an object and a function. It is implicitly stated within section 9(1)(a). I believe that constitutes protection.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Harris, Simon.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
- Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 16, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“(c) support and recognise the application of the principle of academic freedom,”.
I move amendment No. 20:
20. In page 16, to delete lines 10 and 11 and substitute the following:
“(c) secure and evidence value for money in the expenditure by An tÚdarás of moneys provided to it under section 19,”.
Amendments Nos 22 to 24, inclusive, and No. 39 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 16, line 16, to delete “support” and substitute the following:
“plan for the progressive increase of opportunities to study and conduct research through the medium of Irish with a view to meeting the educational and skills needs of Gaeltacht communities, Irish speakers nationwide, institutions of the European Union, and of public bodies subject to the 20 per cent recruitment target set out in section 18C(3)(b) of the Official Languages Act 2003, and make recommendations to the Minister on the provision of Irish medium education within the overall higher education system, support”.
The section into which this is proposed to be inserted is the one that deals with the functions of An tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachas. It sets out in section 9 the functions of An tÚdarás in planning higher education provision and research and it lists a number of functions. They are not as explicit as we would like in its function relating to the Irish language. That is why we believe that one of the functions should be to plan for a progressive increase of opportunities to study and conduct research through the medium of Irish. At the moment that is not available for students. While there are 16,000 students who pursue their education through Irish at second level they do not have the opportunity to continue their studies as Gaeilge. There are some notable exceptions and there is progress being made but the Bill is not explicit enough in our view in terms of the functions of the An tÚdarás that they must plan for Irish-medium higher education provision at a much greater rate than it has to date and also that it should also have a duty not only in what is set out in the Bill so far to meet the needs of the individuals of businesses and enterprise, professions and so on but also to meet the needs of Gaeltacht communities.
This duty should also cover Irish speakers nationally, as well as, for instance, the EU institutions that have specific needs in respect of the Irish language given the language's recognition and the number of translators that they set out in their requirements.
One of the big changes that is going to be, for want of a better term, forced upon the Irish public service results from our passage of the Official Languages Act (Amendment) 2021 earlier this year. As an Oireachtas we have now set a target of 20% of all recruits in this regard. Most of the recruits to the Civil Service and public service have been coming from universities at certain grades but if we are to try to reflect the demand for 20% of recruits to the service, it will not be at clerical officer or messenger level or grade, which is the grade I was at when I was in the Civil Service and I believe they got rid of after I left. There is a need for our universities to provide courses so that we have the ability to recruit those who are fluent in the Irish language and, therefore, it is required, not just because of the Minister’s amendment, but where there is a function of an t-Údarás with regard to the promotion and use of the Irish language. That amendment is well and fine but our suggestions in amendments Nos. 22 and 23 go further than that where they refer not just to the promotion and use of the Irish language but specifically address the provision that is now required under the Official Languages Act (Amendment) 2021, and to also cater for a need or a discrimination in some ways for generations, where there was no provision of Irish language courses in all aspects.
The outliers in this debate are Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh, which always had a specific role, and Dublin City University, DCU. These universities proved that a successful course can be run and a number of people can come through a course, such as in the Fiontar section of DCU where people received business training and the university conducted out its course entirely through the Irish language. I went to UCD, however, where there was very little in that regard. I could study Irish if I wanted, which I did, but I could not study history through Irish. I could sit exams in Irish but not study it. If I wanted to study history at the time, I would have to have attended University College Galway, UCG, as it was at the time, and that is still the case today. How many years later is it now and the provision has not increased.
One of the issues we will encounter later, where I have mentioned the 16,000 students at second level, is that there are even more students at primary school level. We do not have the exact figures as to how many students are proficient in the Irish language or who attend Irish language schools at university level. There are pupils who attend English-speaking schools who are fluent in Irish and who would also like to study through the Irish language, so there is a mismatch there. Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 try to capture that and reflect it in greater functions in an t-Údarás.
I find myself in agreement with the Deputy, not in where we are placing it in the legislation but in respect of what he is trying to achieve. As I flagged on an earlier Stage in this debate, we are engaging with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, as we should be, to ensure this legislation not just complements our legal obligations but complements also the effort to get to where we want to in respect of the Irish language. In section 34, there is a heading, “Planning for provision of higher education”, and within that, section 34(4) refers to an t-Údarás making recommendations to the Minister in respect of requirements for student places. At the moment it lists a great deal of different things that it may make suggestions or recommendations about, but not about the Irish language.
I believe that the Deputy is on to something in respect of the need to look at how we strengthen such provision. We could work with him in respect of what his amendment is trying to achieve in section 34 in, potentially, two places. I do not want to be overly prescriptive in these discussions and we need to engage with him on this but, first, the legislation as currently drafted states: “ An tÚdarás shall plan for the provision of higher education in the State by maintaining an on-going review of the demand for it ... [and] may, for the purposes of subsection (1), consult with—”. It then goes on to refer to assessing the demand for higher education at regional levels, and, in section 34(4), which is probably the most relevant subsection, the recommendations on places. It is in sections 32 and 33, as currently drafted, that I believe we can currently work with the Deputy and I may well table an amendment on Report Stage. I can engage with the Deputy before Report Stage on this. I take the point he has made.
I was in Luxembourg yesterday at EU meetings and was talking to a translator. There is a great number of opportunities now for people with proficiency in the Irish language both in translation but also in the institutions, more broadly, and, therefore, the issue arises as to how we plan for that, as the Deputy referred to. I ask that he might work with me and I with him to see if we can achieve what he is trying to achieve in a different section on Report Stage.
I want to move amendment No. 24 because it is an improvement on what is there but, in doing so, I want to flag, similarly to what I have just said, that I may come back and further expand it on Report Stage. At the moment - and I appreciate that Deputy Ó Snodaigh welcomed this amendment as a start - we have added in a reference to the Gaeltacht areas and we have talked about the meaning of Part 2 of the Gaeltacht Act 2012. “Gaeltacht Planning Areas”, “Gaeltacht Service Towns” and there are “Irish Language Networks” are noted in that Part. I would like to move my amendment No. 24 because it is an improvement on what is there but I also want to flag to the committee that I may return on Report Stage with a further amendment in that regard.
We will come to amendment No. 24.
Is it part of this group?
Yes, we are discussing it with amendment No. 22. I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh to speak now.
I welcome the Minister’s proposal to engage on this. I am not sure where is the best place to insert the amendment, whether it is in section 34 or in this section and I will reflect on that. It is important that this new aspect be covered. As the Minister said, the Bill has been in gestation for quite a long time, as had the Official Languages Act (Amendment) 2021, but it managed to get through the hoop a great deal more quickly and it has very significant implications for every aspect of public service. I have reflected that and have had a number of meetings with different Departments, as Chairman of Comhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus Phobal Labhartha na Gaeilge, in trying to make those Departments aware of their, in some cases, onerous responsibilities now within a very tight timeframe, and the fact that the world has moved on. The EU recognition jumped ahead of the Irish language in some cases and gave greater status and now, all of a sudden, we have to deal with that to ensure it is reflected here, which is good.
