Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 2 Feb 2022

Vol. 1017 No. 3

Higher Education Authority Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

I welcome this Bill and I wish to congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward, particularly given its long gestation and the many false starts. Higher education is a serious business. It is critical to our economic, social, and cultural progress. When you gather all the sources of public funding flowing into these institutions, it becomes a serious sum. Our methods of oversight and accountability are not appropriate. I said this to the Minister during previous statements. They do not keep up with the job of trying to keep tabs on our shrewd university presidents. Of course, we all want vibrant, independent and critical institutions, but other countries navigate these choppy waters of accountability and independence. I am still stunned at the cheek of the sector, using a largely publicly funded purse to fund an elaborate marketing campaign recently, Save Our Spark, hammering home its cause for additional funding. It is hard to believe these claims when the sector can drop €250,000 into such public relations, PR, generation and promotion.

As a Deputy, as I said before, I have no way to find out about, for example, UCD's exotic financial arrangements in the Orient. Do lecturers get topped-up salaries, effectively double pay? Who actually owns the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland? How can UCC afford €215 million for just two buildings? How much do they cost per square metre? On what planet is that square metre cost value for money?

The university's annual reports are junk PR. They are all sizzle and no sausage. The university presidents have grace-and-favour housing with wine cellars, butlers, chefs and waiting staff. Their extravagance in the sector is the stuff of legend. Yet, this year, I will be asked as a Deputy to provide a Vote of more than €2 billion for that sector. How can I know what I am supporting? It is terrifying that, collectively, our seven universities now appear to have borrowing of just under €1 billion. Presumably, there is some recourse to the State if these institutions cannot meet these debts. This is terrifying because university governance issues have clogged up the Committee of Public Accounts for years.

Time and again, the Higher Education Authority, HEA, has failed us. It has failed in its job of oversight and to properly allocate public resources in ways that best serve the public interest. Indeed, the HEA appears to allocate university funding based on a custom and practice model from before modern Ireland emerged. It has failed in its job to make the sector transparent. It has failed to stamp out bad practice or to hold runaway university presidents and their wild expenditures to account. They have demonstrated that they cannot be frugal. They have a tin ear to the public and cannot manage their social responsibilities. They operate under the fabrication that they are financially independent of the State, a situation which I understand is necessary to avoid their considerable debts hitting the national balance sheet, but that cannot be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility to the people of Ireland. That is why I welcome this Bill in principle. I commend the Minister on introducing it.

I advise the Minister that Trinity will have to be included in these measures. I know that Trinity has a special place in the heart of these Houses. Three Senators is a remarkable privilege. The Trinity of historic, aristocratic privilege was established by toffs with ruffs around their necks. I cannot be parleyed into escaping the simple fact that Trinity is now a modern institution of our Republic and substantially relies on public funding. The funding for Trinity is greater in measure than that provided to many other similar institutions. The patronage, custom and practice of the University of Limerick, as the Minister has reminded me, is the worst reason possible to avoid good governance. I welcome that these measures appear to replicate those of the new technological universities and represent a joining of the two sectors, so to speak.

This House and the Minister have promised Waterford a university of equal standing, along with the south east. This Bill appears to be putting the universities and technological universities on a similar footing, which is a good thing. This morning, on Leaders' Questions, the Taoiseach told me that the technological university for the south east was the signature investment that Government will make in the region, which I should concentrate all my efforts on. The Taoiseach is certainly signalling significant investment for the technological university for the south east. I hope that, along with this progressive legislation that the Minister is proposing today, that the quantum of funding that he will announce for the technological university for the south east will be as transformative as the Government signalled in the House this morning. The reform of third level education demands it. Ending the south east's brain drain and political and regional equity demand it. I hope that, despite the progressive governance legislation that the Minister hopes to enact here, we in the south east do not stand to be disappointed.

The continued growth of the higher education sector has led to the need for a dedicated Minister and Department in charge. I supported and welcomed last year the inclusion of apprenticeship courses in the Central Applications Office, CAO, process, which is an important step towards encouraging people into the trades, in line with European norms. There is progress with the technological university of the south east. I know the Minister has been supportive of the project and I welcome the progress that he and his Department are making towards the 1 May deadline. The university will be fully up and running, with, as soon as possible thereafter, a campus for County Wexford.

There benefits of the project and the university are worth repeating. The costs for students from Wexford and other south-east counties of having to go to university in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, or further afield is obvious. These costs are often prohibitive. Having a university in the south east may help to alleviate this. Investment in the area is helped by having a university presence. Private companies want to invest in areas where there is a workforce with the necessary skills and qualifications. The number of IDA Ireland jobs in Wexford is far below what it should be per capita. There may be a number of contributing factors causing this, but there is no doubt that our lack of a university is part of the problem. For a county with such amazing access to the UK and continental Europe, it is amazing that it is not promoted more prominently by IDA Ireland.

The core objectives outlined by the Bill are important, with the overall aim of providing a high-quality, student-focused system with appropriate oversight and accountability to underpin public confidence of stakeholders, students and the public. One area of concern, which is not just an issue in Ireland, but is a growing problem worldwide is the protection of freedom of speech. Ideas should be debated openly and voices of those who are willing to challenge prevailing views should be heard, no matter how unpopular, controversial, or unpalatable they may seem to some. Our third level sector should be a hotbed of debate, diversity of opinion and inquiring minds. Those values must be protected. The Higher Education Authority has an important role here. Section 47 mentions lifelong and flexible learning. It states that An tÚdarás will promote and support designated institutions of higher education in the development and provision of lifelong and flexible learning.

As someone who completed a degree as a part-time student, I was very grateful to be able to study in the evening in a way which allowed me to continue working. The nine-to-five college day certainly does not suit everyone and there are many people who would love to be able to continue their learning while holding down a full-time job. It is a challenge but our third level institutions go to great lengths to cater to people in this position.

I ask the Minister to give some consideration to those students who have not taken up their course and who will be competing with those who got predicted grades. It is an issue and it may prohibit some from gaining access to college and, unfortunately, they are some years away from being mature students. We do not want to lose these people to emigration. I would like to see us concentrating on finding a solution that will ensure that we can retain our own professionals here.

While I know it is not the Minister's area of responsibility, I will start by speaking on behalf of the students in my constituency who are not happy with the way they have been treated in relation to this year's leaving certificate. These students have been hugely impacted by Covid-19. They have had their senior cycle education totally disrupted. Some had underlying conditions which meant they were studying from home more than others. Some had no broadband and no computers or tablets. It is highly unfair that they are not being given the option of a hybrid leaving certificate. Schools have been closed for long periods and teachers and students have been off sick. Let us not forget that these young people have lost two years of living their lives like normal students. Again, I would urge the Minister to discuss this with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, and reconsider the decision.

In the aftermath of Covid-19 thousands of young people are struggling with mental health and addiction issues. Many have fallen out of the school system and have become socially isolated. There are huge waiting lists for psychological and psychiatric services, including counselling. The closure of Cara Lodge in west Cork in 2020 exacerbated an already difficult situation in my own constituency. We need to include the mental health of our young people when we are speaking about higher education. This must be a priority in terms of funding.

One of the main problems faced by students is trying to source accommodation. This is a complication for students every year. There must be some solution found for students who live hours away from college. In Cork South-West we have no public transport infrastructure, unlike the situation in the cities. While we have a private operator who puts on a service for students, he is under severe pressure to keep routes open and working. There is no harm in me fighting in this House for a third level college in west Cork. People from the Beara peninsula, Mizen Head, Sheep's Head and throughout west Cork are travelling up to Cork city and for some, the journey takes two or two and a half hours. There was talk previously of a third level college being set up in Skibbereen and that would be a super location. It would be of great help to those young people who are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to get accommodation in the city.

The Minister must provide clarification and assurances to the Dáil regarding third level funding. The director general of the Irish Universities Association, Mr. Jim Miley, welcomed the Government's Higher Education Authority Bill 2020 but said the issue of serious underfunding of the sector must also be addressed. In fact, Mr. Miley told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science that legislative reform of the higher education sector will be meaningless if institutions do not receive adequate funding. Currently the HEA's core legal function is to allocate recurrent funding to higher education institutions. When the original Act was signed 50 years ago there were approximately 20,000 students in higher education. This has increased to more than 200,00 students today, with the HEA now responsible for a much more extensive and diverse university sector. Let us not forget, within that, to include adequate funding for mental health.

I pay tribute to the third level colleges in Cork. Many students from west Cork are attending them and are getting a very high standard of education. As I said previously, they had a difficult time during the pandemic and there is not enough understanding of that by Government. While I know the leaving certificate is not the responsibility of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, it is an issue that proves how little understanding there is for our young people. Quite a lot of them are angered and hurt by the recent Government decision.

A third level college in west Cork is now a must. I do not want to see our young people walking the streets of Cork, unable to find accommodation. Couch surfing seems to be the way forward. I do not know how many people I met in west Cork who asked me before the colleges reopened if I knew where they could get accommodation in Cork city. It is an area in which I do not have expertise, other than the usual outlets to which I would direct people. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to opening a third level college in west Cork. We must work towards an understanding that students should not have to travel for two or three hours every weekend or end up sleeping on a couch during the week while trying to educate themselves and go further in life. I would not be doing my job as a public representative if I did not fight on their behalf.

One of the aspirations of this Bill is to facilitate improved engagement with students in order to promote equity in access to, and participation in, higher education. I appeal to the Minister here to consider the word "access" and to ensure that the pathway to an apprenticeship is more transparent and easier to navigate than it is currently so that increased participation will happen.

Turas Nua was appointed as a JobPath provider by the Department of Social Protection. The JobPath scheme left a lot to be desired for many people who found themselves out of work through no fault of their own. They found they were used for financial gain and pressurised into taking jobs that were not suitable. They were promised training and help with their CVs but this was at best minimal and inadequate. When applicants secured jobs themselves, their new employers were phoned on numerous occasions by Turas Nua. This frightened off new employers and often the applicants ended up not getting the job. Turas Nua stands for financial gain and inadequate training. The HEA needs to look at this and see for itself what is happening.

One of the main objectives of this legislation is to promote and support higher education institutions in achieving excellence in teaching, learning and research in higher education. There are more than 250,000 students in third level education. They are of mixed ability but have one focus, which is to be the very best that they can be. Studying in third level colleges and universities is all about working together with other students, working in teams, co-operating with others and pooling resources. This is very difficult to do in Zoom-type settings, as we know ourselves. I hope that this will be addressed as part of this legislation.

I have engaged with the Minister for Education on introducing an apprenticeship model at second level so that years are not lost for students who are happier doing practical subjects that would form the basis for apprenticeships. This could be introduced at the start of the senior cycle in second level, after the junior certificate or transition year programme when some students are thinking of leaving formal education. This could encourage this cohort of students to complete their education and they would have the skills appropriate to the career path that they will follow. These are practicalities that need to be addressed sooner rather than later in our education system. Practical skills are in short supply currently and if this is not addressed, we will have major issues down the road. I spoke to Limerick City and County Council and the Government five years ago about skills shortages. I sat on the board of the Limerick Education and Training Board, ETB, and spoke at length on the problems with apprenticeships and early school leavers. I pointed out that students were leaving school early but if we introduced an apprenticeship model after the junior certificate, they could do an apprenticeship as part of their second level education. Early school-leavers could do an apprenticeship within the two-year senior cycle and possibly complete the leaving certificate applied programme. They would then have the tools they need for the career they want to follow.

As the father of a leaving certificate student, I would point out that the Department had access to all of the quarterly exams from junior certificate to the present day. I refer to the summer exams, Easter exams and Christmas exams, the results of which are all uploaded within each school in digital format. That data is available in all second level schools in Ireland.

All that could have been accessed. All our students who suffered an awful lot of anxiety and distress might have been spared had the Minister used this. Yes, I want every student in Ireland to sit the leaving certificate but I also want them to be able to use their quarterly examinations, which are in a digital format in secondary schools. They could have been used. We could ask the schools to do quarterly exams and they would do it. They know their students. It would make up for the lack of teachers during Covid and the people who were missing at that time. The Minister and Cabinet made the wrong decision. They had the tools, experience and knowledge to make the right decision.

I thank the Minister for his recent trip to County Kerry, particularly Tralee where he was warmly welcomed, and rightly so. He certainly is committed to his current post.

