I would remind the House that Item No. 3, the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill, 1991, is being debated with this Bill.
Private Business. - Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1991: Second Stage.
In May 1989, Bills were introduced to confer university status on the then National Institutes for Higher Education at Limerick and Dublin. These were historic Bills since they established the first universities since the foundation of the State. The two Bills before the House today are no less historic since they mark a stage of development of the non-university sector of higher education which warrants putting it on a statutory footing and vesting more authority and responsibility in the individual institutions in the conduct of their day to day affairs.
The development of technical education can be traced back to the middle of the last century. Technical education as we know it today had its origins in the Commission on Technical Education appointed in 1926 "to enquire into and advise on the system of technical education in Saorstát Éireann in relation to the requirements of Trade and Industry". The commission reported in 1927 and its main recommendations formed the basis of the Vocational Education Act of 1930. Vocational and technical education developed very satisfactorily under the structures established by the 1930 Act.
The 1960s saw a major thrust in the development of technical education with the publication of Investment in Education in 1962 and Training of Technicians in Ireland in 1964. The then Minister for Education, Dr. Patrick J. Hillery, in May 1963 signalled the Government's intention to arrange with appropriate vocational education committees for the provision of a limited number of technical colleges with regional status.
In September 1966 a steering committee on technical education was established to advise the Minister generally on technical education. The 1969 report of this committee formed the basis for the establishment, between 1970 and 1977, of the present network of regional technical colleges. The steering committee broadly defined the role of these colleges, and by implication the role of other technical colleges, as being:
education for trade and industry over a broad spectrum of occupations ranging from craft to professional level, notably in Engineering and Science, but also in Commercial, Linguistic and other specialties.
The steering committee related the colleges to economic growth, both nationally and in their own particular regions. Strong emphasis was placed on the need for continuing adaptation of the colleges which would be determined largely by initiatives at national and local level. This adaptation has, in fact, happened. In the early years most of the work of the colleges was concerned with leaving certificate and other second level education as well as apprentice and technician training. The development of the colleges over the years has seen a phasing out of second level education and a scaling down of apprentice training coupled with an increased involvement in certificate, diploma and degree level courses.
The growth of the colleges has been phenomenal. In the period since 1980 whole-time student numbers in the regional technical colleges have risen from 6,500 to almost 20,000, an increase of over 200 per cent. In the same period whole-time enrolments in the colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology have risen by over 100 per cent from 4,000 to 8,800. The vocational education committee third level colleges, therefore, have over 28,000 whole-time students, which represents almost 40 per cent of the present total enrolment at third level in the country.
Provision for apprentice and part-time study has always been a significant feature of the work of these colleges. The extent of their contribution in this area can be judged from the fact that part-time students, including apprentices, account for over 20 per cent of the whole-time equivalent student numbers in the colleges.
In the 21 years since the first of the regional technical colleges was established, they have developed and adapted to the stage that they can truly be said to have come of age. These Bills represent in a symbolic sense the key usually associated with such an event. They are the key to greater autonomy, to self-governance and to an improved and more effective interaction with business and industry which is a vital function of third level institutions in the modern world.
These concepts are of equal importance in the Dublin Institute of Technology. The institute was formally established in 1978 by the City of Dublin vocational education committee on an ad hoc basis to bring about better co-ordination of the work of its six third level colleges. It would be wrong, however, to date the development of technical and technological education in Dublin from this time. From the establishment of the College of Technology in Kevin Street in 1887, the third level colleges of the City of Dublin vocational education committee have developed into the Dublin Institute of Technology, the quality of which is well recognised and which is being established on a statutory basis by the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill.
Over the first half of this century the Dublin colleges developed a wide range of technical courses, mainly on a part-time basis. The late 1940s and early 1950s saw the development of the first whole-time post-leaving certificate courses in the Dublin Institute of Technology colleges. The increasing pace of technological change brought new demands in the 1960s when a series of full-time technician courses were established for the first time in Ireland in response to the requests of a number of major employers.
The 1970s were a period of considerable progress for the Dublin colleges: several new programmes were established and the number of both whole-time staff and students increased significantly; the foundations for the establishment of the Dublin Institute of Technology were laid in 1970 when a joint academic council was set up to coordinate and oversee the third level academic work of the individual colleges, with a membership comprising appropriate senior academic and elected members; 1975, saw a partnership agreement with the University of Dublin under which degree awards are made available to successful graduates from a number of the higher level courses; an Apprenticeship Board was set up in 1976 to coordinate and oversee the work of the apprenticeship sector; and in 1978 the Dublin Institute of Technology was formally established by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee to coordinate the work of the six colleges.
In 1987 we saw the completion of the major extension to Kevin Street College, and a major new extension to Bolton Street College was opened in September 1990. Work has commenced on the new college to be built at Bishop Street to accommodate the Colleges of Commerce and Marketing and Design.
The Dublin Institute of Technology now offers a very extensive range of courses at apprenticeship, technician, degree, professional and post-graduate levels. As I said earlier, there are currently over 8,000 whole-time students and some 15,000 part-time day and evening students, including 5,000 craft apprentices, enrolled. Some would claim that this makes it the largest higher education institution in the country. The wider activities of the institute include a number of special centres to provide specialised training and computer based services to industry and an increasing involvement in research and development.
As the institute prepares to enter its second century of educational endeavour, it is particularly appropriate that its tremendous achievements should now be marked by this Bill, which will establish the institute on a statutory basis and through its provisions facilitate the continuing development and progress of the institute.
The changed nature of the activities of the vocational education committee third level colleges over the years has led to concern about the limitations placed on them in having to operate under the 1930 Vocational Education Act. This Act, since it relates predominantly to second level education, is inappropriate to third level institutions in the way they must operate today.
The International Study Group on Technological Education was fulsome in its praise of the way in which these institutions have fulfilled their role and have become a significant and vital element in higher education. The group nevertheless pointed out the difficulties about the legal basis for the involvement of these institutions in research and development work for business and industry and recommended that statutory provision be made for them. These difficulties were further highlighted in the NBST discussion document Barriers to Research and Consultancy in the Higher Education Sector.
Activity in the research, consultancy and other industry and business linked areas is an important element of the role of higher education institutions in contributing to national development. The lack of adequate statutory provisions to allow the regional and technological colleges to engage fully in these activities represents a serious problem. These Bills seek to address this problem in two ways: First, they seek to strike a reasonable balance between freedom and autonomy for the institutions in their day to day operation while maintaining meaningful links with the vocational education committee system; second, they will enable the institutions to engage in research, development and consultancy work for business and industry as well as to enter into arrangements, including participation in limited companies, so as to exploit the results of this work.
While continuing to play a vital role in the provision of highly skilled personnel essential to our evolving industrialised economy, the institutions will also be able in the future to increase and improve their interaction with business and industry and reach their full potential in contributing to national technological development.
I now propose to outline to the House the provisions of the Bills. My remarks on the individual sections apply to both Bills and I will indicate points of difference as they arise.
Section 1 provides for the Acts coming into operation on a day appointed by ministerial order. Section 2 deals with the interpretation of the various terms used in the Bills. Section 3 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill establishes the existing nine colleges, the new Regional Technical College, Tallaght, and the Limerick College of Art, Commerce and Technology as regional technical colleges. These are listed in the First Schedule to the Bill. Section 3 also provides for establishing the Crawford College of Art and Design and the Cork School of Music as schools of Cork Regional Technical College.
Provision is made for bringing other educational institutions within the scope of the Act and for such institutions or part of them becoming part of a regional technical college in the future. Provision is also made for a change of name for a college, if required, in the future.
Section 3 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provides for the establishment of the institute and for the incorporation of other educational institutions or a part of an institution into the institute in the future. Section 4 sets out provisions for membership of colleges and the institute. Section 5 outlines the functions of the colleges and the institute. The principal function will be to provide vocational and technical education and training for the economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial, social and cultural development of the State.
In the case of the regional technical colleges this provision will be with particular reference to the region served by the college. In particular, the colleges and the institute will provide courses of study and enter into arrangements with appropriate authorities for the award of degrees, diplomas, certificates and other educational awards. They may also engage in research, consultancy and development work, either separately or with other institutions, to provide services in relation to such work and enter into arrangements, including participation in limited liability companies, to exploit the results of this work. The Dublin Institute of Technology will additionally award its own diplomas, certificates and other awards, excluding degrees.
The function of the colleges and the institute will also include, where appropriate, the institution of scholarships and prizes, the maintenance of assets and the acquisition of land. Additional functions may be assigned to the colleges or to the institute by order of the Minister, made with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance and the formal approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. Degree awarding powers could, at the appropriate time, be assigned to the Dublin Institute of Technology under this provision. In the case of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill, this latter provision was amended on Committee Stage in the Dáil to ensure that the function of conferring degrees, post-graduate degrees and honorary awards could be assigned to the institute at a later stage.
Section 6 provides for the establishment of governing bodies. In the regional technical colleges the governing body will consist of a chairman and 17 ordinary members and the director of the college. The governing body of the Dublin Institute of Technology will consist of the chairman, 18 ordinary members and the president of the institute.
The ordinary members will be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the appropriate vocational education committees in accordance with the following — and I emphasise on the recommendation of the appropriate vocational education committees — six vocational education committee nominees; three staff representatives; two student representatives; one representative of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; one representative of the University of Dublin (Dublin Institute of Technology Bill); and five persons nominated by organisations the vocational education committee considers require representation having regard to the courses and activities of the colleges and of the institute. I hope Members will take note of the membership because this seems to have caused confusion, for whatever reason I do not know, but I think it is quite clear in the Bill. This section also provides that the Minister in making appointments to a governing body shall ensure an appropriate gender balance. The Second Schedule in both Bills sets out the detailed arrangements in relation to governing bodies.
Changes to section 6 in the Dáil included provision for an additional staff and student representative on the regional technical college governing bodies and an additional student on the Dublin Institute of Technology governing body and provision for the chairman to be appointed by the Minister. Section 7 provides for the functions of the governing body, which will be exercised subject to general policy and to the programmes and budget approved annually. The functions will include managing the affairs of the college or institute and performing the functions conferred on the college or institute by the Act.
This section provides also that a governing body shall, in performing its functions, have due regard to the preservation, promotion and use of the Irish language and to the preservation and development of the national culture; to gender equity and equality of opportunity in education; and to the statutory responsibilities in the provision of vocational and technical education of the vocational education committees. These latter provisions were included through amendments tabled or accepted on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil.
Section 8 provides for the dissolution of a governing body where the Minister is satisfied that its functions are not being duly and effectively discharged; or it fails to comply with a lawful order, direction or regulation of the Minister; or it fails to comply with any judgment or order of any court. The section provides also for the appointment of a body of persons to carry out the functions of the dissolved governing body and for the re-establishment of a governing body within one year of the dissolution.
Section 9 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill provides for the appointment of a person to be director and chief officer of the college. The person appointed to be chief officer of the Dublin Institute of Technology will be known as the president.
The Third Schedule of both Bills provides for other matters relating to these posts and provides that a person employed as principal of a regional technical college at the passing of this Act, will, if he so consents, be the first director of that college.
Section 10 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provides for directors of the institute who shall be responsible to the President and may be assigned such responsibilities in relation to the institute as the governing body decides. A person employed as principal of an institution from which the institute is constituted will, if that person consents, be appointed a director of the institute.
Section 10 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 11 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide for the appointment by the governing body of an academic council to assist it in the planning, co-ordination, development and overseeing of the educational work of the college or institute and to protect, maintain and develop the academic standards of the college or institute. These functions of the academic council will include to design, develop and assist in implementing courses of study, to make recommendations to the governing body for the establishment of appropriate structures to implement the course of study, to make recommendations on programmes for research and development work and to make recommendations for the selection, admission, retention and exclusion of students.
Section 11 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 12 in the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide that a college or the institute may appoint such and so many persons to be its officers and servants, as subject to the approval of the Minister given with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, the governing body thinks proper.
These sections set out a number of other general provisions in relation to staff including the following: officers and servants will hold office or employment on such terms and conditions and be paid such remuneration and allowances as the college or the institute, with the approval of the Minister and the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, may determine; the Local Government (Superannuation) Act, 1980 will apply; and certain provisions of the Vocational Education Act, 1930 and the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act, 1944, relating to suspension and dismissal of staff, will apply.
In the Bills as initiated it was proposed that staff would be appointed as officers and servants of the college by the vocational education committee on the recommendations of the governing body and that they would also be officers and servants of the vocational education committee for the purpose of certain sections of the 1930 and 1944 Vocational Education Acts as well as the Local Government (Superannuation) Act, 1980. This dual structure caused confusion and concerns was expressed as to how it would operate on a day to day basis. Clarification of this issue was sought in the Dáil. Following further consideration of the matter the Bills were amended to provide that staff would be appointed by the college or the institute as appropriate.
