Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 9. It is proposed to take amendments Nos. 1 and 9 together.
Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 7, line 15, after "FUNCTIONS to insert "ALWAYS COGNISANT OF THE BASIC ROLE OF EDUCATION TO DEVELOP THE WHOLE PERSON".
This is an amendment to the long title of the Bill. I tabled this amendment because an issue arose during Committee Stage in the policy area on whether the Bill laid sufficient emphasis on policy and if there was a sufficiency of wording that would make it clear that at the end of the day, education is about the development of the whole person. I have a certain fear that the Bill might be conceived as a reaction to the marketplace as distinct from a reaction to what is necessary in the context of our education system. Certainly the binary system, which has become an integral part of Irish education, has on one side, the university type education where there is a clearer definition in relation to the humanities and that aspect of education. I am interested to hear the Minister's response. This amendment would strengthen the Bill.
There is an holistic aspect to education that relates to the development of the whole person, not to the development of particular skills and expertise. If that broadly based approach is not underpinning the development of the technological sector this deficiency could have a detrimental effect on the quality of the education provided in the technological sector over time.
Deputy O'Shea has proposed that the long title of the Bill be amended to include "always cognisant of the basic role of education to develop the whole person" and his amendment No. 9 is similar. The amendment appears to imply that the Bill concerns education per se when in fact the Bill is essentially about qualifications and standards in education and training. The Bill does not endeavour to make a distinction between education and training. Clearly the Bill is about education but is also about training. One could enter into a long philosophical debate about the impact of training on individuals and the impact of education on individuals. There is a strong element of personal development in all education and training programmes.
However, the Bill is not only concerned with the technological sector. It also deals with training undertaken by bodies such as FÁS, CERT and Teagasc, which have a strong vocational skills based content to their programmes. It sets out the qualifications framework for all these concerns and the programmes they provide. I am not in favour of the amendment for these reasons.
I accept the Minister's point that the Bill is concerned with education and training and reaches back into other areas. However, education should be defined as it will apply to the legislation when it is implemented and as the proposed authority and councils are established. I seek a statement of intent which clearly defines and outlines what we mean by education.
We discussed the lack of reference to policy in the Bill on Committee Stage. Perhaps it has become too technical and market oriented. The basic point of all education is that each individual is developed through the system to the fullness of his or her potential. While there may be a need for a segregation between education and training, I do not accept the amendment seeks to link the two, rather it proposes to amend the Bill as it provides for and deals with education. It does not propose any fundamental change to the Bill, but it focuses attention on the essence of education, which must be kept before the minds of providers at all times through whatever system the Department implements.
In a time of great technological advancement, where there are continuing skills shortages, we may develop a reactive approach to fulfilling a certain need but in doing so we may lose sight of the fundamental role of education which is concerned with the development of people, not only in the context of the workplace but in the context of their personal fulfilment, the communities to which they belong and the contribution they can make. I am concerned that the Bill is developing a focus too much weighted in the direction of the marketplace as against the essence of education and the fundamental philosophy underpinning it.
It is unfair to suggest that the passing of a qualifications Bill represents the domination of the marketplace over the education of the whole person. We must take account of the fact that the House enacted the Education Act, which is a fundamental Act in itself and is the first time we put education on a comprehensive legislative footing. It embraces many of the concepts articulated by the Deputy, which I share.
However, this is a qualifications Bill. We should not highlight the education over the training sector in the context of developing a qualifications framework. The issues raised by the Deputy are valid in the context of overall education policy, which is always the preserve of the Minister of the day and which the providers and those who work under the aegis of the Department and the various institutions must take on board.
I do not believe the Deputy's amendment is correct for this Bill where we have treated education and training in a combined way. At this late stage it would be wrong to highlight one over the other.
I am disappointed with the Minister's response. Education and training cannot be segregated as they apply to a person because the person needs to be educated and needs to acquire basic skills, such as numeracy and literacy. However, in the case of apprenticeships the emphasis now is on standards reached as distinct from time served. This could mean that the education component of apprenticeship training can be too small.
It is disingenuous of the Minister to suggest that I am trying to segregate training from education. Education is a foundation, whether it be in the context of further educational awards, training, apprenticeship or whatever. However, the role and input of education do not stop at that point. When people pursue apprenticeships, technological courses and so on, it is most important that there be a sufficient educational component that serves the requirements of the person at that time in his or her life.
I am not critical of the Bill in the sense suggested by the Minister. I seek to ensure that when the legislation is interpreted by the proposed authority and the two councils, they will note from the Long Title, if it is amended as I propose, that we should never lose sight of the educational component of whatever is being provided, be it an educational or training course.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, lines 25 and 26, to delete "Qualifications (Education and Training)" and substitute "Education and Training (Qualifications)".
I have resubmitted this amendment from Committee Stage. It is related to amendment No. 1. This is an education and training Bill. It is concerned with qualifications, but if there is no education and training to begin with there are no qualifications. I understand the Minister was involved in a similar debate within his Department before the Title of the Bill was decided. If I recall correctly, he said on Committee Stage that the working Title of the Bill in the Department was the one I seek here by way of this amendment.
Education and training should be emphasised in the Title of a Bill that relates to those matters. Qualifications are important, but they describe what has been provided which is education and training. In that context, the Bill is inappropriately named and the cart has been put before the horse. Has the Minister had further thoughts on this issue since he responded negatively on Committee Stage?
It is with great regret that I must respond negatively again, although I have reflected on the issue. The Title as drafted is the one which reflects most accurately what the Bill is about. It will lead to the establishment of a qualifications framework where quality assurance can be applied to the rich variety of education and training programmes that are provided and deals with the establishment of new mechanisms for the awarding of certificates, diplomas, degrees, etc. The Bill is fundamentally about establishing a qualifications framework with the education and training sector and the Title captures its essence.
I accept that a framework will be established, which will include quality assurance, etc. However, I stress that without education and training, qualifications do not arise. For example, if this were a nursing Bill, would it be called the qualifications (nursing) Bill? The nursing qualifications Bill would be the most apt title. The Title of this Bill is more general as it relates to education and training, but there is a danger that a marketplace and industry oriented framework could be developed to a large degree. There are skills shortages in a number of sectors, but people must be educated in the first instance so that they can aspire to the necessary level of training to enhance their qualifications and thereby be in a position to take up current skilled vacancies.
In the context of inclusiveness and empowerment, education and training must be up front because qualifications just do not fall out of the sky. However, I am not critical of the Minister's intentions regarding the Bill.
A wider debate is emerging and I contend that there is an attempt to put forward a view to a certain extent that suddenly education policy is becoming dominated by the marketplace. It is not, but there has always been a relationship between the worlds of education and industry. In recent times that has become more pronounced and there is less of the traditional isolationist approach whereby if one is touched by the world of work and education, one is almost contaminated. For example, architects, doctors, lawyers, technicians, engineers, etc. traditionally received a good basic education which was intended to develop the whole person but they reached a stage in their educational journeys when there was a focus on what was happening outside the education world in terms of the world of work and the marketplace in wider society.
The Bill is not about the domination of one over the other but is in essence centred on the student. In accepting that education involves the development of the whole person, the Bill will advance that concept by giving all people on education or training programmes the opportunity to progress in a much more effective way than heretofore. There were too many barriers to progression in education for many people. If one did not pass the leaving certificate and secure a place in college at that time, it was a long time before one could obtain a place on a degree programme. When the framework of the Bill is established, it will do a great deal more for the education of the person as it is constituted because it will get rid of many barriers that existed previously in terms of facilitating progression.
Obviously, the Minister and I are not ad idem on this issue but I ask him to reflect on the proposed membership of the qualifications authority. One person will be nominated by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and will come on board with an industry perspective. People will also be nominated by the universities, Forfás, IBEC and ICTU. IBEC and ICTU, by their nature, are focused on industry, employment, etc., and I welcome their inclusion on the qualifications authority. However, I am seeking that the remit of the Bill is clear in its Title and that its focus is on basic education and training and all that entails as distinct from qualifications which could be described as the pieces of paper which allows individuals to perform at a certain level. I accept the Minister will not accede to the amendment.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, to delete lines 31 to 35, and substitute the following:
"(3)(a) Chapter IV of Part IV and, in so far as they relate to that Chapter, this section and section 2 shall be construed as one with the Regional Technical Colleges Acts, 1992 to 1999, and shall be included in the collec tive citation ‘the Regional Technical Colleges Acts, 1992 to 1999'.".