Amendment No. 39, which I did not mention but which I will move, deals with the fact that the current system does not capture the numbers who are in full-time Irish language courses. The system has some information and states that there are so many engaged, as stated in answers I received back to parliamentary questions I raised recently in preparation for this Bill. I was surprised, however, at these figures.
They were not inaccurate, but they were not full. They were not complete figures that were usable for anybody. It gave lists of students who had courses in which there might have been an element of Irish language rather than an Irish-language course. We do not know the true figure but it is approximately 2,000 if one takes even courses that have a small portion of Irish tuition in them. That is a big drop from the number of 16,000 going through schools. Obviously, they are at different levels in secondary school. I cannot remember the figure for primary schools although it is higher again and, thankfully, growing each year. However, it means that there is a challenge for any institution, particularly the údarás, into the future. If we capture it now, the planning can start for ten years hence so the courses will be available for the children who are in primary school now and coming through in the future.
That said, I have no problem withdrawing the amendments and working with the Minister to see if we can capture what we tried to do in these amendments in a Report Stage amendment.
I take the point the Deputy makes regarding where best to place what he is trying to achieve in the Bill. We will engage with our colleagues in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and share with the Deputy their view on that. My gut instinct is that we would definitely strengthen what the Deputy is endeavouring to do if, when the Minister of the day is being advised by the údarás with regard to student places and the like, we would put a reference to this. That is something good that can come out of the exchange and I am happy to tease through the detail with the Deputy between now and Report Stage.
I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 16, line 18, after “interests” to insert “, Irish language and Gaeltacht interests”.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 16, line 19, after “nationally” to insert the following:
“and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, including the educational and skills needs of persons in Gaeltacht areas (within the meaning of Part 2 of the Gaeltacht Act 2012) and outside of such areas with regard to the promotion and use of the Irish language”.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 16, line 25, after “education” to insert “and training”.
This is an amendment to section 9(1)(h). It is simply to include a reference to higher education and training. We all talk about greater integration between training and higher education, and this is simply to reflect that in the legislation.
Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 16, line 27, to delete “across all disciplines” and substitute “in all disciplines”.
These are two drafting suggestions. The amendments amend section 9(1)(i) which states: "promote, support and fund excellent research in the higher education system across all disciplines in accordance with national research policy and in partnership, as may be appropriate, with Ministers of the Government, Government agencies and such other bodies as An tÚdarás considers appropriate". These amendments are proposed to convey the policy intent of the subsection more accurately.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 16, lines 27 and 28, to delete “in partnership” and substitute “in co-operation”.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 16, line 39, to delete “value for money” and substitute “full accountability”.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 16, line 40, after “accountability” to insert “, transparency”.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 16, line 40, after “frameworks” to insert the following:
“and to support the autonomy and decision-making capacity of designated institutions of higher education”.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 16, after line 40, to insert the following:
“(m) assess the performance of funded bodies with regard to securing value for money in the expenditure of funding provided to them by An tÚdarás under this Act,”.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 17, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
“(n) to freely express its views on matters concerning the higher education sector,”.
Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 17, line 5, after “section 14,” to insert “including in relation to the funding required for higher education,”.
The amendment changes section 9(1)(n) to read as follows: "advise the Minister in relation to national policy on higher education in accordance with section 14, including in relation to the funding required for higher education". The amendment provides that the HEA shall advise the Minister with regard to the funding required for higher education. This arose from me following some of the discussions the committee has been having on funding and the view that the HEA should have a role in advising the Minister not just on policy but also on funding. I believe it strengthens the role of the HEA on the important issue of funding.
Amendment No. 35 is tabled by Deputies Ó Ríordáin and Conway-Walsh. I believe I am achieving in amendment No. 33 what they are endeavouring to achieve. Each of us is saying that the HEA should be advising with regard to funding. That was not in the Bill previously, but it will be with amendment No. 33.
Amendments Nos. 34 and 51 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 17, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“(o) co-operate with An tSeirbhís with regard to the establishment and operation of an Office called the National Apprenticeship Office whose functions shall be to manage, oversee and develop a system of apprenticeships,”.
Amendment No. 51 is in the name of Deputy Conway-Walsh. I doubt that anybody will have a difficulty with amendment No. 34. It is simply recognising the fact that with the new apprenticeship changes, the HEA must co-operate with SOLAS in respect of the new national apprenticeship office. The function relates to section 18 of the Bill, which provides for co-operation between the two on the delivery of apprenticeships and the establishment and operation of the new national apprenticeship office.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 17, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“(o) advise the Minister in relation to the adequacy of the level of public funding that is made available for higher education and to advise on future funding requirements,”.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 17, line 6, after “education” to insert “(including with regard to the provision of student places and the enrolment of students)”.
This amendment is consequent to the debate on Second Stage. It further strengthens cross-Border, North-South co-operation by providing that it should include "the provision of student places and the enrolment of students".
I strongly welcome the inclusion of the reference to student enrolment in the context of cross-Border collaboration in higher education. Can the Minister clarify if the intention of this amendment is to give a role to the HEA in promoting cross-Border enrolment?
Absolutely, it is. I am sorry, but I should have acknowledged that this amendment arose from my engagement with the Deputy. I thank her for that. The amendment is adding to paragraph (o) which begins with "promote co-operation and collaboration with regard to higher education". It was silent on whether that meant student places and enrolment of students. We have now added that to be clear that the promotion should include student places and enrolment of students.
That is why I urge the Minister to support my amendment that makes the role more explicit.
We will come to that later.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 17, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“(p) without prejudice to paragraph (o), promote co-operation and collaboration with regard to higher education (including the provision of support and funding for projects and initiatives) with authorities having responsibility for higher education in places outside the State, including the promotion of such co-operation by designated institutions of higher education with institutions of higher education in places outside the State,”.
The amendment provides for the international role of the Higher Education Authority with authorities having responsibility for higher education outside the State. It also provides for the HEA to promote such co-operation by designated institutions of higher education with institutions of higher education outside the State. To be truthful, it simply reflects in the legislation the reality of the current international role the HEA has. That is now stated in the legislation.
I agree with the amendment in principle. I just seek clarification on whether the HEA will have a function in providing special emphasis and efforts in terms of boosting cross-Border collaboration and co-operation on the island, above and beyond the importance of the broader international outreach and collaboration.
I welcome that the North is still given a separate paragraph. I would hope that the inclusion of this amendment with largely the same wording will not take away in any way from the much needed emphasis on developing higher education on an all-island basis.
I agree 100% with the Deputy. The reason that the points are separate is to reflect the importance that we attach to all-island co-operation.
I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 17, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following: “(p) promote increased levels of north south cross border student enrolment in higher education,”.
We just need a very clear role for the HEA in promoting cross-Border enrolment. Cross-Border student enrolment is broadly seen as mutually beneficial in economic, social and cultural terms. Despite broad support in both the political system and wider society the number of cross-Border enrolments has remained at a very low level. A targeted strategy is required to channel political support and bring about positive change.
In 2019-2020, 2,085 students from the Republic attended higher education institutions in the North. This equates to just 3.5% of the overall student body in the North. This has declined from 4,280 or 7.6% over the past ten years. In terms of cross-Border student enrolment, the most recent available figures are for the 2020-2021 academic year and show that 1,624 students from the North attended higher education institutions in the South. This means that students from the North make up less than 1% of third level enrolments in the South. I feel that it is really important to have this explicitly here and I ask for the Minister to support my amendment.