Section 12 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 13 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide for matters relating to existing staff who will become staff of the college or the institute. Staff employed by a vocational education committee on work concerned with the administration of a college or other institution covered by the Bills may also be designated by the Minister for employment by the college or institute. Existing staff who become staff of a college or of the institute under this section shall not receive less remuneration or be subject to less beneficial conditions of service than those applying before the coming into operation of these Acts. This section provides also for redistribution or re-arrangement of duties following consultation with relevant unions.
Section 13 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 14 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill set out the provisions in relation to the annual submission, approval and implementation of programmes and budgets for the colleges and the institute respectively. They provide that governing bodies will annually prepare and submit to the vocational education committee operational programmes and budgets. These will be submitted to the Minister with or without modification and will be approved by the Minister with or without modification.
Section 14 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 15 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide for the preparation and submission of an annual report and for the provision of such other information as may be required.
Section 15 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 16 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide that annual grants may be paid to the colleges and the institute out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.
Section 16 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 17 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide that a college or institute must keep proper accounts which will be submitted annually to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit. These sections provide also that copies of the accounts and the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Section 17 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 18 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide that the college or institute may charge fees or make other appropriate charges for services or events.
Section 18 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 19 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill deal with the transfer of property and liabilities. Land will be vested in the college or the institute and provision is made for the transfer of all other property and liabilities. In the Bills as initiated it was proposed that land and buildings would be held by the vocational education committee in trust for the purposes of the college or the institute. Following further consideration of this question the Bills were amended to vest the land in the institutions themselves as this was more in line with the aim of devolving the maximum degree of responsibility within the framework of agreed policies, programmes and budgets.
Section 19 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 20 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide that contracts in force and legal proceedings pending before the establishment date will be preserved or continued by substituting the name of the college or the institute for that of the vocational education committee.
Section 20 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and section 21 of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill provide for inspection of a college or the institute for the purpose of reporting on the efficiency of the instruction being given or on any other matter relating to the operation of a college or the institute.
Section 21 of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill provides for a modification of section 7 (5) of the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act, 1944. This will provide that whenever an officer of a vocational education committee is suspended under the 1944 Act the committee may, if it thinks fit, make ex gratia payments to the suspended officer in lieu of the remuneration which, but for that suspension, would have been payable to that officer. This new section is to give effect to a Government decision on the matter following concerns about situations where a formal inquiry and decision on a suspension may take considerable time to complete. Non-payment of remuneration during what could be a lengthy period was considered to be an excessively harsh penalty.
Section 22 of both Bills provides for the expenses incurred in administering the Acts.
Section 23 of both Bills provide for the making of regulations with regard to the operation of the colleges and the institute and for laying such regulations before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Section 24 of both Bills provides for the short title in each case.
In summary, therefore, the Bills establish the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology as self-governing institutions while providing for a strong continuing role for the vocational education committees. They provide a framework for the operation of the institutions subject to general policy and within the operational programmes and budgets drawn up annually by the governing bodies subject to the approval of the appropriate vocational education committee and the Minister. They give each institution, through its governing body, the responsibility and necessary authority to manage and administer its own affairs within approved policies, programmes and budget. They establish governing bodies with appropriate representation from the vocational education committees, the staff, the students, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and other interests appropriate to the activities of the institutions. They provide for a president and directors for the institute and directors for the regional technical colleges. They provide for the appointment of academic councils for the institute and regional technical colleges. They provide a statutory basis for participation in research, development and consultancy work, including, where appropriate, participation in limited companies in order to fully exploit results of such work. They provide that the Dublin Institute of Technology will continue to have authority to award qualifications other than degree awards, which function can be conferred later by ministerial order made with the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay a well deserved tribute to the vocational education committees under whose management the colleges have grown and developed. These committees provided the base from which the colleges from such small beginnings have grown into the fine educational institutions which they are today. These Bills will provide them with a statutory framework within which they will move to a new phase of growth and dynamic development. It is fitting, therefore, that the role and ethos of the vocational education committees will continue to be strongly reflected through the provisions of these Bills.
Governing bodies will be required to have regard to the statutory responsibilities of the vocational education committee, the vocational education committees will have the single largest representation on the governing bodies, they will have the power to nominate the organisations they consider require representation on the governing bodies and they will have a strong role in the annual agreement of programmes and a budget. Some of the amendments made go a long way towards alleviating the fears of many members of vocational education committees.
I wish to pay a particular tribute to the women and men who have given so much of their time, energy and effort as members of the boards of management and college councils in the regional technical colleges and as members of the governing body, the joint academic council and the college councils of the Dublin Institute of Technology.
Their contribution to the development of the institutions has been a much valued one and I have no doubt that their expertise, enthusiasm and interest will continue to be available under the new structures being established under these Bills.
The principals and staff of the colleges and of the institute have made an enormous and unique contribution to the success and development of these institutions over the years. In thanking them I have no doubt that this contribution will continue and will be enhanced as a result of the provisions of these Bills.
While the partnership between the institutions and the National Council for Educational Awards will continue, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the significant contribution to their development which has been made over the years by the NCEA.
The Regional Technical Colleges Bill is a recognition of the major strides made by these colleges over the past 21 years. It is also a recognition of their coming of age as a distinctive section in the higher education system.
Similarly the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill acknowledges the outstanding contribution which the institute has made in the field of higher education and lays the foundation for the future development of the institute in a new and unified structure which will build on the solid base of achievement of individual colleges.
These Bills are very comprehensive and they do all that is required to give the institutions the necessary autonomy and freedom in the conduct of their day to day activities which is in keeping with the state of development which they have reached.
The legislative base which they give will allow them to operate effectively as a vital part of our third level education system. These institutions have a distinctive challenging and dynamic contribution to make to higher education.
I have no doubt about their capability and capacity to meet the challenges ahead and thus to contribute to the enrichment and diversification of the educational provision available to students on the one hand and, on the other, to meet the economic, technological, social and cultural development needs of the nation.
Accordingly, I commend these Bills to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Aylward, to the House. He has had an extremely heavy workload since these Bills were introduced. While I am glad to see him, I am very disappointed that we have not yet had an opportunity to meet the Minister Deputy Brennan in this House. It is extraordinary that since Deputy O'Rourke was Minister for Education and that is going back some time — we have not had the privilege of meeting any Minister for Education in this House.
That is not the Minister's problem.
The Minister of State Deputy Flood, was the last Minister to deal with a Fine Gael Private Members motion.
Will the Senator please speak on the Bills before us? Criticisms are for another time.
I am making the point now because I may not have the opportunity to do so again. I have been a Member of the Seanad for three years and this is the first opportunity I have had to deal with an educational Bill. It may be as long again before another opportunity arises. I had hoped the Minister for Education would be present.
I would also like to put on the record my objection to and my irritation that no Member of this House was invited to the launch of the Green Paper. I find it extraordinary that we, as social partners, were not considered important enough to be at the launch. I will talk about ESF later.
The Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, has given a comprehensive introduction to the Bill. It is obvious that since these Bills were introduced in November 1991 considerable changes have been made. This Government do not have an education policy as far as I can see but Fine Gael have a definite education policy. Government amendments have been at variance with earlier amendments, depending on which Fianna Fáil Minister held the Education portfolio.
The only time we debate education in this House is in response to Fine Gael Private Members' motions. The Bills presented in November 1991 have been changed dramatically by each Minister for Education and I found it extremely difficult to find a thread of continuity in relation to policy running through them. The word that comes through in any educational debate is "equity" and I will refer to equity as regards access to third level.
The Bills are being introduced at an extremely important time because post-Maastricht, it is essential for us to be in line with our EC partners when it comes to policy, academic qualifications and student mobility. We are not in line with them when it comes to access to third level education and free third level education. The recent reference to ESF funding caused alarm.
It is important that regional technical colleges be put firmly in the third level sector; the Dutch and the British would have been happier if they had been given second level status because then they would not be competing for funds post-Maastricht. It is essential that they are solidly placed in the realm of third level institutions and the Bills give them that status.
I would have liked the name regional technical colleges to have been changed. Such an amendment was introduced on the different Stages in the Dáil and we will continue to address this point in the Seanad. I do not have a hang-up with regional technical colleges as a name, but I think the word "technical" still has second level connotations; I would have preferred "polytechnic". If they were "regional polytechnical colleges", it would not substantially alter the title of the Bills but it would reflect the all-embracing, multi-faceted status of the colleges.
In Limerick, the term COACT was all-embracing in the sense that it included art and design, commerce and technology. Though the name was a bit unwieldy, it had a distinctiveness and reflected the ethos of that college.
Will the Dáil be recalled if amendments are accepted on Committee Stage or are we talking in a vacuum? We understand the need to have the Bills passed to give these institutions third level status, but we are very unhappy with the lack of consultation and the time given to debate the Bills. I expected to spend the summer reading through these Bills in great detail, and I would have enjoyed doing so. The Minister, Deputy Aylward, on that eventful, hot, June weekend met the irate members of IVEA and by so doing, respected the consultative process. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the Minister, Deputy Brennan.
I already mentioned that we have had a number of versions of this Bill — the first introduced by the Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke; this was changed by the next Minister, Deputy Davern; Deputy Brennan, the present Minister, changed that Bill; it was amended on Committee and Report Stages; and now we have this version.
I found it extraordinary that the Minister of State complimented the vocational education committee's for what they have done for education because it reflected a change in attitude. He was at great pains in the latter stages of his presentation to ensure that their work was appreciated. They were pioneers in the area of providing extra curicular activities for the disadvantaged and indeed one could say that they pioneered the whole adult education programme. It could be said that vocational education committees are ahead of their time. It is important that their major contribution to Irish education be recognised. They have been seen for too long as the cinderella of the system as we moved more and more towards the academic aspects of education.
We were not waiting for the Culliton report to remind us of the necessity to put more emphasis on vocational education and training, though I disagree with the notion of two separate streams. I favour an integrated process and I hope that the Bill will result in the colleges embracing the humanities to a greater degree as well as the cultural and artistic world, as exemplified by the College of Art and Design in Limerick, which I will speak about later, and in relation to science and technology, electronics and business. The only element within the regional technical colleges that perhaps needs to be addressed more is the area of humanities. Outside of that they are all-embracing. What they are doing is reflecting what education should be about. We have been looking for this for some time: that one would work right through the different systems from the day one enters a school, until one emerges with a degree or diploma.
The University of Limerick, set up as a national institute of higher education, took some time to become all-embracing, but it has achieved that now with the integration of the humanities faculties, the colleges of education, etc. The regional technical colleges are in an ideal position now to show what education should be, and not on the lines of the Culliton report, which keeps the academic and vocational aspects of education separate. The all rounded person is not a technocrat only. One could be an academic and have technocratic leanings. One could be a technocrat but have a very well balanced philosophical approach to life. Integrated education produces a well rounded person.
I am dwelling on the ethos of education because it is extremely important. Later on I can go through the provisions of the Bills. We want education for life; we want education for the whole person. We do not want to go off on different tracks and educate people solely for employment purposes. We should not lose sight of the fact that in this country we are still lauded as being foremost in the educational field. The Scottish system is close to ours, but the store and value we put on education has stood us well. It will do so as long as we are not carried away by buzz words and forget what education is all about.
The buzz words at the time of the Maastricht referendum are very relevant to the Bills before us today, particularly in the light of democratic accountability. People were told that decisions would be brought down to basic levels and that there would be a move away from centralised structures. We were told something would be done about the democratic deficit. Now that we have explained to the general public what the principle of subsidiarity is all about, we should ensure that this is reflected in their day-to-day lives. This is what enthused people to vote for Maastricht. We can take all those buzz words and we can apply them to regional technical colleges.
Many of the infamous 40 amendments that appeared on that memorable June weekend are gone and new amendments brought back the vocational education committees in a limited fashion. There was an about-turn in response to lobbying, deputations and a parliamentary party meeting. I do not see anything wrong with that as it is part and parcel of politics. I do not like "stroke" politics at the best of times and I certainly do not like it in the context of education because it is too important an issue.
We do not want centralised system of education. It is very important that the regionalisation concept be actively pursued in relation to the regional technical colleges. When I say the regions, we must take into consideration vocational education committees that are not necessarily involved with the regional technical colleges. Take Limerick as an example. We will be going out to Senator Honan's constituency, where there are representatives from Clare on the advisory council of COACT, of which I am a member, soon to be the Regional Technical College, Limerick. It is very important that the associated authorities have an input into how the regional technical colleges work, because one should never underestimate the knowledge of local councillors when it comes to the issues on the ground. This includes such matters as who can or cannot afford to send their children to third level institutions and what are the basic facts as regards accountability.