This is a technical amendment to a collective citation, which arises as a result of the passing of the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill. As a result of the amendment, the collective citation will include that Bill, relevant Parts of this Bill and the other Regional Technical College Acts.
Amendments Nos. 4, 32, 39, 48, 51, 56, 57, 65 and 66 form a composite proposal while amendment No. 33 is an alternative to amendment No. 32 and all may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
"‘completion rate' means the number of learners who complete a programme of education and training expressed as a percentage of the number of learners who commenced the programme concerned;".
There was much discussion on Committee Stage about the right of the bodies to be set up to get information relevant to the performance of their functions. In particular, Deputies highlighted the issue of information on completion rates. I indicated that I would consider this issue further and I have come up with a number of amendments which I hope the House will support. The thrust of the amendments is to specifically refer to completion rates in the information which may be sought by the councils or the authority and to define completion rates in a broad way.
Furthermore, the issue of the provision of the information by any of the new bodies to be set up under the Bill to the Houses of the Oireachtas was discussed on Committee Stage. I indicated then that I would introduce amendments to ensure that the Houses could seek appropriate information and I have tabled amendments to achieve that purpose. I hope the Deputies will consider this a genuine response to the debate on Committee Stage.
I welcome the Minister's decision to include a provision in the Bill that information about drop out rates will be provided on a regular basis. I also welcome his decision to give the Oireachtas a role in determining the shape and details of information to be provided. This significant step forward is welcome.
However, the way in which the Minister has defined completion rates is not the most revealing and interesting from the point of view of tracking what is happening in courses that are being validated. I maintain that the formulation I have offered in amendment No. 33, which refers explicitly to entry requirements, drop out rates and induction and support programmes for entrants from non-traditional backgrounds, would provide more relevant information. Nevertheless, I recognise that the Oireachtas will have the right to request this information if it wishes and I will not go to the wire on the matter.
Completion rates tend to arise at the end of a programme and, therefore, in the case of a three or four year programme, the information to which the Minister referred will emerge three years down the line. It will not monitor drop out figures as a phenomenon or those who drop out. The tracking of drop outs is the type of information we want to develop over time. The Minister has provided a vehicle to allow further pursuit of these issues and while I hope he may be willing to accept amendment No. 33, I do not intend to call a division on the issue.
This series of amendments is a progressive outcome to the debate on Committee Stage. I take the points made by Deputy Bruton. Completion rates in the technological and university sectors are of grave concern and the amendments are a move in the direction of providing more substantial information on this huge problem. I am interested in the Minister's response to Deputy Bruton's amendment. However, the Minister's amendments are progressive and I support them.
I thank the Deputies for their comments and acknowledgment that the amendments represent progress since the Committee Stage debate. One of the fundamental reasons for seeking data on completion rates is to inform policy and to allow for intervention in terms of the overall policy framework of an institution or a college where the rates are low or there is a difficulty. The inclusion of amendments in this area will facilitate that. Such data are compiled at second level and its principal impact has been in the devising of a new strategy to try to deal with the problems of low completion or poor retention rates. The position will be similar at third level. The Oireachtas and various awarding councils will be able to get this information every year. For example, in 1999 one can get information on the completion rates in 1998, 1997 or 1996. Once that information is available, people will be in a position to make decisions.
Information on entry requirements is now public. All institutes and colleges must publish entry requirements to their respective institutions in terms of eligibility. I have no difficulty with the view that a tracking system is essential. I am confident that will be available in terms of ongoing policies.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 12, to delete line 2.
The amendment deals with the membership of the board. As the Bill stands, it is proposed that the chief executive of the board will be a full member of it. However, the qualifications authority will be deliberative and will not have many day to day executive decisions to make. It will not have to make many detailed decisions on a regular basis. It will decide broad direction and in that context, there is not the same pressure or advantages in having the chief executive on the board.
The balance of advantage may lie in not having the chief executive on the authority but leaving him or her on the two subordinate councils which will be much more day-to-day decision making bodies requiring the presence and regular advice of the chief executive. The authority will take submissions and input from the chief executive but have the opportunity to withdraw and consider the chief executive's viewpoint. Its view may or may not coincide with that of the chief executive. There may be a case for including the amendment and I am interested in the Minister's reflections on the issue since Committee Stage.
I reflected on the issue of whether the chief executive should be a member of the authority. On balance I consider that should be the case. As I indicated on Committee Stage, there are arguments on both sides. Throughout the technological sector, the chief executive is a member of the governing body. This has worked well and there is no reason it should not work in terms of the qualifications authority. There would also be consistency in the context of the overall sector with which the authority will deal. On balance, I am in favour of retaining the chief executive on the authority as proposed in the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 24, 25 and 40 are cognisant to amendment No. 6 and all may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 12, line 3, to delete "two persons" and substitute "one person".
These amendments relate to the ministerial nominees on the Qualifications Authority, the Further Education and Training Council, and the Higher Education and Training Council. As I said on Committee Stage, there are strong points on both sides of this argument about whether there should be ministerial nominees. On one hand, we would wish to avoid the nomination of political hacks to the bodies while, on the other, allowing the Minister to nominate could enable him to make inspired choices.
The Minister for Education and Science may make two nominations to the Qualifications Authority and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment may make one. Both Ministers may make two nominations to the Further Education and Training Council. On the Higher Edu cation and Training Council, the Minister for Education and Science has two nominees and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has one. This amendment seeks to reduce the number of ministerial nominees. I was unable to come up with an appropriate amendment to identify categories from which the Ministers could draw their nominees. It may not be possible to do that nor, perhaps, is it appropriate to legislation.
I moved similar amendments on Committee Stage and we had a wide-ranging debate on them. I ask the Minister to share with us any reflections he has had in the interim.
We had significant discussion of this on Committee Stage. My primary concern is that the membership of the Qualifications Authority and the two awarding councils should be balanced and cohesive. The bodies must be effective in implementing their objects and functions. We do not want big, unwieldy bodies which are too large to make decisions. I have endeavoured not to be prescriptive about the membership and to allow a certain measure of flexibility and direction. This Bill is not designed only for the next year or so, it will apply to future Ministers also, and it would not be wise to tie their hands in respect of nominating people to these bodies. The ministerial nominees will be people of high calibre with a particular contribution to make to the work of the bodies.
I have qualified my original proposals to some extent, following Committee Stage discussions. Amendments Nos. 7 and 41 propose that one of the Minister's representatives on the authority must be a representative of voluntary and community organisations. This is in response to a Committee Stage amendment by Deputy Bruton concerning the third strand. One nominee to the higher council must be representative of providers other than recognised institutions. Deputy Bruton made such a suggestion on Committee Stage, we reflected on it and have now provided for it in amendment No. 41. To some extent I have qualified our position – it is not true in every case but one nominee will come from a certain sector – to reflect the Committee Stage debate.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 12, line 3, after "Minister", to insert ", one of whom shall be a person who, in the opinion of the Minister, is representative of community and voluntary organisations".
As I indicated, I said on Committee Stage that I would consider the issue of representation on the authority for the third strand in social partner ship. This amendment provides that one of the Minister's nominees must, in his or her opinion, be representative of voluntary and community organisations.
I warmly welcome this amendment. The role of the Qualifications Authority will be to certify not only existing providers but the great and emerging body of provision from the adult and community sector. It is appropriate that we have wide representation on this body. Under social partnership we are becoming increasingly aware that not only the two traditional partners but the third strand also has valuable insights to bring to bear on policy. I am pleased the Minister has reflected on this issue and acceded to my suggestion. Accordingly, I will not move amendment No. 8.
Amendment No. 9 cannot be moved because amendment No. 1 was put to a vote.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 12, line 45, after "progression" to insert "throughout a person's life by in particular facilitating access to qualification for persons in the workforce, engaged in other duties that prevent enrolment in full-time courses, or with limited formal educational qualifications".