I want to talk about the cost of education and the parents and young people who are trying to afford going to university. A young person who works during the summer is punished. That is totally wrong. It does not make sense. We want to encourage young people to work, whether at weekends, during summer holidays or at Christmas. The money they earn should be totally disregarded. We want them to have a work ethic so that they will go out to work. When they do, we do not want to penalise them but to reward them. That money will be petrol in the tank for the winter during their college time. We want to make sure that it does not affect their parents' ability to qualify for SUSI grants or any other type of assistance. We want to encourage work. I plead with the Minister to take that into account.

I congratulate everyone involved in the Institute of Technology in Tralee which merged with Cork IT in January 2021 to become Munster Technological University, Ireland's second technological university. That is great. I thank the presidents past and present, all the lecturers and everyone who works to make this institution the most vibrant educational tool we have in County Kerry. I am very proud of the fact that we have it.

I now turn to problems. There is the accommodation crisis for students across the country. I know of nightmare scenarios where students were carpooling to from Kerry to Cork or Limerick, for example. I remind the Minister of the dangerous aspect of that. Think of the law of averages if a group of students is travelling early in the morning or late in the evening in a car. They should not have to do that because of a lack of available or affordable accommodation. We surely should be able to ensure that students have proper, safe places to stay at a price they can afford.

Then there are the troubles our young students have with mental health. The whole uncertainty around the closing and opening of colleges and schools, online classes on Zoom and so on brought certain pressures to bear on young people that were not there before. I would like assistance to be available to help them. Remember, young people are the politicians and teachers of the future. They are the workers who will come after us. We want them to be minded and protected in every way they can. If a youngster is suffering from distress or needs to talk to somebody, I want to be sure that talk or assistance is available. There is nothing wrong with it. There is nothing wrong with a student coming out and saying he or she is having a bit of trouble and needs to talk to somebody about it. I thank the people who are involved in helping and supporting young people with that and I encourage them to keep up their excellent work.

I want to speak about the very important matter of trades. I adore the fact that people are getting an academic education. However, as the Minister will have seen on the day he visited Tralee, we need to acknowledge the importance of people becoming mechanics, blocklayers and plasterers. Good God, if you had a child today and you were fortunate enough for that child to grow up to become a plumber or electrician, it would never see a hungry day or a poor day. We want to encourage that so we have roofers and people who can build and use the two hands God gave them.

Long ago, there were courses and organisations such as AnCO where people could go away and learn the trade of publican and other trades in the hospitality sector, such as chefs, and all that goes with that. We should encourage that. The reason we have such a labour shortage in the country is that we are not encouraging enough of that. We should remember there is absolutely nothing in the world wrong with using the two hands that God gave us, maybe even more than using our minds, and of course to use one, we must use the other.

In the seconds remaining, I have to register the number of young people who have contacted me to say they are not happy that they were not afforded the hybrid model for the leaving certificate.

I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about our youngsters growing up and their future. We are educating children and pupils to the highest standard in our universities. I also welcome the Munster Technological University in Tralee, which is a big advantage. We needed it for so long and we are glad to have it since the beginning of last year. It is important for the vibrancy of Tralee and to facilitate youngsters from Kerry, Cork and the entire area.

We are educating people to the highest standard but we do not seem to be able to hold on to them. There is a shortage of staff in every area. Whether it is doctors, nurses, teachers or whatever else, we seem to be losing people. They go abroad and we are lucky if some of them come back. Is it pay and conditions or what is the reason? We must get to the bottom of it.

Recently, we learned that the HSE has been trying to appoint a senior consultant psychiatrist for south Kerry for over six years. That is not acceptable. What is wrong? Are we not educating people to qualified as consultant psychiatrists? As well as psychiatrists, we need psychologists. When youngsters are growing from boys and girls into men and women, there are physical changes but there are mental problems as well. It cannot be just a case of shoving a needle into them and giving them an injection or whatever they were being given. We have to talk to them and get to the root of the problem. We need more psychiatrists to deal with those cases. Our whole mental health system is a shambles. Surely the Government knows that.

We need to get more people into apprenticeships and the trades and at the same time allow them to do night courses if they want to get an academic education or a master's degree. They should be able to do their apprenticeship first. There is nothing wrong with being a plumber, electrician, mechanic, plasterer or blocklayer. We need them. We should not look down on those people.

There is an attitude now that people must go to university and perhaps not do those things. Maybe everybody is not suited to going to university. If they were working at home, it would be good for our rural areas. It would be good for them to mind their parents and families at home. They could be at home and work from home. As I said, not everyone is made for third level education. Some of the smartest people we know never went to university or college.

The points system is the other aspect. There are people who really want to get into a certain course or whatever but the points system is all wrong. It is all about places and if there are more applications, the points go up.

I have a few more things to say on the cost of getting a licence for a driver. We cannot get drivers, be they bus drivers or lorry drivers. The cost of getting licences is too high. Young people are being turned away because they do not have the funding and they are not getting help with it.

Since the Minister was appointed and the new Department established, he has certainly made huge strides on the reform of this area and indeed funding for it. That must be acknowledged. He has cut new ground in almost every part of the third level sector. When he visited the Institute of Technology Carlow he made quite an impression with the interest he took in all the projects that were displayed and each of the individuals he spoke to.

I also admired the fact he introduced the type of reform that deals with the accountability issue. That is hugely important. We rely on the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts to do an awful lot of this work. In the past, we have had various scandals but also good news stories emerging from the third level institutions. However, when accounting before the Comptroller and Auditor General, every aspect of expenditure and governance must be covered. Consideration should be given to expanding the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and providing it with the appropriate and necessary support to cover all the sectors for which it is responsible.

Of course, we can introduce all the legislation we like and establish a new regime but without a change in culture in the third level sector, we will face the same problems we have now in ten years' time. I see that culture now in Munster Technological University, MTU. A senior Member of this House and I sought a meeting with the president of MTU to deal with a legacy issue from Cork but we were told the president would not meet us. If a president of an educational institution can say that to Members of Parliament who are trying to address issues, it gives him or her licence to do as he or she pleases. It is early in the game for that. The Minister should intervene and insist on the appropriate steps being taken to ensure Members of the House who have issues have them addressed by the president or someone senior within the university structure. I would like to see the particular legacy case I speak of dealt with. I am tired of raising it here. The Minister has given me a good and positive hearing but these are legacy issues that will drag into new arrangements and structures, serve to contaminate them and cause further controversy and disagreement. I therefore ask that the Minister insist on MTU dealing with the issue before getting on with the business in hand.

The Minister mentioned that the Bill makes provision for co-operation between the HEA and other bodies, including SOLAS, Qualifications and Quality Ireland, QQI, and Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, and also for the establishment of a national apprenticeship office. I propose that, in the context of Carlow and Waterford, he consider purchasing a site in Kilkenny and establishing an apprenticeship scheme there to cover a wide range of apprenticeships. Kilkenny has always been the home of design and innovation. It had the Kilkenny Design Workshops and would be an ideal location to provide the types of schemes that would be necessary on a greenfield site connected to the university structures. The Minister should examine that proposal and provide the funding for a greenfield site for setting up the apprenticeship schemes many Members have asked him about in the course of this debate.

Kilkenny is also the centre of our Norman heritage. The Normans influenced our country greatly and had an influence right across Europe. Norman studies should be incorporated somewhere in the south east with a Norman trail because a significant number of those studying our culture and heritage are now travelling Europe using the tracks created by the Normans at that time. Perhaps a museum of Norman studies would be of interest and would add a tourism element to the structure of our universities.

My last point on universities is on student accommodation, which I believe the student representatives in Carlow mentioned to the Minister. The number of companies within the university structure is growing. Such companies should be encouraged to go down the route of providing student accommodation to ensure good quality accommodation is made available to our students. If there are to be profits from that kind of activity within the university sector, they could go back into the general coffers of the university and perhaps fund further initiatives.

The main point in all of this is that the Bill is moving in the right direction. We are getting transparency and accountability. It is new, innovative and imaginative and will achieve a great deal. My message to the Minister is to deal with those culture issues I spoke about. I truly want to meet the president of the MTU and others involved in it to discuss the legacy case I spoke about. Perhaps an early intervention would bring about a resolution and help the universities and the new structures to look ahead instead of having to look over their shoulder at legacy issues that are yet to be resolved.

I have three minutes and about 3 million things I want to say. I begin by picking up where Deputy McGuinness left off, with MTU. The raising of the flag over the rebranded MTU was a very positive day for education in Cork, Kerry and the whole region. I acknowledge there are still issues that need to be resolved with the transition. It is important the Minister is aware of that and keeps those issues under review. None of them is insurmountable. They can be resolved and I hope they will be.

I welcome the Bill. It is a necessary updating of the legislative framework of higher education which is half a century old. During that period, higher education has been completely transformed and expanded by many multiples. I welcome that the Minister took on board some of the Sinn Féin recommendations during pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, including on the importance of a role for cross-Border co-operation in higher education and also by giving the HEA a specific role in the promotion of the Irish language. Tá Conradh na Gaeilge agus go leor daoine eile den tuairim go bhfuil gá níos mó a dhéanamh ó thaobh ról na Gaolainne sa Bhille seo agus ó thaobh an Údaráis um Ard-Oideachas. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach go dtógfar san áireamh roinnt de na moltaí sin ar Chéim an Choiste chun go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ag croílár na heagraíochta seo agus go mbeidh sí á cur chun cinn. Beidh muid ag moladh roinnt rúin agus roinnt leasuithe chun é sin a dhéanamh.

I raise also a concern about the proposal to limit to 17 the number of members of governing bodies of higher education institutions.

There are 39 members on the board of the college I attended, University College Cork, UCC. It is a very inclusive board; that is its objective. It is a diverse grouping of people, including those from academic and non-academic backgrounds, current students, graduates, the mayors of two cities, representatives from other organisations such as IBEC, the education and training board and the chamber of commerce, and local elected representatives. They bring a unique viewpoint to the running of the university. If the Bill is implemented, this board will lose more than half its members. What 22 would go from the board and what viewpoints would lose out? There is an issue there. I know the point about efficient governance, but perhaps there should be some autonomy for organisations. If UCC is satisfied with how it operates, then perhaps that should be allowed because it has a diversity of voices.

I will take the opportunity to raise the issue of the leaving certificate about which we have had a lot of discussion. The Minister will know that I am disappointed with the decision. I think that students are disappointed and frustrated. I do not believe that every option was explored, but whether the hybrid or current option was selected it will be the case that there will be some issues with third level places, especially for high-demand courses. No matter what course of action the Government took, whether it opted for what Sinn Féin recommended or went down this road, there were going to be challenges. It is vitally important that there are targeted interventions for those high-demand courses, in particular.

I will make a final point very briefly. Last year, we raised the importance of fairness as between courses. We need to work on that for next year, but there is still an issue hanging over from last year. There were issues we asked the Minister to address last year. We would appreciate it if he were to come back to us regarding some of the advice that was to be provided at that point because we want to be constructive in that regard.

I am happy to see this Bill reach the floor of the House because it is crucial that our legislation underpins and supports our modernised and vastly changed higher education system, our students who are in that system and all those who work in it.

I also want to refer to the fact that yesterday we passed the Technological Universities Act, which approves the merger of Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology Sligo to form the Atlantic Technological University that will happen on 1 April. As an aside, I do not know who chose the name but I think it is an excellent choice. This is positive news, but in many ways it is just a start because we now have to put flesh on the bones. Putting the framework in place is an essential first step. Yesterday was the most important part of that process. Another plus in all of this is that all the students who graduate in 2022 will do so with university degree qualifications.

I will come back to the Atlantic Technological University because that is the core issue I want to speak about. I will raise one or two other points and perhaps come back on Committee Stage to refer to a few more. I listened to the debate last week. I thought I might be speaking on Thursday, but that did not happen and it ran into today. I remember the Minister said that the Bill does not address all the relevant issues. One of the things it seeks to do, and what I will refer to, is to promote equality of access to, and participation in, higher education. It is very important when we speak about equality of access that we do not neglect students with disabilities or students who have care responsibilities. Many of those students might need to access remote learning for some or part of their course, for example. This will have to form part of the reform of the Student Universal Support Ireland grant scheme. As I said, I know that is for another day, but access means access for all. We definitely need targets and indicators so that we can measure how we are improving equality of access. The Minister will know that if we cannot measure something, then we cannot really say whether we are going in the right direction, never mind achieving those targets. I believe that a reforming Bill such as this must be accompanied by the necessary measures not just to promote but to ensure equality of access.

