Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 26 May 1999

Vol. 505 No. 4

Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Kenny was in possession with eight minutes remaining but I understand he will not be resuming. I call Deputy Hanafin.

Go raibh maith agat. Fáiltím roimh an Bille seo sa tslí go dtaispeánann sé dúinn gur féidir linn tosú ar an mbun agus leanúint ar aghaidh agus cáilíochtaí oideachais agus traenála a bhaint amach sa tír seo agus fios againn go mbeidh siad aitheanta ní hamháin sa tír seo ach aitheanta freisin go forleathan agus leasmuigh.

The Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill is the result of wide-ranging discussion with all the interested parties, the providers of education and training both at third level and further education level, universities, institutes and industry. The objects of the Bill are designed to establish and develop standards of knowledge, skills and competence. It will provide for a system of co-ordinating education and training awards, the promotion of the quality of education and training and of access, transfer and progression. The objects also provide for the promotion of co-operation between providers and industry, recognition outside the State of awards made by bodies in the State and recognition in the State of awards made outside the State, and diversity in education and training. It also provides that every body and person concerned with the implementation should have regard to the objects.

The Bill will ensure that three different groups are set up. These groups will guarantee access, co-operation between different bodies and, more importantly, recognition. The three groups being established are the National Qualifications Authority, the Further Education and Training Awards Council and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. The membership of each of these groups gives us an indication of the emphasis in their deliberations. Not only will the Minister for Education and Science be represented on each body – that is obvious – but also the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the education providers and groups such as Forfás, the trade unions and IBEC who will guarantee that the important link between employment and training, and education and work, is maintained. Most importantly, in each of these groups, learners are presented because the system would not be what it is without the students. We should always aim to protect the rights of the learners, as this Bill will do.

The National Qualifications Authority is designed to maintain a framework of qualifications for developing and recognising qualifications based on standards of knowledge, skills or competence to be acquired by the learner. The words "knowledge", "skills" and "competence" are much broader than we have recognised in our education system to date. Our emphasis may have been too much on knowledge whereas we will now give important national and international recognition to skills and competence. It is very important that this recognition is at a national level. I often wonder about the standard of some of the qualifications given by, for example, English colleges and the A levels where the standard often depends on where the qualification is obtained. By establishing the National Qualifications Authority we will at least be able to stand over the procedures and ensure due recognition is given to courses.

A Further Education and Training Awards Council is also being established. Further education has become very popular in the past few years with courses for adults, communities and learners of different standards and levels of knowledge. It is important that these courses are validated and that standards remain high. In particular, I welcome the inclusion of groups outside the formal education system, such as FÁS, CERT, Teagasc, BIM and second level schools.

The introduction in recent years of the leaving certificate applied, the vocational leaving certificate, the transition year and the myriad of post-leaving certificate courses have opened the way for a wide variety of skills and competences to be taught in second level schools. It is important, therefore, that quality is assured. We will depend totally on the expertise of individual teachers for as long as it is left to individual schools. This may lead to a wide variety of standards as well as a wide variety of course subjects. I welcome the inclusion of second level schools in this section. The Higher Education and Training Awards Council sets out the same policies and standards for third level institutions and universities.

The Bill makes transparent the ladder of access which crosses the binary divide and facilitates the progression of students from the vocational sector to higher qualifications, including degrees offered by the university sector. It is important that a ladder of access exists and that its functions are regulated in a manner which defends the integrity of the educational awards referred to. Having been involved in the governing body of the Dublin Institute of Technology and as chairperson of the Dublin Institute of Technology, Cathal Brugha Street, for six years, I appreciate the value of a ladder of access from apprenticeship courses up to degree level.

The House will recognise that the binary system has served us well. The Minister and the Department have defended the policy of main taining a university and a technology sector as a means of ensuring a wide spread of educational qualifications and a wide geographical spread of institutions. This is not intended to maintain or create a ranked hierarchy of esteem between the different types of providers but is a reasoned policy of ensuring the distinct identities and objects of each sector.

The technology sector in the form of Regional Technical Colleges has done much to provide the skills base for modern Irish industry through the provision of vocational awards and, in some cases, degrees. Universities have as their main function, the graduation of degree holders at bachelor, masters or doctorate levels. Together, the seven universities and eleven institutes of technology have a complementary role to play in providing a well balanced and extensive range of offerings in higher education.

The Bill provides for a distinction between the existing seven universities and any future universities which may be created under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997. This is an explicit acknowledgement of the autonomy guaranteed to universities by that Act and a recognition that any future universities will be likely to emerge from a multi-layered pre-existence and, in becoming universities, their responsibility to non-degree offerings will not be forfeited.

In general, existing universities have welcomed the provisions of the Bill and undertaken to co-operate with the National Qualifications Authority in developing mechanisms to facilitate access from the providers of technological training. As a member of the senate of the National University of Ireland, I welcome the fact that universities are to be included in the membership of the National Qualifications Authority. Their constructive input will be of inestimable value to the new authority, as will those of the other groups I mentioned in ensuring that programmes are developed and implemented.

I particularly welcome the fact that the Bill includes a section dedicated to learners. The profile of learners has changed over the past few years. A learner is not just the traditional second level student studying for the junior or leaving certificate, applied or vocational. There is now a demand for places in further education and it is vital that guarantees are given to students that when they put a foot on the ladder of education, they know where they can go. It must be clear to them from the beginning that access is there, that a transfer is available and that a progression can be made.

I welcome the fact that advance information must be given to students. This information needs to be given to people at the beginning of their educational training. It is not good enough that students who undertake a course, hopefully with the intention of continuing from certificate to diploma or from diploma to degree, should be stopped at any of those stages, as has happened.

I also recognise that, despite the wonderful education facilities provided by the State, there are also facilities provided by private companies. Students on these courses must be protected. The elements in the Bill which ensure a fund or insurance cover is maintained by private providers will ensure good courses and facilities are made available and that students are protected against the demise of individual colleges. Many private colleges have links with universities outside Ireland, I think particularly of the University of Wales. Perhaps at some future point we could consider whether these groups can be incorporated on the ladder of access.

There are many new courses, new learners, and a growing adult education sector providing drugs awareness and counselling courses for community leaders. These people need our full support and we need to ensure the qualifications they obtain will be recognised in this country and abroad.

This Bill recognises and strengthens the current system. It will enhance the strength of the binary system through the establishment of a single national qualification system for all further education and training, including adult, community and continuing education and training. The new framework will play a central role in quality access and progression in the context of expanding provisions. However, despite all the new facilities, boards and structures, it is evident that, no matter what structures are created, the learner must always be to the fore in our deliberations.

I welcome the principle of the Bill. This is one of the most important Bills to come before the House this session because of the need to streamline continuing and further education courses vital for the upskilling of the workforce and ensuring the young and the unemployed have the opportunity to gain worthwhile employment.

Ninety seven per cent of firms are experiencing serious recruitment difficulties, yet 196,852 people are unemployed. Two thirds of companies state that the lack of basic skills, such as literacy, numerically and interpersonal skills, are the reasons they cannot fill vacancies. Only 47 per cent of Irish people aged between 26 and 54 years of age have completed second level education. This figure is significantly below the EU average. How can we tackle unemployment and staff shortages if we cannot ensure a basic level of education and proper access to further education? These statistics place a large burden on future economic growth. Ireland is in danger of falling behind other European countries which have recognised the economic importance of continuing educational training. Only 1 per cent of people with reading and writing problems use the literacy service. Without basic literacy skills, such people will neither obtain a job nor be able to access mainstream FÁS or CERT training programmes for the unemployed. Both FÁS and Teagasc encounter increasing literacy problems among apprentices and have to run basic literacy education alongside their courses.

In the information society, low literacy levels on the scale prevalent in Ireland serve to alienate a large proportion of the national population from the daily life of society. The development of a major programme of adult education with participation targets for disadvantaged people, tax relief for certain adult education courses and substantially more resources for the adult literacy service are urgently required. We need to increase participation of those groups which have been excluded from second and third level education. We must also ensure courses are organised on a flexible, part-time and year round basis.

If we are serious about access – this is one of the principal elements of the Bill – we must ensure employers are committed to upskilling and to continuing education of their workforce. However, there is no mention of industry or employers in the Bill. RTE has a link with the Dublin Institute of Technology in terms of the MA in broadcasting, which is the first of its kind in Europe. The masters programme reflects the strategic plan of the faculty of applied arts to develop closer links with industry, provide professional level education and draw upon RTE's expertise to ensure the continuing relevance of the Dublin Institute of Technology's educational programmes. Another similar course run between the Dublin Institute of Technology and the ESB is the shift operatives' training development programme. It is the first of its kind in that the modules and content have been set by industry, namely, the power generation business within the ESB. This is the type of co-ordination and liaison between industry and providers of education which must be encouraged.

A recent survey showed only 37 per cent of businesses have a staff training budget. Employers must commit greater resources to training as its importance cannot be sufficiently emphasised. Such investment will pay for itself in the long run and it is already doing so for a number of industries. However, there is also an onus on the providers of education. Work placements should be more actively promoted as part of all State-sponsored education and training programmes, including second level education.