We had considerable discussion on this issue on Committee Stage. One object of the authority is to promote and facilitate access, transfer and progression. The Opposition felt this was a central issue, but the Bill's phraseology did not sufficiently emphasise that the authority was expected to break new ground in this area. Many people in the sector say they promote and facilitate access, transfer and progression within the education sector, but critics of the education system say this is not the case. It is important to make clear to the authority that its job is not to maintain the status quo but that it has a clear remit to open up access and opportunities for transfer and progression and to see where there are gaps and shortfalls in access, transfer and progression.
When the Bill becomes law it should make clear to the authority that this is what is intended. Accordingly, the amendment adds words which strengthen the import of the section. It will now read: ".to promote and facilitate access, transfer and progression throughout a person's life by in particular facilitating access to qualification for persons in the workforce, engaged in other duties that prevent enrolment in full-time courses, or with limited formal educational qualifications." This makes clear that the role of the authority is to reach down or out to those who have tradition ally found it difficult to get access to the education system, to ensure the awards, certification and validation mechanisms facilitate their entry. A statement of this kind would be welcome to make it clear that this is new ground we expect the authority to address as a priority. To leave such an explicit statement out of its objectives would be remiss of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister will argue this is implicit but every educational institution in the country would say it implicitly promotes and facilitates access, transfer and progression, but the reality is that there are significant failings in this area. There is a need to go the extra distance to make our intention clear.
I see merit in the amendment proposed by Deputy Bruton. A concern recently expressed to me is that there is no explicit reference in the Act to lifelong learning. Another concern is that in terms of further and higher education, the legislation does not appear to link up with Government policy on adult education as enunciated in the Green Paper. I would like those issues to be addressed. That omission from the legislation could have repercussions in time. I support what is being proposed by Deputy Bruton.
Section 7 sets out the objects of the Qualifications Authority; I already outlined the principal objects. I favour as simple an approach as possible in the objects of the authority so that the intent of the Oireachtas in setting up the body is clear. I consider the concepts mentioned in the amendment are sufficiently included in the third object of the authority which is to promote and facilitate access, transfer and progression within the qualifications framework. It is very clear in all circumstances. That is the object of the authority. Essentially this is ensuring that the interests of learners and students can be met. I would not favour one aspect of progression being highlighted over another.
Furthermore, the authority must have regard to the objects of the Act in section 4(1) to "facilitate lifelong learning through the promotion of access and opportunities for all learners, including learners with special educational needs". A further object of the Act refers to the need to promote the recognition of knowledge, skill or competence acquired through research, adult and continuing education, and training and employment. The points of view articulated by the Deputies are covered both in the objects of the Act, section 4, and in terms of the objects of the authority. In fact, they are explicit in the terminology in the Bill.
I strongly argue the contrary. The Minister only introduced the concept of lifelong learning being recognised on Committee Stage. The Department was happy to allow the Minister proceed without any reference to lifelong learning in the Bill until he was approached by others. The Minister then decided to include lifelong learning in section 4(1)(e). That amendment was welcomed on Committee Stage when the Minister introduced it. It was interesting that when he was describing the meaning of (7)(c) he could not let it stand alone. He had to add a clause to indicate that this was intended in all instances. That was very revealing. This is a defect.
If we start at (c) and work our way back through the Bill to the meaning of "learner" and "programmes", it could be argued that this means access to programmes traditionally not recognised.
Of course it does.
The reality, however, is that no such access is currently being promoted, it is merely being explored. The novelty elements in the Bill are now confined to definitional phrases such as the meaning of "programme". An educational programme does not mean a conventional course provided by an educational institution. It has been broadened to include something happening in a community or in the workplace. I acknowledge that as a positive development, and it means that the authority can do what I am talking about, but my point is that it is not required to do it under the existing provisions. It can take a more narrow view of its work and confine itself to doing what the traditional bodies now seeking certification are doing. The onus in the Bill is on bodies to approach the authority and the council seeking validation. Even in the case of non-traditional institutions, the onus is on the individuals who want validation to approach the authority.
The reactive approach implicit in the Bill can colour the way the authority conducts its business. The issue of bringing in from the cold those who have traditionally found it difficult to progress through the system should be more explicit and not one to which the authority will react positively if certain proposals come forward. It should be made clear that the expectation of the Oireachtas is that it sees this issue as central to its remit and that it will not sit back and wait for non-traditional learners to knock on its door.
There is a difference of emphasis here that would be welcome in the Bill. I know the Minister shares that view but he seems reluctant to make clear in the Act what is the consensus view of the House.
It is outrageous to suggest that the Bill is setting up institutions that will be reactive. The whole ethos of the Bill is quite radical. It represents a significant new departure in terms of progression and access to qualifications, particularly in the non-traditional area. We must also be mindful of development in recent years. The National Council for Vocational Awards, for example, has made a number of significant new departures in terms of creating a qualifications framework in its field of endeavour for people from the non-traditional institutions and groups. The foundation level 1 and 2, for example, of the NCVA has facilitated considerable access for many people who previously did not have access to education. It is wrong to say that an interpretation can be drawn from the Bill, as drafted, that the institutions could be reactive in terms of the discharge of their duties. I strongly refute that.
When one examines the functions of the council, they are mainly to determine standards of knowledge, recognise awards and issue awards. The onus is on people to approach the councils. I would like to see a more pro-active approach to the issue of the adult education sector. That is the reason I believe there is merit in having more pro-active language in the Bill. This is the most favourable place to insert it because if it is done early in the case of the authority, it will shape the whole approach the councils will take. That is the reason for my reluctance to go along with the Minister on this matter, although I applaud what has been done by the NCVA.
Amendments Nos. 11 to 16, inclusive, are cognate and are to be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 13, line 12, after "procedures" to insert "and policies".
This matter was debated on Committee Stage and the Minister of State, who was then handling the Bill, indicated that the Minister was open to consideration of this matter. I am concerned with section 8(2)(d), which deals with the procedures to be implemented by providers of programmes of education and training for access, transfer and progression. My concern is with codifying what is being done as one can simply codify what is being done without changing it. The determination by the authority in relation to what happens with access and progression should not solely be a matter of determining that these should be codified. The ISO programmes, for example, are about codifying and making sure that things happen as predicted the same way every time, but that is not enough. We want to see the authority influence the policies adopted by institutions of learning that will facilitate access and progression. One can have procedures that deny access and progression; those are valid procedures but they deny access and progression.
The policies that surround procedures are important and they must accommodate and support non-traditional applicants, certainly in the initial acclimatisation phase. That is why I have suggested that the authority should determine not only the procedures but also the policies. Alternatively, if the Minister feels that is going too far, the authority could recommend policies in relation to access and progression procedures. I would like to see the authority taking this brief seriously and pressing it with institutions, even those which might be recalcitrant in developing procedures and policies supportive of access and progression. I know the Minister has reflected on this amendment since Committee Stage and I hope he supports the change it suggests.
I share Deputy Bruton's misgivings. To put it bluntly, procedures are about how one does things and policies are about what one does and the areas one wants to address. In the context of the authority's functions, there needs to be a lot more growth in the policy area. This is a deficit I alluded to on Committee Stage and again, it is the marketplace angle that I worry about. Procedures are about how one does things; policies are what one does.
This is real marketplace stuff. The Deputy's colleagues in Waterford Institute of Technology would not be too happy with that.
I cannot speak for people the Minister does not name.
I mean that in good faith. We spoke about the institute on Committee Stage and I am making the point that it would be the same.
When one refers to procedures one is referring to rules and how one carries out one's functions. That is what this alludes to. There is a deficiency in this legislation regarding policy.
I am not going to give a cheap preview of a later amendment I have tabled, but there is a need to make it clear that the authority will be developing policy as distinct from procedure.
That is clear in terms of the objects of the authority, though I am unsure of the exact wording in relation to policies. This section deals with the functions of the authority. Deputy Bruton's amendment seeks to determine the procedures and policies to be implemented by providers of programmes of education and training for access, transfer and progression, but we have the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, and there is a significant degree of self-governance in the institutes. On Committee Stage we debated those institutes which wanted delegated authorities to make their own awards. If we now include the determination of procedures and policies, that would be a fundamental shift in the governance of many of the institutes and other providers and would represent a seismic shift in the way institutes and colleges govern their affairs. The key issue with quality assurance as well as access and progression is that clear procedures are laid down. We want the authority to provide the dynamic between and over the providers to ensure access and progression. I do not think it appropriate for the authority to deter mine policies that must then be implemented by the providers as I feel such policies are in the first instance the responsibility of both the providers and those who fund the providers. Ultimately, the Minister of the day will have to have a fundamental policy remit in issues related to access, transfer and progression. Policies would relate to issues such as setting aside a certain number of places for progression, quotas and so on.