As a member of the vocational education committee I know that every penny is accounted for. I am sure Senator McKenna would agree with me that the vocational education committees put great store on accountability and on the input made by vocational education committee members, councillors and associated members. They have struck a balance between officialdom and what is happening on the ground. There was a fear in the past that the academics knew everything and somehow we were second class coffee beans. That is not the case in the realm of education, because the practical input made by those who are in touch with what people want is an essential aspect.
As regards the controversy surrounding the June amendments, I am glad that the Minister backtracked. I had hoped the Minister, Deputy Brennan, would be here to hear what I have to say. I hope he is aware of the needs of rural Ireland when it comes to setting up new regional technical colleges. Hopefully, a new regional college will come onstream in Castlebar. It is great to see the members of a community come together and realise the catalyst a regional technical college can be in relation to the economic, industrial, commercial, cultural, intellectual and educational life of the community.
There is also a regional technical college planned for Thurles. I would be very anxious to see this. I am sure Senator Doyle will make great play for a regional technical college in Wexford. Eventually, I can see that the regional technical colleges in the major cities will have a status that will be equal to the status afforded to Trinity College, UCD, UCC, Maynooth, the University of Limerick and Dublin City University. We want status for these regional technical colleges. We do not want only nine regional technical colleges and six colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology; we want many more. The basic thrust of the memorandum on higher education, which relates to the European Community, emphasises over and over again the need for third level education in order that Europe will be able to withstand the competition now emerging from Korea, Japan and South East Asia, where the pumping of moneys into education has to be seen to be believed. Although in middle life, I am anxious to learn and I would be able to master languages more successfully if I had another chance at life. One can do much at middle age and have enthusiasm, but flexibility for learning is confined to youth. Minister Aylward is smiling because he is in that category and I am sure he would be adept at learning Japanese and other languages.
I want to make it known to the House that there are 20 young people in the Gallery visiting Ireland from Lithuania to learn about farming. We welcome them to Ireland and hope they will have a nice stay.
In relation to the Lithuanian students, perhaps we will have a partnership between one of the emerging regional technical colleges and Lithuania with exchanges of Lithuanian students and Irish students. Education is all about partnership and it is symbolic that these young people should be here today when we are debating a matter which is of such importance to our young people. These students are in the same age group as our third level students. We have been very pleased in this country with the numbers of students availing of third level education. In this memorandum the importance of access is emphasised. I am not being political but ESF funding and the announcement made by the Minister the other day do nothing for the people who have made representations to me about access to third level.
This document is important because it introduces the notion of equity which Minister Brennan has mentioned over and over again. If we were to count the number of times the word "equity" is used in Education for a Changing World we would be here for quite some time. A point was made about £50,000 per annum and the £15,000 per annum earners living next door to each other. The £50,000 earner's child will still have access to third level, the £15,000 earner's will not. If only one student cannot get through to third level because of the means testing element that student is deprived of an opportunity. That situation must be addressed in the context of this Bill where we are talking about regional technical colleges and European Social Fund money. It would be ironic if at the end of the day the Minister went back to 20,000, which was the number of students that would be financed from Brussels. It was the requirement for £2,600 which caused the problem. Because of this means testing, students, who eventually will go on the dole at a cost to the Exchequer of £50 a week might have a job for life which these regional technical colleges could prepare them for at a cost of £39 a week. I feel strongly about this issue.
I thank Members on all sides of the House who responded to a request that the Minister be asked to reconsider income levels. I appreciate and welcome the means test threshold limit being raised but it has done nothing for members of a deputation who were here yesterday from my own area. These parents have worked for 30 years with one objective — not to retire happily ever after, not to go to Bermuda on a holiday, not to have some dream of theirs realised, but to ensure that their children would have a third level education. Now they will not be able to afford to send their children to regional technical colleges. Colleges have no relevance unless they are full of young people. As I said, if only one person is disadvantaged as regards access, it is one too many. How to enable children from disadvantaged areas to attend third level is a more complex issue. As a teacher for 25 years in an inner city school in South Hill, which has 80 per cent unemployment, I know that the percentage of those students who might obtain a place in a regional technical college would not bear reckoning. That problem cannot be solved overnight, but must be worked at by all of us. This is not politics but education policy. We have to look at various means by which students might avail of third level education. The take-up of grants is greatest by the self-employed. That is an equity issue which is not adequately addressed here. It will have to be addressed by the Revenue Commissioners and through improved funding. Under Maastricht if we get more funds from Europe they should be put into access to education for the disadvantaged. The Minister in Education for a Changing World emphasises the plight of the disadvantaged. A long term policy is required here and we will be pursuing it strongly during the six months of debate on this Green Paper.
I would like to look at what it says in the Green Paper concerning the vocational education committees. It is important to look beyond the regional technical colleges. Even though Minister Alyward complimented the vocational education committees over and over again for their role in education, and rightly so, I am concerned about the four skimpy paragraphs in the Green Paper on the subject of the vocational education committees. I would have thought they merited greater attention and concentration. I am sure that was one of the reasons everybody in education reacted so vehemently. I am glad to see Senator Honan nodding; she is a very practical woman and always speaks out on issues she feels strongly about.
The vocational education committees involvement in adult education, literacy and community education, youth and sports services and a range of special services is extremely laudable but the vocational education committee has always done that work. There is one line in the paper which says that the vocational education committees will play an important role in the development and provision of vocational education and training, but nothing is spelled out there. To say that they will be coordinating, that they will have a support role at local level in the proposed expansion activities, is all peripheral stuff. That refers to the area in which the vocational education committees have always been successful. I would like to know what Minister Brennan has in mind for the vocational education committees. It is obvious he had nothing in mind for them midway through these Bills where these 40 amendments would send them skiting off to where I do not know.
I would like Minister Brennan to take a tour of the vocational education committees throughout the country. If he intends staying in Education he would do well to see what they are pioneering. As a member of a vocational education committee I have been in a position to evaluate, compare and contrast vocational education committees. I was astounded by the innovative streak of the vocational education committee and by the fact that they are not hamstrung by centralised Government to the same degree as second level institutions. In Kilfinnane, County Limerick, the vocational education committee developed a pursuit centre which receives students at the moment from other EC countries and which has been a great value to the local community. Is all of that going to be written out? That was a link with regional technical colleges with an emphasis on languages.
The mind boggles as to the potential of this centre. It is creating tourism opportunities for the local community. The parents of these children are coming to learn languages. The benefits have spilt out into the greater Limerick area and over the borders into Cork. It has been a major success story for County Limerick. An old vocational education committee building — obviously, well-built at the time of the Education Act — was enhanced and not allowed to become derelict. It was not going to be bought by anybody so it was developed into an education centre and became a success story. These are the things that Minister Brennan does not seem to be aware of. That centre is evidence of entrepreneurship, innovation, and enterprise culture. We were not waiting for Maastricht or Culliton to put enterprise culture on the map.
Enterprise culture has been going in education in Ireland at first, second and third levels but, unfortunately, as I always thought, it was taking place in a vacuum. We were there for parents in the early stages with examinations and parent-teacher meetings, but education were never seen as partners in the development of a community. I feel strongly that the ethos of a town, city or village is built around its educational institutions. I sound a note of warning to Minister Brennan and I hope he has now backtracked on this and that he will not wait for the six months discussion. He should abandon the closure of small schools until he has carried out a study of each school. Parents will decide whether they want one teacher or multiteacher schools. I can see that Senator McKenna is irritated with me.
We are debating the Bill not the Green Paper.
The Green Paper and the Regional Technical Colleges Bill are integral parts of education policy.
The Bill has nothing to do with primary education.
On Second Stage, it is important that we look at the Green Paper to see what is said there about the vocational education committees and the regional technical colleges. The Green Paper is not a document; it has nothing to do with these Bills. These Bills are part and parcel of it. I want to know which comes first? Is the cart before the horse? Obviously it was in relation to the vocational education committees. We have seen the rôle of the vocational education committees confined to four skimpy paragraphs. It was obvious in the Green Paper that the vocational education committees were going to be axed. I am getting annoyed because it is important that this Green Paper should show the light for education in the future. Only that Minister Brennan was brought back to basics, that vocational education committee structure would have gone, as intimated by the few skimpy paragraphs in the Green Paper, Education for a Changing World.
I would like to look at another aspect of the Green Paper that worries me. Perhaps on Report Stage the Minister will be able to tell us about this new body, CEVA, which seems to be an amalgam of——
We are discussing the Bill and it is only when there is a direct reference to vocational education committees that you would quote the page.
There is a direct reference.
The Green Paper is not before the House.
There are references in the Green Paper to the Regional Technical Colleges Bill.
We are not discussing the Green Paper today. We are discussing the Bill and I advise the Senator to stick to the Bill.
I respect the Chair's ruling but I will have to make reference where necessary to the new bodies. Minister Aylward referred to the NCEA and complimented them on their role. I want to compliment them also but I wonder about this new body called CEVA. This council will have an impact on the regional technical colleges because it is an amalgam of the NCEA and this newly elected——
I have to point out again to the Senator that the Green Paper is not before the House and the Minister will not answer a question on it. We are discussing the Bill and I would appreciate if the Senator would stick to the Bill. If the Senator wants to make reference to the Green Paper in certain related places that is allowed, but she cannot ask a question on the Green Paper discussion document.
I respect the Chair's ruling. For three years we have not had a debate on education in the House and many issues raised today could have been debated previously. Education is so important that I find it extraordinary that we have not had an opportunity in three years to debate it, except in Private Member's time.
According to the Bill, there will be major movements back and forth on the rôle of the NCEA. I go back to Minister O'Rourke's introductory statement which I accept totally. I have given credit on many occasions to Minister O'Rourke for her input to education. She stated here in her opening remarks the need to strike a reasonable balance between greater freedom and autonomy for the institutions in their day to day operation while maintaining traditional links with the vocational education committee system. That is the basis of these Bills, both of the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill and of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill and I accept that totally.
The institutions are allowed to engage in research, development and consultancy work for business and industry, including participation in limited companies so as to exploit the results of their work. These objectives are laudable. Only for opposition in the Dáil by Fine Gael and Labour those two objectives would have gone out the window. Thanks are due to the firm commitment and steering of the Fine Gael and Labour spokespersons on education in the Dáil; they worked towards their objectives despite aberrations by the Government at various times. I compliment them for keeping their objectives in mind.
The Bill that has emerged today is the result of the Opposition's contributions. I include Minister Aylward in my compliments because he was quick to respond to the practical amendments that were put down. I would prefer to be dealing with him as Minister for Education; he has a great understanding of the subject.
The technical education success story has been mentioned many times and the vocational education committees must take credit for much of it. In 1990, there were 22,200 students, the latest figure I have, and I hope there will be employment and opportunities for mobility at the end of the line. The expansion since 1986 has been extraordinary and amounts to 10,600 students. It is wonderful to think that the regional technical colleges were able to respond so quickly and so readily to national requirements. They had ESF funding but they also had an innovative approach and a great feel for education. We did not have to wait for the Culliton report to tell us that the area of technology and science needed to be addressed. I compliment all concerned on responding so quickly to provide the skills needed in science, technology, computers, electronics, art and design, culture, etc.
I am sorry that Minister Brennan is not here now because I have a few points to make to him relevant to the Limerick colleges which will still be known as COACT until this Bill goes through. Everybody is aware both nationally and internationally of the status associated with the College of Art and Design there and the fashion awards students there have carried off. It has been an extraordinary success story despite the lack of accommodation, drab conditions and facing the most difficult circumstances. Its success is a testimony to the commitment and expertise of the staff of the principal, Mr. Dennison, and of all concerned. It is one of the success stories of Limerick.
At present the college is looking for another site, but wishes to remain in the city centre. I hope Minister Aylward will make Minister Brennan aware of their desire to remain in the historic city of Limerick. They do not want to go out to Moylish College to a greenfield site. They want to stay in the heritage precinct, as it is known, within the environs of King John's castle, the courthouse, and George's Quay, where they are at the moment.
There are two sites in question and we hope the site chosen will be in the inner city of Limerick. Students need the agencies and services in the city and would not benefit from being located miles out in the suburbs. Everybody recognises that, and Limerick City vocational education committee are aware of it. The ethos of the College of Art and Design must reflect the ancient city. Students look for inspiration to their surroundings and there is more potential for inspiration in the antiquity of Limerick city than out in the suburbs where students would be deprived of the aesthetics and background of a city.
In relation to Limerick, as any Members here who have visited Limerick will know, the city has a number of third level college architectural black spots. I would describe them at this stage as almost derelict, because they were badly built and did not reflect third level status. It must be galling for students in Limerick to compare their buildings with the tremendous campus of the University of Limerick, where it is a case of hats off to Dr. Ed. Walsh. Accommodation at the moment is urgently needed there and I hope that the commitments given to build in Limerick will be honoured. I will push for my own area here, as I know other Members will for theirs.