The survey also showed that, of the companies which hired graduates in the past 12 months, a worrying 46 per cent said they lacked related experience. It is a problem with many graduates that they do not have the relevant experience. They have the academic qualifications and have undertaken the research but they cannot use basic equipment such as a burette in a laboratory. I compliment the institutes of technology for the work they have done in this regard. I worked with some of their graduates in industry and learned a great deal from them, even though I had a degree. Employers complain that many graduates do not have the basic skills and cannot use a pH meter or a burette, for example, if they work in a laboratory. These are basic requirements which must be fulfilled and the only way to do that is to ensure students receive work experience in industry.

How can it be ensured the workforce has the necessary skills to progress within employment or avail of promotions as they arise unless upskilling is encouraged? With the Celtic tiger, employers find it increasingly difficult to fill skilled vacancies. Unless they are able to fill them internally, many of them will remain vacant. I spoke to a constituent of mine at the weekend who works in a technical company in Athlone. The staff are being offered £1,000 to find people to fill technical vacancies in the company. If a staff member is successful in doing that, they will receive £1,000, subject to the new employee staying on for six months. That is the type of situation we are approaching, yet 200,000 people remain unemployed. That is the other side of the spectrum. There is a shortage of staff in almost every industry, yet 200,000 people are unemployed. The only way this can be overcome is to give employers a strong voice in the training which the unemployed receive. There is no point training people who subsequently are still not qualified to avail of vacancies.

The Taoiseach recently stated that unemployment is no longer an issue. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that the National Youth Council of Ireland recently conducted a survey which showed that, in both the European and local elections, the most significant issue facing young people is employment and unemployment. They are still factors among young people and something we cannot neglect or ignore. Young unemployed people should be able to avail of retraining opportunities relevant to them and these should be on a non-coercive basis. We must try to encourage people to return to the education system. I know the Government is committed to this, but we must work on it. The two elements must be examined, namely, upskilling the workforce and ensuring the people who leave second level schools have the skills to avail of vacancies.

The Minister spoke of protecting the quality of qualifications. He also said a key aim of the Bill is to promote international recognition of awards and international mobility. The Minister proposes to replace the National Council for Educational Awards and the National Council for Vocational Awards with the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Further Education and Training Awards Council. The NCEA and the NCVA are internationally recognised, and employers who in the past employed competent individuals whose awards were recognised by these institutions will now find it very difficulty to accept a new qualification procedure. Twenty seven years of experience and 300,000 graduates will now be thrown out the window.

How will a prospective employee of a German company, for example, explain to his prospective employer that the old accreditation system no longer exists and has been replaced by a new one under which he has a qualification? Has consideration been given to the students who started their courses last year or in previous years, some of whom are sitting their final exams at the moment? Some of them do not know what qualification they will receive or its title. This will lead to a great deal of confusion. Many universities recently had the opportunity to change their names but many did not. For example, University College Dublin did not because the qualifications its graduates receive are internationally recognised. It did not want to change its name for fear its qualifications might no longer be internationally recognised.

Employers will be hesitant about employing a person with a qualification from these new unheard of awards bodies. We are all aware that anyone can obtain a Ph.D. in whatever area one likes. All one has to do is log onto the Internet and, within an hour, one can have a doctorate in whatever one wants. Once $30 is deposited in an account in the name of a fictitious university on the Internet, the qualification is in the post. I could probably print out one if I tried but I have not yet done so. Fictitious qualifications are easily accessible, yet we are changing the names of two internationally recognised qualification certification authorities and effectively throwing the baby out with the bath water. To put the icing on the cake, people do not know whether they received their degrees from section 40 or section 41 universities. It will be interesting in ten years' time, presuming that I am not re-elected, if I travel to Germany in search of a job and an employer inquires whether I attended a section 40 or a section 41 university. How will people explain the difference? Either we have a rule for the universities or we do not; there cannot be two sets of rules.

Deputy Hanafin referred to the overwhelming welcome the Bill received from the universities. They gave it a welcome because there is nothing in it for them. They can proceed as they have in the past but the new universities will be obliged to comply with reams of regulations. Will these universities be provided with resources to enable them to complete the requisite paperwork? It has been stated that these institutions will be reviewed every five years. This will lead to a situation where one review finishes only for another to commence 18 months later.

We must consider the two tier system being put in place in the education sector. I accept that the new universities will be different and that they will offer more applied courses and ensure that students gain the vital work experience to which I referred earlier. We must encourage the universities which do currently not offer placements to do so in the future. Why should the new universities be obliged to comply with rules and regulations different to those complied with by existing institutions? What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

This situation will give rise to confusion; it will not promote international recognition. With regard to such recognition, we must be able to meet international standards. I know the Minister referred to this matter in his speech and that it is dealt with in the legislation. However, such recognition will not be gained by having a token individual with international experience on the national qualifications authority. We must put in place a proper system such as that which already exists in our universities. At present international examiners with international experience – they are usually from foreign universities – come to our universities to assess a sample number of examination papers completed by first to fourth year students. At the end of fourth year, students have an oral examination with an external examiner. If we are concerned with quality and recognition, we must put in place such a system. A stronger emphasis on international assessment will be required if we are to be successful in doing so and also in ensuring that courses and qualifications are recognised internationally.

While I was attending university a great deal of concern arose in respect of the change of the titles of UCC, UCD, UCG and NUI Maynooth. Many students were worried while sitting their final examinations because they did not know what title would appear on their degrees. I accept that, regardless of the title, there is no change in the value of the degrees people receive. However, people continue to travel to continental Europe, the United States, Australia or Asia in search of employment. Perhaps employers in these countries offered employment to people from Ireland in the past but they will not now recognise the new qualifications. How will those people explain the new titles involved? Many foreign employers may not speak English and prospective employees from Ireland are obliged to be interviewed in a foreign language and explain the technicalities of the new qualifications.

We must give serious consideration to this. Perhaps our recognised qualifications need to be changed or revamped. What will happen to the 300,000 students who have received these qualifications? Are their qualifications of a greater or lower standard than the new qualifications? I would not presume to think that the new qualifications will be of a lower standard. However, graduates attending for interview will be asked serious questions by prospective employers.

I welcome section 15 which deals with validation. However, it is vitally important that it be made clear whether a course is validated prior to its commencement. There have been instances where students have taken up courses only to be informed halfway through first year that they were not recognised courses. Will validation be withdrawn in the middle of an academic year? What will happen to people who commence certificate or diploma courses on 1 September or 1 October only to discover that recognition has been withdrawn? Will such situations arise?

It is crucially important to ensure that students are fully informed about the courses they take up. If there are questions about the validity or stan dard of a qualification, students have a democratic right to know what is happening. What usually happens is that the governing body or head of faculty deals with the Department or the qualifications authority while students are beavering away in the libraries or laboratories. When the end of the year arrives, however, those students discover, a number of weeks prior to their examinations, that they will not gain recognition for their work. We must ensure that students are fully informed and that courses which are valid on the first day of term retain that validation until the end of the academic year.

I welcome the section dealing with the protection of learners. This section will ensure that students retain their rights, particularly in relation to private colleges. Sadly, however, it is not only these colleges which cause problems. I wish to familiarise the Minister of State with a problem I recently encountered. He may not be au fait with the green certificate but I am sure a number of his constituents continue to work in the agriculture sector and have not yet sold their land. A number of students commenced a two year course last September but they were told that, because the green certificate course they would normally pursue had been completed for that year, if they completed six months of the course in question they would build up their modules and be entitled to receive a green cert.

The fathers of two of the students to whom I refer applied to enter the farm retirement scheme. They sold off their cattle, etc., on 1 January and put what remained into their sons names. That was fine until February when the students were informed that they would obtain their green certificates if they completed one further module. This continued until a number of the parents contacted me because their children had been informed that they would not receive green certificate recognition until they completed the two year course. On the day these students commenced their course they were informed that they would obtain their green certificates without having to complete the two year course.

We hope that this matter will be rectified by the end of the month. However, for the past four months, the parents of the two students have lost money they could be drawing down from the farm retirement scheme because their children were misled by education officers in Teagasc. Will those learners be compensated under the provisions in section 7? I would like to see this rectified as soon as possible. Two other students who did that course needed the green certificate qualification for tax purposes. They are in the same position with the Revenue demanding money, having been misled by Teagasc. That is only one course in one county and the Minister can be certain it is not the only course that has problems.

The critical issue in relation to the protection of learners is that they are offered a prompt alternative and given refunds. I ask to Minister to look into the points raised.

Further and higher education have seen remarkable growth and development in the past ten to 15 years. I acknowledge what the staffs and management of various institutions have done since 1985 when I became involved in that sector.

The Bill is the culmination of a debate which has been ebbing and flowing as long as I have been involved in the VEC, Dublin Institute of Technology and NCEA sector. The debate has been whether to go the UK route or to protect the binary system. We were engaged in a similar debate when discussing the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill and the Regional Colleges Bill. That was a valuable debate and it is worth taking time to tease out some of the issues. The binary system in Irish higher education is probably what provides much of the dynamic for excellence for which we can be justly proud.

I have no doubt the decision to promote the Regional Technical Colleges, albeit from a small beginning, was a most enlightened development at the time. That the Regional Technical Colleges were housed in standard box-like buildings, dotted in regional centres throughout the country, built at low cost off a standard plan, is a separate issue. That successive Governments took the decision to promote higher education down the technological route is to the credit of people who have occupied Marlborough Street in the past. Nobody can underestimate the contribution of the Waterford institute on that region or the contribution of Athlone Regional Technical College on the pharmaceutical and plastics industry. In Dundalk Regional Technical College, Dr. McDonagh can accept a great part of the credit for the economic development in the Border counties. That institute will continue to promote the North-South economic corridor in a most unique way. The smaller recent regional technical colleges, now institutes, such as Tralee and Galway, have promoted the marine industry. Much of that research and development would not have been possible without the energy and dynamism of the regional technical college directors. I will not name them because it would be invidious to do so. Certainly their contribution to regional and economic development has been colossal.