The procedures would include determining when a learner commences a programme with regard to the knowledge, skill and competence already attained. This would mean appropriate credits and not having to start at year one of a degree programme when a diploma course has already been completed. Other procedures could include the setting of minimum standards for entry to programmes.
We can underestimate the issue of procedures to an extent, but proper procedures are essential to this matter and are central to the issues of access, progression and quality assurance. I feel that we have laid out the functions correctly and have stopped short of the authority literally running the providers and telling them what to do in every aspect of their policies. That would be a fundamental shift in the Bill and was never meant to be the function of this authority.
I accept the Minister's argument that we could go too far in allowing it to determine policy in every instance. On the other hand, one of the authority's objects is to promote access and transfer. The Minister is saying it will have the role to promote but will not have any tools to do so. The mechanism to work on this will be controlled by the Minister through his budgetary restrictions over colleges and so on as that will influence those colleges' policies. I accept that as an alternative viewpoint, but it belittles what the authority can do about promoting or facilitating access if it comes down to simply requiring that procedures are in place and prior learning is looked at and does not require colleges to make places available or not to downgrade those with prior learning in the competition for places. That undermines the effectiveness of the authority and perhaps the compromise position may be to determine the procedures and to recommend policies to be implemented. At least then the insight and experience about where access is blocked that the authority gathers from doing this work would allow that body to recommend policies to the institutes involved. That would be a half way house. They acknowledge the points the Minister makes but go beyond the arrid territory of rules and would be a more dynamic vehicle.
It should be noted that the amendments tabled by Deputy Bruton do not seek to delete the word "procedures". Is the authority to be a body merely for procedures? A later section of the Bill states that policy is determined by the Minister for Education and Science and other Ministers in agreement with the Minister for Education and Science. Therefore, policy is determined by Ministers.
Neither Deputy Bruton nor I envisage the authority having the dominant policy role but it should have a defined policy role. The authority will deal with the various areas of education and training qualifications on a daily basis. Unless a clear policy mechanism is provided by the legislation, we will lose the valuable expertise of the authority. The Minister's concerns could be allayed by placing a limitation on the policy role of the authority. The development of policy should be an important facet of the work of the authority and this should be recognised in the legislation.
Section 8(2)(a) states that the authority shall "establish the policies and criteria on which the framework of qualifications shall be based". The authority has a policy function.
The authority's policy function relates to framework but not to the generality.
Section 8(2)(d) includes the word "determine". That is a very strong word. If the word "policy" is inserted in that paragraph the authority will be given the function of determining policies to be implemented by providers of programmes of education. That is too strong. The authority may, of course, recommend policies. That facility exists. We are agreed on that fundamental principle. The Bill strikes the correct balance between the role of the authority in facilitating access, progression and quality assurance and the responsibilities of the providers in that regard.
We are agreed that my amendment is not entirely satisfactory but to make no amendment to this section is equally unsatisfactory. The Minister does not appear to be disposed to include the recommendation of policy explicitly in the Bill. The Minister says the authority can, of course, recommend policies. There is a difference between recommending policies when one is the validating authority and has a statutory right to do so, and being blandly allowed to do so.
Amendments Nos. 17, 18, 31 and 47 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 14, before line 1, to insert the following:
"(b) inform itself of practices outside the State in respect of matters relevant to its functions,".
There was much discussion on Committee Stage about the need for the qualification authority to be up to date on international best practice. I propose this amendment to require the authority to keep itself informed in this regard. I will propose similar amendments to ensure that the councils keep themselves informed in the same manner. The requirement that the bodies be informed of international developments will, in turn, inform the performance of their functions. Furthermore, Deputy Bruton stressed the need for the two awarding councils to consult providers in the performance of their functions. The Deputy is aware that some of the amendments I proposed on Committee Stage address the issue of consultation by the new bodies. I will propose these amendments to ensure that the awarding councils consult, as appropriate.
This is a significant step forward. Heretofore, there was no mention of international best practice in relation to the role of the authority and councils. We live in a rapidly changing environment. We must place a statutory obligation to be conscious of best practice on those who are responsible for validation.
The Minister has been extraordinarily economical in phrasing this amendment. He simply requires the authority to inform itself of practices outside the State in respect of matters relevant to its functions. This does not appear to require the authority to go beyond being aware and to benchmark itself against what is happening elsewhere. We must ensure that we are at the leading edge of development. The Minister was unwilling to accept my Committee Stage amendments which would have made explicit requirements in this regard. My own phrases in amendment No. 18 are preferable to those put forward by the Minister. The requirement in amendment No. 18 that the authority inform itself of international best practice places the obligation on the authority to look beyond the neighbouring island. This can too often inform what is regarded as international practice.
Not any more.
Amendment No. 18 also requires the promotion of an international perspective in the development of the qualification system. It is important that the authority not only inform itself of what is happening internationally but also place obligations on providers who seek validation to be aware of what is happening in the international arena.
I welcome these amendments. They add to the Bill. I note the provision for the authority to nominate two members, one of whom should have international experience. These amendments broaden that provision. There was also international representation on the interim review group, chaired by Professor Donnelly.
Neither Deputy Bruton nor I dispute the Minister's intentions. Our task is to make constructive contributions to the Bill so that it is framed as effectively as possible to last a long time.
I welcome the Minister's amendments and await his response to Deputy Bruton's submission.
I suppose the vagaries of the draftsman offer one explanation. My amendments encapsulate the views and concepts put forward by Deputy Bruton in his Committee Stage amendment. In my view, the Bill facilitates both the authority and the councils to inform themselves of international best practice but I am happy to table these amendments to copperfasten that and to make sure, as the Deputy said, that there is no room for any ambiguities or that any wrong interpretations can be taken. The draftsman advised this particular wording for the amendments and that is why I am putting them forward in this form.
Teastas, which made recommendations to me about this legislation, informed itself of considerable international experience in the area of qualifications' authorities. Teastas consulted with people in Australia, New Zealand, Holland and the United States in addition to the United Kingdom. One can see that Teastas was quite busy informing itself of international best practice in the field of qualifications' authorities and that informed the content of the legislation.
As Deputy O'Shea pointed out, the interim review bodies, which we have established in relation to the delegation of authority to institutes, have a strong international presence. The distribution of the £180 million research fund, for example, relies on an international panel of experts also. Therefore, there is already a strong culture of utilising, and informing oneself of, best practice within the system. As Minister, I have strong links with the Department of Education and the Secretary for Education in the United States and they have been very co-operative. They have made available to us their expertise, particularly in the field of special education. Their best experts are consulting with my officials about their experiences. There is a strong culture within the Department and the overall education field of being open to international influences, particularly international best practice.
Under section 8(2)(h), there will be an obligation on the authority to "liaise with bodies outside the State which make education and training awards for the purposes of facilitating the recognition in the State of education and training awards made by those bodies". Of course in all of that interaction people will be constantly informing themselves of international best practice.
It is a pity the draftsman is not here to tell us why he has chosen a turn of phrase which is extraordinarily dead. It seems to me that the alternative which is available to the House is much more explicit as to what we want done.
The word "best" is a problem. I have great sympathy with the Deputy's point.
It is important that we promote it throughout the system. There is no point in confining it to the members of the authority or whoever. That said, I will accept half a loaf in this case, which is better than none. Somebody told me that that Australians, to whom some of this owes its origin, have apparently withdrawn their qualifications system.
Amendment No. 19 is in the name of Deputy O'Shea. Amendment No. 20 is an alternative. Therefore, amendments Nos. 19 and 20 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 14, to delete lines 1 to 4.
This amendment was tabled on Committee Stage at the select committee. I note the Minister's amendment to this subsection. Under section 8(3)(b) the authority is charged with giving "effect to policies relating to education and training which from time to time are established by the Minister, or by any other Minister with the agreement of the Minister". We are talking here about the policy making function of the authority.