I agree with the Deputy's analysis of the situation which is ground in fact. She is entirely right. We were very pleased in the horrific situation that has been Brexit to protect cross-Border education but more needs to be done. I mean that we need to get an understanding as to why students from the North are not choosing to study her and vice versa. One of the arguments that I have put very strongly, and I pushed it at a bilateral meeting with the UK's Secretary of State for Education recently and raised it on a number of occasions with his predecessor, Sir Gavin Williamson, is that we need a piece of research to be done where we ask students from Northern Ireland why they are not choosing to study in the Republic and vice versa. I want to commit at this committee to that piece of work getting under way.
I have had very useful meetings in Belfast and Derry in recent months. I expect proposals to come forward very shortly, probably as soon as this month, in terms of how we can fulfil the two Governments' commitments under New Decade, New Approach. I am thinking particularly but not exclusively in terms of the Magee campus, which is the Derry campus of the University of Ulster, UU. We need to see increased student numbers there. We also need to see collaboration in the north west. The Deputy and I were at the launch of the Atlantic Technological University on Monday. We need to see an opportunity now, for example for the ATU, to plug in and collaborate. I am fully in agreement with the Deputy on this matter. I do think that we have seen significant funding to get that going and the Deputy will have welcomed the €38 million in all-island research funding.
The only difficulty I have with this amendment, and I am not being pedantic, is I genuinely believe and I am advised that we have achieved its objective with the amendment that we have just passed, amendment No. 36. I am not being difficult but we literally, on the basis of Deputy Conway-Walsh's engagement, tabled amendment No. 36, which was to be very clear that when we talk about the HEA promoting co-operation and collaboration we now say it needs to promote that in terms of student places and enrolment. It is simply that I do not believe the provision is necessary twice.
I appreciate that, and thank the Minister. I have done months of consultations as well as being rapporteur for the education committee on all-island enrolment. Very interesting issues have arisen there in terms of the barriers that exist. I believe that we can deal with many of them together and I would rather deal with the Minister in a collaborative way to increase the education opportunities at third level right across the country. That can only be of benefit to all students right through the lifecycle from all communities so I do want to work with the Minister. Rather than call a vote I could have further discussions with the Minister and revisit it on another Stage. This matter is really important to all of us. I withdraw my amendment and will bring it forward on a later Stage after further discussion.
I wish to put the following on the record of the committee. In terms of the Deputy's work as a rapporteur, I would be interested in sharing that information with my Department. We would be interested in engaging with her on this matter. We are looking at what are the practical barriers that need to be removed.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 17, line 15, after “information” to insert the following:
“, including specific information on the funding for, and numbers engaged in, study and research through the medium of Irish,”.
I move amendment No. 40:
In page 18, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
“Direction and guidelines to be published
13. The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and to be published on the Minister’s website—
(a) any direction issued under section 11, and
(b) any guidelines issued under section 12.”.
I tabled this amendment in the interest of transparency.
In an effort to be helpful I will consider this proposed amendment. I have sought legal advice.
In terms of the publication of "any direction issued" by the Minister, I need to get legal advice on whether that is possible. In terms of "guidelines to be published", that sounds eminently sensible to me so I may either introduce this amendment or a similar amendment following further consideration, including the consideration of legal advice, on Report Stage.
I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment No. 41 is in the name of Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh. Amendment No. 42 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 41. Amendments Nos. 41, 42 and 44 to 46, inclusive, and 49 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 20, to delete lines 4 to 6 and substitute the following:
“(ii) matters connected to education, including Irish medium education, teaching and learning, research, organisational and financial governance, management, public administration, risk management or language planning.”.
I note that the Minister in his amendment No. 42 tries to do something similar to that proposed in this amendment and that is reflected throughout his amendments on the Irish language. Amendment No. 41 is slightly stronger as it deals with "Irish medium education" and "language planning" rather than just “the promotion and use of the Irish language”. Perhaps we can examine the matter.
Amendment No. 44 reflects on who will be nominated by the Minister or who will adjudicate on policy in terms of Údarás na Gaeltachta. It is the membership of the board that we deal with. Given the failures of the HEA over years, as we set up Údarás na Gaeltachta we should have within its members those who reflect and will champion the interests of the Irish language community and Gaeltacht areas. That is why we have stipulated in amendment No. 44 that at least one of the persons appointed shall be representative of a Gaeltacht area.
I do not know how specific the Minister wants to be, but there must be some way we can ensure those who work in Irish-medium education, such as an Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Foras na Gaeilge and so on, can have a voice at that level so that what we have seen since the 1971 Act came into force is not repeated and we ensure the Irish language is a consideration at all times. Iit should, perhaps, be the foremost consideration, but I am a realist and understand how society works. At least, it should be a consideration throughout.
As regards amendment No. 46, we have had this argument previously. I raised it during the discussion on the Official Languages (Amendment) Act. It relates to the need for those who are chairs of various boards to have an understanding of the Irish language. In the case of the amendment, we are asking that the Minister seek to ensure that the chairperson of the board is able to communicate proficiently in Irish. It is not a significant ask, given that the vast majority of people in the higher education system have come through the Irish education system and, theoretically, many of them have that proficiency anyway. The Minister may be surprised to learn how widespread are Irish speakers. Raidió na Gaeltachta celebrated its 50th anniversary last weekend. It is an organisation that can find an Irish speaker anywhere in the world. In the middle of the Ukrainian situation when the Russians were attacking, it was able to find a Ukrainian who spoke Irish and could explain exactly her circumstances and what was happening. There are far more people with a proficient level of Irish than we give credit for; they just do not speak it regularly or do not get the opportunities to do so. We need to not play down that but, rather, make sure that it flows, especially if we believe the Irish language is central to our education. It is a small ask for the chairperson of the board to have that proficiency.
Amendment No. 49 is trying to ensure that 20% of members of the board have a proficiency in Irish. This is another amendment that has been recommended by Conradh na Gaeilge. I do not know if the Minister has listened to it on other amendments thus far. The amendment proposes that 20% of the members of the board shall have a level B2 or higher proficiency in spoken Iris on the common European framework of reference for languages. This relates to the system that is used for the Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge. It is not a B2 in the leaving certificate; it is a specific ability that I believe is attainable by people who may wish to be chairperson of such a body in the future.
What would we do if we do if we did not have Conradh na Gaeilge? It is clear from my engagement with all Deputies on this series of amendments that it has been very proactive in respect of the Bill. I do not think anyone in the history of campaigns has got 100% of what he or she is seeking. Conradh na Gaeilge has managed to make a lot of progress. The Deputy is correct. There are areas on which I have a different view. I will explain why that is the case.
The Deputy largely welcomed amendment No. 42, which I tabled, although I acknowledge that he prefers the wording contained in his amendment. The rationale behind my amendment is that when a Minister is considering who should be on a board and what background and expertise that person should have, the promotion and use of the Irish language would now be specifically included as one of the criteria that can be considered. As one who has had the honour of being a Minister for a few years, I know the significance of this in the context of submissions received in respect of board appointments and the likes. Let us say Aengus Ó Snodaigh is looking to be appointed to this board and there is a table with various columns for qualifying criteria, this amendment means that he could qualify because there will now be a criterion-----
I think I would qualify on that one.