In recent years the development of the further education section has exceeded all expectations. Not long ago post-leaving certificate courses were regarded as irregular by the Department of Education and Science. When I was first associated with promoting post-leaving certificate courses, numbers were dropping in VEC schools and something had to be done to maintain numbers in what were rapidly becoming empty buildings. VEC principals throughout the country, and certainly in Dublin, worked with the curriculum development unit to devise new courses and appropriate curriculae for those students who wished to go on to further education but not aspiring to full university or regional technical college courses. That sector has a significant input into academic life.

At the risk of being biased, Ballyfermot senior college has made a significant contribution in recent years, whether through the animation school, the rock school or video production. Almost all those in the entertainment industry in Ireland, and many who are working abroad, have attended Ballyfermot senior college. Coláiste Dhulaigh, Coolock, has made, and continues to make, a major contribution to further education through journalism, video and communications generally. There are times when students in my part of the city aspire to going to Coláiste Dhulaigh before considering the DCU degree course in journalism. One of the newer colleges, such as the Tallaght Regional Technical College, is carving out its own important niche in that area. I have no doubt Blanchardstown Regional Technical College will go down the same route.

The decision by previous Governments to put a structure on the whole plc further education sector through the setting up of the NCEA was a most enlightened one. It addresses some of the concerns Deputies are articulating about quality assurance and standards. I have no doubt the rigorous standards applied to the monitoring of courses in the NCEA sector will stand the test of time. This Bill copperfastens the approach to quality assurance.

I had the privilege of serving for a term on the NCEA, during which time I saw the approach taken in regard to the validation of courses. Undoubtedly there was often a push to have courses approved and ratified towards the end of one academic year for the next. The academic assessment carried out by experienced external evaluators ensured that in all but the most rare cases was anything but the highest standard applied.

Deputies have expressed concern about NCEA qualifications and the 300,000 who attend those courses. While serving on the NCEA I took part in that debate and we had some concerns. I am satisfied that the mechanisms proposed in the Bill will address that issue. Dublin Institute of Technology has a long standing partnership arrangement with Trinity College and some of the degree courses have always been validated by Trinity College. That partnership arrangement has worked extremely well. From time to time people seeking jobs abroad have said they graduated from Dublin Institute of Technology. If they came from the school of architecture they always insisted they came from Dublin Institute of Technology. If you were putting forward your engineering qualification you said you qualified from Trinity College.

The initiatives in the Bill to recognise experiential learning are worthwhile. There are people in all our constituencies who are getting their first opportunity to return to education having left the formal education system early with no qualifications. Through the home-school liaison scheme, early start or whatever, they are attracted back into the education system. In year one 100 places were made available on VTOS courses. Through the development and expansion of these courses there are, according to a recent supplement in The Irish Times, 35,000 people pursuing these courses. The scheme was in operation for three or four years before any recognition could be given to VTOS students going to university. The tiny number allowed through that mechanism in years one, two and three reinforced the confidence of some people to say it is possible for people to pursue a course of sufficient academic standard to allow them progress to university.

All Members probably know people who started on VTOS courses, went on to universities and are now teaching or lecturing at post-primary level. I know a number of such people and we owe it to them to ensure that a structure is put in place. The overarching structure proposed in the Bill is probably the best model. It has been suggested by various Ministers in recent years as the best way forward and the best way to underpin opportunities to move up the system.

The fears of the university sector are unjustified. It will always be the main provider of academic third level education. Regardless of how the institutes of technology evolve and develop, they will provide a complementary structure and delivery system. This is all the more healthy for the sector.

I was so long associated with the Dublin Institute of Technology that I cannot avoid mentioning its contribution to third level education. The approach to apprenticeship education has been underpinned by the commitment, enthusiasm and enlightenment of successive people in the constituent colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology. I always had a fear that if the Dublin Institute of Technology became a university, apprenticeships might be sidelined. I worried that some of the lower level courses in some of the Dublin Institute of Technology constituent colleges might be shed. One of my last jobs before I left the governing body of the Dublin Institute of Technology was to chair a working group on the setting up a faculty structure. The staff were convinced that there was a need to retain the apprenticeship area and certificate level courses. The Bill will ensure there is a structure and a delivery mechanism in place to maintain those areas.

This is an extremely enlightened Bill. It will be as good as the Vocational Education Act, 1930, which was also extremely enlightened legislation in its day. The Bill will ensure opportunities are available to anybody who wants to avail of them and to progress through the education system from entry to post-graduate level. I commend the Minister and his officials on this excellent legislation.

In the course of his Second Stage speech, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, expressed the view that the Bill would make a major contribution to the future development of this country. He said it was not enough just to provide resources at third level and post-leaving certificate level and that genuinely flexible and appropriate opportunities must be provided and the quality of qualifications protected. The Minister said the Bill was based on this idea and rested on the four pillars of access, transfer, progression and quality. These objectives will be commendable and worthwhile if they are achieved.

The Minister also said the Dearing review in the UK pointed to the extensive damage which can be caused by a laissez-faire, one size fits all approach to education. The Minister singled out one of the Dearing recommendations – the protection of different levels of awards through a framework of quality control and progression between levels. I do not find fault with these aims, but I wish to make some observations about the Bill where it appears it does not measure up to these lofty aspirations.

The purpose of the Bill is to put in place a legislative framework which will, according to section 4, promote and maintain procedures for access, transfer and progression. I presume the term "access" incorporates equality of access. Many factors inhibit equality of access to education and they are, in the main, socio-economic. However, there are also geographical factors. The south-east region, which I represent, suffers from a deficit in terms of degree provision in the region. This was acknowledged in the steering committee report on the future of third level education.

Waterford Institute of Technology urgently needs, in the short to medium term, to move to a status similar to the Dublin Institute of Technology. To ensure the Waterford institute can in the shortest possible time make good the regional deficit, it must be granted stand alone status. While it remains within the wider family of institutes of technology, it will be inhibited in terms of optimum growth. The obvious course for the Waterford Institute of Technology to follow is that taken by the Dublin Institute of Technology, leading to an application under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997, to the Government seeking establishment as a university. The Dublin Institute of Technology recently underwent such a review.

The case for the upgrading of Waterford Institute of Technology to university status is based on meeting a regional deficit as distinct from competing with other institutes of technology. There is a great need to develop a state of the art research and development capacity in the region. There is also the important factor that graduates tend to settle close to the college from which they graduate. The Minister said the Bill will make a major contribution to the future development of the country. Did he include all the regions, particularly the south-east region? There is not only a deficit in terms of degree provision in the south-east, but also in terms of the range of degrees.

The conclusions and recommendations made by the review group, chaired by Mr. Dermot Nally, on the application of the Dublin Institute of Technology for designation as a university are interesting. For example, A3 states that in taking into account the various options, the review group recommended that, as an immediate first step, funding and administrative responsibility for the Dublin Institute of Technology should be transferred from the Department of Education and Science to the Higher Education Authority which should apply to the Dublin Institute of Technology the same controls as it applies to institutions at present under its aegis. This is the kernel issue in relation to Waterford Institute of Technology and the regional deficit.

I was the Labour Party education spokesman when the Regional Technical College and Dublin Institute of Technology Bills went through the House in 1992. The Bills were dealt with by the three relevant Ministers at the time – Deputy O'Rourke, Deputy Davern and Deputy Séamus Brennan. The Dublin Institute of Technology has managed to progress to its current position, where it is in the process of becoming a university, because it was granted stand alone status outside the regional technical colleges sector at that time.

If one considers the five cities in Ireland, Waterford is the only one which does not have a university. The other four also have institutes of technology, which is fine. I am not making this case because of envy and begrudgery, but strictly in terms of regional deficit and need. There are four universities in the Dublin region, including NUI Maynooth, with another due to come onstream. Universities are not evenly spread throughout the country and this must be put right. The only way that will be achieved is if the Minister provides for another tier in this Bill so that colleges can stand alone outside the group of institutes of technology. While a college remains in that group it shares in the overall funding, so by definition its progress will be inhibited.

The other relevant recommendation is the fourth, which is that the institute should continue to develop and enhance its existing strong sub-degree and apprenticeship provision, and that the Dublin Institute of Technology charter shall appropriately reflect institutional commitment to the preservation and development of the multi-level nature of the institute. It is also recommended that the Higher Education Authority should ensure, through budgetary and other measures, that the full integrity and development of the craft and technician sector within the institute is maintained and, if necessary, legislation should be enacted to ensure this happens. This issue is pertinent to Waterford IT and other ITs which, in the fullness of time, will want to follow this path. The sub-degree qualifications should not alone continue but should be developed and enhanced because both parts of third level provision are important. As I have said on many occasions, the education success story since the early 1970s has been the regional technical college sector, now the IT sector.

As we enter the new millennium it is beyond belief that the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, and the Fianna Fáil-PD Government continue to treat in such a blatantly dismissive way the aspirations of Waterford and the south-east region to have a university. The Minister's refusal to remove the word "primary" from the second recommendation of the interim review group's report on the delegation of qualification awarding authority to Waterford IT is a matter of grave concern. The group's final recommendations for Waterford IT and Cork IT on the matter of delegating qualification awarding authority are identical except for the word "primary", as in "primary degree". The recommendation for Waterford IT reads:

After an appropriate period of time following the delegation of qualification awarding authority in respect of certificate and diploma courses, a review shall take place which would have the potential to grant delegation in respect of primary degree courses.