I hope that all the new buildings for regional technical colleges and colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology will reflect the 1990s and the next century and will be seen as worthy of the tremendous work being done in these colleges. The present buildings in Limerick are a reflection on the architects. I do not know who designed them but he should be the last person anybody would approach on the subject of aesthetics. Money is required to provide wonderful buildings, but a lowly house can be well designed. I do not know how students can bear to work in these buildings with low ceilings, long corridors, heavy machinery and drab surroundings. Paint improves them, but does not alter them.
A bit like Setanta.
Setanta would be palatial by comparison. Unless you were involved there, one visit would ensure that you never returned. The buildings are environmentally unfriendly, which must also be taken into account. Whatever architects are engaged for the next phases of these colleges, I hope they will be tried and tested and capable of constructing beautiful institutions and establishments. There is no point in having a nice title unless there is a good building to go with it.
These Bills are being rushed through Second Stage today. The Second Stage of many less important Bills has gone on for weeks and weeks, and here we are trying to condense two important Bills into a short time. It is going to be difficult to finish and I will not be finishing for some time.
It is urgent that these colleges be awarded appropriate status; there should be no politics in relation to that. I do not mean this minute but sometime this year. If we wish to liaise with partners within the EC for programmes and to be involved with Comett, Tempus and Erasmus, it is important that the links should be forged now. It is important that the status of third level colleges be established so that nothing will stand in the way of their making contacts abroad.
Now to go to the regional technical college Bill proper——
There must always be a preamble because we have to put it in an educational context.
That is some preamble. I hope the Senator does not intend to have an epilogue.
The Bill proper contains references to functions, composition, budgets, the role of the director and the various other aspects that are not too contentious. Despite Minister Aylward's comments that we should be happy at this stage, we are not happy with the membership. We wanted the vocational education committee to be members. There was a debate on this in the Dáil which I will not open again. Membership is honorary, which is all the more reason why the vocational education committees should partake of the glory of the present stage because they were instrumental in bringing technical education to its present position. It is important that they be included with other honorary members, if one wants to call them that.
Section 4 provides that the members college shall be the governing body, the academic council, members of staff, registered students, graduates and such other persons as the governing body may appoint to the membership. I would like the vocational education committee to be included in membership of the colleges and this will be addressed on Committee Stage.
The next section describes the functions which are well spelt out. They are the provision of vocational and technical education and training for the economic, technological, scientific, commercial, social, industrial and cultural development of the State; we are happy with that. regional technical colleges will be able to enter into arrangements with the NCEA, though I still wonder with whom they will enter into arrangements because of this new creature, CEVA, that has emerged in the Green Paper, seeing it is of relevance to the Regional Technical Colleges Bill. The research, consultancy and developmental work provisions are fine. The awarding of scholarships and prizes is fine also and so we come to the governing bodies.
As regards research and development, I hope the regional technical colleges will be independent of, while retaining links with, the universities. A tremendous amount of research and development is going on at the moment in our third level institutions. I am aware of the link between the University of Limerick and Plassey Technological Park, which is working well. It is in an embryonic stage with Japanese involvement. I hope the research and developmental role of the regional technical colleges will not be diminished. I hope the regional technical colleges work may be integrated with that of the universities — for instance, Limerick regional technical college with the University of Limerick. I know that Cork Regional Technical College has a link with University College, Cork, but I do not think there should be any clash or competition. Competition is all right only if it brings out the best on both sides. I hope that beneficial linkages will be forged there. In the future I do not want regional technical colleges to be regarded in one way and universities in another. There will be mutual toing and froing between the colleges, particularly from post diploma and certificate stages on to the degree stage. I presume that all of that will be worked out by the Higher Education Authority. I feel strongly that within a region, if one cannot get cooperation between third level institutions there, one is not adhering to the concept of regionalisation.
The research and development work of the regional technical colleges will be a catalyst for improving the economic life of a region. The facts illustrate that the economic life of regions having third level institutions takes off and prospers. We want to keep people within the regions and that is why it is so important that there should be access to regional colleges for students of those regions. It is interesting to note that in the Regional Technical College, Limerick — or Regional Polytechnical College Limerick as it will hopefully be called — there are students from the Thirty-two Counties. Although the regional colleges will take in students primarily from their own areas, there will be a unified approach to the needs of all areas.
Why was there disagreement between the three Ministers as to how many members should constitute this governing body? It is not a very difficult matter to resolve. I would have liked the governing body to consist of 22 members as Minister O'Rourke suggested. That would have reflected the views of all the bodies that should be involved and would not have been unwieldly. Before the Bill was amended in the Dáil by Fine Gael and Labour the number of members was 15 but that has been increased to 17. We will still be pressing that amendment. I know Minister Aylward would love to see the end of this contentious issue but the vocational education committees want seven members, not six and five rather than three to be members of a local authority. Surely the Fianna Fáil Senators will be aware that this will create no great problem and that increasing the number of members from three to five should make Fianna Fáil councillors very happy.
I wounder if the vocational education committees would have been side-stepped to such a degree if the uninterrupted Fianna Fáil rule of decades had continued. Many of the vocational education committees, for instance County Limerick vocational education committee, are now Fine Gael run, or, at least, its Chairman is Fine Gael; obviously it has Fianna Fáil representatives on it. Has this axing job anything to do with Fine Gael having suddenly interrupted that long term reign?
Senator Jackman has a very suspicious mind.
I am not just suspicious, I know. I am questioning this side-stepping of what are suddenly Fine Gael dominated vocational education committees. It certainly would not have been done before the last local elections.
Education is too important to be run by any political party, as I am sure Senator Jackman will agree.
I take the Minister's point, but I still have a question about the representation——
The Senator said it was Fine Gael run.
I did; there are times when one has to say it.
Would the Senator retract it?
Senator Jackman, without interruption.
No. It is a feature of democracy that one group can take control from another even though it is an integrated body. It seems extraordinary that after 17 years of Fianna Fáil reign in the vocational education committee in County Limerick the vocational education committee should be side-stepped as soon as that control ended.
The Senator is very parochial.
We are looking for a small concession on the membership of the governing body — five elected members rather than three. Everybody would be happy with that.
I am glad a representative of ICTU will be on the body. Having a nomination from the Labour panel and having been an active member of ASTI, I would wish to see a trade union member on that body. Trade union members do not see themselves exclusively as the representatives of workers. There were references in the Dáil to the employers having a representative, but I do not see it here. I would have liked to include representatives of FÁS and Eolas and I will be putting down amendments to that effect. I know there is scope for other bodies to select members, but, because of the close liaison between the vocational education committee and European Social Funding for education and training, there should be a representative of FÁS on the governing body because they get a large portion of the ESF budget for training.
It is of equal importance to have a representative of Eolas. I could mention CERT and others but I choose Eolas and FÁS because of the importance of research and development. The role of research and development and integration is very important. A chapter in the Culliton report devoted to education refers to research and development and the role Eolas should play. A representative of these bodies might find his or her way in through another route but I would have preferred to have them specified in the legislation.
I appreciate that the gender issue has been taken on board but, if it were not, you might as well throw out the Green Paper before we even debate it because equity is related to gender equality which is a very big thread running through the Green Paper. If Minister Brennan has the concept of equity in mind in relation to the Green Paper, he should have had it in mind in relation to this Bill but he did not until it was mentioned to him by way of an amendment.
I do not know what the legalities are in using such terms as "chairman" and "chairperson". I hate using the word chairman because it rules out 51 per cent of the population. Is there a legal reason for using the term "chairman"? I am happy to be a chairperson. I suppose I should be "Jackperson" rather than "Jackman" but I will not go into that today. Why this issue was not addressed immediately is beyond me. "Chairperson" is far more acceptable to me than "madam chairman" because that creates confusion in people's minds as to how to refer to one. People do not know the protocol. Chairperson is unambiguous and can be used to refer to a man or woman.
The Senator's colleague in the Dáil did not agree with that.
That is fine; that shows how democratic we are.
So you have no policy?
Senator Jackman, without interruption, please.
I have my own policy in relation to gender equity. One's attitude depends on whether one is male or female. Obviously, it does not affect men, but it does affect women. I would prefer the word chairperson.
I agree with the Senator.
I appreciate that.
Wherever "chairman" appears in the Bill, I will put down an amendment to change the word to "chairperson".
The term "chairperson" would be innovative for the regional technical colleges. I am sure they would be the first educational establishment to use the term. As they are known for innovation, this is another way they can lead the way. I give this matter so much importance because we are talking about education. Women keep the education system operating from pre-school on — whether we are talking about Montessori or Froebel systems. We do not have a pre-school policy, but that is for another day, nor is it mentioned in the Green Paper either. The gurus of this world are wondering what is going to happen the balance of male/female teachers in primary schools and I am sure Senator O'Toole will dwell at length on this. What will happen if children do not have the role model of the man in the classroom? What sort of boys and girls are we going to be producing at the end of the day? Even if all primary school teachers were women, I still believe they would be able to bring out well developed students. The gender equity would not be a problem there. There are women teachers all the way through the primary sector, but out of the 3,200 principals only 1,400 are women. This is not bad; but when you consider that 80 per cent of primary teachers are women you see that it does not reflect gender equity.
At second level the same thing happens. People will say women do not get promotion because they do not push for it. Some women do, but not all. Why do the other women not push for it? Equality committees in INTO, ASTI and TUI have been exploring this.
It is extraordinary that there is no equality committee at third level. That is a matter we will be raising again in relation to the Green Paper. There is a great lack of female representation in third level teaching. Why is there no equality officer at that level? A boy and girl leave third level and their last experience of education has been male dominated. They go out as educators or to other professions having been educated predominantly by men. They go into business and become leaders of the community. How are they going to sell the idea of equality in the workplace if they did not get it through their educational experiences? This is a golden opportunity for the regional technical colleges to show that they believe in equity.
Subsection (5) states:
In making appointments to a governing body pursuant to subsection (4) of this section the Minister shall have regard to the extent to which each sex is represented and shall ensure an appropriate gender balance as determined by the Minister from time to time.
That is the same old jargon we always hear; but, as far as I am concerned, we are 51 per cent of the population and we want 51 per cent of the representation. We are not getting even 50 per cent. I do not accept that the Minister can just appoint a token woman from time to time. We want it to be one of every two. As we want a male student and a female student. We want the academic staff members to be male and female, the nonacademic staff members can be either male or female. In relation to the trade union representative we want women to have as good a chance of being nominated as men. We want the vocational education committees to ensure that they have women involved. There are women in vocational education committees and it is hoped that they would have an input. At the end of the day we want the chairperson to be a woman. We also want a woman principal. The nine principals at the moment are nine men. There is no reason why a woman would not hold one of those posts. There is a whole area there that consists of a few little lines which were pushed in by the Opposition.
I compliment the Minister on eliminating the nomination procedure for membership. I know there was a lot of soul searching, but I am glad it is an election process rather than by nomination. I am sure Deputy Aylward was involved in having that pushed through. That is to be recognised and accepted and I am very pleased about it, but it was not achieved without a tremendous amount of hassle from the people who were trying to get this through in the other House.
I will go on to the Second Schedule relating to the election of the chairperson, as I would insist on calling him or her. I was surprised at this provision, particularly in view of debates on nominated persons in relation to Telecom. We have had nothing but trouble over recent years in regard to these nominees. I would much prefer people to be elected. What is wrong with electing the person? The Bill would suggest that the Minister has the preponderance of wisdom required to make this decision. I would much prefer to have a collective body electing a member rather than having a nominated person put in. It is hard for a nominated person to be accepted. One has to fight one's election.
I am accepted, Senator.
By everybody? I accept Senator McKenna as a nominated person but he is not the chairperson. I would not like nominations at all, but people are nominated for various things.
What if the Taoiseach nominated you after the next election?
I am glad the Minister believes Fine Gael will have 11 Seanad nominees. I take that as a vote of confidence.
You have not a hope.
Minister Aylward seems to think we have a chance. He is young and he knows the feeling on the ground. I take it as a great compliment that he sees Fine Gael having 11 nominees to the Seanad.
The older crowd know what is going on too, just as well as the young fellows——
We are not talking about age here. We are talking about the Bill.
As regards the chairperson, the vocational education committee can be written off; there is absolutely no reference to any input by the vocational education committee. Paragraph 2 (2) states: "The chairman shall be appointed by the Minister and may be removed from office by the Minister." That would be done by Minister Brennan. I would not want that, particularly in the light of his less than great intuition in selecting nominees in other areas. That is the kernel of the issue as far as I am concerned. There is no problem with an election. You go through the process, emerge from it and are accepted. You do not have governors or governing bodies looking for your resignation if you are elected. They put you in and they can take you out. That is something which I feel very strongly about.