The Deputy might qualify on many. The amendment will make the promotion and use of the Irish language visible to the Minister of the day when he or she is going to fill the board. It will very much put that on his or her radar. I believe it is quite significant and Conradh na Gaeilge does too. I am pleased we have been able to do that. That is the agreement bit.
Where I do have a different view is in respect of quotas on the board. My fundamental problem with that is that there are so many groups that could make that argument. One could argue that we should have a quota of people who are speaking up for or representing those with a disability or have a disability themselves, for example. The Deputy and I would see great benefit in that expertise being reflected. However, if one starts carving up the numbers on a relatively small board with specific ring-fenced quotas, the flexibility of the Minister to put together a competency-based board in the round is diminished. That is my view. I am making this point in a genuinely non-partisan sense. I trust that the Minister of the day will make the correct appointments through a rigorous public appointments process and on the basis of the criteria set out, now including the Irish language as a specific criterion. That is giving the Irish language a prominence that we have chosen not to give to some other areas that one could argue are of equal importance. My worry is that if quotas of 20% were to be introduced in respect of various specific criteria, there could only be five such apportionments. That is the challenge. We have done this. I did it in the Department of Health when I introduced the new HSE board. One has to decide whether a board should be representational or competency-based. I am not suggesting those are mutually exclusive but we are going for a competency-based board and the promotion and use of the Irish language will be one of the criteria. That is my best way of explaining it.
I am a little terrified by the idea that appointees will have to show their results in a particular test. For example, I appoint people to the board of Science Foundation Ireland. They are very qualified and accomplished people. I have never asked them to show me what they got in a science exam or a maths exam. I am not dismissing these ideas out of hand; I am just thinking out loud somewhat. I cannot think of a comparable situation in which we tell people to show us their grades but I accept that is the position Conradh na Gaeilge and the Deputy have put forward. My view is that, comparing where we are at now with the HEA board and where we will be at as a result of the legislation, the visibility and promotion and use of the Irish language will be significantly enhanced in the context of its inclusion as a criterion for qualification for a person joining the board. The Deputy and I will not agree on this but I believe that to go further could be somewhat unworkable or challenging in terms of trying to balance the ranges of interest and expertise one would want on the board.
I have absolutely no problem with withdrawing amendment No. 41, given the progress that has been made in the context of amendment No. 42. As regards the other amendments, it is difficult in the context of putting a board together. It is about ensuring that it is captured. We all live in the hope that it will be captured in the way the Minister believes it will by virtue of the inclusion of the criterion in respect of the promotion and use of Irish, but we lived in that hope for many decades in the context of trying to promote the representation of women on State boards. The change, however, only happened when we legislated for it. Change might be needed in future to reflect our diverse society if that does not happen naturally. One of the reasons Conradh na Gaeilge and I have argued for these amendments is because that has not been happening. There have been opportunities in the past but ability in the Irish language was not seen as a benefit in the context of appointments to boards.
I am aware of the whole system of appointments to boards and the Commission for Public Service Appointments. I too will be dealing with two appointments to TG4 at a Houses of the Oireachtas committee in the next couple of weeks and this, in some ways, is a novel approach with appointments through the committee and the Minister. There are different ways in which appointments can be made.
I will press this amendment but I will have a look again at it. I will talk to Conradh na Gaeilge and others to see if there is a way of capturing what we want to capture without being too onerous on the appointments system. The key part we are looking for is to ensure the board has an understanding of the importance of the Irish language and to ensure an tÚdarás, which is what they are representing, has that to the fore. Over the years I have found that people who do not speak the Irish language often do not understand the challenges those of us who do speak, or who want to continue education as Gaeilge, have, even on a day-to-day basis in just getting our rights and in our interactions with the State. That is the frustration that has led to these amendments from Conradh na Gaeilge, and not just on this Bill. It is also on a number of Bills over a long time. The conradh would be first to acknowledge the huge progress in recent years in particular and progress by virtue of the fact the Minister has adopted some of its suggestions.
To be helpful, there are two things. While accepting it is not where the Deputy wants to get to fully, reading the wording in the Bill, the change is significant in that the Minister of the day is being told by the legislation that "members of the Board shall be appointed by the Minister [of the day] from among persons who, in the opinion of the Minister, have sufficient experience and expertise relating to". The promotion and use of the Irish language is there; that is the change. I have thrashed this through with Conradh na Gaeilge a few times. Far be it from me to speak for it but I believe its concern is that while it may be grand and well intentioned to include this in the legislation, will anything have changed in five years or ten years’ time? I can understand this and that it is built on years of experience. Again, not to speak for Conradh na Gaeilge, but it was asking of me whether it would be possible to review the provision or check to see if had made a difference. There may be some scope in that space to discuss it. The Minister of the day cannot review his or her own appointments to a board. I am being very honest with this committee in advance of Report Stage and I want to be helpful. I am not going to find myself in a position on Report Stage of being in agreement with quotas. That is being truthful and to be helpful. Again, if I think the aim here is to make sure the new promotion and use of the Irish language as a criteria is impactful, I believe this might be the space in which we should constructively think between now and Report Stage.
I thank the Minister. We might come back with an amendment for a review mechanism on that at a future date. I will withdraw amendment No. 41.
I move amendment No. 42:
In page 20, line 4, after “research,” to insert “the promotion and use of the Irish language,”.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 20, to delete lines 7 to 9 and substitute the following:
“(b) Not less than three of the persons appointed under paragraph (a) shall be students or full-time officers of a national student union, nominated by the Board.
(c) Not less than one of the persons appointed under paragraph (a) shall be nominated by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, to represent the interests of staff.”.
This amendment was discussed with amendment No. 5 but I reiterate that we are trying here in the Bill to rebalance from one to three the number of appointments who are student representation. I also re-emphasise the fact that representation for non-academic staff in these institutions is crucial. The institutions cannot function without them and they often go unrepresented or unheard. This is the basis behind the amendment.
The Deputy has already withdrawn amendment No. 5. I will take this as a withdrawal of this amendment also.
The Chairman is ahead of me. I am sure the Minister will look at my amendments as I believe that was his indication on amendment No. 5. I will come back on Report Stage.
I will allow the Minister in now if he would like to say a brief word on this.
I am okay, if that is all right with the Deputy. Does the Chairman wish me to expand?
No. We will move on.
I move amendment No. 47:
In page 20, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“(c) Not less than one of the persons appointed under paragraph (a) shall be a trade union representative of academic staff in the sector, nominated by the relevant trade union(s).”
I move amendment No. 48:
In page 20, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“(c) Not less than one of the persons appointed under paragraph (a) shall be a trade union representative of non-academic staff in the sector, nominated by the relevant trade union(s).”.
Amendments Nos. 50 and 72 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 50:
In page 21, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
“(iv) An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta,”.