The recommendation for Cork IT merely states "degree courses". I raised this matter with the Minister on a number of occasions by way of Dáil question and he stated that the appearance of "primary" before "degree" in the recommendation for Waterford IT and its non-appearance in the recommendation for Cork IT is of no significance. However, the NCEA guide to the various qualifications which it validates makes a clear distinction between primary degrees, on one hand, and graduate diplomas and masters degrees, on the other. Even the pages dealing with those two groups of degrees are of a different colour.

Is the Minister suggesting a prestigious body like the interim review group, chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly, could have made a mistake such as this? It is astounding that such a suggestion could be made. This issue must be dealt with once and for all. Either the Minister is saying a prestigious body was in dereliction of its duty by making a basic mistake in one of its recommendations, or he is not. There is a vast difference between primary degrees, on one hand, and graduate diplomas and masters degrees, on the other.

I call on the Minister and the Government to state that the recommendation for Waterford IT will be amended to delete the word "primary". The Minister said he could not ask an independent body to change its recommendations. Perhaps a basic mistake was made, perhaps not – there may be a reason for using the word – but let the Minister tell us why rather than saying it is of no significance. Leading academics do not make mistakes like this in important reports.

I am fed up receiving silly answers from the Minister on this issue, he must clear it up. It is not good enough that under the Donnelly recommendations Waterford IT will receive less power than Cork IT, particularly when Cork already has a prestigious university. I want the truth on this matter. Let the Minister tell the House once and for all what the position is.

I have made efforts to get a commitment from the Minister for Education and Science to make it a major element of the national plan for 2000-6 to upgrade Waterford IT to university status, and to fund this move properly. This is the only effective means of combating the regional deficit in the number of students taking degree courses. My efforts have received no direct response and this raises my concern. I have no doubt the upgrading of Waterford IT to university status through substantial funding from the national development plan is the most important element in ensuring the optimum economic and industrial development of the south-east region in the new millennium.

In response to another Dáil question, the Minister mentioned the distinctive and unique mission of Waterford IT in the south-east, in that through the breadth and quality of its activities, unmatched by any other institute in the region, it has achieved a position of considerable standing. This is nothing more than waffle and is an insult to my constituents in terms of achieving real and substantial progress in the short to medium term towards the establishment of a university. If the Fianna Fáil-PD Government is to turn its back on Waterford and do nothing to tackle the educational deficit in the south-east, let it have the courage and fortitude to say so. I will not accept evasive nonsense and continual denials that there is a substantial difference between the recommendations for these two institutions in the Donnelly report. I will not accept that dismissive, insulting behaviour on behalf of my constituents and the region I represent. There needs to be another tier that allows more flexibility in terms of responding to regional deficits.

Other issues need to be addressed in the context of the proposed further education and training awards council. It is disgraceful that students who may be euphemistically referred to as AQAs – any qualified applicants – and who may only have five passes in their leaving certificate are accepted on courses in the institute of technology sector. They are used as fodder to ensure there is sufficient staffing levels for the add on degrees. The Minister has a duty to ensure that students do not enter colleges with academic records which indicate they will not be able to conclude their studies.

The very worrying drop out levels in the third level sector must be addressed. Many of the students concerned would be much better placed at the plc level. Their attendance at these colleges is a cynical misuse which is not in their interests. It is a matter that must be seriously addressed.

The proposed further education and training awards council could address issues arising from the community employment schemes, especially with regard to those involved in the caring area, whether it be the disabled, senior citizens or whatever. Some of these people aspire to a high standard of competence, but because there is no educational component in what they do, they have nothing to show for their efforts, even though they may have been very successful. There needs to be a qualification structure to lead them back into the formal education system so that they can make the kind of progress they might have made had their early formal education been a success. This issue needs to be addressed.

The Minister has a great interest in the area of literacy. It is a subject that needs to be debated, perhaps in another context. I recently presented certificates to those, mainly mothers, who had taken part in a home-school liaison project. There was one institute of technology qualification involved. The interest of parents had been aroused through the home-school liaison programme in primary school. It was apparent that an astounding number of people are pursuing courses. There is so much potential in this area it is important that proper linkages are made between all the areas involved.

I have misgivings about this Bill. For example, there may be insufficient linkages between the technological and university sectors. We will have to see how they will work. I look forward to the Minister's reply, especially to the points I raised about the Waterford Institute of Technology.

I welcome this Bill. It is excellent legislation involving forward thinking. It is another ambitious project by the Minister. I especially welcome the consultation that took place in the preparation of the Bill. The Minister is to be commended for that.

I also welcome the trouble the Minister took to establish a forum to develop a national qualifications framework. The partners in education had the opportunity to have their proposals fully considered. As a result I believe the Bill is widely welcomed and, while some of my colleagues in the House have misgivings, it has been generally regarded as a great success and it will contribute to a major development of the education sector. There has also been general agreement across the education sector that a national framework of qualifications is needed, indeed has been needed for some time.

I welcome the aims of the Bill. These include the establishment and development of standards of knowledge, skill and competence, the promotion of quality further education and training, the provision of a system of co-ordinating and comparing education and training awards and the promotion and maintenance of procedures for access, transfer and progression. These are major aims.

I especially welcome the approach taken by the Minister to the preparation of the Bill. He has approached it from the point of view of learners, including the need to protect students and their interests with a view to seeing how the education sector can help learners and help to progress students' careers. It is generally recognised that there is no authority or body with overall responsibility to ensure that students' needs are met. The Bill will ensure that learners will be able to see all the options available to them before selecting a course in a college or university. Given that many students on entering college or university may not be sure about how their careers will progress, it is important for them to be able to consider their options. I agree with the Minister when he said this can only be achieved by having a coherent national basis for co-ordinating and comparing all education and training awards and also by ensuring that appropriate standards of knowledge, skill and competence are set and that mechanisms are put in place to ensure they are met.

The proposal to establish a national qualifications authority is to be welcomed, as are its aims to maintain a framework of qualifications, to act as the overall guarantor of the quality of further and higher education training awards other than in the existing universities, and to facilitate and promote access, transfer and progression into and within education and training. This is important because when people attend college they like to think they will get the credits to which they are entitled. In addition, the many students who travel abroad are concerned that the qualifications they obtain in this country are recognised elsewhere.

When colleges get into difficulty it always appears that the students suffer, whether it is the loss of fees or the inability to complete a course in a college of their choice. That is regrettable. Under section 43, the Minister has made a provision that a reserve fund or insurance cover must be in place by institutions when they provide courses. I welcome that. It will give comfort to many students, especially to those who have been badly burnt. That is why I welcome incorporation of the charter for the protection of students in this Bill.

It is important that the Bill will establish two new awarding bodies, the Further Education and Training Awards Council and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council with the aim that they will provide certification for all education and training in the State other than those in primary and post-primary education, universities and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

I listened carefully to my colleague, Deputy Naughten, when he mentioned that the links between universities are not sufficient. We must recognise that the universities will have a nominee on the National Qualifications Authority and they will also be advised by the authority on the implementation of access, transfer and progression arrangements. That will be of great benefit to students in the future and it will also maintain the independence and autonomy that exists currently among the universities.

Learners can approach this and all future courses with a great deal of confidence knowing that their needs are being considered. There should be greater co-ordination between the courses available in many third level institutions and the jobs available in industry. For too long a number of courses, particularly in colleges in the west, have not provided real opportunities for young people from my part of the country to get jobs in their local areas. I come from a part of the country where a large number of multinational industries are operating successfully. However, the Castlebar-Galway Institute of Technology does not have the appropriate courses that would qualify students to fill jobs in the region in which they are studying. I hope that gap will be bridged in the years ahead. Industry has a major role to play in this regard. The Minister said he recognises that and is trying to develop a partnership approach between industry and third level education.

I welcome the Bill. Progression, quality and the making of awards are very important to the future of our education process. The developing of international links and of links with industry is something that must be commended. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. We all recognise its importance and timely introduction. If it is successful in introducing a comprehensive and cohesive system of certification and an awards system at third level, it will be most welcome. I hope it achieves its goal, but its aspirations are too vague.

I see nothing in the Bill that supports its aspiration to establish and develop standards of knowledge, skills and competence. Its objective to promote the quality of further education and training and higher education and training is welcome at this juncture. There is a great need to revamp further education and training and higher education and training. There has been a dip in the quality of higher education other than university education. The universities seem to be a law unto themselves and untouchable, but the Bill does not address the problems in that sector. One of its objectives is to promote and maintain procedures for access, transfer and progression. If the Minister believes this Bill will ensure there will be access to or transfer from one sector of education to another, he will be disappointed. We might as well be hitting our heads off a brick wall. The Minister will not be able to move the university authorities in that direction.

Deputy Cooper-Flynn welcomed the inclusion in the membership of the authority of one representative from the university sector. That sector should not be entitled to a representative on the authority because of its resistance to openness, transparency and co-operation. That sector has an agenda. It wants to preserve its status and nobody, even the Minister of the day, is allowed encroach on it. It is regrettable that is its outlook.