The Minister alluded already to section 8(2) and the functions of the authority. Section 8(2)(a) states the authority shall "establish the policies and criteria on which the framework of qualifications shall be based". I submit that they are two different things. On the one hand the Minister is talking in terms of policy and criteria in relation to the framework but the ministerial directives, which, according to my reading of the Bill, will be the substantive and only source of policy making, allude to education and training per se. In other words, they refer to education and training as distinct from the qualifications framework. The other point which will be addressed by the Minister's amendment is the need for notification in writing of policy directives on education and training from either the Minister or another Minister.
I still feel that what we discussed earlier, that is, the lack of a reference in the Bill to a policy making role in relation to education and training, needs to be addressed. I welcome the fact that other Ministers, with the agreement of the Minister for Education and Science, can effect policy or put in place elements of policy which must be given effect by the authority. For instances, I hope the authority would receive substantial direction regarding policy in the area of disability.
I know the Minister does not agree with my amendment, which would delete section 8(3)(b). However, there is the policy development role of the authority and how policy is developed and conveyed to the authority on the one hand and the reciprocal role of the authority in terms of it affecting policy based on its experience and its day to day working on the other. For instance, it is likely that there will be international expertise on the board. In fact, the authority must contain international expertise in terms of the two nominees of the authority, one of whom would need to have international experience. Here is an important resource, which is not being recognised and the benefit of which is not given a channel to influence the policy direction of the authority.
This was discussed in some detail on Committee Stage. Arising from that discussion, I propose to insert a further amendment, that any policies established in this section must be set out by notice in writing to the authority.
The Deputy is still seeking the deletion of section 8(3)(b) but I feel it would be wrong to delete it. The authority should be in a position to give effect to the policies relating to general education and training which from time to time are established by the Minister or other Ministers.
Ministers and Governments are elected by the people and we cannot predict what the state of society will be at any stage in the future. The Government has an ultimate right to establish policies in the field of education and training and the authority should give effect to those policies in the wider context of addressing education and training objectives for the country. Any such policy which a Minister might develop would have to be consistent with the provisions of the Bill or the Minister could not effect the policy without proposing that the House would amend the Bill. The fact that an amendment is being proposed to ensure more effective consultation between Ministers and the authority offers a safeguard and protection. This section was amended in the Seanad to provide for consultation with the authority.
I tabled the amendment because it appeared that the powers vested in the Minister in regard to the authority were too strong. I do not dispute that a Minister should have a clearly defined and essential role in policy development. Indeed, I welcome the fact that there is a vehicle through which other Ministers may influence policy, albeit by way of agreement with this Minister.
As the framework for the authority develops, the qualifications which issue from it must have international recognition. It must be visible to Irish people, potential foreign investors and various foreign academic institutions. Graduates who receive awards from the authority will find themselves in various places throughout the world and it is important that their qualifications would be recognised. I want to ensure that the authority will be clearly autonomous and capable of developing its status within the State indepen dently. Consequently, its status would be progressively enhanced over time and Irish qualifications will be viewed by the international community as being of a very high standard. Indeed, such recognition already exists but there is room for improvement.
The Deputy seems to be acknowledging that the Minister should have a role in the development of policy. His amendment seeks the deletion of the section which would create an unacceptable vacuum as there would be no facility for the authority to give effect to the general education and training policies of the Minister of the day. I want to reassure the Deputy that the qualifications authority will have strong international credibility and recognition and will be enabled to achieve that in the overall framework of the Bill.
I have no problem with the current Minister's assurances. However, Ministers will come and go and the dangerous possibility exists that some future Minister may adopt an overly intrusive role. We must consider that the legislation will have an ongoing effect. Admittedly, the early days of the authority will be very important in terms of its long-term perception. Is there any vehicle through which the authority could be given a more substantial policy development role which would not interfere with the Minister's legitimate policy development role? I acknowledge the Minister's amendment in regard to written instruction to the authority which makes its position much stronger through the removal of the possible development of a system of nods and winks. However, as far as the authority's autonomy and creative expansion in terms of policy development are concerned, there is a serious deficit in the legislation as it is framed.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 14, line 2, after "established" to insert ", and notified in writing to the Authority,".
Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 14, line 11, after "committee," to insert "other providers of education and training, persons, or bodies of persons, who represent employees of providers of education and training or who represent learners,".
This matter was discussed in some detail on Committee Stage and arising from that discussion I propose to insert an amendment along the lines of Deputy Bruton's amendment further expanding the list of people who may be consulted by the authority in the performance of its functions. I have specifically mentioned other providers, learners and employees. I do not think it is appropriate to specifically mention parents in the context of further and higher education and training, but no constraint will be imposed on consultation with parents where parents of learners in further and higher education and training seek such consultation.
I am happy enough with the amendment. The phraseology "who represent learners" implies that parents of a younger age group of students would have a role.
Recommital is necessary in respect of amendments Nos. 23 and 27. Amendments Nos. 23, 26 and 27 may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 16, line 1, to delete "17" and substitute "18".
There is a technical need to return to committee to discuss amendment No. 23. I indicated on Committee Stage that I would table an amendment to expand the membership of the Further Education and Training Awards Council to include FÁS and I am proposing amendments to do so now.
I welcome the Minister's decision. It is important that the representation of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the board is not diluted to accommodate a representative of FÁS. It is appropriate that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment should have two representatives who will bring an industrial perspective to the board.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 16, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:
"(k) one person nominated by An Foras,”.
We now proceed to amendment No. 28. Amendment No. 44 is cognate. Amendments Nos. 28 and 44 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 16, line 32, to delete ", where practicable,".
I indicated on Committee Stage that I would introduce amendments to delete the words "where practicable" to be consistent with the amendment proposed by Deputy Bruton to section 6.
We now proceed to amendment No. 29. Amendment No. 45 is related and amendment No. 46 is an alternative to amendment No. 45. Amendments Nos. 29, 45 and 46 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 16, to delete line 43, and in page 17, to delete lines 1 to 4, and substitute the following:
"(a) to establish and publish, in such form and manner as it thinks fit, policies and criteria for—
(i)the making of further education and training awards, and
(ii)the validation of programmes of further education and training, and to review such policies and criteria not less than once in every five years;".
I indicated on Committee Stage that I would introduce an amendment requiring the policies and criteria in relation to validation and making of awards of both councils to be published and regularly reviewed.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 17, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:
"(g) to promote the making or recognition of awards to persons who have acquired a standard of knowledge, skills and competence from past experience from activities in the workplace or from participation in structured community programmes;”.
This amendment relates to the functions of the council which should promote the making or recognition of awards to persons who have acquired a standard of knowledge, skills and competence from past experience from activities in the workplace or from participation in structured community programmes. While the Minister will say that his definition of "programme" is wide enough to embrace the amendment—
—there is merit in making it explicit that we expect the council to recognise experiential learning in the workplace or by way of participation in structured community programmes.
I support the amendment. There is a matter which has concerned me for some time. Those who participate in community employment schemes, particularly in the caring areas, can acquire a high level of competence but have nothing to show for it by way of awards. Such awards should form part of a pathway of qualifications leading to further education and training, including higher education. There is a need for such links. It is in that context that the amendment has much merit. There is no career path available to those who acquire expertise in this way to enhance their qualifications.
Much emphasis is placed nowadays on services for people with disabilities and senior citizens but money alone is not the answer. I am concerned that difficulties will be encountered in recruiting the staff required to implement day care, residential care and home support service programmes to meet the needs of people with disabilities and senior citizens.
I have looked at the amendment in detail and consider that the issues covered should not be added as a specific function as it is implicit that the council will fulfil this function. The council has a role to promote its awards. Learners may also approach it directly to seek certification or recognition of their existing knowledge, skill or competence under paragraph (c) under which the council will have the function of making or recognising awards where persons apply.
It is a matter for the new awarding councils to determine how prior experiential learning can be assessed and they may seek the assistance of providers of education and training. I do not see a reason we should highlight one specific way to attain a standard of knowledge, skill or competence in the functions of the councils. This is the reason for the open definition of "programme" as any process by which learners may acquire knowledge, skill or competence. This encapsulates the point made by the Deputy. The amendment, therefore, is not appropriate or necessary.