I will speak on this briefly. Amendment No. 50 seeks to insert "An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta", and amendment No. 72 also seeks "In page 32, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following: “(f) An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, and ”, to be included with the groups the Minister would consult. It is important they have that recognition. The Bill provides that An tÚdarás may, for planning of the development of higher education, consult such Ministers, An tSeirbhís, the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland, the designated institutions of higher education, the students’ unions, and other such bodies. We believe the comhairle is one such body. It is established by the Department of Education and charged with providing evidence, advice and supporting resources for the development of Irish medium and Gaeltacht education. To develop a thriving Irish medium education sector at higher level, I believe An tÚdarás and An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta must work in tandem, and that recognition here would be important to ensure An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta becomes one of the specified bodies in order that administrative co-operation is encouraged and facilitated by this legislation.
I thank the Deputy. I am open to correction on this, but I am advised the bodies specifically listed in the legislation are the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland, SOLAS, and Science Foundation Ireland, and they are listed because of their statutory establishment. They are statutory bodies and that basis is the reason we have chosen to include them explicitly as opposed to others.
On the other bodies, which the Deputy referenced, we are putting an enabling provision in the legislation that the Minister may by order prescribe a body for the purposes of this section, once it is established, in which functions are vested by statute or otherwise. This provision can be used in the future to prescribe bodies. Again, it is just a way of doing what we are trying to do here, which is to limit the specific and explicit outline to those three statutory bodies under my remit and that of my Department and to give the Minister of the day an enabling provision to prescribe other bodies. I certainly see merit in what the Deputy has said. If this legislation is passed, it will have the ability to look at how we can prescribe bodies, and no doubt the Deputy will be pursuing that vigorously with me. My rationale is that I am satisfied with the enabling provision.
On amendment No. 72, again we deem it unnecessary because we believe it is already included in section 34(2)(f) in the term "such other bodies". I understand this is not what the Deputy is trying to do and that he is trying to state it explicitly. That is the difference.
I will withdraw the amendment and consider whether this is the most appropriate place for it. If other bodies are being listed, then the COGG, given its very specific function in regard to Irish-medium education, should be included.
I move amendment No. 51:
In page 22, line 8, to delete "National Apprenticeship Office" and substitute "Oifig na bPrintíseachtaí".
I am obliged to flag an intention to introduce an amendment to this section on Report Stage. I am considering a proposal to amend the provisions in regard to the national apprenticeship office.
That is noted.
Amendments Nos. 52 to 54, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 22, line 28, after "education" to insert ", including Irish medium higher education,".
This section deals with the corporate plan of an tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachas. Amendment No. 52 seeks to include a specific reference to Irish-medium higher education. Section 20 provides that the corporate plan of an túdarás shall include its "objectives, outputs and related strategies for higher education". We want to ensure Irish-medium education is included in that.
Amendment No. 53 proposes that after "Minister" on page 23, line 18, a reference to the Minister with responsibility for the Irish language, who is the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, be included. This is to ensure the latter has a role in the corporate plan as it pertains to Irish-medium higher education, especially in respect of Gaeltacht areas.
Amendment No. 54 relates to section 21, which deals with the annual plan of an túdarás. Our amendment seeks to ensure the plan includes specific performance targets, and information on the progress of those targets, for actively promoting the use of the Irish language as a medium for higher education, details of the allocation of resources to Irish-medium higher education and so on. Setting out annual targets is a way of ensuring delivery. Without those targets, the yardstick is missing and an túdarás cannot be held to account in this regard. Some of what we are proposing here probably will be reflected in some ways under the Official Languages Act, but this provision is specific to the annual plan and seeks to ensure an túdarás does not just do the minimum that is required under the Act but that it does, in fact, reflect the successes or failures of its policies in this area in its annual plan.
It is entirely the Deputy's call but I would suggest that this proposal merits reflection on his part in light of the changes we made earlier to the Bill. We now have significantly improved reference to the Irish language and its promotion in the objects and functions of the HEA. This section needs to be read in conjunction with the provisions that already are in the legislation in terms of what must be contained in the annual plan, including the requirement to outline the proposed activity and specify the proposed allocation, the monitoring arrangements and how an túdarás shall have regard to its objects. Those requirements now include the Irish language. In fairness, when these amendments were being drafted, that was not covered. The changes we have made mean the Bill now contains a number of additional requirements as to what must be contained in the annual plan. There are four specific requirements and the annual plan shall now capture the changes we have made in regard to the Irish language. It is my view that the issue is now adequately addressed.
In regard to amendment No. 53, which proposes to insert a reference to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, my view is that there are several places in which reference is made to consulting with other Ministers, as appropriate. That captures the Deputy's requirement and ensures there is consistency across the legislation. There will be occasions, under this Bill, on which the Minister of the day will be required to consult with other Ministers. It might be the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media in regard to the Irish language and, on another occasion, it might be a different Minister and in respect of a different matter. The standard provision across legislation has generally been that requirements in this regard are captured by reference to consultation with other Ministers of the Government, where such is necessary or required. It is a cleaner way of legislating to keep that standard provision throughout the Bill.
I acknowledge the Minister's point. His amendments have moved the legislation on and these amendments may not capture that. They relate to earlier amendments we brought forward. This section refers to the annual plan and relates to the performance of the functions of an túdarás. I was seeking to ensure those functions were more specific. I will look again at section 9, where functions and all of that are defined, to ensure that this is, in fact, captured in the annual plan. If it is not, I will come back with a further amendment on functions. The Minister stated that it is not necessary to be prescriptive if the functions already cover what I am seeking to cover. The annual plan is supposed to set this out and the corporate plan is similar. If we get the functions right in section 9, then we will get the rest of it right. I have no problem with withdrawing these amendments and looking again at the functions section.
I move amendment No. 55:
In page 25, lines 21 and 22, to delete " and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform".
This is a relatively straightforward proposal. As currently outlined, the section requires that if the HEA is to accept a gift of money, land or property, it requires my consent and that of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to do so. The amendment removes the requirement for the consent of the latter for the receipt of gifts. That Department generally is more concerned when something is costing it money. The amendment provides that the HEA may accept a gift of money, land or property with my consent, without also needing the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. We have brought this amendment forward with the approval of the latter. It is in the interest of administrative efficiency.
I cannot agree with this proposal. I hear what the Minister is saying but I do not see any reason or justification for taking out the requirement for the approval of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is an additional safeguard. It is all right to remove that safeguard while the current Minister, Deputy Harris, is in office, but there might be other Ministers after him.
This is not an amendment I would lose sleep over. It is more that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform does not have a specific role in a gift being received. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has conveyed this view to us. It provides administrative efficiency instead of having to go through two departmental processes. There are other provisions in the Bill whereby there are many things I cannot do without the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. This is merely that if there is good news for the sector in terms of something coming in we do not need the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform to consent to it because there is no expenditure cost to the State.
Does it happen in other sectors or is it just in this Bill?
Truthfully I do not know. I can check and revert to the Deputy in writing.
It is odd that it is there in the first place. It was probably a traditional-----
I am not mandated to speak for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on this but my sense is that the fact it flagged it and said it was not required here is that presumably it is not normal practice that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform's consent is required to receive something. I am open to correction on this. I have received advice from the officials that reinforces what I have said. This is a standard provision in legislation. We are reflecting what is already in other legislation.