Much of the contents of the Bill are aspirational and because of that and a number of other reasons it will be difficult to achieve much pro gress in many of the areas I mentioned. If change is necessary – I believe it is – now is the time to make lasting and meaningful links between the providers of training, industry, commerce and business. The Bill is only aspirational in these important areas.

I cannot envisage how the Bill will achieve its objectives, particularly that of developing standards of education, skill and competence. I would like the Minister to point out the sections which provide for the development of competence that would filter downstream as a result of this Bill.

It is important that the Bill provides for co-ordinating education and training awards. It will probably succeed in this instance and that is welcome. I would like the Minister of State to comment on whether the awarding system is being co-ordinated or duplicated in this instance. As we have a large number of awarding councils, are we changing the brand name or are they being co-ordinated? I would welcome their co-ordination. The Bill will be worthwhile if it succeeds in improving access and promoting and improving the quality of education and training at this level.

Membership of the new authority represents a token recognition of former bodies rather than their importance and what they can contribute. It is welcome that the Minister shall appoint two members to the authority and one person shall be nominated to it by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The appointments to the authority of the chairman of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the chairman of the Further Education and Training Awards Council are also welcome. The universities shall nominate one person to the authority, but I question why that sector should be given such recognition. Forfás, IBEC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions shall each nominate one person to the authority, and two people who have knowledge related to the functions of the authority shall also be nominated to it.

It is recognised that there must be gender balance on the boards of all these bodies. I hope the Minister or Minister of State will lead by example and introduce gender balance in the new authority from the outset rather than leave it to the authorities or the various representatives to force the authority to include members to create the required gender balance, as happened in the past. There is blatant discrimination in regard to gender balance on boards at present.

If it is not the responsibility of the Minister to introduce gender balance to the boards of these bodies, whose responsibility will it be? The Bill which provides for the establishment of the two awarding councils, other than the Dublin Institute of Technology and the universities, shies away from challenging the university structure.

There is currently a large diversity of courses and certification. What is the status of many of these courses? What value have they nationally or internationally? I query the status of many of these courses and their value to those who pursue them in terms of job opportunities down the road.

We are all aware that much past industrial success was based on a well educated and well trained workforce in the regions. This was provided by the establishment of Regional Technical Colleges in many areas, such as the Regional Technical College in Waterford mentioned by Deputy O'Shea and the Galway-Mayo institute mentioned by Deputy Cooper-Flynn.

I resent the fact that we have to give these institutes new names just for the sake of a label. We are losing sight of their original focus. We should not have to upgrade them to the status of a university or whatever on a regional basis for political reasons. This House should set an example and it is regrettable that we are approaching it in this manner. We should upgrade institutions which merit it and whose achievements indicate they are ready for such status. I am not sure why they want to leave their original goals, achievements and aims behind. They were originally established as colleges of technology for further education and training. They should remain as such because they were doing a fantastic job. Regrettably, many of them have lost their way.

There are a number of reasons for this. They are in terminal decline, unless they are reinitiated and given powers and resources to re-establish them as they are entitled to be. They are in decline because of management structures and particularly staffing – many staff are working on a part-time or temporary basis. How can one expect professionals to maintain morale in discharging their important duties and to continue to meet the highest standards if they have no goals and no link to the institution for which they work, even in a temporary capacity? I hope the Minister will ask the directors of every institute of technology to establish permanent posts as soon as possible and eliminate the high percentage of part-time personnel attempting to deliver quality education.

The high drop-out rate in these colleges relates to these staffing problems. It is regrettable that in the past few days the TUI members in these institutes, who have been driven to the edge, said they will withhold students' examination results – and this is at a time when many students are actually sitting their examinations. How can management or staff be so callous as to make this threat when students are sitting examinations? It is a disgrace and I hope the Minister will ask directors of these institutes to clear up this problem. When staff are employed on a temporary basis they have few obligations and ties to an area. They have no incentive to give their best to the education process. I ask the Minister to rectify this problem as a matter of urgency.

When Regional Technical Colleges were established they liaised with industry. However, that no longer exists. I know someone who completed a four year degree course in an institute of technology. It is a highly technological course, yet the student did not undergo any placement, despite the fact that there was a manufacturing industry directly related to the course within a stone's throw of the institute. There was no communication. I do not know whether this was the fault of the institution, the teachers or the industry. The institute directly provides a high percentage of the workforce of the industry at all levels – manual, management and technical. As I said,these links were established in the past but are now gone. We must ask whose fault is this. A comprehensive review of these institutes is needed before any further progress is made in changing their names or upgrading them.

I am not here to flog regional technical colleges which are now called institutes of technology. They have done tremendous work in a regional capacity by positively responding to the needs of their areas. For example, in Galway there are catering and hotel management courses which are second to none and have provided staff for the tourism industry in the west. The same can be said for the fishing industry in Donegal. However, there is no recognition of links between business and industry. Those links must be re-established if we are to move forward. These institutes are in decline because they have failed to keep pace with the advances in industry. This is a result of serious and endemic staffing problems which must be solved.

I am not sure what can be done about present drop-out rates. While there is a high drop-out rate at second and third levels, it has increased significantly at second level. Many students believe that if they get as far as completing the technical leaving certificate they can go directly into the workplace. They have lost confidence in certificates and diplomas in many disciplines. They get out of the education system because they believe they are better off in employment at an early stage than completing a course at third level, in which they do not want to participate or to which they are unsuited, and which they will not utilise in their careers. This issue must be tackled once and for all and acted upon quickly.

Parallel to the decline of these institutes, staff have left them and established private colleges and independent courses. Because they have better access to industry and greater personal links, many of these private institutes and courses are far more attractive to students than similar courses in institutes of technology. We are going to recognise many courses in this legislation. It is inconsistent that the Minister will recognise applications at third level but will not recognise an application for recognition of an independent second level school. That was recently challenged in the courts, which should not have been necessary. Will someone have to challenge in court the right for this course to be recognised? I request the Minister to undertake, as a matter of urgency, a root and branch review of the functions, administration and final end product of our third level institutions.

I welcome this very important legislation which provides a framework for the education and training system to grow. It allows for promotion of access, transfer between courses, progression and quality control.

In many respects, the Bill effectively replaces the NCEA. I was interested to hear the Minister say that over 150,000 awards had been made by that body since it was set up in the early 1970s and set up by statute in 1979, which is 20 years ago. Perhaps more than any other development in education, the existence of the NCEA and the awards it made through the various colleges made an enormous difference to the provision of third level education in this country. The NCEA, the NCVA and FÁS were the forerunners of the two new awarding councils proposed in the Bill.

The Bill's provisions allow it to be enabling rather than prescriptive legislation. It will facilitate the transition and continuity we all consider desirable.

I also welcome the fact the Bill addresses the situation in private colleges. Many of our constituents have expressed reservations about this entire area. It must be said that private colleges provided places and opportunities for people who would not otherwise have got them in this country and did some excellent work. However, there were difficulties. Many people would have said that educational establishments which were set up to be commercial and profit making could not deliver the right ethos and educational standards but they were disproved in most instances. However, there were instances when the rights of students were not adequately protected.

I welcome the provisions in this Bill for the protection of students on courses of more than three months duration if they lead to the award of certification. In such cases, the fee will be refunded and there will be an onus on the awarding council to find an alternative place for the student in question, which is even more important in some respects. Since the Bill was introduced in the Seanad, the Minister has managed to reach agreement with the private colleges and is proposing a bonding system.

The Minister also mentioned the creation of 8,000 extra places in third level education and 4,000 extra places in plc courses in the past two years. That is an extraordinary number of places in ongoing and third level education. Apart from the increase in the number of places, an amazing diversity of courses is available.

That extremely encouraging development is the driving force behind our economy. However, as many speakers have said, it has been the driving force which has brought us this far but we need to ensure it continues to allow us to hold our position in the world's economic hierarchy. That is an even greater challenge than the previous challenge to get this far.

The issue is not just about providing places and courses. Third level and ongoing education must be flexible and appropriate. Quality must be protected to ensure a long-term contribution is made to the development of the country, its economy, the social fabric and all the others aspects to which education has a contribution to make.

There has been much consideration of the need for cohesive, coherent and effective systems of ongoing education for many years. The Green Paper of 1992 set out the parameters clearly and they have been followed up to now. The NESC report of 1993 went further in setting out the need for co-operation between industry and the third level sector in terms of the future jobs market. The national education convention report and the EU funded operational programme for human resources development endorsed and supported the need for an integrated certification board and for the formal involvement of industry and the social partners in the development of programmes and the assessment of quality.

It must be said that all those interests had a very positive and constructive informal input into what has happened heretofore. I am glad the Minister has managed to present this Bill, the background to which was fraught with difficulties, in co-operation with all the potential partners and without the difficulties we witnessed in some of the previous legislation on third level education.

The Minister held a forum a little over a year ago, after the second Teastas report. The views of all those with an interest in ongoing education were included in that forum. The underlying consensus which allowed this legislation to be brought forward without any of the traditional players kicking up a huge fuss or calling for huge changes in it emerged from that forum. Anyone involved in education will consider that quite an achievement by the Minister and the Minister of State.

We must learn from the experiences of our counterparts in other countries. I know the Minister took cognisance of the findings of the Deering report in the UK, which looked very closely at all aspects of third level and ongoing education and came up with quite strong findings. There had been a laissez faire attitude in the UK for a number of years to courses of this kind – which has also been the case in this country, to some extent, in recent years. The report strongly recommended a framework of quality control and progression between levels. I am glad that experience and other international experience in the US, Australia and New Zealand, which are in similar situations to us in many senses, has been used in the drafting of the framework we believe we need.