As I said, one of the main reasons I am happy to see this Bill is that it is part of the support system for setting up the technological universities, TUs. There is a good regional spread between the west and the north west in the setting up of the Atlantic Technological University. I believe, as does the Minister and most people, that if it is properly resourced, and we will have to wait and see, it can act as a catalyst for better educational outcomes, economic development in the region, support for established and new businesses right across the region and, crucially, can provide world-class education and opportunities to the students who attend. In the context of the TUs, I will mention the very valuable work - I have done this before but I want to do it again - of the Minister's predecessor, the former Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, who was determined to ensure that these TUs would be set up across the entire country. It is great to see that the Minister carried on her work and now they are a reality. It tells many of us the truth that if a Minister is determined that things will happen, very often they do.

On 1 April this year, the Atlantic Technological University will become a reality. This Bill will help to set up the necessary framework. In that context, I will ask a number of questions and make a number of points. The main point I want to make relates to the incorporation of St. Angela's College, Sligo, with IT Sligo so that it can be part of the Atlantic Technological University from the very start. As the Minister is aware - I know he has visited St. Angela's and is a strong supporter of it - St. Angela's is the national provider of home economics and arts degrees, and home economics teacher education, in addition to providing nursing health sciences, disability studies, education, special needs education, religious education and food, nutrition and business management courses. As the Minister already knows, St. Angela's College will bring very significant and strategic assets to the Atlantic Technological University.

Incorporation of St. Angela's with Sligo IT commenced in May of last year with a view to full incorporation by January 2022. That was envisaged prior to the establishment of the Atlantic Technological University. However, the current Institutes of Technology Act does not provide adequate legislative provision for the incorporation. In fact, I believe that two new amendments must be added either to this Bill - I would like clarity which I know the Minister will give in his wrap-up since I spoke to him about it earlier - or to the Institutes of Technology and the Technological Universities Acts. I asked him to clarify for me what is necessary in order that we have a firm legal basis for the incorporation. It is my understanding that the two necessary amendments are relatively simple and straightforward amendments to the Institutes of Technology and the Technological Universities Acts. I think that would suffice. If this is the case, I ask the Minister to progress that immediately. If on the other hand, we need to amend this Bill, it would happen on Committee Stage.

Right now, the proposed date for the signing of the transfer agreement between St. Angela's and IT Sligo is 1 March 2022. Either this Bill must be passed before that can happen, with the amendments I spoke of, or the amendments to the Institutes of Technology and the Technological Universities Acts must be put in place.

It is crucial that everything is in place before 1 April when the Atlantic Technological University will come into being. It is my understanding that those amendments are not ready. It may be that they are still with the Department or with the Attorney General. I am not sure but wherever they are, I believe they are reasonably straightforward and could be progressed soon. If not, there is a real possibility that could have significant and unforeseen outcomes for the incorporation of St. Angela's College and IT Sligo because after 1 April it will no longer be IT Sligo.

I ask that the Minister provide a timeline for the enactment of this Bill and if he, as Minister, and the Government will ensure that this legislation is in place in time to allow for the incorporation of St. Angela's College to take place before 1 April? Or, as I said, will the Government ensure the amendments to the other Acts are in place by then? This is the most crucial matter. I listened to the debate last week and this evening and it is clear that there is fairly broad support for this Bill. There are some caveats and members of the Opposition rightly believe improvements can be made but there does not appear to be any systemic opposition to the Bill. I ask that the Minister make every possible effort to ensure the timely passage of this Bill.

I apologise for being so pedantic but this is really important. If it is the case that the Institutes of Technology and the Technological Universities Acts just need to be amended, then I ask that this be done speedily. I know that the Minister fully supports the incorporation of St. Angela's College with IT Sligo and, therefore, with the Atlantic Technological University. As I said earlier, if Ministers want things done, very often they are. We can both agree that when the new Atlantic Technological University is set up with its new board and new chair - whom I wish well - the incorporation of St. Angela's College may not be at the top of their agenda. They will set their own agenda within the context in which they operate. There could be a delay. Three months could easily turn into six months or a year and that would be a real disadvantage for St. Angela's College or for any other college not involved from the start. As the Minister will know, the start is when plans are put in place and when short-, medium- and long-term objectives and the allocation of resources are debated.

I am almost finished. I appreciate the Minister remaining in the House for my contribution. I listened to the contribution of Deputy McGuinness in which he mentioned that he requested - and a senior Minister or member of Government had requested - a meeting with the president of the Munster Technological University and that this request was refused. It is clear that new boards, presidents and chairs will have their own minds. I do not want to come back to the Minister in three or six months' time when I can do little and when I am not sure if the Minister can do anything. I appreciate that the Ceann Comhairle needs to move on so I will finish. It is not simple but it is possible and doable. I have spoken to the Minister and I know he supports the incorporation of IT Sligo and St. Angela’s College. Timing is crucial in that.

The next slot is for the Chairman of the relevant committee but he is not offering. I call Deputy Murnane O'Connor.

I know the Minister, Deputy Harris, has left the Chamber but I want to thank him for visiting Carlow. When I invited him he said he would come down and in fairness to him, within about six weeks he was down to visit the two excellent third level colleges we have in Carlow. I thank him for all the work he has done for us in Carlow.

Higher and further education have been greatly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. It is so important that we support the sector through these challenges, to ensure that educational opportunities remain and are made more accessible to everyone, particularly to the most vulnerable in our society. We see now more than ever the importance of supporting our research community to tackle the social and scientific problems posed by Covid-19 now and into the future. I have been working closely with the Minister, Deputy Harris, on the technological university for the south east and the integration of Carlow College therein but I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, a few questions. Will all the students who are currently attending Institute of Technology Carlow receive a technological university accreditation? Are we still on track for 1 May for the technological university for the south east? The Minister of State might come back to me on those questions.

I believe in inclusive education and that we must do all we can to ensure people feel safe at work and when studying. It is vital that we develop an action plan for equity of access and participation, especially for those who are economically or socially disadvantaged, those who have a disability or those who are from sections of society that are underrepresented in the student body in higher education. There is also here an opportunity for Ireland to assume a leading role in ending sexual violence and harassment in higher learning. I welcome the commitment to foster a culture in higher education where it is clear that unwanted behaviours are not acceptable. I am aware that considerable supports have been allocated to a number of initiatives in this area. The 2019 framework for consent in higher education institutions: Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive - Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions, is a welcome part of this. It is important that institutions embed this framework in their policies and procedures and that progress is adequately monitored.

It is most welcome to see this legislation include specific provisions on the establishment of a shared national apprenticeship office by SOLAS and the HEA to deliver a unified apprenticeship system. I raised the issue of apprenticeships and inadequate places with the Minister before and I spoke to him when he visited Carlow about counties Carlow and Kilkenny becoming the hub for apprenticeships in the south east. We have two excellent colleges there and we should lead in those apprenticeship roles. I ask that Carlow and Kilkenny be considered for that. As we know, everyone learns in different ways and the plan to provide a roadmap to a single apprenticeship system and new supports for both employers and apprentices is great but right now we are in a serious place in apprenticeships because of the pandemic. I have been contacted by several constituents in Carlow who have been highlighting the delays apprentices are facing now. What should have been a four-year apprenticeship is looking like it will be a six- or seven-year apprenticeship, which is concerning. This age group has suffered so much already and many of them worked right the way through the pandemic in essential services. Apprenticeship courses did not have the same remote learning possibilities as many other studies. Extra college places need to be made available for the apprentices to filter them through the system quicker. It is vital that we do this.

At a time of great economic uncertainty, when so many people fear for their future employment, we must ensure that higher education plays a vital role in our recovery. I emphasise that there is such excitement in the south east, particularly in Carlow and Kilkenny, that we will get a technological university. That will bring so much to Carlow and Kilkenny. Previous speakers mentioned student accommodation, which is so important. I know that is being addressed. Carlow County Council and others that have approached me have indicated that they will look at how we can make sure we have proper student accommodation for the students. It is important that we are prepared and ready. I understand that it will definitely be a technological university on 1 May but I ask that the Department communicate more and provide more information so that we are ready. We are all delighted with this but information and communication are key. I ask that the Department would come back to us on what is happening. I welcome this Bill; it is great for the south east that we have this.

Ireland’s standard of third level education is world renowned. We have an incredibly well-educated workforce and it is one of the many reasons we attract so many of the world’s biggest and best corporations to our shores.

Data from the Central Statistics Office show that in 2021, 53% of people between 25 and 64 in Ireland had a third level degree. That is more than half of the population. This Bill will inform the HEA to make it even more progressive. It will support higher education institutes to achieve the highest standards of teaching, learning and research.

One of the most important provisions in this Bill is the commitment to promoting and safeguarding the interests of students. That includes improving the equality, diversity and inclusion in our higher education institutions. A 2020 report by the Royal Irish Academy could only identify one full-time black female academic professor in Ireland. Only a handful of postholders of Asian or other minority ethnic backgrounds were identified. Just as worryingly, the report could not identify how many students from ethnic minority backgrounds are in third level education here in Ireland. We do not have those data and that is a problem because if we cannot identify or quantify a problem, we cannot fix it. Representation is important in all aspects of life and with higher education becoming so closely associated with better life outcomes, it is important that we have information on how diverse our third level institutions are. This legislation will make the HEA a regulator of the third level sector. With the role as regulator comes appropriate powers to seek information from our third level institutions and I hope the HEA will make equality, diversity and inclusion within our third level institutions a key priority, going forward.

I welcome the commitment of the Minister thus far to making third level campuses safer spaces for our students. Action on consent classes, reporting of offences and clearer support channels for victims of violence and harassment are all making a real difference. A published action plan for ending sexual violence and harassment on campus is now a requirement for all higher education institutions, HEIs. I welcome the role that the HEA will play in holding institutions accountable to ensure we continue to make progress in this area.

I am proud to sit on the governing board of University College Dublin, UCD. I am a graduate of UCD, which makes it all the more meaningful for me. I was elected to the governing authority when I was a councillor by my peers, the councillors on the executive of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG. I know from my experience the important role that local councillors can play on the governing authorities of third level institutions. They bring a rounded, external perspective. They bring the views of their constituents and their experience as decision makers on local authorities. They have valuable contributions to make and the Minister of State needs to value that. We should be keeping the link between governing boards and the AILG to ensure that our HEIs continue to benefit form the unique role that local councillors play. This Bill, as it is currently set out, erases the opportunity for councillors to sit on university governing bodies. Twenty-five councillor seats will be lost across University College Cork, UCC, UCD, the National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, and the University of Limerick, UL. In many cases, these are not new seats but have been in place since 1908. It would be a real shame if the Minister of State let this century-plus record come to an end because it would also mean the end of all local knowledge and regional links that councillors bring to university boards.

As I said, I am a former student of UCD and in my role on the governing authority, I have a direct window into the experience of today's students and faculty, an insight I am grateful to have as a legislator. I know the spirit of this legislation embodies the work that many HEIs are already doing to try to uphold the excellent reputation that Irish institutions have. Promoting and safeguarding the interests and experience of students should always be the priority at the heart of every third level institution. I welcome the important role this Bill will play in holding our third level institutions to an appropriate standard, holding them to account for the confidence of stakeholders, students and the public.

I join my colleagues in extending my condolences to the family of Noel Treacy, who, as a Member of this House, represented Galway East for almost 30 years. In my time knowing Noel and campaigning with him, I was always amazed by his ability with names and his connection with people up and down the country. He will be fondly remembered in this Chamber by all people of all parties and none. He made a significant contribution to public life as a Deputy, a Minister and in his leadership role in Galway GAA. I offer my sympathies to his wife, Mary, and their children. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and their officials for introducing the Higher Education Authority Bill. I will be supporting this piece of legislation which will reform how our higher education institutions operate. The Bill seeks to reform the supervision and regulation of HEIs and to modernise the regulatory role of the HEA. The Bill introduces a number of welcome requirements, including obligations on third level institutions to engage in strategic planning, enhanced engagement with students, improved access to higher education, comprehensive collection of statistics and other measures to ensure a consistent approach to governance is ensured across the sector and country. We are lucky in Ireland to have a number of outstanding third level institutions. Trinity College Dublin, TCD, and UCD are well known throughout the world. Academics and students from TCD and UCD, and of course UCC, NUIG, UL and Maynooth University have made a significant contribution to Irish society and internationally over the years, noting, of course, James Joyce, one of UCD’s most prominent graduates, who published his masterpiece Ulysses on this day 100 years ago in Paris.