In relation to many of the functions of the director, the vocational education committee has again been written out. I hope there will be flexibility as regards the regional technical colleges moving towards degree status.
I am worried about the whole question of degrees and ESF funding. In the case of many students who would have continued to degree status, their parents would have taken cognisance of the second two years as regards the family budget and they would have needed the ESF maintenance and so on for the first two years. We must keep in mind that parents planning for their children's education relied on the ESF funding to give them a breather which would enable them to afford the later years leading to degree status. I presume that the Bills will give students the opportunity of going into universities in the region after certification and diploma, that integration will be further developed in new areas of expertise, and that new disciplines and new degrees will be coming through in our universities. I hope the regional technical colleges will not be swamped in the degree area by having a lower status accorded to their degrees than that of a degree under the NUI system or that of Trinity College.
On coming in here three years ago I asked for representation in the Seanad for the University of Limerick and Dublin City University. I will certainly be looking for representation for the regional technical colleges when they are fully fledged.
I thought it was going to pass you by.
It did not pass me by. That is why it is so important to have time to debate the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, because there are so many issues emanating from it.
The Senator is not doing so badly.
Most definitely the input of the regional technical college graduates coming into this House would be extraordinarily productive and important because they would bring in a new dimension of the whole vocational technological scientific areas. There would be a nice blend between the institutions in this House.
It would brighten up the back row.
We would have a most interesting time. We look forward to Bills coming to this House eventually in relation to voting rights for the University of Limerick, Dublin City University, the regional technical colleges now in existence, other third level colleges and the new regional technical colleges when they develop. We would wish to see the whole area expand.
Give them more seats.
I have gone through the most contentious areas in relation to the problems that had to be sorted out in the Dáil.
There is one further matter I wish to raise and it relates to something which I hope will never happen again, an epistle from Minister Brennan to the vocational education committees for the information only of the Fianna Fáil councillors on the vocational education committees. I see this Bill as Minister Aylward's Bill, because he has given it most time and seems to have taken on board the issues that were causing concern. Minister Brennan's letter was sent to the chief executive officer marked "For the information of Fianna Fáil Members only". It was not accepted and it embarrassed our Fianna Fáil colleagues. We get on extremely well with our Fianna Fáil colleagues on County Limerick Vocational Education Committee, some of whom are educators. I deplore that sort of action.
We know what we want in the Colleges Bill and it did not require Minister Brennan's letter to us to know the basic objectives. I know it was a reaction to representations from the IVEA. I cannot understand this sort of behaviour. The Minister said in his letter that he wants to give the college full responsibility for their day-to-day operations. That is what they would need. He wants to maintain the colleges within the overall ambit of the vocational education committee sector by requiring them to submit plans for approval by vocational education committees and subsequent approval by the Minister and by providing strong representation of the vocational education committees and the governing bodies.
Why did he have to write this letter when all this is in the Bill for us to debate? He went on to talk about successive Ministers listening to representations and seeking to address legitimate concerns without violating the basic thrust of the Bill, with which IVEA say they are in agreement. There is a whole reference to all the times the Minister met them, but as far as I can see he met them only once, on 6 May, when he received detailed proposals which he promised to examine carefully.
I have already complimented Minister Aylward today. He did meet with the irate IVEA members and was there to face the music. He listened to their representations and then introduced a series of additional amendments in the Dáil. He took responsibility. I know Minister Brennan may have been in hospital at the time; but I just wonder if Minister Brennan, without any input from Minister Aylward, were taking this Bill through the House, where would we be today? I am not happy with it as it is, but I am happy with certain aspects of it. I would query Minister Brennan's whole stance in relation to this Bill. I would like to know whether they are Minister Brennan's or Minister Aylward's amendments.
They are great friends.
The letter goes on to say that vocational education committees may initiate action and gives a whole list of what the vocational education committees are going to do. They will have the power to appoint ordinary members. The Minister's power to direct governing bodies to cease providing courses is being deleted; we were delighted to see the Minister accede to that.
In relation to the format of programmes and budget, the Minister's role is being changed from that of "determining" to "approving", in response to an IVEA request. That is to be welcomed. In relation to seeking information from a college, the requirement that the vocational education committee could only do so "with the agreement of the Minister" has been removed. I am glad to see all these things going out, but they have only gone as a result of the IVEA pushing Fianna Fáil.
The letter goes on to say:
The Chairman, in the Bill, as initiated, was to be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the vocational education committee. Bearing in mind the need to have an independent Chairman and in line with the position in other third level institutions an amendment was proposed to provide that the Chairman would be a Ministerial nominee.
What is meant by independent? Does it mean independent of the governing body or simply that he will be independent because the Minister says so?
I still believe the chairperson should be elected, not nominated. What happens if this independent chairman has no educational background? Culliton came out with conclusions in relation to education and there is not one educator involved in the Tansey-Roche report. That seems to be the flavour of the month, that people outside education know far more about education than the practitioners. I do not accept that. I am not saying we know everything or that matters should be determined exclusively by educators. We have brought in people in the area of curriculum development, on course committees and right through the system, but I do not want people outside education dictating the whole ethos of education. I would not go in as a chairperson of the medical establishment without having a clue about what goes on in the medical area, or go into the legal establishment without any knowledge of that profession. Why does education seem to be the ragbag into which everybody and anybody can be shoved? The reason is that people say they have gone through the system. We have seen this as teachers: if the child does well, it was because she was bright; if she does badly, the teacher was to blame. I am not saying all parents believe that but there is a certain percentage who think they know a lot about education.
I would agree.
I am glad Senator McKenna agrees because that is a fact of life.
Now it has gone beyond primary second level into the whole of third level. The Minister, if he does not accept our amendment, is bringing in this independent nominated chairman, who will solve everything although he may not have an iota of understanding of education. We will be watching who the men and women are who are appointed in respect of the nine colleges and the goods will want to be delivered from the point of view of the needs of the colleges, of the vocational education committee, the staff, the governing body and from the directors' viewpoint. Given the way nominees are going at the moment, it will be a hard, tough job. Perhaps, at the end of the day nobody will want the nomination. We might have to come back to the process of holding an election. Being chairperson of a board carries a lot of responsibility. One can be in today and out tomorrow. We may be back to the idea of an election if our amendment is not accepted. That is what should happen in the end.
Minister Aylward, in his summary, made all the belated comments I would want. I do not see them as belated. As a member of the vocational education committee I can say "well done" to the vocational education committee for what they have done right through the decades. I wish the Dublin Institute of Technology and the regional technical colleges the best of luck.
They will have an exciting time in the future in carving out a role in relation to educating our people and in the development of regionalisation. Perhaps the vocational education committees will have accountability, the principle of subsidiarity will prevail and there will be growth, particularly in the west which has lost its young people. We are looking forward to an exciting time in education.
I hope we will have a wide debate on education when this document, to which many references have been made in the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, comes before us. I would like to have seen more involvement by the vocational education committees, and we intend to put down an amendment to that effect. I am sorry they have suffered so much in the past number of months through the vagaries of a changed policy. It shows the power of lobbying; if there had not been such widespread lobbying, the Bill put forward by the former Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, would have been accepted. Deputy O'Rourke said that she would take on board amendments. Women will always see the practicalities involved. This may be perceived as a sexist remark, but when it comes to practicalities women know what the people want and we ensure as best we can that their needs are met. I hope that the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology will be able to do the work given to them in the concept of the new Bills. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, will take on board our amendments. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Brennan, will take the next Stage of the Bill.
I thank Senator Jackman for giving me the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, to the House and formally congratulate him on his appointment. He has been an extremely busy Minister since he was appointed to this portfolio. In view of the fact that the Minister for Education became ill and was indisposed, a very heavy burden of responsibility rested on his shoulders and had acquitted himself excellently in that area. I take this opportunity to thank and compliment Deputy Aylward for meeting with the IVEA representatives at very short notice and affording them the opportunity to discuss their viewpoints. I assure him that it has been very much appreciated in the IVEA sector and on their behalf, I convey my sincere thanks to the Minister for his openness and willingness at all times to meet with them.
I was a little saddened Senator Jackman did not give a full welcome to the new increase in the ceiling for third level grants.
I welcomed it but said that the issue has not been addressed.
This is a measure for which every sector and every interested body in education has been pressing for quite a considerable time and the recent announcement is a magnificent step forward. As the Minister said, he would do much more were it not for the financial constraints. One has to recognise that a major step forward has been taken in this whole area. I hope that process will continue and that those who wish to avail of third level education will not be constrained by a lack of financial support. As regards the whole area of ESF grants as they relate to third level colleges, I want to emphasise that regional technical fees for college are not means tested. Many parents and students are confused about this issue because it has not been highlighted sufficiently and I want to put that fact on record.
I wish to pay a special tribute to the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology for the marvellous work they have done since their establishment over 20 years ago — the Minister, in his speech, acknowledged their work. I pay tribute to them, not just as a public representative but also as a vocational teacher and one who has been associated with the vocational education committee sector since I began my career a number of years ago. In my role as a vocational teacher I had the opportunity of dealing with the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology and I have the height of praise for the staff in these colleges and, indeed, for the boards of management. They are a very professional, committed and dedicated people. The Minister also paid tribute to them.
It is important to point out that the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology have always taken a very open and flexible approach to the needs of their students and the people in their region. They have been willing to experiment with various courses and they never lost the human touch which is the essence of education. We must, at all costs, defend the human element, which is a vital ingredient in the whole education sector.
The colleges have always taken a special interest in the welfare of their students. Strong ties have been maintained with the local community, with manufacturers, business people and with industry in general. This close relationship has often led to the placement of students who qualify from regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. It also ensures that a pool of expertise is available to the colleges and to the students when required. While retaining the human touch the regional colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology have expanded rapidly since their inception 20 years ago. Indeed, I would argue they have been the success story of the Irish educational system in the past 20 years.
As the Minister outlined in his speech, the number of students in regional technical colleges has increased by more than 200 per cent in that time while the number of full-time students in the Dublin Institute of Technology college has doubled. Equally important is the fact that the number of courses has also increased in line with demand and this reflects the preparedness of the colleges to adapt to whatever needs arise at any given time. The rapid response to demand was possible because of the local democratic base from which the colleges emanated and from which they operate. They anticipated needs and responded accordingly, and that is one of the secrets of their success. I hope the Bills before us build on the fine tradition and enhance the adaptability, flexibility and responsiveness of the colleges. When talking about regional technical colleges we should remember their importance to the communities and the regions in which they serve.
The Minister in his speech said that he wants to strike a reasonable balance between the greater freedom and autonomy of the institutions in their day-to-day operations and the input of the vocational education committees. I would say to the Minister that the Irish Vocational Education Association, who represent the vocational education committee sector, have absolutely no objection to that philosophy. Indeed, I would have to say that the vocational education committee sector was the very first education sector to plan and set down a blueprint for change in a document produced by the IVEA before the Green Paper was signalled. The IVEA recognise and acknowledge the need for change and for developing to local level responsibility for the day-to-day running of schools. The vocational education committee sector do not wish to see the control of the colleges being centralised as that would be detrimental.
I would question the thinking of people in some quarters that the present governing and administration procedures have inhibited growth of the colleges. I do not believe that is so. I have already outlined the growth in student numbers — the Minister referred to that matter — and the increase in courses over the past 20 years, which is extraordinary, particularly in view of the financial constraints on the colleges in those years. The existing governing structures have served the colleges very well, allowing for local and regional participation. I would be concerned that the proposed structure would result in less power for the board of management and locally elected representatives and would allow less academic freedom and flexibility in responding to the changing demands in local communities. It is extremely important that the vocational education committee link be maintained and developed where possible. I hope that of passing these Bills we do not interfere with that link, which is absolutely crucial.
The rôle of the vocational education committee and the local elected representative is extremely important. The local representative is a vital cog in the whole area of democracy and devolving power to local level. As regards the preparation of Bills and the setting up of structures, I acknowledge that the civil servants are dedicated and committed. They are exemplary in the manner in which they carry out their duties. However, as they are not elected representatives they follow a different agenda, and I am not knocking or criticising them for that. They hold different views as to the needs in particular areas.
We have heard much talk in recent time about decentralisation. Decentralisation involves much more than transferring a number of civil servants from Dublin to provincial towns. It should be about devolving power from the centre to the regions. The regional technical colleges were one of the best examples — one could argue they were the only real example — of decentralisation. With their foundation the provincial towns and cities were renewed and reinvigorated. Local economies were boosted, employment was provided directly in the colleges and ancillary services and local businesses flourished. The arrival of the student population gave a fresh injection to the local economies. Those who provide accommodation in the areas involved prospered. The ancillary and spin-off effects of the colleges were absolutely astounding in that many towns that were on the decline were brought back to life. Because the colleges were directly responsible to their communities they showed more flexibility and adaptability than any other education structure, and that has to be acknowledged and recognised.