The framework proposed by the Minister – the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and the two awarding bodies – is very comprehensive and inclusive. In its definition of persons engaged in learning, it is inclusive in a way in which third level education in Ireland was traditionally exclusive. Every Member of this House will welcome that change in approach. It has been a gradual change in some respects but it is very strongly recognised in this legislation.

I am very interested in the term "learner", which replaces words such as pupil and student, which had certain connotations. The term "learner" is very inclusive and recognises the rights of learners.

I also welcome the clear definition of "education provider" and the provision for the control of programmes and their content. A profusion of third level colleges has grown up over a relatively short number of years. Almost every speaker has been able to mention either an aspiration for one or a number of existing colleges in his or her constituency.

There are some colleges in Clare also. When I was a young lad the only providers were the universities, of which University College Galway was the only one in my region. A college was then founded in Limerick in the Minister of State's constituency. Subsequently, Regional Technical Colleges were founded in Limerick and Galway. In addition, a number of institutions in Clare provide third level or post-leaving certificate courses. The Shannon College of Hotel Management, a specialist institution, aspired to and reached the highest standards of quality on a consistent basis since it was set up. The Burren College of Art, the most international third level institute in this country, although it is not well known outside County Clare, is an establishment which adheres to the highest standards of quality. Many plc courses have provided people with suitable qualifications and skills to avail of employment opportunities, often to a greater extent than the traditional universities. In the cultural field there is Buíon Cheoil an Chláir in Ennis, which works at all levels. It deserves a higher level of support and recognition.

A resource which would be easy to tap is that of married women working in the home. They may have experience of other work before they became homemakers. They are among the most flexible, imaginative and durable workers, possessors of great common sense and judgment. They have built up a huge complement of skills over the years, the potential of which we have been slow to recognise. They could provide the workforce which many of the companies prepared to locate here would be delighted to have. It is a huge shortcoming in all our attempts to improve education and workforce provision that no coherent attempt has been made to tap that resource. It has the potential to transform the industrial workforce across a huge range of locations and skills. These women could make us less dependent on those three or four industries on which we depend too much according to the report published yesterday.

The Minister of State deals with adult and continuing education. I compliment him for his work in that area and the level of co-operation he has achieved between bodies which worked hard heretofore but did not work together.

There are specific matters to be addressed by the awarding bodies at the start of courses – for example, access. In the Limerick institute there is a course in computer studies for which second level students can sit an examination. Because of the workload involved, the college is unable to facilitate all the students in the catchment area who are undertaking the course. Students in one college doing exactly the same as students in a neighbouring college cannot have their attainments considered when applying for a place on the course in the college, and there are other examples, such as that mentioned by Deputy Naughten. The authorities need to have a role not just in the type of qualification awarded, but in the transfer from second level.

One of the developments which the involvement of NCEA facilitated was a greater recognition of the strength of the institute system within third level by the universities. When I was on the board of Limerick Regional Technical College a very strong course there was accredited by Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. There was no reason whatsoever one of the Irish universities could not be the facilitating body which enabled Limerick Regional Technical College to provide the course. It was one of the courses which contributed most to the development of the infrastructure in that region and throughout the State. There was a sense in which the universities considered themselves above the poor relation which emerged from the VEC system.

I welcome the fact that this Bill provides a forum for a consensus to emerge which will spread control and access so people can benefit from third level education in a meaningful way which will enhance their opportunities to be a useful member of the workforce and the community. It puts continuing education on a strong legislative footing and provides a framework which enables the consensus nurtured by the Minister to grow.

I compliment Deputy Killeen on his contribution. I agree with his comments on the universities, the regional technical colleges and the vocational system. There were always those who looked down their noses at people who attended the technical schools or regional technical colleges.

I would not refer to the Christian Brothers as Christian. I was taught by a Christian Brother who was anything but Christian. We learned everything through the medium of Irish. That is why I disliked Irish. Even when we played football, if a team member spoke English, a penalty was awarded to the opposing team. He would then get the leather when he went back to class. This brother was a Gaeilgeoir and that is probably why I do not like Gaeilgeoirí. At that time it was pushed down our throats.

There were some people with whom he was very Christian, such as the upper class children of the town. He would kiss them and put his arms around them but he had no time for people from the working class. I went through that system and I am glad to see it has changed. Most teachers are now lay people. There were some good Christian Brothers but I was unlucky. I did not have them in first, second or third class. I got all the savages who did not do much for the education system – they probably turned many people off the system.

I welcome this Bill which will establish a national qualifications authority. I am disappointed, however, that no one from FÁS or Teagasc has been appointed to the board. These are the people who should be on the board. They meet people daily and they know the demands of the employers, the training requirements for the future and the industries which will be coming to each area.

The cost of education is an enormous problem. People talk about free education; there is no such thing at any level. When people, particularly those on low income, send their children to a regional technical college or university the big issue is that the grant does not cover the costs of accommodation and food of these young people when they are away from home. This puts great stress on families. I hope before the year is out, particularly as the new school term begins in September, that the guidelines will be reviewed and the grant increased to assist people on low incomes who are finding things difficult.

The cost of education is increasing and it will increase further. In the future the situation in education will be a little like the present housing problem. The rich will be able to send their children to Clongowes Wood but the poor will send them to primary school, and secondary school if they are lucky. They will not be able to afford to send them to the regional technical colleges or universities if they are lucky enough to qualify. I want this looked at immediately because people are finding it difficult to educate their children.

When I entered the Dáil in 1994 there were two big issues in my county – the hospital and the regional technical college in Castlebar. I am delighted that the regional technical college is up and running and going well. Over the past number of years many thousands of children have been educated there, many of whom come from my county.

It is sad on a Sunday evening to see Bus Éireann and many private contractors transporting our children from the county to third level institutions in Limerick, Galway and Letterkenny. It is sad that these people must travel so far to be educated. Galway is not too far from Mayo but if they must go to these other places, it is a major drain on the local economy and it is sad for parents to see their children having to go away. Having said that, it is great to see them getting an education. In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s there was no system in place to assist people on low incomes.

I am glad the Bill will try to deal with the people who have left the school system at an early stage, that these people will be trained or retrained and certified for that training. We are promoting too many people for the universities. People have gone through the university system and attained degrees who have never worked a day because they are educated in an area with which they are not happy. These people are forced by their families to acquire qualifications they do not want. Many thousands such people would have liked to have gone to the regional technical colleges to be trained as carpenters, plumbers, plasterers or tradesmen of all sorts. There is a major shortage of such skilled people but Governments over the years have not been promoting this. Most Governments and those involved in the education system have tried to ensure that we send our young people on university degree courses. The taxpayers provided that education but many of these people had to emigrate to get work and make a living. We lost out to other countries because we were not able to employ them here. We should have held on to them as there is now a shortage of labour in the workplace. Many companies are complaining that the State has not ensured that we have people with the necessary qualifications to take up jobs in their industries. That is a serious situation. It is time we trained people for the work which is available. It is time we stopped wanting to send too many people to the universities and providing too many people in one profession and not enough in another. It is time the Minister for Education and Science sat down with these agencies and worked out a system. If there is a shortage of skills in a sector, that should be dealt with. In the past all we wanted to do was provide people with an education and forget about what happened to them after that.

It is great to see the Regional Technical College in Castlebar up and running. As a person who stood in that by-election, I probably will always be remembered for getting the regional technical college and the hospital for Castlebar because they probably would not have been provided but for the by-election. I was delighted to be able to do that. I was disappointed they did not call it after me but they might do that at a later stage and maybe the Minister will open it.

The Deputy is supposed to—

The Minister should not tell me what I can and cannot talk about. Like him, I was elected to the Dáil and I will talk about what I want and not what he tells me.

There is such a thing as relevance.

That is what I am doing but you do not like it. We did not hear much from you when you went into that Department.

Deputy, address your remarks through the Chair.

Since he came into the Department, the Minister has not addressed the Dáil much.

I welcome the Bill. I would hope to see an improvement in the standard in the regional technical colleges and that we will get the recognition for the people who go through that system. I will be glad if the board can do that and I hope it will.

We have not heard much from the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, since he went into the Department. In fact, he was the best spokesman in Opposition. Like all his colleagues, he was great in Opposition. He was the best spokesman I ever came across but since he went into the Department he has been the quietest Minister. We expect a little more of him because he was all action when he was on the back benches. We want to see action on the front benches. Like Manchester United tonight, we want to see results from him. All we had in the past was talk. We now want action.

That message was delivered loudly and clearly. I thank Deputy Ring for sharing his time.

I welcome the opportunity which the Bill represents for a discussion on education but that is as far as I will go in relation to the Bill. If it is to succeed, its theme should be education for all and it must change access to education for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. That is what it is all about.

Nobody denies that it is an excellent system for the young people who can avail of it, that is, primary school, secondary school and all elements of third level. The regional colleges are doing excellent work, as are the universities and the Dublin Institute of Technology at Bolton Street and Kevin Street. These are marvellous institutions which are turning out extremely well qualified young people.

Taking that as the picture, we are forgetting thousands. The figures were published recently. Last year over 3,000 young people dropped out of the system. Therefore, there is something radically wrong and we must address that issue. Everything else is irrelevant. The people who are going through the system are doing fine. They are the pride and joy of our country. They can pick up jobs here or aboard, but the Bill will do nothing for the young people who are dropping out.