I like the way Deputy Conway-Walsh said she trusts the Minister, Deputy Harris, while she might not trust other Ministers.
I never really said that. It was not explicit. I said he might not be Minister forever.
Many will be pleased with that.
Amendments Nos. 56 and 57 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 56:
In page 27, to delete lines 18 to 21.
This is where the HEA's CEO is specifically prohibited from commenting on policy, in that he or she shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such a policy. This phrase relates specifically to the Committee of Public Accounts. While recognising that committee specifically deals with financial accountants and provides less space and need for debating the merits, we feel placing this restriction on the CEO is unnecessary. The terms of reference of the Committee of Public Accounts should set the limits of the discussion.
I take the point the Deputy is making. When we read this in isolation it can sound a little stark. As the Deputy alludes to, it is a standard provision at the Committee of Public Accounts. From my memory of my days on the committee, at the beginning of every meeting this exact wording is articulated. It is a standard provision. We should not disrupt lines of accountability with regard to the Oireachtas on policy matters. I am accountable to the Oireachtas on policy and nobody else is. The line of accountability is between the Minister and the Oireachtas. The Accounting Officer is accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts with regard to his or her duties. It is a standard provision for State agencies. I am told it is not something in any way specific to the CEO of the HEA and nor is it meant to be. It is a standard provision that is replicated across State agencies.
I know it is. It is also there with regard to the HSE. The purpose and justification for having a higher education authority is that it is a strong authority capable of providing oversight of the sector and acting as an advocate on the sector's behalf. Including this limitation on the CEO means he or she has less flexibility to act as a voice for the sector before this and other committees than an official in the Department. I am trying to get the balance.
An official in any Department would not go before the Committee of Public Accounts on policy matters either. We do not fully agree but I understand what the Deputy is saying. The CEO of the HEA can and should advise the Minister on policy issues. As a result of some of the improvements we have made to the Bill we have also included the funding issue. The CEO of the HEA can be invited before any other Oireachtas committee for discussions and debates. I know the CEOs of the HEA, SOLAS and probably Education and Training Boards Ireland have come before the Oireachtas joint committee for policy discussions. There is no issue at all with this. This is not meant to be a significant policy development on my part. It simply replicates a standard provision with regard to CEOs of State agencies. It is not novel. The Deputy may not agree with it for any CEO of a State agency. This is a broader point the Deputy may wish to make. This is replicating what is the norm with regard to CEOs of State agencies going before the Committee of Public Accounts. As the Deputy has rightly identified, it is the Committee of Public Accounts alone.
I am still concerned that it is in the Bill. The Minister spoke about taking the wording in isolation but it explicitly states the CEO shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any new policy of Government or Minister of the Government on the merits of the objectives of the policy. It seems very restrictive and almost dictatorial in that sense.
In my experience of dealing with CEOs of State agencies, and I say this with great fondness, they are well able to articulate and advocate for their agencies when they come before Oireachtas committee. They should do so and it is entirely appropriate. To be clear, this is not a wording created by me or the Department to endeavour to be in any way restrictive. It is simply seen by us and the drafters as a standard provision that we are replicating. If any other Minister from any other Department were here bringing forward legislation I am pretty certain he or she would also have this standard provision. It is not a provision of the Government. It is also a provision of the Opposition. Presumably the Committee of Public Accounts can change its own Standing Orders when it wants to do so in consultation with the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is the provision that all members of the PAC believe should be in place because it is read out at the beginning of each meeting when the witnesses are seated.
I will withdraw the amendment but I reserve the right to present it again. I hear what the Minister is saying but it does not sit well with me.
I move amendment No. 57:
In page 28, to delete lines 18 to 21.
Amendments Nos. 58 and 62 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 58:
In page 31, line 36, after “strategy,” to insert the following:
"including policies relating to social, economic, cultural and environmental development and sustainability and the promotion and use of the Irish language,".
This is to provide that the Minister shall in the preparation of the strategy for tertiary education have regard to policies relating to social, economic, cultural and environmental development, sustainability and the promotion and use of the Irish language. The section already includes a reference to the Minister having regard to any national policies when preparing the strategy and that those policies would include the policies outlined in the amendment. The amendment is made to strengthen the provisions in relation to consideration of policies on social, economic, cultural and environment development and sustainability, and the promotion and use of the Irish language. The issue of environmental development and sustainability is something Deputy Ó Cathasaigh has discussed with me. We will return to it on Report Stage based on a discussion we had earlier. The promotion and use of the Irish language is a debate we have been having extensively this evening. It arises from engagement with colleagues on the committee and with Conradh na Gaeilge.
The amendment is welcome. This is one of the more important parts of the Bill and deals with strategic planning. This is for the future. Previously there was no reference to the Irish language, which was bad.
Our amendment No. 62 specifically refers to and sets out details regarding Irish-medium further and higher education and not just the promotion and use of the Irish language in the sector, but I will be happy to withdraw it in the context of this amendment from the Minister. It has moved us beyond the original position. I thought this was going to happen, and we have moved and it is a good thing. I may, however, come back with another amendment to tighten the wording. As I said previously, I am not sure if the phrase "promotion and use of the Irish language" fully captures what is involved in this regard. It may do so, though, and I will re-examine this aspect.
I move amendment No. 59:
In page 31, after line 36, to insert the following:
“(b) the climate and biodiversity emergency as well as national climate policies, legislation and objectives, including the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021,”.
I welcome amendment No. 58, which goes some way to addressing the concerns this amendment was intended to deal with. This is also an especially powerful place to insert the provision regarding the "promotion and use of the Irish language", and I also welcome that. Reference was made in the Minister's amendment to "environmental development and sustainability". I accept that point, but there is a place here to mention specific policy obligations regarding climate change. Section 33(4)(a) refers to "any national policies that are relevant to the strategy", but we must view this whole context within the framework of the enormous environmental challenge coming down the tracks. It would be appropriate, somewhere in this proposed legislation, to refer specifically to these "national climate policies, legislation and objectives, including the Paris Agreement [...] and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021".
The Minister is not in the business of listing every Act in the context of national policy that could have a bearing on this Bill, but this is a more serious and overarching matter. It will have to specifically inform education in future, especially concerning sustainability. He has a great commitment to the development of the trades, and I refer to that aspect as well, and to the type of research and innovation that will be required in future to allow us to face up to the climate challenges in front of us. Therefore, while welcoming what is set out in amendment No. 58, we could go further in specifically detailing and mentioning the climate challenge and the framework within which we must operate in facing up to that.
I thank the Deputy for the work he is doing on this legislation in ensuring it is as strong as it can be regarding the climate and biodiversity emergency. What I suggest we do here is similar to what I suggested the previous time we engaged on this topic on Committee Stage. Perhaps we could consider the range of amendments the Deputy has submitted on the climate and biodiversity emergency in the round. I committed to doing this the last day. We can see where there may be opportunities to strengthen this Bill, and I am happy to do that. The Deputy is correct; my speaking note tells me we do not list legislation because it already applies. Even from a clarity perspective, sometimes it can be cleaner not to do so as well. I do, however, take the point he is making regarding the emergency in this respect and the need for it to be reflected in all legislation we enact.