Senator Jackman referred to universities and the need for more co-operation and interchange of courses and students between universities and regional technical colleges, and I see nothing wrong with that. I speak as one who was privileged to be a university graduate in the sixties and had the regional technical colleges taken a similar attitude to that taken by universities to the changing society in Ireland at that time they would not be the success story they are today. They would have progressed very little from the days of simply providing part-time courses and apprenticeships.
I would refer again to Senator Jackman's contribution — I know she will forgive me for doing so — in relation to the naming of the regional technical colleges and the fact that they should be called polytechnics. I refute the connotations of disadvantage, as I am sure do the colleges, in relation to the title "regional technical college". Their record over the past number of years since they were established speaks for itself. The increase in numbers in the regional technical colleges of more than 200 per cent and in the Dublin Institute of Technology of more than 100 per cent is evidence of the standing in which they are held by the people. I want to go on record as saying that in many instances students who acquired a sufficient number of points to attend university opt for the regional technical colleges because of their more practical, open and flexible approach in relation to the provision of courses.
Local democracy is vital to the development of regional technical colleges. It is vital that this input be maintained and strengthened in the development of the Irish education system. We must ensure at all costs that our regional technical colleges are not in the future geared towards a more academic type syllabus, making them responsive to local communities, businesses and indeed, industry. To argue that the local public representative does not have a role to play in education is to misunderstand the facts. There must be checks and balances in any democracy. Institutions must be answerable to the public and must respond to the local needs and to public opinion. This opinion is best articulated at local level by public representatives and at national level by the Oireachtas Members.
The vocational education committees have responded extremely well to the needs of their communities. As has been mentioned earlier, when they were set up their brief was limited. They were seen at the outset, largely as responding to the needs of disadvantaged people. They took that on board and did a tremendous job. Any educationalist or other person who carried out a study of the education system would have to acknowledge the tremendous contribution of the vocational education committees in relation to the whole area of the disadvantaged.
Side by side with that brief they developed into the mainstream second level courses and then moved into third level. Every area in which they were involved has been a success. We cannot underestimate their contribution over the past years. The committee who originally prepared the brief for the regional technical colleges were quoted earlier by the Minister, and I would like to quote from another section of their report:
If they are to make the most effective contribution to the needs of society and the economy they must be capable of continuing adaptation to social, economic and technological changes. Initiative at local and national levels will largely determine how far this vital characteristic will develop.
The success of the colleges has proven the wisdom of that type of approach.
I warmly welcome the amendments introduced by the Minister to these Bills. I compliment the Minister and appreciate the way in which he responded to the representations made to him in relation to the importance of retaining a strong vocational education committee input and influence. As one who represents that area I believe that the amendments did not go far enough, but I appreciate the constraints within which the Minister operates. I acknowledge and welcome the fact that he did respond within the brief given to him.
Senator Jackman made great play about the Green Paper and about references to the vocational education committees in that document. In the context of the debate on the Green Paper I would urge the Minister to give the greatest possible consideration to the vocational education committee sector as a vehicle for further development of Irish education. The vocational education committees still have a vital role to play. They have not let the Irish education system down in the past and I do not think they will do so in the future. I again welcome the Minister of State and acknowledge the tremendous work he has done since his appointment. I wish him the very best of luck in the future.
I join with Senator McKenna in welcoming the Minister, Deputy Aylward, to his post and I wish him well. I have no doubt that he will bring to the post the energy which he brings to any job he takes on and I look forward to working with him.
In general my response to this legislation is a very positive one. It is not an area in which I have great expertise and I know nothing about the row between the vocational education committees and the Minister on this matter, but I would like to raise some questions. I agree with the comments made by Senator McKenna about the need for local representation and the involvement of local public representatives in the educational area. The INTO raised that point in their submission to the New Ireland Forum. I agree with that thinking in respect of all sectors of education. I find it extraordinary — this is a matter that is never referred to by Members of the Oireachtas, probably because we have a vested interest in the area — that we all accept, without a murmur, the exclusion of Members of the Oireachtas from participation in the work of these colleges. This is something I would like to hear the Minister justify.
There would be a vague justification for it if there was a different method of making regulations. However, the Minister has taken the advice of his civil servants one more time and taken the power of regulation from the Oireachtas. All legislation that has come through this House in the last few years has contained the same negative provision "if it has not been changed within 21 days". There is no justification for excluding Members of the Oireachtas from participating in the governing bodies of regional technical colleges.
I would put a question to the Minister to which I would ask him to respond. Considering that Members of this House may become members of the local health authority, the regional health authority and the regional tourism board, why are they excluded from involvement as members of governing bodies of regional technical colleges? This is not a major issue, but our role should not be diminished in any way. I do not think there is a conflict of interest in this area and I ask the Minister to consider that matter.
I welcome the need for gender equity and equality of opportunity as one of the main thrusts of the Green Paper — this is also evident in these Bills. However, I have to agree with Senator Jackman's comment on the actual terminology used. I do not care what the draftspersons say, but it is unacceptable to use the term "chairman" in this day and age. It is offensive and is exclusive in its meaning. I know that is not the intention, and many women will disagree with me, but I will certainly be proposing that we change thw word "chairman" to "cathaoirleach" or "chairperson". I do not like the cumbersome word "chairperson"; the neuter gender word "cathaoirleach" is acceptable and should be used. I ask the Minister to accept a proposal on Committee Stage to change the word "chairman" to "cathaoirleach", with consequential changes throughout the Bills. I recognise that in the Second Schedule there is a statement to the effect that the chairman shall be called by whatever title the governing body wish that person to be called. That is cumbersome language and I do not know whether it reflects the point I am making or the fact that third level colleges very often put different titles on people in this role. I would welcome the Minister's views on that matter. It would be a small change which would cost nothing.
I listened to the Minister for Education speaking yesterday in the other House about the need not just to believe in something but to carry it through. He was explaining the position of third level grants in the Private Members' debate last night. It is not enough to say these things, you must also take action. Somebody will have to tell the draftspersons that "chairman" should be changed to "cathaoirleach" if not "chairperson"— I favour the word "cathaoirleach". The INTO, of which I am a member, changed their rules some years ago to respond to that point.
Without a shadow of a doubt the regional technical colleges have been a success story not only in the vocational or the training system but in the education system. To think that they are successful in one or two areas only diminishes their authority. They are a very effective and successful part of the education system and they deserve our support.
I want to raise some questions about the role of the vocational education committee because I envisage problems arising in this area. From listening to the debate so far, reading articles in the newspaper and meeting members of the IVEA in the last number of months, I am not quite sure how this system will work. I represent the university sector here, but I find it the most nauseatingly exclusive sector within the education system. I would not have objected to the Minister putting constraints on universities, making them answerable to a local educational committee. Why should the universities be allowed to hide behind walls, say, in Dublin 4 without being held answerable to any local education authority? They have an autonomous governing body. If we want to give the regional technical colleges the same status they should have the same authority.
Am I right in saying that a governing body will have to seek the permission of the vocational education committee if they want to seek an overdraft facility? Considering that a governing body, as an authority, can be sued and can sue, it is extraordinary that they will not be entitled to seek an overdraft facility. After all, both the students and staff of the colleges can do so. I wonder what will happen if a college draws up a plan and need an overdraft or bridging finance and the vocational education committee say no. I would like to know how that difficulty will be resolved as I cannot see how it can be resolved under this legislation, particularly if there are bad relations between them.
The ordinary members of a governing body will be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the vocational education committee. There are gaps in the wording and I wonder what will happen if the Minister does not like what is being recommended to him. Will he or she be able to refuse to make the appointment? Nobody has authority in this case. We have a situation where neither the Minister nor the vocational education committee has the authority to appoint the members of the board. While the vocational education committees have the power to make recommendations to the Minister, it is the Minister who will make the appointment. I am not sure if the Minister will have discretion or what will happen if he decides that a person is unsuitable for whatever reason.
Under this section of the Bill a vocational education committee will be required to nominate two persons — Senator Jackman made this point also — who will then be recommended to the Minister. This provision has led to confusion, and I do not think the section is well drafted. We should be clear on what will happen if the Minister feels that somebody is completely unsuitable. For example, what will happen if they recommend somebody whom the Minister feels will use the college as a training school for terrorists? This is not so far-fetched especially when one considers that previous Governments found themselves in all sorts of difficulties some years back when they decided they did not want to deal with people of a certain political colour. If the Minister gets the list and says that he does not think a particular person is suitable and that he is not going to appoint him, what will happen then? While it is clear that the Minister will be able to dismiss an authority or a governing body, I am not clear on what will happen in this case.
Having mentioned the question of the overdraft, I would like to refer to the annual budget of the governing body. Section 14 (3) states:
The Vocational Education Committee may, in respect of the programmes and budget submitted to it under this section, either approve of such programmes and budget without modification or, following appropriate consultation with the governing body, approve of the programmes and budget with such modifications as it thinks fit to make.
That is an extraordinary way to do business.
Does the Senator have a copy of the Bill as passed by the Dáil?
Yes, I am referring to section 14 (3) which will allow a vocational education committee, in respect of the programmes submitted to it, and following consultation with the governing body, to make such modifications as it thinks fit. It will also allow the Minister to lift the phone to announce that he is going to make changes to the programme submitted. Not only will the governing body have to seek permission to seek an overdraft facility but the vocational education committee will be able to decide on their budget. If they do not hold the purse strings they will not be autonomous.
While I wonder if there is a need to impose constraints I can see the need for transparency and budgeting. I am aware that the Minister will ask in response "how can I satisfy everyone" but it is important to bear in mind that there are two points of view. The reason I am speaking about this matter is that I think it is important.
The Senator is not Secretary of the INTO for nothing.
Exactly. I want to put that point of view across. While I can see the need for budgeting, I am worried that their programme of work may be changed or modified by the vocational education committee.
If a governing body wants to offer a new certificate, diploma or degree course and the vocational education committee say "no", then that will be the end of the matter. While I have a difficulty with that, I am not anti-Vocational Education Committee. I think, however, that we need to be clear on the authority of different groups. I am of the view that all educational institutes in an area, be it the local primary school, university or regional techical college should be answerable to a local educational authority similar to the vocational education committee. What is happening here is that the politicians are protecting the members of vocational education committees for particular reasons. I am of the view that local educational committees should be given responsibility for every educational institution from pre-school to primary school, secondary school, vocational school, regional technical colleges and university. I think nobody could argue with that suggestion as it would enable us to ensure there is public local representation on each one of them. I can certainly commend that suggestion to the Minister of State.
I raised the question of the Members of the Oireachtas and I want the Minister of State to come back to us on it. In relation to the issue of transparency I am aware that the Minister for Education has a keen interest in the question of inspection which is dealt with in section 21:
The Minister may authorise inspectors and other officers of the Department of Education and such other persons as the Minister may deem appropriate to report to the Minister on the efficiency of instruction given in the College.
I would like to know who in the Department of Education is going to inspect these colleges and report on the efficiency of instruction because I am not sure if they have the necessary, expertise although I have no objection to that arrangement. Does this mean the Minister is going to extend the remit of the inspectorate to cover the third-level sector to allow them carry out this task? It would be much better if the Minister deleted the reference to the Department of Education so that the section would read as follows: "The Minister may authorise inspection as he or she deems appropriate to report to him or her on the efficiency of instruction given in a college" It should not be confined to officers of the Department of Education.
On the subject of officers, I note that a passing reference is made in the Bill to "servants and officers of the college". However I cannot find a definition of "servants and officers" in this legislation. I await the Minister's response. What are the definitions of "servants" and "officers"? What is the difference? How will they be appointed? To whom will they be responsible? Will they have access to the structures outlined in the Industrial Relations Act, 1946, and other legislation dealing with the unfair dismissals and appeals tribunals? Those words should be deleted if the definition is not clear. If they were included because somebody thought it was a good idea, they should be deleted because their inclusion will only lead to confusion and problems down the line.
I support the provision in the Bill which gives the Minister power to dissolve a governing body because Ministers have been given a job to do and they should be answerable to the Oireachtas and the people. What I dislike about this is the negative approach adopted. I believe the regulations should have to be approved by the House rather than the approach adopted in the Bill — that every regulation made by the Minister shall be laid before each House as soon as may be after it is made if either House, within 21 days on which that House has sat after such regulation is laid before it, passes a resolution annulling the regulation or part of it. As every civil servant knows, that would probably be too late because each regulation always carries the words "without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder". In other words, the Minister can make and take action on foot of regulations which can only be annulled by the Houses of the Oireachtas on the basis that anything done in the intervening period is valid. That is undemocratic.