Furthermore, the figures published in yesterday's national newspapers are alarming in that people believe emigration is a thing of the past whereas it is not. Last year 30,000 young people left this country. I accept that a number of them went of their own free will to further their education and to see the world, which is marvellous. However, 90 per cent of them – I would say 27,000 young people – left this country out of total frustration. What are they doing? The report published in yesterday's national newspapers stated that they are taking dead end jobs in New York, London, Birmingham or Manchester. Why are they doing that when there are jobs here? If you look around the city, you will see advertisements in windows for part-time or full-time jobs for young people. They are not taking those jobs for a number of reasons. They feel that they have let themselves and their families down and that they should have done better. Their friends have got better jobs and they simply do not want to work in the same town or city as them so they go abroad on the pretext that they will do better.

Young people will drop out of school for various reasons. This has been brought to my notice on more than one occasion and it has been addressed by a number of speakers here. Sometimes the family set up may not be great from the point of view of providing encouragement. We must encourage our young people to stay at school and when they get going it is easier on them. Perhaps the social background is lacking and they do not receive encouragement. The fact that a young person wants to work is something a family can be proud of. I have met numerous young people who, having left national school, have gone on to work in hotels, bars and restaurants, on farms and in the construction industry. I know a farmer who hired a young man who did not come from a farming background. It is a substantial dairy farm and the farmer said he could not have got a better worker from the agricultural colleges. The young man was given responsibility for the entire milking operation of a 30 cow herd but he cannot get any recognition for his ability. The farmer should be in a position, after 12 months or two years, to issue some form of certification to the young man. If the young man leaves the farmer's employ, he will be nothing more than a labourer even though he has the ability to take charge of a dairy herd. Had he trained at an agricultural college he would have a certificate or diploma to show for his efforts. However, because he did not want to further his education, he is at a dead end.

I also want to point to the example of an up-market restaurant in which a young girl was employed after leaving school. She started doing basic work, such as waitressing, and then progressed to other duties. She turned out to be a first class waitress. The proprietor told me that he could not have expected to get a better person from the catering colleges. The girl was interested in the work she was doing but the restaurant did not have any means of recognising her ability.

The same applies in the construction industry where young people learn skills, such as block-laying and carpentry, but they do not receive any certification for those skills. There is a shortfall between the issuance of certification and practical work experience. We should seek to combine the two in order to grant recognition of young people's skills. I am not saying we should open the floodgates. Some young people leave school and do not want to work but those who do should be given the encouragement of some form of recognition.

The multinationals which do such excellent work in this country and create massive employment, particularly in the computer industry, canvass young people from our regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology col leges, such as Bolton Street and Kevin Street, as soon as they receive their diplomas, or shortly beforehand. Given the money which is on offer, young people take up the jobs. Had they stayed at college, they could probably have progressed from diploma to degree stage. These young people gain practical experience in the multinationals and there should be some system whereby companies such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard and others would be linked into colleges such as Kevin Street and Bolton Street. In that way, a young person's progress could be monitored and their practical work recognised. One can have all the theory in the world but young people should be issued with certification to show they have practical experience in a particular field. That certification should be recognised as a standard of qualification. There is no such system in this country at the moment. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that.

FÁS training courses, of which I have personal knowledge, are excellent. When one of my sons incurred a serious injury, he decided to complete a FÁS course in Finglas. I could not believe the standard of qualification he attained in a year. People are not fully aware of these courses. FÁS courses could be linked into a system which would allow young people to be certified for skills in the catering, farming or construction industry. In that way, more young people could be encouraged to further their education. There comes a time in a young person's life when he or she wants to get away from education and earn money. However, when people want to return to education, they should be able to take up where they left off.

The current education system is excellent for those who can participate in it but there is a major deficit for some young people. Deputies O'Shea, Ring and others spoke about the need for universities in their own areas. Cavan College of Further Studies is probably one of the finest computer training institutions in the country. I would like to see a proper building being provided for it. I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would support me.

I wish to share time with Deputy Crawford.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the principle of the Bill. Both the Minister and the Minister of State are trying valiantly to solve a serious problem in our education system. Education is one of the main areas of development in this country. However, I fear this Bill will add a further layer of bureaucracy to the education system. In my experience, the Department is already weighed down under bureaucracy. Various boards, such as the Higher Education Authority, have been established in recent years. My experience is that people who want to return to education to com plete post-graduate courses find the layers of bureaucracy in the system increasingly frustrating. I hope this legislation will act as an incentive rather than a barrier to resolving problems in this area.

Educational disadvantage is one of the most difficult problems in our society at present. We must find ways to address the problem of people dropping out of education. If I ever have the opportunity to be in Government or to serve as a Minister for Finance or Taoiseach, I would prioritise primary education. If we could entice young people to stay in primary education, we could encourage them to proceed to second and third levels. Primary education must receive priority funding over second and third level education.

Deputy Ring spoke about people who could not afford to go to Clongowes and other schools of that ilk which play a major role in education in our society. I would not like to give the impression we were unhappy with the role of private education. Everybody should be entitled to it but, realistically, that is not always the case. Those schools have played a major role in the education of many people in the State.

All political parties have to take responsibility for the establishment of the regional technical college in Castlebar. That college was established for political, not educational, reasons. There are excellent institutes of technology in Letterkenny, Sligo and Galway, but the establishment of the Regional Technical College in Castlebar probably affected the development of those colleges. We should have as many colleges as possible providing different forms of education for our young people, but it is not necessary to have a third level college in every county. It is more important to have third level colleges in regional areas which provide excellent educational opportunities for their students. Politicians must be courageous enough to say we cannot have third level colleges in every county because we must provide worthwhile educational facilities.

Deputy O'Shea called for the upgrading of Waterford Institute of Technology to university standard. Last week I had the privilege of being brought on a tour of the institute of technology in Sligo and was amazed by the developments that have taken place there and the work done by the teachers, lecturers and the board in general. It would be of major benefit to the Sligo region if the Government decided to upgrade the Sligo Institute of Technology to university status.

Certification is extremely important but, as other speakers stated, the academic educational sector has played a major role in the development of our economy over recent years, but we have come full circle in that there are vacancies in the trades. Deputy Boylan was correct in that FÁS, the Department of Education and Science and educational institutions can play a major role in developing and co-ordinating the training of people who want to pursue a trade. That is important in terms of development. The vocational education sector has played an excel lent role in that regard. It has to compete with secondary schools on an academic level, which it has done successfully, but it may have lost the interests of vocational training. The Minister for Education and Science must examine that issue because it is a niche market. People find it very difficult to get an electrician, carpenter or plumber because we are not training sufficient numbers in those trades. That was not the case ten or 15 years ago and most of those people had to emigrate. We now have a buoyant economy but we have to import those skills which is an amazing turnaround for this country.

There is a great deal of opportunity in the Bill which is not just another layer of bureaucracy. I hope it meets its objectives and that it will be an incentive to the students who will participate.

I wish to share time with Deputy Enright.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and on problems in the education system. It is important to move forward and the Bill is progressive in that it examines the long-term needs of the education system. The proposals in the Bill are sound but, as previous speakers have said, many problems remain in the education structure. In the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's constituency and my own, the lack of a third level college has major implications. It means that our students have to travel long distances daily or, in the majority of cases, stay in Dublin, Sligo, Athlone, Limerick or Northern Ireland during the week. That is a real problem and I ask the Minister of State to examine ways of addressing it.

Despite all the committees we have set up to debate this problem, Cavan-Monaghan is one of the areas with the highest number of people not receiving third level education. The county has many industries such as furniture, poultry and the meat industry generally. We need some education system that will ensure those industries have the necessary skilled people available to them in the future.

I welcome the Minister's opening statement in which he emphasised the need for links between education and industry. The building industry is experiencing enormous difficulty in employing skilled personnel. Part of the reason for that difficulty is that some years ago many major business people opted to employ contract rather than full-time PAYE workers. Those contract workers, be they in the building industry, the meat sector or wherever, were interested only in ensuring they got the job done for the cheapest price but with the highest return to themselves. That was fine in the short term because the industry became more competitive, but it had major implications in the long-term. I recently visited a factory in my own county which had a sizeable floor space available but it was not in a position to employ the skilled people needed to develop the factory. The Minister's point on links between the building industry and education is important and whatever bodies are set up must examine that question.

It is nice to see people obtaining proper educational qualifications but it is unacceptable when people who have completed six years in education have difficulty getting a job, with industry unable to fill those jobs. It is difficult to believe that at a time when there is still a sizeable level of unemployment we do not have the educational needs to address this problem.

There is an outdoor pursuit centre in Tanagh, near Cootehill. Over many years, and two different Governments, the VEC was advised it would get the necessary funds to operate the centre on a permanent basis. At a time when we are trying to work towards peace in Northern Ireland, and in a Border county, the lack of progress in that area is depressing. I take this opportunity to urge the Minister and his Department to examine that area. Many delegations have met Ministers over the years on this issue and it is time for the problem affecting that outdoor pursuit centre to be resolved as quickly as possible.

I wish to comment on the issue of disadvantage. Deputy Reynolds described this as one of the more serious areas which leads to young people dropping out at primary level. The Minister promised extra people to assess children and so on and I urge him to ensure that this actually happens, not in three years but as quickly as possible. Personnel have been taken from this area and put on other duties because of legal challenges. However, we must ensure that young people are assessed as early as possible and that they receive remedial or special education so they do not drop out at primary level, resulting in them being employed in mundane jobs for the rest of their lives.