Something else I would like to explore, and I am asking myself this question out loud, concerns section 126. Again, this is a section we might perhaps be talking about after we have passed the Bill, because it is an enabling section. It is significant that the section empowers the HEA in respect of guidelines, codes and policies being issued to designate institutions of higher education. That enables the authority to issue new codes, policies and guidance encompassing the relevance of "the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021".
I imagine what committee members are wondering, because I would be if I was in their position, is how they can be sure the HEA will move on this aspect once the legislation has passed. This is something I would like to reflect on. I make this point regarding this amendment and more broadly as well. Overall, we do not want to be extremely prescriptive in listing all guidance, codes and modes of practice in the context of a range of important issues, including the climate emergency. We do, however, want an assurance that once the legislation is signed by the President and becomes the law of the land that something is going to happen in these areas. There is a responsibility on me to reflect on how I respond to this aspect more broadly as well, because section 126 is significant regarding the ability to do things on climate.
It is equally significant regarding other issues I have been working on with the committee. These include taking a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and consent, as well as many other issues that arise and that cause us, as a society, to say they must be addressed. Undoubtedly, when this legislation is passed, whomever is Minister will be regularly asked in the Dáil about section 126. There are also references to this aspect in the consultation section and, therefore, I would like to reflect on the climate and biodiversity emergency with the Deputy and other members in the round between now and Report Stage. I would also like to try to develop my own thinking regarding where the HEA is, and will, be concerning its priorities in the context of this new section 126 power.
Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 60:
In page 32, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
“(c) the funding status of individual designated institutions of higher education,”.
On the same theme of the strategy in this legislation, all the conversations we have had about the sector for which the Minister is responsible have come down to funding. It is a hot topic of conversation. This has been going on for years and it is the elephant in the room in any conversation about higher or further education. Within the context of the strategies laid out by the Minister, therefore, I feel strongly that the funding status of individual designated institutions of higher education must be included in such a strategy and that this aspect must be contained in the legislation.
We tabled amendment No. 61 to ensure that if the funding status of an institute of higher education is to be taken into account, that this is only done along the lines of whether it is a public institution.
As outlined by the Deputies, these amendments propose to include a provision, following "That the Minister shall, in preparation of a strategy, have regard to - ", referring to "the funding status of individual designated institutions of higher education". The section provides for the preparation of a strategy for tertiary education that encompasses "the further education and training system and the higher education and research system". This will be a high-level strategy identifying the objectives and outputs for the tertiary education sector. My point is that this section is in that space.
We believe that the differentiation of institutional mission between the variety of higher education providers, and this is a diverse sector, is inherent in and outlined by section 33(4)(b). In an effort to be helpful, I indicate that I propose to amend section 35. Amendment No. 88 proposes, in the context of "The [HEA] shall, in preparing a performance framework, should have regard to [...] the strategy for tertiary education under section 33", to insert "taking account of the diversity of functions, objects and priorities of different higher education providers".
I am trying to capture what I think the Deputies are intending in section 35 rather than section 33 by expanding that section to include the words "taking account of the diversity of functions, objects and priorities of different higher education providers". That would build on the piece I have already referenced in section 33(4)(b) relating to the differentiation of institutional mission between higher education providers.
With that in mind, we will reflect on the amendment. We reserve the right to resubmit on Report Stage but I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 61:
In page 32, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
“(c) the status of an individual institution as either a relevant body or as a designated institutions of higher education that is not a relevant body,”.
I will withdraw the amendment and reserve my position.
I move amendment No. 62:
In page 32, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
“(c) the aim of increasing the provision of Irish medium further education and training in the Irish language, and the role of the tertiary education sector in furthering both use and understanding of the Irish language,”.
Amendments Nos. 63 to 66, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 64 to 66, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 63. Amendments Nos. 63 to 66, inclusive, will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 63:
In page 32, to delete lines 5 and 6 and substitute the following:
“(5)The Minister shall, for the purposes of preparing or amending a strategy, consult with—
(a) the Minister for Education and such other Ministers of the Government as the Minister considers appropriate,
(b) An tÚdarás,
(c) An tSeirbhís,
(d) the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland,
(e) Science Foundation Ireland,
(f) the National Apprenticeship Office established pursuant to section 18,
(g) the designated institutions of higher education or their representative bodies,
(h) institutions providing further education and training or their representative bodies,
(i) representatives of students or students’ unions,
(j) trades unions or staff associations of members of staff of designated institutions of higher education which are recognised by those institutions,
(k) trades unions or staff associations of members of staff of institutions providing further education and training which are recognised by those institutions,
(l) public research funders, and
(m) such other bodies or persons as the Minister considers appropriate.”.
This amendment arises directly from extensive discussion during the many consultations we have had with stakeholders. The Bill as published includes a provision in 33(5) which states, "The Minister shall, for the purposes of preparing a strategy, consult with such bodies or persons as the Minister considers appropriate." However, some of our key stakeholders have requested to be named in the list. This amendment endeavours to specify a wide list of stakeholders who shall be consulted by the Minister in preparation of the strategy. The proposed amendment also includes consultation with such other bodies as the Minister considers appropriate. This will provide for consultation with any persons or bodies who are not included in the list or, indeed, who may emerge in the future.
I am endeavouring to address what amendments Nos. 64, 65 and 66 are intended to do. I acknowledge that both Deputies Ó Ríordáin and Conway-Walsh are trying to ensure that the Minister shall, not may, consult with student representatives; representative bodies, including the Irish Universities Association the Technological Higher Education Authority and others; and the trade unions which Deputy Conway-Walsh has listed. In the amendment, I am listing all of those groups and in the process of doing so, we decided it would be useful to list a few more as well. I think we have captured it, or that is my contention.
I thank the Minister. We welcome the inclusion of greater detail as to who the Minister will consult on the strategy for tertiary education. However, there are still a number of issues. While I welcome the specific inclusion of SOLAS, we need to strengthen the links and pathways between further and higher education. I have raised with the Minister previously that less than 5% of the approximately 4,000 students in pre-nursing courses go on to degree level. The figures are not recorded for pre-law courses.
I also very much welcome the inclusion of trade unions on the list. Their absence was notable in the Bill as drafted. More needs to be done, as we have spoken about, to strengthen the role of trade union engagement within the HEA.
I am happy to withdraw amendment No. 64 on the basis of what the Minister said. However, I will point to the reference to representatives of students or students' unions. We have spoken about this matter previously and I hope it can be addressed. It is welcome that trade union representation is included but that reference to representatives of students or students' unions, which looks small, may not be small if it is not ironed out. I have made this point already. We may revisit the issue.
I understand what the Deputy is saying. Far be it from me to speak for Deputy Ó Ríordáin but I presume he is concerned that instead of consulting the student unions, someone could consult some other body of students who were hand-picked.
That is exactly my concern.
We will consider the matter between now and Report Stage. My understanding is that we are trying to provide flexibility to engage with students' unions but also with other bodies of students that may emerge and which are not students' unions. It is not intended to suggest consulting certain bodies ahead of others. For example, I meet with an excellent group from Trinity College Dublin, led by Mr. Vivian Rath, which works on the whole issue of postgraduate students with disabilities. It is not a students' union. The Deputy is right to raise the matter but the amendment is not to suggest that the Minister of the day or the university can ignore the students' union.