In recent years we have seen the development of the higher education sector with even more students than ever taking up third level courses at traditional institutions and also the new technical universities, such as the Technological University Dublin. I welcome many of the proposed governance arrangements in this Bill, particularly the changes to ensure the unique and historic arrangements at Trinity College are respected. I thank the Minister for taking on board the feedback from academics at the university. Academic freedom is a core principle and nothing in this legislation will impinge on the academic freedom of higher education institutions or their staff which must continue to be protected in legislation.

It is apt that the Minister of State with responsibility for skills and further education, Deputy Niall Collins, is in the Chamber because I also welcome the provisions of this Bill that will further develop opportunities for apprenticeships. As we deal with the housing crisis and the challenges of climate change, including the need to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes, we will need a new generation of skilled, educated workers. This Bill will help further that critical objective.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Professor Andrew Deeks, the president of UCD, who is due to take up the post of president of Murdoch University, Perth, Australia. Professor Deeks has ably led the university since 2014, introducing many changes and overseeing a transformative programme at the institution. I wish him, his wife, Dr. Linda Deeks, and their daughter, Pearl, all the best as they depart.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It is a positive piece of legislation. The Government is yet again honouring commitments it made in the programme for Government. In the programme, there was a commitment to continue to reform how HEIs operate through their relationship with the HEA by enhancing performance, financial management, governance and transparency, and utilising the system performance framework to drive accountability and improvements in our higher education system. This Bill modernises the governance structures we associate with HEIs and third level institutions. It is a welcome development and I am glad the Minister of State, who represents the neighbouring constituency to mine, is leading this along with the Minister. Well done to them both. I hope this legislation passes through the Houses without too much amendment or argument.

I join with others in paying tribute to the late Noel Treacy. I express my deepest condolences to his wife, Mary, and their children. I met Noel many times. He had a unique art in that he could link someone to each townland, not just each village. He was able to pick out townlands in Parteen village that some people in Clare would be unable to identify. He was able to name people from that townland. His knowledge and mental database were incredible. Long before Lotus Notus or Microsoft Excel, we had people such as Noel Treacy who, at the click of a finger, could name off people in every parish in Ireland. He was an affable character and a smart guy. Nowadays we judge people in their early 70s as young - too young to die. Noel certainly fought his battles with ill health but he is going to heaven as a young man. I express my deepest sympathies to his wife and bereaved family.

I will reference a few other matters relating to higher education in the time I have left.

It is really fantastic to see the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest, TUS, expanding its campus out to Coonagh beside the Tesco site. There was a commercial development around Coonagh and much of it faltered. Of course, Tesco is there as an anchor tenant but there are many other buildings around it. I have a huge interest. Even though it is in County Limerick, it is only half a kilometre or so from where I grew up in Meelick. It is at the other side of our parish. Not a whole lot of work is going on there at the moment. We really want to see a bit of a spurt put back on that project because everyone looks forward to a hive of activity happening around that area.

Quite similarly, UL is moving into the Dunnes Stores site on Sarsfield Street in Limerick. Again, that bolsters that whole third level presence in and around the mid-west. It is something we look forward to. I would hugely appreciate if the Minister of State could address some of those issues in his reply.

Every person one meets along the corridors here and in the street has a smile back on his or her face again. We are slowly getting back to a bit of normality. My 20-year-old niece came to visit us the other evening. She is enjoying her first year at UL where she is studying business and French. We were delighted to see her in our house. We have not had her there in more than two years. I discovered that she is studying, as I said, business and French. There are something like 20-odd hours of contact lecture time in the week and then students have tutorials and all the other stuff they must do in college. Only three hours of her lectures at the moment are on campus in lecture halls. That is a little bit unique because business and French is one of those massive courses in UL. Many of the business lecturers could often have 400 or 500 students in the lecture halls. They actually hold some of those lectures the concert hall.

I attended UL for four years. If we are getting back to normality, and that certainly seems to be the pathway we are on in terms of all sectors, people like Aisling Biggane and many others starting out in third level should also go back to that. We have antigen tests and will have many layers over the coming months to ensure we have armour to fight back against Covid-19. We need to give students that experience. Three hours of contact time in a lecture hall is not really where we want to be in early February of 2022.

I ask the Minister of State the Minister and, indeed, anyone from the third level institutions who may be watching this evening to urgently review that. We have somehow managed to get all other sectors back to some degree of normal functionality but third level students need it as well.

I wish each and every one of them a good semester. Many of them have gone back with gusto since January. They should enjoy it. They are definitely the best days. I know people will say that the best days are when one is elected to the Dáil, but they are not. They were in UL trying to find the next house party and trying to drag oneself into college the next day.

Would the Deputy go back?

I would go back in a heartbeat-----

He would get away with it.

-----if the Ministers want to send me back on some kind of investigation. I would be delighted to go back to my student days. They really are the best days. Those best days have been denied to many youngsters, however, and we, as Members of this House, need to stand up for them to give them back that bit of normality. They are the fun years but also those in which people acquire the skill sets that will lead them through their adult lives.

I will start by making a comment on Deputy Crowe's contribution. It was a very well-merited and passionately given contribution but not all of us got that experience of full-time education in third level institutions. We cannot forget about those other learners. I was one of those people who returned to college as an adult and a single parent while raising my daughter alone. We should not exclude people like that because when all we hear is one side of what college represents, we can mistakenly and absolutely unintentionally forget there is also another group of learners.

My comments were not exclusionary.

I take them in the spirit the Deputy meant.

I am not trying to in any way criticise. I am simply putting on the record that we do not all have that experience. It is as valid and meritable for everybody else who gets there regardless of which route they take.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022. It provides for the necessary items relating to the internal governance of universities, technological universities and institutes of technology by reforming the size and composition of their governing bodies. This is very worthy legislation. It is also a worthy undertaking because if we look at education over the years, the existing legislation was enacted in 1971. I was not even born in 1971. Education changes and legislation needs to change with it accordingly.

I fundamentally believe that education should be considered in the context of a holistic approach. As I mentioned in the context of Deputy Crowe's contribution, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach and no education system is going to be absolutely perfect 100% of the time. If we aim for something holistic, however, we will at the end have individuals who are not only well-educated on paper through books but well-rounded individuals who are best placed to be able to actively pursue whatever career they want.

As part of that, I believe the Bill should include the welfare and safety of students and the climate in which they study. I draw the Minister of State's attention to the report in The Irish Times last week, which, to be quite frank, makes for harrowing reading. It relates to the NUIG study on sexual harassment in higher education that was conducted online with almost 8,000 students and 3,500 staff in third level institutes. The article begins by stating: "Thousands of college students at third level say they have experienced sexual violence or harassment." These statistics will no doubt strike fear in the heart of any parent who has a young person going off to college when, as the article reported:

More than 3,000 female students responded to questions on non-consensual sex. Of these, 34 per cent – more than 1,100 students – experienced non-consensual vaginal penetration through coercion, incapacitation, force, or threat of force.

That makes for extremely hard reading. It is very hard to have to read it out on the floor of this House, but it is what the students reported.

With regard to the Bill, there is an element of a missed opportunity because the study recommends that we create a "positive culture of respect, safety, and consent". The funding and structures for that to happen need to be embedded through consent frameworks in our universities, colleges and institutions. The funding of essential activities could also include in some way towards that requirement. Safety on campuses across the country for staff and students could have been improved considerably and continuously if measures to do so and the changes required had been given consideration in the context of this legislation.

It is claimed that the Bill will promote a student-focused system. It appears, however, and it has been said to me, that because of the reforms to governing bodies, students will actually have less representation on those bodies in all higher education institutions. The Minister of State needs to clarify the potential impact this could have for representation at undergraduate and postgraduate level on students and their governing bodies, on the representation of academic and non-academic staff and on trade union representation.

We have repeatedly heard shocking details over the last number of months that highlight the very real dangers women face when going about their daily activities. There were more reports today and yesterday in the national newspapers about this. We speak eloquently and movingly at times but those words need to be underpinned by definitive actions and followed up with legislation, through which we will deliver a real and measurable change for women and girls. To paraphrase a statement that has been used quite often recently, until society is safe for women and girls, it will not be safe for any of us. That needs to be underpinned in legislation and action. Otherwise, how will any of us, like myself and many more in this House who are lucky enough to have them at home, look our daughters in the eye?

Ar dtús báire, tarraingím aird na dTeachtaí ar ainm an Bhille seo sa Bhéarla. Is é Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 an t-ainm atá air. Níl a leithéid de “higher education authority” luaite áit ar bith sa Bhille seo. Cruthaíodh eagras darbh ainm an tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachas. Is é sin an t-ainm atá air sa Bhille seo agus an t-aon ainm a bhí air sa Higher Education Authority Act 1971 chomh maith. Feictear sa bhrandáil atá déanta ag an údarás gurb é an Higher Education Authority, HEA, atá i gceist seachas an t-ainm dlíthiúil Gaeilge, áfach. Caithfear féachaint air sin agus déanamh cinnte de nach bhfuilimid ag déanamh brandála ar a leithéid de seo mar a dhéantar in a lán eagras Stáit eile as Béarla.

I gcásanna eile ar nós an Achta lenar bunaíodh Údarás na Gaeltachta, is é Údarás na Gaeltachta (Amendment) Act 2010 an teideal atá air, fiú más i mBéarla a bhfuil siad ag trácht air, fiú más i mBéarla a bhfuil siad ag trácht air.

Léiríonn an féin-Bhéarlú seo go bhfuil dualgas an Údaráis um Ard-Oideachas i leith na Gaeilge fágtha ar lár, ach maidir le cur i láthair an eagrais féin, ní aon ionadh é go bhfuil dearmad déanta ag an Údarás ar an gcur chun cinn i leith na Gaeilge san ardoideachas mar sprioc reachtúil lárnach aige agus níl sé sin léirithe mar ba chóir dó a bheith sa reachtaíocht seo.

Níl naimhdeas leis an nGaeilge i gceist sna hollscoileanna ná sna hinstitiúidí tríú leibhéal ná fiú san Údarás féin. Is é a mhalairt a thagann trasna nuair atáthar ag labhairt leo siúd atá ag bainistiú na n-ollscoileanna agus araile. Is iad meas agus bá don teanga náisiúnta a bhíonn ann. Is léir, go minic, nach dtuigeann siad an ról atá acu déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil an Ghaeilge lárnach ar an gcampas agus an teanga a spreagadh i gceart in aon chinneadh a dhéanann siad agus a ghlacann siad maidir leis an gcoláiste agus nach leor an dea-thoil a léiríonn siad.

Níl siad, mar institiúidí, mórán níos difriúla ó Ranna, comhlachtaí nó institiúidí Stáit ach caithfear meabhrú dóibh go bhfuil ról acu, ní amháin ag slánú ár dteanga ach an pobal féin a ghríosú chun í a úsáid agus is gá don Stát cuidiú leis an ról sin ar aon chaoi. Tá spriocanna earcaíochta acu anseo, ach go háirithe. Ba cheart go mbeidís sin cuí ach go háirithe anois agus Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021 rite agus go dtuigeann siad gur gá dóibh cloí leis sin agus b’fhéidir é sin a shárú ar bhealach maith le dul chun cinn a dhéanamh ar an 25%.

Is gá na huirlisí a thabhairt dóibh chomh maith chun cuidiú leo san obair sin amhail infheistíocht foirne agus cúnamh eile, más gá, chun déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil an earnáil ardoideachais nó an chuid sin dár gcultúr chun tosaigh ó thaobh spreagadh agus chur cinn na Gaeilge.

Is léir nach ndéantar réimse leathan dóibh a ndóthain d’ábhar tríú leibhéal a chur ar fáil chun an deis a thabhairt d’iardhaltaí ó na Gaelcholáistí leanúint leis an oideachas trí Ghaeilge ag an tríú leibhéal, in ainneoin Alt 4 den Higher Education Authority Act 1971 chun an Ghaeilge a hathchóiriú. Níl éileamh á chothú chun ábhar staidéir trí mheán na Gaeilge ag na hollscoileanna ná na hinstitiúidí teicneolaíochta agus mar sin, glacann mic léinn gur gá dóibh casadh ar oideachas trí Bhéarla go minic don chéad uair dá saolta. Tá fadhb mhór ann maidir le leanúnachas an Ghaeloideachais sa Stát seo.