I do not accept what the Minister said. He took umbrage at my suggestion that much of the Bill was reactive in nature. He has now said that participants in community employment and adult education programmes have a right to approach the council. That proves that the Bill is reactive in nature. It will be up to the relatively disorganised providers or participants in community employment programmes to mobilise and approach the council for recognition.
By the time they have done it, the course will be over and the opportunity to secure recognition will not be there. The boot should be on the other foot. The council should be given the remit to seek to validate and provide awards and certification to those who are participating in programmes, such as community employment programmes, who have a right to expect they can progress.
It has that remit.
It does not. It can if it wishes. However, the Minister is leaving it as a reactive measure. If somebody approaches the council, it can validate the programme. It should be the other way around. The council should see it as one of its prime functions to promote not only awards in general but specifically to promote the recognition of awards for people who do not get awards at present.
It is a question of whether one favours some form of positive discrimination or simply to leave it to the initiative of the poorly organised to come to the council and try to get this off the ground. I believe it is better to promote this function and my amendment gives that clear remit to the council.
I support Deputy Bruton. Certain things do not happen of their own accord. This is particularly so when dealing with matters which apply to people who, by definition, have not been successful under the formal education system. It is unlikely that they would come forward to the council seeking recognition for study already done. They might approach the provider. Rather than the initiative coming from outside the authority and its councils, the policy should be one of invitation.
There should also be, within Government, an examination of the areas where shortages will apply and where there are people who currently do not have the requisite training standards or certification but who could aspire to these if proper programmes were provided and if they were invited to take part in them in the proper manner. The Minister was involved in vocational education committees and had experience in the area of adult education. He will be aware that when one advertises a programme most of the people who turn up for it wish to pursue certain courses—
A brief intervention is rapidly becoming a speech.
The people who can benefit most from the type of activity this amendment addresses do not come forward easily. Enticing them in is a big problem. The amendment deals with a way of getting these people into the system.
I do not wish to sound impatient with the argument but the raison d'être of this Bill is to accommodate the people the Deputies have mentioned. This Bill represents a new era for people who do not have qualifications or who have never been through the formal education system. One of the objects of the Bill is “to promote the recognition of knowledge, skill or competence acquired through research, adult and continuing education and training and employment”. Everybody is covered. Furthermore, one of the functions of the council is to promote its awards and certifications.
It is unfair to suggest that the Bill should be interpreted as creating an inert organisation that will be reactive or do nothing. That misses the context in which the Bill is going through the Oireachtas.
The objects of the Act will not be the primary determinant of what the council does. This object—
It is also one of the functions in section 14. Paragraph (f) gives the council a promotion function. It must promote its awards.
The Minister can rummage through the Bill and, if he is creative enough, he will find the remit to do what he wants. If one looks at how a programme is defined, one discovers that the council can do these things. The Minister took some time rummaging through the Bill to come up with these facts. That is what will happen in practice. When the members of the council sit into their soft seated boardroom to decide what they will do—
It will have hard seats.
—they will look at the list of functions but will not see this among them. The council will have to look very hard to see that its remit is to deal with people who are getting no recognition and who are working in structured community programmes such as community employment or voluntarily organised community programmes. Even the use of the words "to promote the recognition of . adult education" conveys the notion of benches, chalk and talk and not the experiential education we are discussing and which occurs in these more structured community programmes. The Minister can, with creative use of words, claim this area is covered but the wording is not sufficiently directive to the council. I will press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 18, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:
"(a)consult, as it considers appropriate, with providers of further education and training or other persons or bodies,
(b)following consultation with the Authority, inform itself of practices outside the State in respect of matters relevant to its functions,”.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 19, line 32, after "Council" to insert ", including information in respect of completion rates".
Amendments Nos. 35 and 49 are related to amendment No. 34. Amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 49 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 19, to delete line 33, and substitute the following:
"(1) The Council may, at any time, review a programme of education and training validated under section 15.
(2) Following a review under subsection (1), where the Council is of the opinion –".
I indicated on Committee Stage that I would examine further the review role of each of the councils after a programme is validated. Deputy Bruton has again put down an amendment in this regard. My amendment makes this role explicit in line with Deputy Bruton's intention on Committee Stage and I am glad to be in a position to do this.
I welcome this amendment. It is even broader than what I proposed in that it gives the council the right to review programmes even if it is not concerned about those programmes. It is an improvement in the Bill.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 21, line 34, before "as" where it secondly occurs, to insert "or any other institution which has had programmes validated by the Council for at least five years without interruption".
The power to delegate awarding capacity was discussed on Committee Stage. I put forward the idea that the right to delegate authority to make awards should not be drawn up in such a way that a certain number of people will be inside and we then pull up the ladder and do not let anyone else in thereafter. The concept of delegating authority to make awards should be a continuing option for the council to use as time goes on, so that where significant providers emerge who have the breadth of experience and strong track record with the council, it would be open to the council to decide to delegate authority to such bodies.
One must bear in mind that we are in a rapidly changing world of education. I could see the establishment of credible international bodies providing education in Ireland who would have gilt-edged credentials to be awarding bodies in their own right. I do not see why we should pull up the ladder behind the few that have been around for some time and have had legal recognition and say that is the end of it. It does not seem to make sense in any legislation that we would so circumscribe a power of delegated authority.
We had considerable discussion on this matter on Committee Stage. The amendment represents a major change in the direction of the Bill. I have consistently argued for the need to simplify the certification arrangements of the State and I consider the proposals for limits on the bodies that may seek delegation are consistent with that. Under the proposed amendment, any provider can seek delegation and end up having authority on the Statute to make awards. That was not the awarding system envisaged in publishing the Bill and it is not a vision for the development of national certification that I would share. The three bodies that may seek delegated authority are FÁS, CERT and Teagasc, which are national training bodies that have been involved in making awards for many years. Accordingly, I do not accept the amendment.
The Minister is misreading the intention of this amendment. It is not aimed at complicating matters but at making validated awards of the council. It would still leave the council in absolute control of those awards. It would evaluate and, if necessary, withdraw the award-giving authority. It would, however, allow a structure that could be developed over time. It would not require the council to maintain a large policing force in respect of educational institutions which it felt were up to a strong standard. If FÁS, CERT or Teagasc can establish that, it is certainly true that others may be able to do so. Because the national bodies have been around for some time and the Minister has not been able to get them to surrender their rights to the new authority, it seems he is making provision to keep them there. Either the Minister says that delegated authority is in recognition of experience, skill and competence to make awards that will have a national value, or delegation is simply a tool he has devised to keep happy a number of bodies that were unhappy their position was being usurped. The Minister cannot have it both ways. If he believes that delegation is worthwhile because some bodies have the skill, competence and track record to do this, then he should not confine it to two or three bodies that have been there for some time. If, on the other hand, he wants to have a simplified, authoritative and "one size fits all" authority, he should not have delegation in the Bill. It is quite clear, however, that the Minister's officials have had to settle for this situation, and he is trying to justify his position on fairly threadbare grounds.
I would not accept that argument. A considerable amount of work went into producing the Bill. The simplified model that has emerged is a very strong one. It is also realistic in terms of where we are and where we want to go. Put simply, there is nothing wrong with facilitating FÁS, CERT or Teagasc in future if they wish to see a delegated authority. The purpose of inserting that section was to facilitate three national training bodies. It is not something that will happen immediately but nonetheless the facility is there.
In preparing the Bill I was conscious of the history of the sector. There have been many false dawns and the matter had been left hanging around for quite some time. If we start changing direction fundamentally at this stage, the potential for a framework like this to unravel quickly should not be underestimated. I am satisfied with the Bill which facilitates future growth and development. Accordingly, I recommend this section to the House.
Amendments Nos. 37, 38 and 50 may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 21, line 44, after "shall" to insert "determine and publish, in such form and manner as it thinks fit, criteria for the purposes of this section and shall".
On Committee Stage Deputy Bruton suggested that the criteria which each of the two awarding councils shall determine for the reviews leading to the delegation of authority should be published. He has proposed this again. I am proposing amendments whereby these will be published when they are initially determined.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 22, line 42, after "Council" to insert ", including information in respect of completion rates".
Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 24, line 42, after "Minister", to insert "one of whom shall be a person who, in the opinion of the Minister, is representative of providers of education and training, other than recognised institutions".
On Committee Stage Deputy Bruton suggested that one of the Minister's nominees to the higher council should be representative of providers, other than recognised institutions. I indicated that I would think further about this issue and I am now proposing a similar amendment following upon that reflection.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 25, line 3, after "institutions" to insert "one of whom shall be nominated by the Council of Directors of Institutes of Technology (as soon as this body has been established on a statutory basis)".
On Committee Stage the Minister indicated that one of the three persons to be nominated by recognised institutions would be the nominee of the Council of Directors of Institutes of Technology. Nothing has appeared from the Minister by way of an amendment that indicates this is the case. The Council of Directors of Institutes of Technology was not set up on a statutory basis. The initiative for establishing it came from within the sector. While I do not have a problem in principle with a nominee of that group being on the higher education and training council, it is important for that council to be set up on a statutory basis with objectives and procedures.
It is important that the council, with objectives, procedures and so on, is set up on a statutory basis. For that reason I tabled the amendment.
On Committee Stage I raised the issue of representation for the Council of Directors of Institutes of Technology. I was pleased the Minister indicated that one of the nominees would be a representative of the council of directors. I am slightly concerned about the bracketed part of Deputy O'Shea's amendment in that it would seem to defer the date of representation until new legislation was introduced to recognise this body. As such, I would have misgivings because it could be a long time before there is primary legislation to establish the Council of Directors of Institutes of Technology. I support Deputy O'Shea's amendment up to, but excluding, the bracketed part.
There may be a genuine misunderstanding here. I indicated on Committee Stage that it is my intention that the council of directors will make the nominations on behalf of the recognised institutions, of which there are three, and that I would make an appropriate regulation under the section to achieve this. In other words, when the Bill is enacted I will make a regulation whereby the council of directors will have the power to make the three nominations. That has been agreed with the council of directors in discussions and there is no hidden agenda. The issue of statutory underpinning of the council of directors is a much bigger and broader issue. We have not received any demand for that. I am not sure it is a good idea or that it is achievable in the short-term given that one would have to take on board the respective views of all individual councils. As of now the practical effect of Deputy O'Shea's amendment would be to delay the appointment. My understanding is that arrangements are being made to establish the council of directors as a limited company, but that will be separate from the statutory position.
I would consider that to be setting it up on a statutory basis. If the council of directors goes down the road of registering a company, that involves becoming registered under statute. The various nominating bodies are statutory bodies. Where a nomination is being given to a board, the Minister and the Oireachtas should be clear on the composition of the organisation, its aims, objectives, policies and procedures. It is important that we know exactly what objectives are being pursued by this group. Heretofore, it could have been described as a lobby group on behalf of the institutes. I am quite happy that before the nominations would be made the company would be registered and that any member of the Oireachtas or the public could go to the Companies Office and see the aims, objectives and structure of this organisation.
How stands the amendment?
On foot of the Minister's assurance that the situation regarding the council of directors will be regularised and put on a statutory footing, I withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 44:
In page 25, line 16, to delete ", where practicable,".
I move amendment No. 45:
In page 25, to delete lines 27 to 31, and substitute the following:
"(a) to establish and publish, in such form and manner as it thinks fit, policies and criteria for –
(i)the making of higher education and training awards, and
(ii)the validation of programmes of higher education and training,
and to review such policies and criteria not less than once in every five years;".
I move amendment No. 47:
In page 26, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
(a) consult, as it considers appropriate, with providers of higher education and training or other persons or bodies,
(b) following consultation with the Authority, inform itself of practices outside the State in respect of matters relevant to its functions,”.
I move amendment No. 48
In page 28, line 19, after "Council" to insert ", including information in respect of completion rates".
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 28, to delete line 20 and substitute the following:
"(1) The Council may, at any time, review a programme of education and training validated under section 25.
(2) Following a review under subsection (1), where the Council is of the opinion—".
I move amendment No. 50:
In page 30, line 30, after "shall" to insert "determine and publish, in such form and manner as it thinks fit, criteria for the purposes of this section and shall".
I move amendment No. 51:
In page 31, line 33, after "Council" to insert ", including information in respect of completion rates".
Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 are related. Is it agreed that amendments Nos. 52 and 53 be discussed together? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 33, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
(a) its objectives and mission statement;”.
These two amendments were debated on Committee Stage in the discussion on the establishment of charters for institutes of technology. The Minister, while sympathetic to the idea of these amendments, undertook to check with the draftsman whether the legal nature of charters would permit the more general statements set in the amendments. My amendment proposes that a charter would set out the objectives and mission statement of the institute. In that way it would cover a broad range of educational objectives for the institute and set out what it was trying to achieve. That would be an important statement for the development of the institute. I am also proposing that it should have arrangements for developing and updating its corporate strategy in partnership with all stakeholders affected by it. As the institute developed its objectives and mission statement into a clear strategy it would consult with those affected, whether students, those in the community or industry, and would have a consultative basis for developing and updating its strategy. This would be welcome.
The existing provisions in relation to the charter are fairly arid. They are formal issues and not broad strategic areas, although some are of significant importance. They are the outcome of much strategic thinking within the institute. I hope the development of that strategic thinking would result in the items set out in the Minister's list being developed in partnership with all stakeholders and that the colleges would develop their mission and corporate strategy in consultation with the community affected by them.
Institutes of technology are the key to successful industrial development in their areas. In recognition of this it is important that the charter seeks to consult widely and has a clear statement of its strategy. The areas of the country that do not have institutes of technology struggle while communities in which such institutes are well embedded experience a positive impact on their development. If we are to set up charters for these institutes, it is important that this element is enshrined within the charter as well as what is set out in the Minister's statement.
As I indicated on Committee Stage, I am reluctant to oppose these amendments. However, there are legal issues arising which it has not proved possible to clear up before Report Stage. I will ensure that the proposals Deputy Bruton has made are considered in the context of adding to the regulations under paragraph (g), where the Minister may include other issues in the regulations so long as they are appropriate for the purposes of the charter.
The parliamentary draftsman has advised against the inclusion of a reference to the objectives, mission or corporate statement in this subsection. It has been indicated to me that the matters already to be included in the charter are concrete matters. The parliamentary draftsman also takes the view that matters such as the objectives, mission or corporate statement are not appropriate for inclusion in the charter. He has further indicated that to agree to a draft amendment to that effect would require some research, which it has not proved possible to complete for Report Stage.
I still have the wherewithal under subsection (2), where the Minister has power to make regulations, to add to the list. Subject to legal clearance, it is my intention to do that in accordance with the content of Deputy Bruton's amendment. I do not have any problem with including the subject of the mission statement.
I am satisfied with the Minister's response. This is an important area. If we are to develop the charters it is important that they be seen to be inclusive and developmental. I am pleased the Minister is willing to explore the matter further and against that background I propose to withdraw amendments Nos. 52 and 53.
I move amendment No. 54:
In page 34, line 13, to delete "The" and substitute "At the request of a recognised institution or where necessary to comply with subsection (5), the".
This amendment has been resubmitted from Committee Stage. This section was amended on Committee Stage in the Seanad, when I understand the phrase "with the recognised institution" was added to subsection (7). This tempers the wideranging powers the legislation confers on the Minister in the matter of revoking or amending an order made under the Act. The amendment seeks to ensure that when the Minister proposes to amend or revoke an Act he would do so at the request of a recognised institution or, where such a course of action by him would be necessary, that it would be done under the terms of the Act.
I indicated on Committee Stage that this was a standard technical provision. The Minister of the day would require the power to order, amend or revoke an order made under this section, including an order made under the subsection, to cover any eventuality in the future. For example, if the recognised institution loses a delegated authority it would be appropriate for the Minister to revoke the order.
That would be covered under the legislation, and under the terms of the amendment.
Under the amendment the recognised institution would have to make the request; it may not want to do so.
It also covers where it would be necessary to comply with subsection (5).