Reference was made to the proposal to increase third level grants. This is a positive and welcome step. This is the most progressive development in education for 20 years. The Minister and Government should be complimented on their work in this area. However, I should put the matter in context with particular reference to what is being done by the social partners, workers, employers, the Government, Members of the Oireachtas and other public representatives in tackling the major problem of unemployment.
The findings of every study and survey point to the following fact, namely, a person with a qualification is more likely to find employment. The regional technical colleges play an important role in that process. Senator McKenna spoke about the need to maintain close contact with the local business community — this view is reflected in the Green Paper — but it is nonsense to suggest that employment can be created if the education service serves business. That is not true and can only lead to problems in the future.
The trend in the United States is in the opposite direction. What employers need is a flexible and well educated person who can then be trained to do a specific job. A bright, intelligent and well educated person will be able to do a particular job easily. On the other hand, people with a specific qualification may be slow to change and grasp new opportunities. The major corporations in the United States are no longer taking on people with a qualification in business studies or marketing; rather they are taking on people with a general qualification because that person can be trained to do specific tasks. I do not want courses to have a narrow focus because we will only create problems for ourselves later given that technology is changing. We need to have people who are flexible, willing to be retrained and able to grasp new opportunities. In the computer world each person can now expect to be retrained or change positions four or five times in their career. That is an important point.
There is a need to increase participation in third level education. Increasing third level grants is a welcome move but we should make it easier for the people to avail of third level education. We need to ask ourselves who are the people who can avail of third level education and where do they come from? The move to third level education depended on their academic performance in second level schools which, in turn, depended on the quality of education provided at first level. While I welcome the move announced within the last two days and praise the Government it will not lead to increased participation in third level education by people from deprived areas.
The point I am trying to make is that if the local school does not have the money to build an extra classroom, to buy a computer or to send the children on school tours, then their parents will have to pay if they have the money. The better off the parents of first and second level student the more experience the students will get. This, in turn, should lead to a better academic performance on which the decision to participate at third level will be based. That matter has not been addressed in the Bill.
If we want to increase the participation in third level education of all groups in society, the backgrounds of the children will have to be considered from the moment they enter the education system. The Minister may say I have a vested interest in first level education and that would not be untrue but that does not make the points I am raising less valid.
I am not sure whether Senator Jackman dealt with the following issue but she was slow in getting around to the question of franchise in relation to third level education. Section 4 of both Bills which deals with the membership of the colleges and institute lists the people who will be members in paragraphs (a) to (f). With the exception of the graduates, each of these will have an input in relation to the structure of the governing body.
I should point out to the Minister of State that the position is different in the universities. In the older universities graduates have the right to elect representatives to the governing body. For instance, the graduates of UCD elect six members to the governing body. Every-time this issue is discussed here Senator Honan looks across at me and thinks that there is some kind of threat, but every graduate of every third level institution should have the right to vote in the election of the third level representatives in the Seanad. I said this six years before I was elected to this House. Therefore I have been consistent on this issue.
We are in agreement then.
I hold similar views in relation to the way in which the rest of the Members of this House are elected inasmuch as I believe fishermen should have the right to elect people to the fisheries boards——
We are dealing with a different matter now, Senator.
This is relevant.
The Senator should stick with the fellows who do not know him as he might not be elected to any other body.
All I am saying is that the graduates of these colleges should be enfranchised in the same way as the electorates for the other panels represented in this House. All the other people should have a vote, not just members of local authorities.
As there is a regional technical college in Athlone, I must agree with the Senator.
As I said, the graduates of the colleges should be enfranchised. They should have a vote in the election of third level representatives to this House. I recognise that this would require a constitutional amendment, but it should be done if the matter has not been covered already by the enabling legislation and the changes made in 1980. However it is even more important — perhaps this is more germane — that they should have a vote in the election of members to the governing body. Given that that is the position in UCD, UCG, UCC and other places, why are we diminishing the status of the graduates of the regional technical colleges? It is the same old story. In allowing the universities to be oblivious to the local vocational educational committees and making the people listed responsible we are saying that these older universities are somehow better and stronger institutions, but that cannot be right.
Surely, the graduates of those third-level colleges should have a vote in the election of members to the governing body. This could be done by extending the membership of the board but I would be wary — I disagree with what Senator Jackman had to say on this — because it would be a nightmare if we had 18 people on a committee. I am of the view that the smaller the committee the more efficient.
Section 6, which deals with the membership of the governing bodies, states that "five persons shall be nominated by such organisations as the vocational education committee considers require representation..." I am not sure who they will be and the Minister of State did not expand on the matter in his speech, which was 23 pages long. Since it has not been clearly defined who these people will be, perhaps that number could be reduced to three, with the other two being elected by the graduates. The graduates of the colleges should have a vote and a say. I support the idea that the students, the college staff, both academic and nonacademic, and the ICTU should be able to nominate a representative.
I am always conscious of the fact in relation to legislation such as this that there is a political agenda and there is no doubt with regard to the First Schedule, that if we superimpose it on a map of Ireland, there is a problem in the west. No matter which way one looks at the matter a solid case can be made on behalf of Castlebar, County Mayo. I do not want to get involved in a local political row or wrangle and that is not the reason I raise the matter. If one looks at a map of Ireland this becomes clear. I am aware of all the arguments — one could say that Sligo is only 50 miles away and Galway 55, but if people go to school in a particular place they will put down roots there. Indeed one of my own children is attending the third level college in Limerick which in some respects is home to him. That bothers me.
He is watching the vote down there.
Senator O'Toole to continue without interruption. Incidentally, Senator O'Toole, you are inviting others to interrupt.
There is a relaxed atmosphere in the Chamber.
A strong case can be made on behalf of Castlebar. Therefore, the Minister of State will forgive me if I table an amendment to the First Schedule to include the words "Regional Technical College, Castlebar, County Mayo", which is a huge county. I will await the Minister's response. As I said, a strong case can be made on its behalf. The education system in County Mayo has contributed a lot and it should not be excluded from the First Schedule. The Minister must respond.
I welcome this legislation which I consider to be good legislation. The points I have raised are marginal ones and have been raised in an effort to be as helpful as possible. I ask the Minister of State, if at all possible, to take on board some of the proposals I have made.
I compliment the parliamentary draftsman and advisers for the way in which they have drafted this legislation. As usual, the public servants have done us proud. It is fine legislation and will stand the test of time. While I know there are differences of opinion in relation to the question of accountability to the vocational education committees, nobody will disagree with the general thrust of the Bill which is both welcome and long overdue. It gives a new status to the regional technical colleges which is well deserved and which has been well earned over the past 21 years. They have made an invaluable contribution and long may they continue. In giving them every possible support we should ensure that the legislation does not focus on vocational education only; it should be as broad as possible. As I said, we should give the colleges our support as well as giving them autonomy. This legislation will be of importance in the future in creating employment.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am sure he will be relieved to learn I am not going to discuss the Green Paper. I am going to confine my remarks to the Bills before us which, as Senator O'Toole said, are to be commended.
We should stress the importance of the regional technical colleges and their role in education over the past 21 years. I believe we are all familiar as well with the standards of excellence in the various colleges that make up the Dublin Institute of Technology. There is an enormous range of courses available to our young people within the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. Their function is to provide vocational and technological education and training for the economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial, social and cultural development of this State. That is certainly quite a long menu and it is one, we must agree, with which they concern themselves with and on which they do a good job. I hope the Bills will give the necessary flexible legislative framework under which the adaptation and development of these colleges can be fostered and encouraged.
I believe it would be an acknowledgement of the role of the Dublin Institute of Technology and the regional technological colleges if degree awarding powers were granted. I know that is something for the future, but it is something that I think should come about as quickly as possible. It would be appropriate in so far as the Bills seek to give increased autonomy to the institutions, and it is a move I certainly welcome wholeheartedly in our education process. I know that the colleges are very aware of the necessity to build up entrepreneurial skills, marketing and business administration and of making education relevant to the employment needs in the country. I will refer to this later on. I did not quite agree with the emphasis Senator O'Toole gave to the situation in the States, but I will come back to that later.
The Culliton report emphasises that we should be conscious of the need for the development of skills appropriate to our employment needs at home. It has unfortunately been a feature of Irish society to downgrade the type of education received at vocational level and in doing that to concentrate more on the humanities. I do not think that is to say that we should now go overboard in the opposite direction and I do not think that is implied. What we are talking about here is the whole picture. Education should be about the development of the whole person. That is not something we should abandon, but is an aspiration we should cling to. It is necessary to strike a balance and, unfortunately, we have really come down too far on one side. In most countries third level education tends to be divided into what can be described as the more traditional universities and, on the other hand, institutions dedicated to technological training and development. I want to refer mostly to vocational training and education.
The regional colleges have a primary role to bring about a change in attitudes here. Having taught for a number of years and worked as a guidance counsellor, I always found it a little bit disheartening that academic skills were valued so much more than other skills which might be more appropriate in later life or more appropriate in the workplace. As so many people have said, the regional technical colleges have provided the opportunity for very many of our young people to receive third level education, and many of them within their own immediate area. Obviously, one of the great benefits of this is the contribution that the colleges have made in economic, cultural and social development of their regions. A case has been made earlier for particular regional colleges. It would be very remiss of me not to point to the undertaking that was given a number of years ago in relation to the three regional technical colleges in the Dublin area. At that time my own constituency, the area of Dún Laoghaire, was nominated as one of the suitable locations. Despite the fact that a site was purchased and plans drawn up, nothing ever happened. As we are referring in general terms to regional technical colleges, I wonder if the Minister would let me and the people of Dún Laoghaire know what the prospects are and whether or not it is a runner. I imagine we would not exactly be first in the queue, but it would be nice to know do we figure at all.
I recognise the difficulties people have in relation to the whole vocational education committee area. It is important to arrive at a balance between the need for autonomy by the colleges and the desire of the vocational education committees to maintain their relationship. There are many sensibilities there that have to be addressed. It is extremely important that the colleges be genuinely developed. It is to be welcomed that in the Bill's guidelines the principle is established that the colleges have a role in research and training. Also to be welcomed is the development towards serving the business interests of the particular region. Senator O'Toole seemed to infer that there was something wrong in this development. I do not think that is the case. A lot has to do with the approach of the colleges and of the regions themselves.
Because of the heavily academic weighted nature of the leaving certificate many students who want to pursue further education find themselves blocked from going to university. This is one of the reasons why such an anti enterprise culture prevails and why appreciation of the value of other skills has been clouded.
We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of students attending colleges. I believe something like 20,000 is the latest figure. Unfortunately, despite the fact that there are ever increasing numbers attending third level education, we still lag behind our EC partners. From that point of view I would like to welcome the announcement made last night in relation to third level grants. I believe that will be helpful. I hope the Bills will give added incentive for research and development so that the relevance of the regional technical colleges' role will be enhanced further. We need to train our young people to compete in the marketplace here and also, because of the increased mobility within the European Community — and unfortunately because of our own employment situation — we need to give them the skills to compete elsewhere too.
In no sense do I want to separate the two Bills in this debate because there is a considerable overlap in the autonomy that will ensue as a result of the Bills, but in a general sense I think it is important to underscore the excellence of both.
I have no interest in talking about the long history of development of the colleges. All of that has been well delineated already. One thing we hear a great deal about here is how service industry is the key to the future and how we will find jobs there for our young people. I believe that such loose talk about service industry shows that people do not know what they are talking about. In order to build a society with employment prospects and good levels of income we have to develop a service industry with high added value, such as information technology. We cannot undervalue the role of the regional technical colleges, and indeed of the Dublin Institute of Technology, in this.
This is where I differ to some extent from the point Senator O'Toole was making earlier. How vital this is can be seen from the US experience. There highly paid, high added value manufacturing jobs, resulting in high levels of disposable income, have declined to be replaced in many instances by low paid, low added value jobs. Over the last 15 to 20 years incomes have declined in real terms because a higher proportion of the workforce are in those low added value, low paid jobs. The multiplier effect of that is self evident. One of the reasons the US economy is so sluggish is that it is a society which has been really bled of cash. We can also see where the highly skilled, high added value and, therefore, highly paid jobs are. They are not in the States any more; they are in the Far East, in Japan, and in Europe as well, Germany, for instance. The lesson is undeniable. Training is a priority. Skills to maintain the type of service industry which can command wealth for our economy are vital. That is why these Bills are to be welcomed, even if they are to an extent overdue. I do not have any problem about getting them through because they are important.
The colleges and the Institute of Technology need a general policy framework and the freedom to exercise their autonomy. There should be as great a degree of flexibility as is necessary to permit the development of those colleges, enable them to respond to the needs of the workplace and to help develop a healthy economy through the ability of our young people to develop the skills to enable them to find work here. They should be enabled to have the type of relationship within their region to allow us build upon their skills in order to create more jobs. That is terribly important. It is only one factor. It is not a solution to our unemployment problems, but it is certainly an area that should be thought about and should be built upon.