Tá beagnach 50,000 dalta ag freastal ar 290 scoil lán-Ghaeilge agus Ghaeltachta ar fud na hÉireann, dar leis an eagras Gaeloideachais agus tá sé seo ag fás. Is léir nach bhfuil líon na spásanna sna Gaelcholáistí a thagann i ndiaidh na nGaelscoileanna in ann an t-éileamh a shásamh ó na h-iardhaltaí. Ag an dara leibhéal, titeann an spás atá aige go dtí díreach faoi 70,000 spás. Is difríocht ollmhór é sin agus níl ach 79 Gaelcholáiste sa Ghaeltacht nó lasmuigh di. Tá géarchéim i gceist maidir leis an dualgas bunreachtúil ag an Rialtas agus an dualgas atá ag an Roinn Oideachais cearta daltaí ag éileamh oideachais trí Ghaeilge a shásamh.

Is léir ó na figiúirí sin nach bhfuil na spásanna ann ag an leibhéal sin, fiú ag an mbunleibhéal, áit a bhfuil éileamh níos mó ná mar atá spásanna. Éiríonn sé níos measa fós nuair a théitear go dtí an tríú leibhéal, áit a bhfuil fíorbheagán cúrsaí ar fáil trí mheán na Gaeilge. Mar is eol dúinn ar fad, níl aon institiúid trí leibhéal lán-Ghaeilge ar leith inar féidir le 17,000 dalta a bhfuil Gaeloideachas meánscoile faighte acu freastal air. Ar ndóigh, níl daltaí Ghaelcholáistí na Sé Chontae san áireamh sa 17,000 sin ach oiread.

Dar le figiúirí ón Roinn Breisoideachais agus Ardoideachais, Taighde, Nuálaíochta agus Eolaíochta:

Ba é líon iomlán na mac léinn a chláraigh ar chúrsaí ina raibh an Ghaeilge mar phríomh-chomhpháirt ná 2,628 in 2019, agus 2,834 in 2020.

Cuimsíonn sé sin máistreacht, baitsiléir, dioplóma agus teastas. Is figiúr tubaisteach é sin. Chuaigh sé ó bheagnach 20,000 síos go dtí 17,000 agus ansin síos go dtí thart ar 2,500. Is tubaisteach amach is amach é. Is é an Stát atá gafa leis sin agus is é an t-údarás ardoideachais a bhfuilimid ag déileáil leis anseo atá gafa leis sa chás seo.

Níl anseo ach buille faoi thuairim, dar ndóigh, mar ní dhéanann an Roinn déileáil i gceart leis na figiúirí agus níl a fhios againn an bhfuil sé níos lú fiú ná sin. Sa bhliain 2020, bhí breis agus 2,800 cláraithe ar chúrsaí ina raibh deis acu staidéar a dhéanamh ar an nGaeilge nó ábhar trí Ghaeilge ach is é an maximum é. Níl sé sin díreach i nGaeilge nó ina chúrsa iomlán trí Ghaeilge. Mura bhfuil an tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachas, fiú, ag déanamh anailíse ar líon na gcúrsaí ná na mic léin atá ag tabhairt faoi ábhar trí Ghaeilge, conas is féidir leis a chinntiú go bhfuil an Ghaeilge á cur chun cinn sna hollscoileanna nó na coláistí?

Fiú agus muid ag glacadh leis an uasmhéid, is léir go dtiteann Gaeilgeoirí thar bhruach na haille ag gach leibhéal den oideachas. Titeann líon na ndaltaí ó 50,000 ag bunleibhéal go 17,000 ag meánleibhéal agus faoi bhun 3,000 ag an ardleibhéal. Is léir nach bhfuil réimse ábhar ar fáil atá trí Ghaeilge. Is cúrsaí as Béarla iad an chuid is mó de na cúrsaí seo, le modúil i nGaeilge.

I measc na gcúrsaí atá as Gaeilge, tá cúrsaí gnó, meán, ealaíne agus múinteoireachta. Seachas Ollscoil Chathair Bhaile Átha Cliath, Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh, Mary Immaculate College agus cúrsaí amháin i IT Phort Láirge, is cosúil nach gcuireann aon institiúid eile tríú leibhéal sa Stát cúrsaí ar fáil seachas cúrsa ar an nGaeilge amháin. Níl aon deis ann modúl ná céim leighis, dlí, innealtóireachta, eolaíochta ná altranais a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge. Tá teip ar an gcóras agus bíonn tionchar ag an teip seo ar dhaltaí go pearsanta agus ar an tsochaí i gcoitinne.

Cruthaíonn sé fadhbanna do dhaltaí a mbíonn orthu iompar ar an mBéarla don chéad uair go hacadúil tar éis dóibh gach rud a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge sa bhunscoil agus sa mheánscoil toisc nach bhfuil rogha acu leanúint lena gcuid staidéir trí Ghaeilge. Tharla sé sin dom féin. Ba é an chéad uair a bhí orm casadh ar an mBéarla ó thaobh oideachais de ná nuair a chuaigh mé ar ollscoil. Is tamall maith de bhlianta ó shin é agus tá sé tar éis dul in olcas ó shin.

Dúradh liom ag an am go bhféadfainn mo scrúdaithe a dhéanamh as Gaeilge ach bhí an cúrsa go huile is go hiomlán i mBéarla agus bhí na téacsanna ar fad i mBéarla. Níor ghlac mé an deis toisc go mbeadh sé i bhfad oiread níos deacra dom an dá thrá a fhreastal ag an am. Ba mhasla a bhí ann. D’fhéadfainn dul go dtí Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh, ag an am ach sa Choláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath ab ea an cúrsa a raibh mé ag iarraidh tabhairt faoi.

Glacaim leis go bhfuil níos mó i gceist le hollscolaíocht na díreach cúrsaí nó módúil. Bíonn seimineáir agus ceardlanna ann chomh maith agus taighde a bhfoilsítear go minic. Bíonn an t-infreastruchtúr taighde amhail bunachar sonraí agus a leithéid ann agus bíonn comhluadar i measc na mac léinn agus an lucht múinte ann chomh maith.

Aithním go bhfuil obair mhaith á déanamh in áiteanna áirithe agus go bhfuil sí ag dul ar aghaidh. Thosaigh Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge sraith Léachtaí um Lón anuraidh chun an comhluadar léinn sin a dhaingniú i measc lucht labhartha na Gaeilge agus tá cainteanna tar éis a bheith acu ar cheisteanna eacnamaíochta agus polaitíochta agus ar chúrsaí leighis, dlí agus ailtireachta. Ní ach céim bheag bhídeach é agus is céim é sa treo ceart. Tá dualgas roimhe agus roimh choláistí eile a macasamhail a dhéanamh. Tá sé ag triail chomhluadar léinn sa Ghaeilge a chothú agus tréaslaím leis sa chás sin.

Tá obair á déanamh agus tá i bhfad oiread níos mó oibre le déanamh ó thaobh chúrsaí Gaeilge sna hinstitiúidí ardleibhéal nó tríú leibhéal. Is é ceann de na fadhbanna atá ann ná go gcuireann sé leis an íomhá den Ghaeilge atá i measc roinnt daoine ó thaobh na Gaeilge de, nach bhfuil sa Ghaeilge ach teanga scoile in áit teanga náisiúnta bheo bhríomhar atá fite fuaite tríd an saol.

Caithfidh muidne ar fad léiriú go bhfuil fiúntas sa Ghaeilge agus go bhfuil deiseanna ann do Ghaeilgeoirí, ní amháin i saol na n-ollscoileanna ach sa saol domhanda chomh maith. Ní gá dúinn fiú díriú díreach ar dhaltaí i nGaelcholáistí mar tá a lán daoine eile ann atá ag iarraidh bogadh ó scoileanna Béarla toisc gur sin an áit a leaindeáil siad mar nach raibh aon spás dóibh i gcoláistí Gaeilge. Go minic bíonn siadsan ag iarraidh tabhairt faoi staidéar trí Ghaeilge nó staidéar a dhéanamh ar an nGaeilge ach níl an spás dóibh ann. Muna bhfuil an Ghaeilge á chleachtadh agus muna bhfuil sí le cloisteáil sna hollscoileanna, tosaíonn an teip ar stór na bhfocal agus ar an bhfoghraíocht i measc na n-ógánach. Go minic, cailleann siad an mhuinín a bhí acu ag leibhéal na hardteistiméireachta agus is trua sin mar bhí siad tar éis 14 bliain a chaitheamh ag éisteacht leis an nGaeilge ar scoil chuile lá. B’fhéidir go raibh roinnt acu ag troid ina choinne ach bhí siad á dhéanamh. Caithfimid déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil an deis acu leanúint ar aghaidh leis sin agus an t-atmaisféar Gaeilge sin a chothú i measc na n-ollscoileanna.

Seo ceann de na príomh-phointí má tá an Stát chun an dúshlán agus na spriocanna atá leagtha síos againne anseo a shroicheadh. Chaith gach duine anseo vóta d’Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021, a leag amach an sprioc go mbeadh 20% den státseirbhís atá á earcú amach anseo inniúil sa Ghaeilge. Muna ndéanann muid infheistíocht cheart san ollscolaíocht agus in oideachas tríú leibhéal, ní bheidh muid in ann an sprioc sin a shroicheadh nó dul chun tosaigh air. Sin an dúshlán is mó. Bhí An Garda Síochána os comhair an choiste againn inniu agus sin an rud ceannann céanna a dúirt mé leo. Caithfidh muidne, agus an Stát, díriú isteach ar dhaoine atá Gaeilge acu a mhealladh isteach sa státseirbhís agus sna poist sin. Má théann siad go dtí an ollscoil caithfimid déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil an chéim nó an cúrsa atá siad ag staidéar ar fáil as Gaeilge agus gur féidir leo teacht amach as sin agus post a fháil sa státseirbhís. Ba chóir go mbeadh siad in ann post a fháil lasmuigh de freisin, nó poist a chothú iad féin trí Ghaeilge, chun a léiriú don domhan go bhfuil an teanga beo beathach agus nach teanga í atá i mbaol báis. Ba chóir dúinn é sin a dhéanamh agus tá ról lárnach ag an Údarás um Ard-Oideachas i gcinntiú go dtuigeann gach uile choláiste agus gach uile institiúid tríú leibhéal sa tír an ról lárnach atá acusan chun go mbeidh an Ghaeilge beo beathach amach anseo.

I do not think it is possible to overstate the impact and importance universities have had on the course of Irish history. We all know the role that was played by Trinity College over the centuries but there was also the establishment of the Catholic University of Ireland in the 19th century. That became the Royal University of Ireland and subsequently the National University of Ireland, which had a huge impact in establishing Irish independence. It educated a huge group of Irish nationalists who were able to articulate the cause of Irish independence and I do not think that independence movement would have happened without us having a national university in the country.

Beyond that, part of the reason Ireland has been so successful as a country since the Second World War is that we have produced huge numbers of intelligent, articulate graduates from our universities. Universities have an extraordinary transformative impact not just on a country but, more specifically, on a region. UCD has had a huge impact on the whole of Dublin in generating growth there. As the Minister of State will know, Limerick has to a large extent been transformed by the university that has grown there over the past 30 years or so. My hope is that the legislation we are discussing today, along with the legislation in respect of technological universities that was enacted more recently, will ensure we can also transform Irish society in a meaningful way, in the same way universities transformed it in the past.

One of the criticisms we can make of universities when we look back at them is that they were very focused on academic achievement and the creation of expertise within the professions or the arts. One of the great benefits of technological universities is that they recognise that there are other aptitudes, skills and excellencies that can be developed. I had the opportunity, along with members of the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, to visit the Munster Technological University before Christmas. It is a wonderful location and one can see the type of people who have been targeted there. We need to ensure that in the future universities and technological universities target not just groups who are very talented academically but also those who are very talented with their hands, mechanically and in other walks of life. Once we can target a broader group of people, we will be able to provide greater opportunities for them.