Subsection (5) provides that a draft of a charter proposed under this section shall be submitted by the governing body of the recognised institution concerned, whereas subsection (7) is much broader in its remit and covers the entire section.
What if the Minister revoked the order without consent? Under section 31 each institution is required to have a charter. What happens if the Minister abolishes the charter by order?
There would be political uproar.
Exactly. Can the Minister, having consulted unilaterally – whatever that means – withdraw the charter? What happens to the institute under section 31? Does it continue with the previous charter or does it collapse?
It continues, but under the terms of the legislation it would have to draft a new charter.
I am not satisfied with the Minister's reply but I will not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 55:
In page 37, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:
"38.–On being delegated the authority to award its own national certificates and national diplomas, an Institute of Technology shall be given the same powers and stand-alone independence as the Dublin Institute of Technology under the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, 1992.".
I have a strong constituency interest in this amendment. Following the recommendations of the interim review group under the chairmanship of Professor Donnelly, the delegation of the awarding of national certificates and diplomas to Waterford and Cork institutes of technology is to become a reality. The Bill is part of that enabling process.
There is under-provision of degree places and a low participation rate in the south-east region, including Waterford. The amendment seeks to provide that an incremental path be made available to institutes of technology to enable them apply for review under the Universities Act, 1997, for the purpose of being granted university status. The Bill copperfastens into law a specific role for the Dublin Institute of Technology. It is cast within the framework of the historical. The Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, and the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, 1992, divorces the Dublin Institute of Technology from the other institutes of technology in that it is given a stand-alone, independent existence.
I am strongly of the view – it is shared in union circles – that if colleges are to make the progress they seek to make as rapidly as possible from the basis of having the validation of their qualifications rest with the national body, as happens at present under the NCEA, to validating all their own certificates, diplomas and degrees and, in effect, becoming a university, there is a need for a tiered, structured support system. Colleges that have reached the stage where they can award their own certificates and diplomas and remain in the resource pool used by the other institutes of technology are not given an independent existence outside of that group, as has happened to the Dublin Institute of Technology, which has applied for its review. That review is being carried out.
It has been completed and published.
The bottom line is that Dublin Institute of Technology has still not achieved university status.
Because of the review.
I accept that, but I said that the review had been carried out. However, the regional deficit which applies to the south-east means that there is a lower participation at degree level. In order to make the educational provision to meet that deficit, there must be another incremental step along the road. The Minister has indicated that it is his intention to introduce legislation which will devolve the disbursement of funding for all third level institutions to the Higher Education Authority. As one who represents a constituency in the south-east, that is all very well at this stage but, for example, the Government could fall or a reshuffle could take place etc. and it is possible that the next incumbent in the Minister's office will not have the same view in regard to the Higher Education Authority and the disbursement of funding.
There is a proven road which the Dublin Institute of Technology has gone down to reach its current position. If other institutes are to travel that road as effectively and rapidly, the same structure which applied to Dublin Institute of Technology must be provided for them. Good luck to the Dublin Institute of Technology or any other institute of technology, but I have instanced the long-standing problem in Waterford. Over the past five years, there has been a substantial improvement but the college is still a long way from fulfilling its potential. Its capacity in terms of research and development will inhibit economic growth and this deficit can only be made good at post-graduate level.
I spoke strongly about this on Committee Stage and I must refute a number of arguments made by the Deputy. I get a sense that there is an element of political mischief making, perhaps not by the Deputy but by somebody else who is spreading the nonsense that somehow Dublin Institute of Technology gets more favourable treatment than other institutes of technology because it is governed by a separate Act. That is absolutely not the case. This can be seen by looking at the record of the Government over the past two years. It is a dramatic illustration that it is not the case. The funding for Waterford Institute of Technology has improved dramatically since the Government took office, with a series of projects being sanctioned through the science and technology investment fund. Capital funding and degree provision have increased along with that for sub-degree programmes.
The Dublin Institute of Technology Act, 1992, was implemented in 1993 and we have moved beyond that. The Bill represents the dawn of a new era which will facilitate the growth of WIT. An external review group was put in place which assessed the institute objectively in terms of its procedures etc. and it recommended that it be given delegated authority to make awards at certificate and diploma level. The recommendation will be implemented as soon as this legislation is passed.
The next stage for WIT is to apply for delegation of authority for degree status and, ultimately, to apply under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997, if it wishes to become a university. A proper process is in place and the key issue is to ensure that it is objective. It is important that institutes concentrate on their strengths and on developing themselves as opposed to constantly looking over their shoulders at each other.
I told various institutes of technology to look at the legislation under which Dublin Institute of Technology operates. It is not perfect and one could argue that it is very restrictive in some respects in terms of its governance. If the spectre of legislation for every institute that is delegated authority is brought forward, the entire process would be slowed. The framework that will be established by this Bill will be to the benefit of WIT and others. WIT has the physical space to develop. Significant additional facilities are coming on stream, capital funding has increased and it will grow to the extent that it will make an additional significant contribution to the socio-economic development of the south-east. The Government is actively pursuing that policy.
I do not want to be disparaging but at the same time I want to bury the notion that somehow a separate section in the Department looks after the Dublin Institute of Technology and nowhere else and allocates extra funding as a result. That does not happen and we do not have sufficient staff to do that. The staff cover the entire technological sector, including the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Dublin Institute of Technology has lost funding because of physical constraints. It has not been in a position to participate in a number of recent skills programmes because it did not have the space.
I refute any suggestion that I or anyone who made representations to me are motivated by mischief making. This is a serious matter and not one for mischief making.
I know that.
That implication was ungracious but I will settle for refuting it. When colleges move to the point where they validate their own awards, such as certificates and diplomas, they operate at a different level. The Minister can make all the broad stroke points he wishes about the Dublin Institute of Technology, but the colleges that have reached the stage of delegation of awarding degrees and diplomas will have a different agenda from those which have not reached that stage. The next step, obviously, is to seek a review at the appropriate time under the Universities Act, 1997.
If in the short to medium term two institutes of technology have moved on to the next stage, competition for resources will not favour those because all institutes rightly will seek maximum funding.
I was not endeavouring to disparage the Deputy but he has not explained how a college obtains additional funding when it achieves delegation of authority.
It does not get additional funding. It gets funding in accordance with the degree to which it expands numbers in the college and the diversity and content of the programmes offered. There are various criteria regarding the basis on which funding is provided. However, if one delegates authority, but somebody else does not, it does not mean one gets a windfall. Officials work with the college on the basis of clearly set down criteria in terms of its needs on an ongoing basis.
I do not fully understand the argument. It appears a view is being put forward that a benefit arises under the legislation if the two institutes receive delegated authority. The Bill deals with a qualifications and not a funding framework and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. It is not the case that the drawdown of funds will be limited because they are within a broad qualifications framework. That is not the position and it could not be so.
The basic point, in the context of colleges operating within a group at a level that is moving in that direction, is that best interests of the colleges which have progressed will not be served. The Minister said that Dublin Institute of Technology is funded on the basis of its requirements and proposed expansion. However, the Minister must consider if that happened because the Dublin institute was operating independently and validated its own certificates and diplomas. Validation of its degrees rested with Trinity College, Dublin. The Minister must consider whether more students wanted to come within the remit of the college because of what was offered.
A comparison between one college and another is not the funding problem I am addressing. The issue relates to status. If more students want to attend a particular college, the resources to meet that demand will be sought and granted. As the prestige of colleges is raised, the issue is the number of students wishing to attend them and the range of programmes and services offered. One could argue the point that the Dublin Institute of Technology did not receive more because it was stand-alone and had its own legislation.
Ultimately, the status of colleges and the number of students who wish to avail of the programmes and services provided by them is the main factor in their growth. When the two colleges in Cork and Waterford are delegated awarding powers, the public's perception of them will change. It will be perceived as an upgrading. The interaction between prospective students and the colleges will create demand and lead to the provision of resources which would not otherwise be provided if all the colleges remained within the same pot for funds. There will be much potential if the role of the Higher Education Authority is changed under the legislation and it takes on the funding of the technological sector. However, in the interests of the south-east and my constituency, the avenue proposed in my amendment is the best course in terms of maximising the educational provision at third level.
As it is now 1.45 p.m, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day:
"That the amendments set down by the Minister for Education and Science and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."