The inclusion of the word "or" is problematic.
I think that is the problem. It is a fair point. Let us try to strengthen that.
Amendments Nos. 64 to 66, inclusive, cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 67:
In page 32, to delete line 18 and substitute the following:
“(a) the Minister, the Minister for Education and such other Ministers of the Government as An tÚdarás considers appropriate,”.
This amendment simply states that I should consult with the Minister for Education on certain matters, considering the obvious links between the Departments as students move between first, second and third level education.
Amendments Nos. 68 to 71, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 68:
In page 32, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“(e) recognised trade unions and staff associations in the designated institutions of higher education,”.
In fairness, the Minister has recognised this issue in previous amendments. However, we feel strongly about the inclusion of recognised trade unions and staff associations in this part of the Bill for the reasons already outlined. I re-emphasise the point that many people who work in these institutions are not academic staff and, therefore, need proper representation.
In an effort to be helpful, I agree with the Deputy on this matter. I believe I am capturing his amendment in Government amendments Nos. 69 and 70. Those amendments provide for consultation on the planning and provision of higher education in the State with trade unions or staff associations of members of staff of designated institutions which are recognised by those institutions. A specific listing for trade unions and staff associations in the consultation provision was requested by a number of stakeholders following publication of the Bill. I agree it is important that trade unions and staff associations of staff in designated higher institutions are consulted and that is why, in response to Deputy Ó Ríordáin, I am bringing forward amendments Nos. 69 and 70, which I believe achieve what amendments Nos. 68 and 71 are setting out to do.
I can probably withdraw my amendments. The sequencing of the amendments is a little fortunate for the Minister and not for me.
I respond very quickly to the Deputy's requests.
I will withdraw amendment No. 68.
I move amendment No. 69:
In page 32, line 22, to delete “and”.
I move amendment No. 70:
In page 32, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
“(f) trades unions or staff associations of members of staff of designated institutions of higher education which are recognised by those institutions, and”.
I move amendment No. 71:
In page 32, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
“(f) trade unions,”.
I move amendment No. 72:
In page 32, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
“(f) An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, and”.
Amendments Nos. 73, Nos. 76 to 78, inclusive, and Nos. 80 to 82, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 73:
In page 32, line 27, after “discipline” to insert “and their language of instruction,”.
I am back in the groove. In fairness, some of these amendments have been captured in Government amendments.
It is approaching 8.30 p.m., which is the time until which we said we would sit. If we are quick, we might be able to get section 34 completed. I ask for forbearance for ten minutes. I know there are time restrictions because of Covid-19, but I have no problem going five minutes over the limit. Perhaps the Deputy could make his contribution a quick one.
I am unlikely to be here to move amendment No. 75 in that case because I am running to the Dáil Chamber. The Minister and I have discussed the matter in some detail in any case. The issues concerned relate to climate action and climate change. I will withdraw my amendments.
I know that Deputy Ó Snodaigh has the floor, but I would like to inform the committee that this relates to the planning for provision section of the Bill. I indicated earlier that I would like to work with the Deputy on the section in question between now and Report Stage.
I was going to say that we have already decided to look at this again. I am happy enough to withdraw the amendments pending that.
I move amendment No. 74:
In page 32, line 32, after “students,” to insert “including the number of students participating at the senior level in post-primary education,”.
I move amendment No. 75:
In page 33, line 8, after “economic” to insert “, climate action”.
I move amendment No. 76:
In page 33, line 8, to delete “and cultural” and substitute “, cultural and Irish language”.
I move amendment No. 77:
In page 33, line 8, to delete “requirements, and” and substitute “requirements, including requirements relating to the promotion and use of the Irish language, and”.
I move amendment No. 78:
In page 33, line 8, to delete “and” where it secondly occurs and substitute the following:
“(x) Irish medium provision and research, and”.
I move amendment No. 79:
In page 33, line 27, after “economic” to insert “, climate action”.
I move amendment No. 80:
In page 33, line 27, to delete “and cultural” and substitute “, cultural and Irish language”.
I move amendment No. 81:
In page 33, line 27, to delete “requirements, and” and substitute “requirements, including requirements relating to the promotion and use of the Irish language, and”.
I move amendment No. 82:
In page 33, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
“(n) the aim of progressively increasing Irish medium provision and research, and”.
I move amendment No. 83:
In page 33, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
“(5) (a) An tÚdarás shall, no later than one year from the enactment of this Act, and following consultation with staff and students of institutions, Foras na Gaeilge, Údarás na Gaeltachta, An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, Gaeloideachas, Tuismitheoirí na Gaeltachta, Conradh na Gaeilge, and the Irish speaking community nationwide, provide a report to the Minister on the provision of higher education through the medium of Irish and the role of higher education in promoting the use of the Irish language.
(b) The report referred to in paragraph (a) shall—
(i) analyse the existing context of Irish medium higher education across disciplines and propose concrete recommendations for increasing the provision of higher education through Irish in all disciplines,
(ii) outline a strategy for ensuring no student undertaking secondary education through the medium of Irish shall be forced to switch to English-medium education upon entry to higher education, regardless of chosen discipline, from 31 December 2030,
(iii) propose measures to attract prospective students to undertake their higher education through the medium of Irish, regardless of chosen discipline,
(iv) propose recommendations for supporting the provision of high quality and up to date textbooks and resources in the Irish language to ensure students of Irish medium higher education are not placed at a disadvantage,
(v) examine ways in which the higher education system could better support the Gaeltacht in economic, social and cultural terms,
(vi) examine the feasibility, merit and potential impact of pursuing the following options, individually or in combination, for developing Irish medium higher education opportunities, making use of existing infrastructure and institutions where possible:
(I) establishing a dedicated multi-disciplinary Irish medium university or institution of higher education, possibly involving a campus location or locations in the Gaeltacht;
(II) establishing a dedicated Irish medium education college for primary and post-primary teachers, in line with recommendation 3 of the Comprehensive Linguistic Study of 2007, possibly involving a campus location or locations in the Gaeltacht;
(III) developing an inter-institutional network for Irish medium third level education through cooperation between existing institutions, with a view to increasing provision of, access to and participation in Irish medium higher level education;
(IV) following the supported distance and open learning model used by Open University to create an accessible and dynamic Irish medium higher education experience;
(V) establishing a criteria for “bilingual university or institution” status, and supporting existing institutions to achieve this status by providing high quality and multi-disciplinary opportunities for education through the medium of Irish;
(VI) ensuring all higher level institutions provide educational opportunities through the medium of Irish so that all disciplines are catered to; and
(VII) developing the provision of Irish medium education at existing institutions of higher education to deliver upon the goal set out in subparagraph (ii), and the goal set out under section 18C(3)(b) of the Official Languages Act 2003.
(c) The Minister shall, no later than one year after receiving the report referred to in paragraph (a), publish a dedicated policy for developing the use of Irish in higher education.
(d) The report referred to in paragraph (a) shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, and the Joint Oireachtas Committee responsible for the Irish language, on the same day as it is provided to the Minister.”.
The select committee will reconvene on Wednesday, 27 April to continue consideration of the Bill. I thank the Minister, his officials and all the members of the committee.