Education is a liberation. It provides people with liberation and enables them to achieve greater things in their lives. Hopefully people who may have felt that the education system was not for them because their expertise was only in manual skills will now recognise that the expertise they can get through apprenticeships or technological universities is as worthwhile and significant as the other expertise that was achieved previously in respect of academia.

In this Bill we are trying to achieve a balancing act and ensure that universities and third level institutions retain their academic and intellectual independence while at the same time ensuring that, since the State funds them, it has some level of control. The impact of Covid on students was mentioned. It had a devastating impact on their student lives. When a president of one of the universities was before the education committee, he indicated that it was a matter for lecturers to determine when lectures would recommence in person. That is not acceptable in circumstances where the State is funding universities. It is not up to lecturers or individual institutions to decide whether or when they will go back to in-person teaching. That is why it is so important that some outside regulation and control is exerted by the State, since we are giving them that money.

We also need to recognise that we do not want to exert too much control over universities. The reason they succeed and are so influential is because they have that intellectual independence They are able to make decisions about what type of academic expertise they want to study, or what manual expertise in the case of technological universities. We need to retain that independence while at the same time ensuring the State is getting good value for the money we have to put into universities. The funding of third level institutions is another debate to which we will return.

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this important legislation. Since the establishment of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the elevation of its Minister to Cabinet ranking, this is probably the most important all-encompassing legislation to come to the floor of the Dáil. It is very easy to dwell on many different aspects of this so I will try to limit my contribution to two or three remarks.

Deputy O'Callaghan rightly referred to the importance of retaining the independence of our academic institutions. While that is extremely important, there must be safeguards. I am concerned about the impact some third-party actors, including other State actors, have had in trying to influence the academic teaching in some of our third level institutions in recent months and years. There have been very worrying reports that have led to academics, including from University College Dublin, coming forward about the inappropriate contact and influence from other actors over their academic freedom and their ability to teach students the truth and allow them to gain critical analysis skills. It is still important that the State plays an extremely proactive role in that. That feeds into the wider issue of the global standing of our higher education institutions, which is extremely important. We have to ask what the purpose of higher education institutions is and where the opportunities are.

Although many Members have highlighted the high standing of Irish institutions globally, we all know they can do better in global rankings and, most importantly, through attracting funding, whether through the new model of Horizon or co-operating with other institutions, particularly in other EU member states, to attract that investment and research and development capability.

The key component of this legislation on which I would like to focus my remaining time is the whole area of the student experience. There are many different areas at which we can come at this. There are many different examples of what a third level student or a student in a higher education institution could look like in terms of their gender, their age and their background. We need to make sure higher education is genuinely accessible to all and that the level of higher education is appropriate for all. We need to throw off the shackles of outdated mentalities when it comes to apprenticeships and much else. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, has been proactive in this.

As many Members have done, it is tempting to talk about their own third level experience and that is all very important because it frames our debate. However, let us be frank. Not all of our experiences, and particularly mine, were recent. One area I regret, although I do not like to dwell on regret, is the decision I made quite some years ago to turn down the opportunity to go on an Erasmus. This is an area that feeds not only into the student experience, but into the development of our higher education institutions and the ability to promote Ireland as an Erasmus destination and to attract students from across the European Union to come into our third level institutions and to complete their year of undergraduate studies. This does not only relate to our third level institutions or to our graduate studies, but to other vocational training. Perhaps, in due course, those who are doing further research studies, such as post-doctoral research, may think of Irish institutions as their destinations.

Equally, we should encourage all Irish students to take up that opportunity to go to another EU member state to study there for a year, to appreciate the cultural opportunities and to arm themselves with a modern European language because we, as a people, are desperately bad at this. We have an inability to be multilingual. Beyond the cúpla focal and our abilities in English, we do not have enough French speakers, Spanish speakers, Romanian speakers or Polish speakers in this country. If we look at the pre-Covid-19 figures, only 3,500 or so Irish students were taking up the opportunity to go on an Erasmus each year and it was heavily weighted towards France. If we can achieve anything through this legislation and through returning the student experience, it will be to show students that there is so much more to third level than the books and the lecture halls. It is about the wider experience. Crucially, we must give them the tools, the funding and the support to take up all the opportunities open to them. I look forward to contributing to this legislation in more detail on a further Stage.

At the outset, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, and the work his Department has done since its establishment. In many respects, that seems like a long time ago, because of Covid-19 and everything that has happened in the intervening time. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has really hit the ground running. This legislation is evidence of that. I agree with some of the points Deputy Richmond made, although they might not directly relate to this legislation. He mentioned in passing the emphasis now being placed on apprenticeships. I welcome that as well as the fact that we have record numbers, because we have never needed them more. I welcome also that apprenticeships are being properly presented by the Department as a viable, worthwhile and important career path for many of our young people.

I speak as somebody who had the opportunity to go to third level, and, as Deputy Richmond said, it was a few years ago now. I also speak as a child of parents who never even got to go to secondary school. The transformation that has happened in the last 20 or 30 years has been huge. We have third level institutions dispersed throughout the length and breadth of the country, although they are not in every county. There is not one in my county, and this goes back to some political decision that was made before I was born and it still causes some ire. However, they are accessible in all their forms. This has been a huge source of economic, cultural and social success for Ireland, particularly in the last 20 or 30 years. The fact is that people from all sorts of backgrounds can aspire to attend third level and pursue a course of education or study that they wish to pursue. That is not the case in many countries. It is too often taken for granted, by some people at least, in this country.

I want to speak specifically on the technological universities. One of the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins’s predecessors, the former Minister of State, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, brought through the legislation to allow for their establishment. Throughout the regions we have seen the impact the institutes of technology, and before them the regional technical colleges, have made in terms of students from geographic areas and limited economic backgrounds being able to aspire to attend third level and to gain third level qualifications. The technological university development is the logical next step in that.

Deputy Richmond and others referred to the fact that Irish third level institutions have good standing internationally, given the teaching that takes place within them. I speak about my own region, the south east. One of the things that always struck me in my almost 20 years in the Oireachtas was that, as a region, it was not always seen to be at the forefront of economic deprivation or of underachievement and yet the south-east region has until now continuously had the lowest levels of third level attendance. It had the lowest levels of disposable household income. For some reason, Wexford and some of the other counties within the region have traditionally always lagged way behind. That is part of the reason I welcome the technological universities. Wexford is very much included in the proposal for the south-east university development, as is my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. That is crucially important if we are to improve the quality of life and the standard of living.

The purpose for which we are elected to this House is to represent the people who put us here and we are here to make their lives a little bit better. For too long, the south-east region has been without a university. That has affected our national economic statistics because so many of our students leave the region to go to Dublin or to Cork or to leave the country and never to come back. That is why the technological university is so important. At least it will give more of them the opportunity, hopefully, to stay within the region as well as to economically boost the region into the future.

To wear my particular Kilkenny parochial colours, I spoke earlier about apprenticeships. The Kilkenny Education and Training Board, ETB, is examining the provision of a new apprenticeship centre and the ETB and the local authority are looking at the possibility of providing a campus facility in Kilkenny for the new university of the south east. As Covid has shown us probably more than anything, the reality of it is that the university of the future will not be a granite building just down the street. This is not to say that Trinity College Dublin will not survive and thrive into the future. However, the modern methods of education will require new types of universities. Remote education will be, and is already for many institutes, a fact of life. It will become a bigger one. That is why, while it is now possible for students to learn from a distance, it is also important that there would be some physical presence around the country. I say that specifically in relation to the university in the south east.

I welcome and support the legislation. I want to finish by again sincerely commending the Department and the Ministers involved on the efforts they have made in the difficult few years since the Department has been established.

I welcome the opportunity to welcome and speak on the Bill that is before the House. Nothing has been more transformative in Irish life since the foundation of the State than the education system. We can be very proud of how the education system has developed over the years and the huge amount of effort that has been put in by many Governments and Ministers to advance education.

To take up Deputy Phelan's point, we are put here to make the lives better of those that we serve and that must be our guiding light at all times. The Bill before us looks at the Higher Education Authority and all the aspects of higher education: the universities, technological universities and all the changes that have taken place in that sphere. Equity and fairness must be at the very centre. That is why I take the liberty to raise one issue that I have been pursuing for quite a long time, that is, inequity within the system.

I have a case of a student who went on to third level education and then did a postgraduate course. The person came from a very, decent, honourable, hard-working family. The parents are wonderful people who went on to give their kids the best. The student applied for a postgraduate course with a stipend. Because the stipend from the research company was paid upfront, on the understanding that the student was clearly entitled to the grant afterwards, but because the course had to be secured, the fees were to be reimbursed by the company. That was the understanding of everybody that was involved with it. Because that had been done at the very start, the grant awarding body and the Department took the view that they were taking in excess of the stipend. We have tried in every way humanly possible to resolve the issue over many years. I bring it before the Dáil tonight because it speaks to the Bill and ensuring that there is fairness and transparency.

I accept that not everything will be got right by the grant awarding bodies or the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science but there need to be checks and balances to correct any issues that are brought before them. We have tried to resolve the issue through various bodies, even outside of the Houses of the Oireachtas, which I understand we cannot refer to here. I contacted the Department, the grant awarding body and the Ombudsman to try to resolve this very specific and simple case where one student, who had worked hard enough to go on to postgraduate education, suffered the injustice of not getting the grant due to a tick in one box. We must be very mindful in the legislation before the House that we are passing, that there is a mechanism to ensure that when cases are brought, they can be addressed. We work extremely hard as public representatives to ensure that when cases are brought before us that we work through the system to ensure that they can be resolved. There have been a number of questions and letters to the Minister, and the matter has not yet been resolved. My office had been discussing the application with the grant awarding body for a number of years and eventually it said there was never an application. A gross injustice has been done in this case. We, in the Houses of the Oireachtas, must ensure that we are capable of looking at injustices that take place and that we can go back over them and the Department and the reviewing bodies can accept that an injustice was done and that it can be corrected. I accept there is a lot going on in the Department, but I urge the Minister of State to do something. I am aware that an awful lot of work is going on in the Department.

I commend the Bill that the Department has produced. In my allocated time I urge that this injustice is rectified. It speaks to the very heart of what we do in this House: we try to ensure that we make lives better. Where we come across issues like this, where everything is done in good faith, even if it does not tick a specific box, the grant awarding bodies, the Department and outside bodies must accept that was the understanding of all and that therefore the grant should be awarded. We must make sure that in everything we do in this legislation - I know there will be amendments to the Bill and further discussion of it - a simple, clear, fast mechanism must be put in place to address issues and not have them going on for years and requiring outside bodies to get involved to resolve them. We must have a clear and concise way of resolving a very simple matter and an injustice done to a student who has gone on to better themselves in postgraduate studies. The injustice was done at the very time the person most needed help and support and it must be rectified.

The Bill is a very detailed document, but at the outset it states that its purpose is to reform the higher education institutions and for them to operate within their relationship to the HEA. We are introducing legislation and I am bringing information to the House that shows there is not any way to resolve injustices except going outside of this House, and that should never be the case. I ask that this would be examined on the basis of the case I raise in the House this evening.

I dtosach báire ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clann Noel Treacy. Bhí sé sa Dáil romham ach bhí sé ann píosa fada leis. Fear is oibritheoir iontach a bhí ann agus aireoimid uainn é.

The point made by Deputy Clarke and the statistics she quoted regarding sexual interference, rape and sexual behaviour in colleges are quite scary and need urgent action. It is doubly scary because we are talking about what we believe to be the most educated and informed generation ever. There can be no tolerance for what that survey shows. The third level colleges need to take action to deal with it and to stamp out such totally unacceptable behaviour.

I agree with what Deputy Michael Moynihan said about fair access. Fair access at times can be very unfair. People say the points system is fair. It is a fair system in terms of the marks and the way it is done, but how you get there is unfair because those with resources and from a more privileged background tend to be more likely to get to the high achieving courses. Therefore, we must look at access to third level and the mad points race. It is also unfair to students who at a time when they should be widening their horizons, getting involved in debates, art, sport and whatever else, are forced to focus totally on an exam over a period.

The other point I always found very strange is that there are special access applications for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As Deputy Moynihan said, if you make one mistake in the form, you are out. I always thought that was a total contradiction. All of us can make a mistake. I doubt if there is anybody here who has gone through life and not made some fairly basic mistakes filling up forms. I remember one day here I filled up the form that goes to the One-Stop Shop and I did the very basic mistake of forgetting to sign it. They had to ring me up, but they are benign in this place, and they said "Would you come down, Deputy, and sign the form."