I thank Deputy Crawford for sharing his time. I welcome this important Bill which will be of benefit to all sectors of education. I wish to raise one important issue which may stretch the remit of the Bill a little, namely, the unfair treatment of many primary school teachers who have not had the opportunity to qualify as primary teachers but who have given a lifetime of service to teaching. This debate on the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill provides an opportunity to raise this matter.

Many of these people have given a lifetime of service to teaching, to pupils and to schools. A small number of people are involved and the Department should organise the education and training of these teachers. A course should be provided to enable them to receive a training which would be recognised by the Department so that they will be able to qualify as teachers.

In 1974, the then Minister for Education, Mr. Richard Burke, introduced a scheme involving a large number of part-time teachers. Many people who qualified under this scheme are dedicated teachers today. However, because of the cut-off point in the scheme, a small number of people did not qualify – some missed out by a matter of days. I know some of these people who are still working, and some are near retiring age. These people do not qualify for holiday or sick pay or for a pension and rightly feel hard done by.

An official in the Department has met this group on a number of occasions and has gone out of his way to be helpful. However, no matter how much goodwill this official may have, a ministerial order will be needed to provide this course so that these people can be fully trained. This issue needs much effort on the part of the Minister of State and I ask him to bring it to the attention of the Minister. I thank the Minister of State for his interest in education. These teachers have the full backing of the INTO which is happy to co-operate with whatever course or training is provided.

On the last occasion, the course lasted about six months. This course could take place at weekends. These people have been working for 20 or 30 years and it is amazing that they have been retained in their posts if they are not good teachers. Perhaps this is being done on the cheap. An injustice is being perpetrated against these teachers and it should be rectified. I will raise this issue with the Minister but that is as far as I will push the issue today.

There appears to be a reduction in the number of pupils studying mathematics in the leaving certificate. I am not sure of the numbers taking science but it is essential that students have a good grasp of mathematics and science when they enter third level education. If they do not have a grasp of these subjects they will find it difficult to study engineering or computer science. There may be a need to provide further incentives to encourage people to study these subjects at post-primary level. Our future depends on the skills and education people obtain in third level institutions and this can only be brought about by extending the amount of time spent studying mathematics and science.

This Bill does not deal with primary education but there is a need for greater emphasis on mathematics and science at primary and post-primary level. We need to examine the methods used to teach these subjects to see if they can be improved and upgraded using modern facilities and technology, or if we can make the subjects more attractive to students. I will take an active interest in Committee Stage. I wish the Bill well. Perhaps the Minister of State will reply to the matter I raised.

I will certainly bring Deputy Enright's remarks to the attention of the Minister and I will ask the Minister to write to him. I fully understand the point the Deputy is making.

I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to introduce the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill to the House. As has been evident from Deputies' contributions, much thoughtful consideration has been given to the Bill and this will form an important context for further exploration of its provisions and the various issues arising. I thank Deputies for their contributions and look forward to further discussion as the Bill proceeds.

It is also evident from Deputies' comments that there is general agreement on the intent and aims of the Bill and the vital national necessity of putting in place an effective, transparent and coherent framework of qualifications which will have positive benefits for all involved in education and training, now and in the future. I look forward in particular to the debate on Committee Stage on the objects of the Bill. I listened intently to the views of Deputy Higgins on the context of the Bill and look forward to relating these to the objects of the Bill on Committee Stage.

The Bill offers the best way forward. I readily accept that some Deputies have particular concerns and reservations and I look forward to teasing them out on Committee Stage.

Among the many interesting points Deputies made, the following are of note. Deputy Richard Bruton stressed the need for a unified structure. I hope when we discuss the Bill in detail I can outline to him the rationale underpinning the new bodies to be set up, the unifying role of the Qualifications Authority and the framework of qualifications it will develop. I also wish to outline how the framework will include all awards in the State, including awards in second level education and in existing universities. However, arrangements for the national second level examinations are set out in the Education Act, 1998, and the quality assurance arrangements for existing universities are included in the Universities Act, 1997.

Deputy Bruton stressed that the key to the success of the arrangements in the Bill is how the bodies can innovate in developing ways to recognise skills. I agree with that and it is my fervent hope the new bodies will be proactive in doing that. However, the new bodies have an overall quality assurance and awarding function and will not encourage the provision of education and training as such. That is a matter for the Minister and State agencies involved in funding and encouraging providers, be they educational and training institutions, community groups or employers, to access the facilitatory awarding framework to be set up under the Bill.

Similarly for access, transfer and progression, arrangements are to be set out by the Qualifications Authority and implemented by providers. It is not a matter for the authority to determine quotas which should be used for various groups accessing education and training. That is a matter for the providers, their funding authorities and ultimately the Government, as places must continue to be set aside. The key issue for the authority is that everyone is given full recognition for the knowledge, skill or competence they have attained and will attain in the future.

The Bill clearly sets out that the Qualifications Authority will establish and promote the maintenance of standards of the awards of the new awarding councils, the Dublin Institute of Technology and any new university which may be established. In turn, the new awarding councils must determine the standards of knowledge, skill or competence required before an award can be made. I do not understand Deputy Bruton's concerns that the Bill does not provide for these. The detail of the validation process is not set out in the Bill as it will be a matter for each of the awarding councils to determine. However, what is clear about the validation process is the definition of validation as "the process by which an awarding body shall satisfy itself that a learner may attain knowledge, skill or competence for the purpose of an award". Clearly, this is a standards based approach and I look forward to discussing this more on Committee Stage.

Regarding the difference between the validation procedures and the quality assurance procedures, the validation procedures are a matter to be determined by each awarding council and it may be necessary for an awarding council to visit a provider in the validation process. The prime responsibility for quality assurance always rests with the provider. It is not the awarding body but the provider which delivers the quality programmes and thus the provider must develop the procedures for quality assurance with the agreement of the awarding body. The awarding body must review the effectiveness of these procedures and this may involve visits to providing institutions. These are issues on which I look forward to more discussion on Committee Stage.

Deputy Deenihan raised the issue of the need for regular reports to the Houses of the Oireachtas and I hope sections 58, 59 and 60 on planning and reporting will address some of his concerns. He also stressed the need for flexibility in the operation of the new awarding bodies to allow the innovation under way in the institutes of technology to continue. He made a similar point about professional courses. I agree with the need not to curtail the activities of the institutes. I look forward to discussing further Deputy Deenihan's concerns and have examined the transitional arrangements set out in the Bill with a view to ensuring they are effective. There is nothing in the Bill to preclude arrangements with universities, in addition to arrangements with the awarding councils, and I encourage and support the development of relationships between the technological sector of higher education and the university sector.

Deputy Deenihan was anxious about the possibility of validating programmes delivered through information technology. There is no reason this will not be the case as the awarding councils are required to validate programmes if learners can meet the necessary standards and, in the case of private commercial institutions, if the necessary protections are in place.

Deputy Deenihan was anxious about provision for the certification of courses leading to leisure management qualifications. I reassure him that these types of courses are included in the provisions of the Bill. He is anxious to insert a caveat to ensure a programme of further education and training run as a recreational or leisure activity for learners does not have to be submitted for validation. This is because learners may have no intent in taking such courses other than for recreation or leisure. If there is a standard of knowledge, skill or competence to be acquired on such a course, it could lead to an award. The aim here is not to tie up the provider in knots through forcing them to submit every leisure and recreational programme for validation. These are different from leisure management type courses, which, if run by any of the list of State providers in the relevant sections of the Bill, would have to be submitted for validation.

Deputies Michael Kitt and Perry raised important issues about the use of titles in the Bill. The Bill will effectively replace the existing National Council for Educational Awards Act. The NCEA has played an essential role in the development of certification for higher education in the State, especially in the development of the technological sector. Throughout its lifetime it has helped to ensure that the qualifications of those completing its courses are equal to those of all other graduates in the State. The NCEA has also played a key innovatory role, most recently in the way it has worked with the institutes of technology and business in developing new technician courses, especially the National Certificate in Manufacturing Technology.

We are moving towards the development of an inclusive system of awards, and I consider that the Higher Education and Training Awards Council more widely reflects the activity in which it will be involved. The title of the NCEA was reflective of its time and it did not extend to making awards in the broad training sector. If the title NCEA were maintained along with the Further Education and Training Awards Council, this could lead to much confusion in Ireland and internationally. The existing awards of the NCEA are protected in the Bill. I look forward to further discussion on Committee Stage.

A number of other Deputies made points which I unfortunately do not have time to respond to in detail. Deputy O'Shea mentioned the Waterford Institute of Technology, an institution I greatly admire and I will pass on his comments to the Minister. Deputy Boylan referred to the importance of certification of on-the-job experience. For the first time in the history of the State, the Bill opens the door to this possibility. It provides the opportunity for on-the-job experience to be validated as part of the award of a certificate or degree. I will pass on Deputy Enright's comments.

Deputy Naughten raised the matter of the green certificate. Section 46 requires all providers, including Teagasc, to inform learners of the name of the awarding body and the title of the award. There are penalties in section 48 if this is not done. The situation the Deputy raised would not now happen as the title of one award would clearly not be the one they were seeking. If Deputy Naughten needs further clarification, I will arrange to correspond with him or he can raise it on Committee Stage.

I am delighted to commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.