Academic freedom is important. On the other hand, according to the information we are given, there is a statutory basis for the HEA to implement Government policies.

We need to be careful because the State is putting in billions of euro of your money and my money. Who is the HEA accountable to if it is not accountable to the people who provide the money? I am sure it is accountable for and answers for the private funding it gets.

I would agree with what Deputy Ó Snodaigh said. For example, we have just passed the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021 but there seems to be no plan at the level of the HEA or of third level education to provide graduates with the Irish language skills to provide the services we have promised the people in law that we will provide. We have to retain in this House the power to make it deliver those graduates, whether it is by ring-fencing the funding or otherwise. There is a fasach or a precedent for this because we did that with the Science Foundation Ireland funding when we wanted blue skies research back in the 1990s and the noughties by ring-fencing funding for that purpose. I sincerely welcome the establishment of the shared national apprenticeship office. To me, apprenticeships have been the Cinderella of third level education. As a country we have provided many academics but we have done it and left ourselves short of people like electricians, plumbers and other skilled workers that we need. We need a balanced economy and we have to give status across all trends in education.

I join with those who have criticised the lectures that are not in-person that are going on in some third level institutions. That should be eliminated at this stage and it is totally unsatisfactory that students are not being taught in person at this point. We are all in the Dáil in person and if we can do it then they can do it as well. We will all sit together cheek by jowl tonight to vote and it could be a long session and we will still have to get our business done safely. Therefore it is arrogant of universities to deny students who have paid their fees of access to in-person lectures at this remove. There is a lot more I would like to say on this Bill. I have tried to make my points as briefly as possible. Fáiltím roimh an mBille ach tá go leor ceisteanna fós le plé maidir le hoideachas tríú leibhéal. Éinne a cheapann go bhfuil gach rud ceart go leor amach ansin, níl siad ag breathnú go hiomlán ar na dúshláin atá roimh oideachas tríú leibhéal sa tír seo.

I welcome this Bill, which is updating the previous Act that is now 50 years old. We can all agree that a lot has changed in the world of education over the last 50 years. After all it was only a few years after free education was introduced. The world has changed and now most second level students aspire to receiving a third level education. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, on taking up their important portfolios and setting up a new Department to manage this most important sector. There is no doubt that the Minister, the Minister of State and this new Department have hit the ground running with the formation of a number of new universities and colleges.

The creation of the Technological University of the Shannon is an exciting development for the mid-west, with the incorporation of the former Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, and the former Athlone Institute of Technology. It has been warmly welcomed throughout the mid-west and I look forward to the many new opportunities it will bring, including the expansion of educational facilities into many new campuses. This will include the campus in Ennis, County Clare. When that new campus opened a number of years ago the then president of LIT, Professor Cunnane, said:

The reality is that the new campus will act as an economic generator, retaining people in Clare and potentially adding value to business and industry by providing additional high-quality education options locally. Studies show that for every euro invested in an Institute of Technology, four euros will be generated in the local economy.

That is exciting and positive for County Clare and Ennis. I am delighted that this new Ennis campus of the Technological University of the Shannon will also offer evening and part-time courses to those who want to undertake further studies. I welcome the major part that these new universities and colleges will play in the decentralisation in our third level colleges. Students will be able to receive their third level qualifications much nearer to home, making college attendance more affordable. Irish third level colleges have a proud history of recruiting students from all over the world and our graduates go all over the world. I hope that after the passing of this Bill we will continue to recruit students from all over the world and to build relationships with other colleges throughout the world.

It would be remiss of me if I did not mention Professor Teresa Lambe and Professor Adrian Hill and their work in the last 15 years in the study of fire risk detection and creation of vaccines. Professor Lambe is a graduate of UCD from Kilcullen in Kildare and her research allowed her to lead the University of Oxford team in building the AstraZeneca vaccine so quickly during the pandemic. This proved that Irish universities educate the brightest and best in the world. It is in this context that I mention that we have had the successful young scientists competition for secondary students for over 50 years. The HEA might consider organising a similar competition for third level students to display their research and show the world the quality of our third level education.

We should also see a full integration of these colleges with the local communities among all age groups. The HEA might be encouraged to promote fourth age learning programmes for our senior citizens. I would like to suggest that we would have some colleges in the regions for specific sectors. I would encourage the HEA to examine the feasibility of working with local industry and government on that. I am particularly excited by the proposals of UL and Clare County Council to develop a strategic development zone, SDZ, on the Clare side of the UL campus. This proposal will create a new and distinct model of academic engagement, a mix of research, education, industry and enabling infrastructure. This will be a game-changing project for the mid-west region and for Ireland. I expect that this proposal for an SDZ will come before Cabinet soon and I would urge the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, to support this project as strongly as possible.

Déanaim comhbhrón leis an Cheann Comhairle agus leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Niall Collins, faoin scéal faoin iar-Theachta Noel Treacy. Bhí muid le chéile ar an Choiste um Fhorfheidhmiú Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta fadó. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille cuimsitheach leathan seo. Tá an-chuid deiseanna sa Bhille do dhaoine aosta agus do dhaoine atá ag iarraidh athfhoghlaim a dhéanamh, dul ar ais ag staidéar nó atá ag smaoineamh faoi athrú post. Táim ag labhairt faoin fhoghlaim fad saoil. Tagraím don obair atá déanta leis na education and training boards, ETBs, thar na blianta mar shampla. Rinne na ETBs an bealach tábhachtach i dtús báire. Tá an taithí agus na scileanna ansin. Dá mbeadh aon phlean i gceist maidir le hathfhoghlaim nó foghlaim fad saoil, b’fhéidir go mbeidh cumarsáid nó nasc tábhachtach idir na ETBs agus na hollscoileanna tríú leibhéal chun obair le chéile ar an phointe seo. Chabhródh sin le daoine filleadh ar bheith ag foghlaim. Gabhaim aitheantas chuig an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Niall Collins, agus chuig an Aire, an Teachta Harris, fá choinne na hoibre iontach tábhachtach atá ar siúl sa Bhille seo.

It is time for there to be more regulation within the higher education sector to ensure that third level is accessible for everyone. Cork is very well known as a beacon of education, with both University College Cork and Munster Technological University recognised regularly on the world stage for their academics, both in teaching and research. Unfortunately, on the north side, in the heart of Cork, we have low levels of university attendance and we do not have a single university campus. In the initial planning stages of BusConnects, for example, there was not one single direct route from the north side to MTU. I have objected to that and I have asked for it to be included in the next plans because it shows the attitude that students on the north side are facing. If one student can live at home, wake up at 8 a.m. and get a bus to college, and another living the same geographical distance from that college has to get up at 7 a.m. and get two or three buses to college, we cannot deny there are barriers. I have repeatedly reached out to MTU to request a meeting to discuss this. Unfortunately, I have not received more than a courteous reply. I have met with UCC but, disappointingly, it is not considering expanding into the north side, despite it acknowledging the benefits this could have and the low level of third level attendance.

It is time for the Minister and the Higher Education Authority under its new powers to intervene and instruct both colleges to open campuses on the north side and send a clear message to young people and everyone else on the north side not only that they can go to university but that they belong in university, if they wish. The 20x20 concept for women in sport is “If you can see it, you can be it.” This also applies to students on the north side.

As we are talking about barriers to college and the issues that the Higher Education Authority needs to address, it is very important that we recognise that to have the leaving certificate going ahead in the traditional format this year will stop some young students from attending third level. We have spoken about youth mental health. For students in sixth year, what we are hearing and seeing is the stress they are facing ahead of their leaving certificate and the anxiety this is causing them. It is having a huge effect on their mental health. There are students who possibly have not had normal school since junior certificate and some of them have not even had a junior certificate, yet the Minister expects those students to walk into examination halls in June and perform to the highest level. I believe the Government and the Department are wrong and that they should be going ahead with a hybrid leaving certificate. Otherwise, those most affected by the pandemic are likely to lose out the most. Every single sixth-year student has had a Covid-19 education and deserves recognition of that. Let us listen to them. All they are asking is that this be resolved now and that it not be like the last two years, when students were campaigning, with Sinn Féin support, for last-minute decisions to come in.

Third level education is not for everyone but everyone should have equal and fair access to it. I know this from personal experience. When I came out of school, I went straight to work at 18. I did not go to third level until I was 33, when I went to MTU, then the Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, at night. Given the difference it made to me personally to be able to do that, I want to give every student that opportunity. It can be a life-changing experience to go to third level and that is why I feel it is important that everyone has that opportunity.

It is a huge privilege to have the time to tease out some of the issues involved in this legislation. I wish I had that time earlier for the Covid debate but I certainly welcome it for this very important topic. This is substantial legislation and I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and the staff of the Department. A huge amount of work went into this, which I acknowledge. There are 124 pages, 128 sections, 18 Parts and four Schedules. I am going to come to the purpose of it, as well as perhaps a broader discussion of what education is about, academic freedom, where we are going and where that debate should take place.

It has been pointed out that we are changing legislation that is 51 years old. We talk about transformative action. Earlier today, Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett quoted from James Joyce’s Ulysses. That is probably the first time Ulysses was quoted in the Dáil, although maybe I am wrong. I want to use that in a different sense. I heard various comments on Ulysses and speakers talked about the transformative effect of Ulysses on literature. I would like to think we have come to the point where third level will have a transformative effect on our society because, really, we have no choice about that. After Covid and with climate change, we have no choice but to seek to have our third level institutions produce a transformative effect or, otherwise, we are finished.

Anyone who comes to the House as the final speaker is able to pick up and comment on different things, which is both fair and unfair, but that is the reward for waiting until the end. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan talked about the huge role that universities have had, which they have had, but they have also had a huge role in promoting inequality. They have also had a huge role in backing up an establishment that saw ongoing consumption as the model of behaviour, which has led to tremendous problems, not least of which is the existential crisis facing us with climate change. This is the time. If this is the beginning of a discussion, then I welcome it. It is certainly not the end of a discussion for me.

We have what we have been told and we have all read the explanatory memorandum and the purpose of the Bill. It is to reform the legislative framework for the higher education system, enabling improved oversight and regulation, and giving a legal basis to the powers that Údarás was using up to now. Now, however, they are underpinned by statute and, presumably, they are extended a little bit. We have to ask why we need this legislation before we get onto the bigger topic of what third level education is supposed to be doing. We need it because governance has utterly failed.

I had the privilege of going to university. I also had the privilege of coming from a large family, which was the biggest education I ever got. The range of experience, jobs and occupations extends from medical doctors and teachers to plumbers, carpenters and plasterers. That is the privilege of coming from a bigger family. Within that, there are always people to bring you up and bring you down, and when you are down, they will bring you up, and when you are up too far, they will bring you down very quickly. I have always had a huge problem with the in-built snobbery in Irish society, where third level was put up there - certainly the universities - to the detriment of society, not just to the detriment of our skilled people and the need for skilled people. We see it in the construction industry and across a whole range, but that was built into the system. I welcome that, theoretically, this is changing. I heard both Ministers make very positive comments and I welcome the national apprenticeship office that is being set up, if we are beginning to rebalance.

We are looking at governance. My real university education was on the Committee of Public Accounts. I have always publicly paid tribute to the staff in particular and to the Comptroller and Auditor General, who are certainly excellent public servants. It was at that committee that I began to get a real university education when I saw what was coming before me. I have to say my biggest disappointment at the time was the seven male leaders of the seven universities. I have said it. I have to put the word "educated" in inverted commas. They had a complete inability to reflect on or openly discuss where universities had gone into a cul-de-sac in terms of public space being used for the development of companies for private gain, which is one issue, and the role of unaccountable foundations - those are my words - particularly in Galway, where there is a substantial amount of money in the accounts of that foundation.

That foundation has boards managing it in New York and in Galway, in Ireland, including everything from Goldman Sachs to Coca-Cola. It was all new to me that foundations, described by the university as benign, are given such an important role in the development of our building in Galway. It may be good or bad. It is good if it is done in an open and accountable way, but not so good if it is not. More and more buildings are being put up for particular subjects as opposed to other subjects, with no student accommodation and so on.

I mentioned Galway. The issues there included precariousness of employment, which is repeated in all universities and is dominated by females. The brave Sheehy-Skeffington took a case. The new president is sorting out the legacy cases. In my own city, I was partly aware and partly unaware of what the university was like for many staff, who had no tenure. The more "untenured" the position, the more likely it was to be dominated by females. Whistleblowers came before us from Limerick and other places, who enlightened us in a painful way about the repeated failure of governance in all of these universities. That is why we are here tonight.

I know I am not to mention names but this is all public. Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin is an assistant professor in the school of mathematics and statistics in UCD. In fact, it was the last university to admit a woman. Galway was one of the first. Alice Perry was the first woman to qualify as an engineer in Europe, so Galway was slightly better. UCD distinguished itself by being the last university to let women go in. In the 21st century, we have Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin courageously reporting repeated sexual harassment over two years, from May 2015 until July 2017 by a professor, who has been named publicly, Hans-Benjamin Braun. He has been convicted of harassment and there is a barring order against him regarding contact with the assistant professor for five years. This has all been publicly reported. She repeatedly reported the incidents to UCD's human resources department. It was reported to the gardaí. The harassment lasted for two years after she first brought it to the attention of the university. She then made a formal complaint and was dissuaded from doing that. It went on, until, finally, Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin went public with her experience and requested action plans against sexual violence and harassment. That is just one example. The research quoted here tonight shows how difficult the experience of women and sometimes men is when it comes to violence in universities. That is the background to this legislation.

I welcome this legislation. That said, it needs much more discussion and amendments.

Is cúis mhór díomá dom í nach bhfuil ach píosa beag amháin ó thaobh na Gaeilge de sa Bhille; ag cur in iúl go bhfuil an t-údarás taobh thiar den Ghaeilge. There is a tiny bit about the Irish language, which is a huge disappointment to me. I would like this to be teased out further, if possible, because in that substantial, 124-page Bill, there are two lines on the Irish language. One of the objects is promoting it. "Objects" is a funny word, as opposed to objectives, purposes or aims. Under that, amid something else, it states that we will promote the Irish language. That causes serious worry for me.

I welcome the commitment to lifelong learning. I think it is the answer. How we measure that and ensure that there is open access are important. Some of my colleagues on the left have talked about opening up third level education. I agree with them. It should be explored and practical research should be done to see what the implications would be of opening up third level to everyone, regardless of the points they have in their leaving certificate. Rather than the idea being dismissed or sneered at, I think that it is important that it be researched. I understand that it has happened in other countries.

I have looked at various people when considering what university is all about. I will start with the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who gave an interesting speech on 8 June about academic freedom. Significantly, it was an address to Scholars at Risk Ireland, a conference for all European academics. Among other issues, he looks at the danger posed to universities without academic freedom. What does academic freedom actually mean? It is certainly not synonymous with autonomy of the university. The university can have autonomy but that does not mean it has academic freedom. I do not have the time to go into it. I could not do it as Michael D. Higgins has done, but he has done so and raised significant issues regarding the purposes of our universities, what they are for, who they are serving, and what the dangers are.

Dr. Kathleen Lynch from UCD and her colleagues, as well as a colleague from Galway, Dr. Geraldine Mooney Simmie, have all raised questions about the commercialisation and marketisation of our system, and the aligning which we have done with Government policy that was produced in 2011, during times of austerity, when the strategic policy for third level education was produced. They have also raised the alignment of industry with university. I have a difficulty with that. I want Ireland to thrive and I want our economy to thrive. I want Galway city to lead the way as a green, thriving city. It must be sustainable. We are facing a biodiversity and climate change emergency, as well as Covid. We have had all those empty words about how we cannot go back to where we were and how we must change and learn, yet we have speaker after speaker praising the identification and alignment of industry with third level education. They praise a campus that put public funds, industry and university together as one, as a trinity. I seriously question that model.

I can think of no better way to highlight why we need universities to question than to look at the Nyberg report into the banking crisis, titled, Misjudging Risk: Causes of the Systemic Banking Crisis in Ireland. The report of the Commission of Investigation into the Banking Sector in Ireland was published in 2011. It was commissioned to provide answers and a number of institutions, private and public, acted in an imprudent manner. I can think of other adjectives apart from "imprudent". That imprudent manner continued to the occurrence of the Irish banking crisis. The report found herding, groupthink, consensus, silent observers and enablers. They were all the key words in the report about what allowed the banking crisis to happen without any questioning. The commission considers that this pervasive pressure for consensus may explain why so many different parties in Ireland were simultaneously willing to adopt specific policies and accepted practices that later proved unsound. It states that the widespread lack of critical discussion within many banks and authorities indicates a tendency to groupthink. It states that something as basic as serious consideration of alternatives appeared to be modest or absent.

I could go on, but I will pick from a different speaker, the vice-chancellor of Oxford University. In commemoration of 1916, there was a series of talks in National University of Ireland Galway, which have been published in a book. Louise Richardson, an Irish woman, is vice-chancellor of Oxford University. She presented a paper, "The role of education in addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century" at a conference, Ireland 1916-2016: The Promise and Challenge of National Sovereignty.

She writes:

... if universities focus exclusively on training a skilled workforce, we lose the opportunity to provide an education that is so much broader and more important. An education that produces a generation accustomed to thinking critically, acting ethically and always questioning – whether it is the doctrines of the government of the day or the ideologies of those who wish to overthrow it – will ensure a generation that will question those proponents of violence. An education that teaches empathy with others, that exposes its students to a cosmopolitan community of scholars, that delights in dierence rather than fears it, and that inculcates the belief that truth is an aspiration not a possession, will produce a generation that will reject any eort to impose orthodoxy... If we want to master new technologies [not be mastered by technologies] we must educate not only those with the ability to make scientific discoveries and technological innovations, we must educate a generation with the moral sensitivity to think through the ethical implications of these discoveries and innovation for the rest of society.

I do not have the answers here but we must commit to the start of an open discussion and debate on the purpose of third level institutions; on how we have produced so many graduates who have an inability to think critically and who lack the courage to stand up and say "That is wrong, what is happening in this university is wrong"; and how we have allowed governance, practices and procedures to stay in place that add to the abuse suffered by various people. This raises the most serious questions as to what we are doing in our third level institutions. I am a graduate of a third level institution and I would go back to Galway and the governing body in Galway when the procedures, law and internal governance were changed by legislation. There was a large governing body and the big thing was to get governance right, not critical thinking but a consensus on doing away with the requirement for Irish, the details of which I forget at this stage. The important point is that consensus was important as opposed to cherishing critical debate, analysis of the subject and perhaps agreeing to differ on these issues.

While I welcome all of the work that has gone into this legislation, I share the concerns that have been laid out by people far more educated and articulate than me, including the President of Ireland and Professor Kathleen Lynch, who has gallantly struggled on with her colleagues for years highlighting all of these issues while also highlighting the alternatives that could be in place with collaborative research and research for research's sake, which seems to have died a death in universities because research now has to have a specific purpose.

I will finish on the issue of vaccines. Many times we have praised the pharmaceutical companies here but they have produced vaccines at an obscene profit with public funds and no risk. The risk was taken away from them completely and we carried that risk on public money. When we are praising research, let us analyse the purpose of it, who is behind it and who is paying for it. We must also ask when research is being done, what research is not being done. I think of a struggling PhD student in Galway who is trying to get money to look at an ecological corridor and red squirrels. That student is struggling to get money and recognition from a university for research into an ecological corridor which one would imagine a university would champion in the context of our biodiversity and climate crisis.

I wish to offer my condolences and sympathy to the family of the late Noel Treacy, former Deputy and Minister, who served in this House for 30 years. He is a huge loss to his wife and family, his local community and the many organisations with which he was involved in Galway. I refer in particular to Galway GAA, where he was chairman of the county board for a number of years after his retirement from these Houses. He was a great colleague and a great person to offer advice to new Members of this House. I was a new Member during his last term here and I wanted to pay my respects to his memory today.

I thank the Deputies who have indicated their support for the Bill and all those who contributed to the Second Stage debate today and last week. I will comment on a number of issues related to the Bill.

The higher education sector has been transformed since the Higher Education Authority Act of 1971. The authority was first put in place over 50 years ago, and a number of contributors alluded to that fact during the debate. In 1971, there were approximately 20,000 students in higher education. This figure has increased to over 200,000 students in the present day. Higher education has become more accessible to all sectors of society and more adaptable to meeting the State's social, economic and labour market needs. The HEA is now responsible for an extensive and diverse sector beyond the original small number of universities provided for in the 1971 Act. The HEA's responsibilities now extend to a number of universities, new technological universities and institutes of technology. There have been legislative developments in the interim but this has not extended to a comprehensive legislative review of the HEA itself and the institutional governance across the sector.

As part of its core legal function, the HEA is responsible for allocating recurrent funding to higher education institutions of €1.5 billion in 2022. The HEA will also be responsible for allocating up to €152 million in capital infrastructure funding this year, as well as overseeing capital project delivery, advancing the higher education public private partnership, PPP, programme and planning for future capital investments.

The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, presented the European Commission DG REFORM-funded report on future sustainability for higher education to the Cabinet committee in late December 2021. The committee agreed that the report and the Department's position should progress to Cabinet shortly, in late January or early February. The Department is engaging with colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on bringing the report to Cabinet this month. It is anticipated that the report will be published shortly after that Cabinet meeting.

The effective performance of the higher education system is crucial to the realisation of key economic and social objectives. This legislation is a key part of the Government's reform agenda for the higher education system. As we look to drive our ambitions forward, we are seeking to ensure that the fundamental building blocks of governance and funding are firmly in place. The core objectives of the HEA legislation are to promote and support higher education institutions in achieving excellence in teaching, learning and research; promote and safeguard the interests of students; advance equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education; provide comprehensive governance and accountability frameworks to safeguard Exchequer investment in the sector and ensure accountability by higher education institutions for that funding; maximise the contributions of higher education to social, economic, cultural, Irish language and environmental development and sustainability; and maintain and enhance the reputation of the higher education sector, including its international reputation. The overall aim is to provide a high-quality, student-focused system with appropriate oversight and accountability to underpin the confidence of stakeholders, students and the public.

The legislation will clarify overall policy development in relation to higher education and research as the responsibility of the Minister. It enables improved institutional governance in higher education institutions but also provides for accountability by the higher education institutions to the HEA and the State, in particular, for Exchequer funding. This legislation puts an onus on the higher education institutions to have in place robust governance and accountability structures and processes within their institutions. It provides for oversight by the HEA of the institutions of higher education and intervention if they do not exercise good governance.

The legislation will recognise that autonomy and flexibility are essential features of higher education institutions, but also that this must be matched with transparent governance and accountability to students, stakeholders and the public. It is important to note that the legislation will not impinge on the academic freedom of higher education institutions or their staff. This is a core tenet which will continue to be enshrined in legislation. Institutions will continue to be supported to do what they do best, which is to deliver excellence in education and research and provide places of engagement and insight to support a flourishing democratic society.

There has been an extensive and ongoing consultation process on this legislation since 2018 which has been a central element of the development of the legislation. The views of stakeholders have been sought on all of the key issues and the approach has been to make clear the policy objectives and reforms are understood and, to the greatest extent possible, supported by stakeholders.

I thank the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science who undertook pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill. Many of the recommendations made were very helpful in finalising the provisions in the Bill.

I will respond briefly to some of the issues which were raised. With regard to the incorporation of St. Angela's College in Sligo, an amendment to the Institutes of Technology Act 2006 and the Technological Universities Act 2018, was included in the memo to Government on this Bill and amendments are with the Office of the Attorney General for drafting. It is intended to include these amendments on Committee Stage.

Deputy Michael Moynihan raised a number of issues with regard to the case of a student who is seeking grant assistance. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has asked that Deputy Moynihan furnish all of the details to his office and he will have the matter taken up with the grant-awarding authority.

A number of speakers raised the issue of governing bodies of our institutions. The Bill seeks, as we know, to reduce the number of members on governing authorities to 17. It is intended that the membership would be a competency-based membership. Modern governance practice is to have smaller boards, rather than representational boards. Some members raised points about local authority members and the legislation provides for consultation by the higher education institutions with all stakeholders, including local authority members. In addition, there will be opportunities in terms of sitting on sub-committees of governing bodies.

I thank the House for its engagement.

Question put and agreed to.