I would like to welcome the Minister to the House and in the same breath express my disappointment that the Minister for Education is not here.
He will be back in a few minutes.
I had not realised he was here all morning. He certainly was not here when we started. There was another Minister, Deputy Aylward. I am looking forward to seeing him come along here.
This is a very important piece of legislation. In the three years we have been in the House these are the first two Education Bills we have had. Yet we have had to discuss them together on the same day and we are going to have, I understand, a maximum of two days to discuss them. Next week we will have another Education Bill dealing with higher education grants. In the space of two weeks we are to have three pieces of education legislation. In the space of three years we did not have any education legislation, but now we will be forced to put this legislation through this House of the Oireachtas in that short space of time. I must express my greatest disappointment at the fact that——
May I just refer to a point the Senator and other Senators have made? I recall that within less than two years we had the Limerick University Bill and the Dublin University Bill. The Senator is incorrect.
Those were localised Bills as distinct from broad national Bills, which the present Bills are. These Bills deal with the major issue of policies in relation to vocational and technical education and indeed business and commercial education at third level. This is apart from the whole underlying principle in relation to democratic control of education which also has to be teased out. I think therefore it is reasonable to refer to it in this context. It is particularly relevant to the Seanad because the Seanad is the House which has six Members elected from the colleges of higher education, albeit the universities. Therefore, there is a specific panel relating to education. To see two enormous pieces of legislation, plus further legislation coming in next week, dealt with in this limited fashion is disappointing. What makes it so limited is the fact that the Dáil will have ceased to sit by the end of this week. The day we will be finalising these two pieces of legislation there will be absolutely no possibility of going back to the Dáil with any amendments. In effect, therefore, we are talking in a vacuum in relation to any proposals we may have on these two Bills or on the Bill that will be coming before us next week. Irrespective of any other point I might make, I regard that as an insult to this House and it is certainly not the way to do business. I regret very much that the Minister for Education is not here to hear me say that.
Perhaps I could also refer to my disappointment that I was not invited, either as a Senator or as a member of the City of Dublin vocational education committee, or as chairman of a college council or as a former president of a teachers' union concerned with education, to the launch of the Green Paper on Education. It would have been appropriate for the Department of Education to have——
It is not relevant to the Bills.
It is not directly relevant, but it reflects the overall point I am making and that I wanted to make to the Minister: that the Minister is showing a lack of concern for those of us in this House concerned with education. A good proportion of Members of this House are concerned with education, not only in professional terms but also in local authority terms, because many are members of vocational education committees and have given much service in the areas we are discussing at present.
Overall, I welcome the fact that a statutory basis is being given to the colleges, whether it be the regional colleges or the six colleges that make up the Dublin Institute of Technology. I welcome the fact that a level of autonomy is being granted to them. I must say that I am not opposed to the streamlining of the colleges, whether at regional or national level, and I think that the decision to do so was a good one. I would express reservations about the manner in which it has been done. I think we have been putting the cart before the horse in relation to all of this. We decided under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress that there would be a Green Paper published on education, that there would be a White Paper to follow it and that there would be an overall Education Act by the end of last year. December 1991 has to be the time for the conclusion of deliberations on the Green Paper. We were then to have an Education Bill which would operate as an umbrella legislation dealing with the whole area of education at primary, second and third levels. These two Bills would then incorporate the policies and directions discussed in the legislation. Unfortunately, we have not had that. We have just had the Green Paper published and there has been no opportunity to discuss the implications of it in relation to the Bills before us. A large section of the Green Paper deals with higher education and specifically with vocational and technical eduation and particularly with the area of the enterprise culture the Minister is so fond of promoting. We have not had an opportunity to reflect on that. We have not had an opportunity to debate that or in any way to incorporate it into the provisions of these Bills. That is the wrong way to do business.
This Bill was introduced in the Dáil in June 1991 by the then Minister for Education, Deputy Mary O'Rourke. It was revised by the new Minister in December 1991 and the vocational education committee role, which had been taken out of the Bill originally, was to a large extent replaced by the new Minister. It is interesting that it should have been because he was a Minister who was very close to the ground in relation to the input into the regional colleges by the vocational education committees and into the Dublin Institute of Technology. At local authority level he was a man who was very much aware of the input to education that had been made by the democratically elected representatives on those bodies. Then the new Minister came along and he again reduced the vocational education committee role to a considerable degree. I will not go through the various elements of it, but first there was a swing from reduction to replacement, reduction again in June, and then at the beginning of July the new Minister accepted some amendments that increased the vocational education committee role to an extent — in other words, there was a level of rowing back.
All of this reflects an enormous confusion about the Bill. The Bill has undergone a number of sea changes in the space of 12 months, an enormous number of sea changes as three different Ministers came into office. That further makes my point about the need to have the discussion on the Education Act first before we first go down this road at this time, 63 years after the passing of the 1930 Vocational Education Act. We should not be acting in a rash fashion before we have the overall comprehensive debate on education with the input from all over the country. The Minister has said he will take it to every corner of the country, that he will leave it open to the public, that he will be present at many of the debates, that he will take on board the ideas that are coming forward. In relation to the third level of vocational education, all of this will be lost. There will be no input. I can assure the Minister that when he goes down the country in the autumn — he postponed doing so and far be it from me to suggest a motive — he will be asked why he rushed through the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill and the Regional Colleges Bill before he gave the people on the ground, the grass roots, a chance to speak. Here we are talking about parents and people who are interested in education because they are concerned about themselves and their children. He will be asked why the Bill was not postponed to enable them to put their views to him.
In relation to the situation at the present time at third level there is no doubt that there is an enormous increase in the number of students in recent years. Education is one of the areas that has really taken off in this country. It will be generally agreed that we have one of the finest educational systems anywhere in the world at primary, second and third level. It would be hard to disagree with the statement that there has been greater innovation in educational development in the vocational sector than anywhere else. I think it would be universally recognised that in terms of curriculum development and expansion of courses the vocational education system has responded well. This applies to continuing education, adult education, apprenticeship, post leaving certificate courses, almost every type of development. Indeed the Minister in his address this morning, said that the International Study Group on Technological Education were fulsome in their praise of the way in which these institutions have fulfilled their role and have become a significant and vital element in higher education.
This is something that has been working very well and the old adage is: why change something that works very well? The Minister gave certain reasons why the changes have taken place, and I will address those later on, but the track record of the vocational sector has been second to none. I say that as a person who has operated as a teacher in the non-vocational sector, in the voluntary secondary sector. I am full of praise for the vocational sector and what it has done. I understand it. Approximately 130,000 people at the present time are doing adult education courses in the colleges throughout the country. There are 26,000 doing post-leaving certificates courses. That is an area that has literally mushroomed over the last decade, an area that has been pioneered by the vocational system to such an extent that an accreditation body was established recently to give creditation to the very large number of courses that are now coming on stream. There are 10,000 apprenticeships approximately at the present time and 28,000 students at third level in the colleges. All of that adds up to approximately 200,000 students other than second level with some 70,000 second level students.
In fact, the vocational education system has become a system of further education rather than a system of second level education. It was seen as a system of second level education in 1930 when it was established, but because it has responded to the continuing needs of education — scientific, technological, industrial, business, commercial — it has now reached the stage where it has become the parent rather than the child of the system. About three times the number of people are now studying at third level or further than there are at second level. It is not sufficient to say that the system is largely a second level system. It is not; it is now largely a further education system, and from the point of view what we are doing here today is all the more important.
May I refer to some of the statements which have been made by those who are the representatives of the practitioners in the system, whether it be the vocational education committees or the IVEA itself? I am sure the Minister is acquainted with some of the statements which have been made, in public and in correspondence with the Minister. As late as the 3 July, and that is including all the amendments that have been introduced so far, the general secretary of the Irish Vocational Education Association, having met the Minister for Education, was writing in the following terms:
The IVEA is still not reassured and is deeply concerned about the future of the colleges. vocational education committee members are still not convinced that the current Bills are in the best interests of the colleges and students. The Bills have changed very significantly due to extensive amending over the past year. We fail to understand why adequate time is not being permitted to consider the full effects of the amended Bills. This is particularly relevant in view of the fact that the legal and administrative arrangements cannot now be put in place for implementation next September. In view of the vital position the colleges must hold in national economic and labour market policies, it would seem very appropriate to be cautious about such fundamental changes.
That is precisely the point I have been making, that we are railroading through these two Bills at a time when we are about to embark on the only major education debate that has taken place in the country in this century. It is coherent; the fundamental groundwork has been done; it will be operating initially on a six month basis and then continuing on to the preparation of a White Paper; we will have further public discussion and then head towards actual legislation. It is the first really coherent, overall discussion on legislation in relation to education.
I will give the Minister some idea of the thinking of the vocational education committees at the time. The County Carlow Vocational Education Committee "supports the IVEA in its fight to maintain a role for vocational education committees in the management of the regional technical colleges." The Laois Vocational Education Committee "condemns the proposed Colleges Bill as an antidemocratic move to exclude local democratic control of regional technical colleges and to replace it with centralised bureaucratic control and calls for the Bill to be shelved pending an open national debate on education." In Donegal, the same thing — local democratic structures, the need for a comprehensive debate on education.
Whether you agree with it or not, the point remains valid that there is concern throughout the country that this is being rushed at the point when the real debate on education, or educational policy and educational direction is about to take place. People are worried and those who are worried are local elected representatives. They are not cranks; they are people who have been elected throughout the country, who are the entities of local democracy. The words being used widely are "centralised, bureaucratic control", "anti-democratic", "the need for local democratic structures" and the role of the vocational education committee being "undermined or abolished."
Despite the fact that the IVEA representatives met the Minister at the end of June, they are still not reassured that the Minister has taken sufficiently on board their recommendations and that the vocational education committees and local democracy will be protected. That is the real issue: the abolition of local democratic structures and their replacement with centralised control. The colleges are the property of the people and to ensure that they remain their property there must be a sufficient element of local and regional control and not centralised control. Those are the concerns that have been expressed to me and which are being expressed widely throughout the country.
Similar concern is expressed by the City of Dublin vocational education committee, not only by the committee but also by the chief executive. Here is an example of a letter from the City of Dublin vocational education committee, written on 26 June after the Minister's amendments became available on 24 June:
While supporting the idea of giving a more clearly defined legislative basis to the Dublin Institute of Technology and greater scope and autonomy to manage their own affairs, the Committee is very seriously concerned that the partnership between Colleges and Vocational Education Committees and the Department of Education will be so seriously eroded that it will not be possible for them to continue to provide an educational continuum between second and third level in a meaningful way.
That is real concern. What we are seeming to introduce here is a direct and total break with second level education. The ability to integrate the system and to provide continuing education seems to be eliminated from the provisions in this legislation. The letter goes on:
Indeed, it is the wish of Committee that the Colleges Bill would not be finalised until a more enhanced role for Vocational Education Committees has been defined in the Bill. The Committee is saddened that the massive contribution which has been made by Vocational Education Committees in meeting the demands of a growing young population and increased participation rates in Colleges has not been recognised. The success of that contribution has not been accidental and Committees claim a major portion of that success.
The Committee is strongly of the view that the Dublin Institute of Technology should continue as an integral part of the Committees Scheme and that the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee should continue to be its Parent Body so that it can discharge its statutory obligation under the 1930 Vocational Education Act in respect of the development of technical and vocational education at second and third level.
The current Bill seeks to end the direct responsibility of City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee for the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Committee wishes to continue to have a meaningful and significant role and function in relation to the continued development of the Dublin Institute of Technology. It regrets that the current Bill does not adequately provide for this.
That is the position of the vocational education committees throughout the country in relation to the regional colleges, and of the City of Dublin vocational education committee in relation to the Dublin Institute of Technology, for which it has specific responsibility.
Those are the concerns with the Bill and I must say that I share those concerns. I would have thought that they could have been dealt with by a more extensive and comprehensive approach both to this legislation and the Green Paper. Having put that on the record, I would like to spend some time having a look at the Bills themselves, and particularly at the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill.
I welcome putting on a statutory basis the position of the Dublin Institute of Technology and the regional colleges. It is overdue. I would have preferred that it was done in a different way, by amendment to the 1930 Vocational Education Act rather than introducing legislation which now has to establish a whole new relationship between the vocational education committees and set up new structures. We had a good working situation there that could have been amended rather than starting with the fundamentally different proposal now before us.
Let us take section 5. It contains the main functions of the new institute and that is all very welcome to me. I am delighted to see the range of activities of vocational and technical education and training for the economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial, social and cultural development of the State proposed in this area. I welcome also the scope that will be given for research and development, providing a joint link-up with the business sector and the participation in limited liability companies. This is all very welcome. There is provision for funding and a catch-all phrase that allows us to do this and other things as well.
In that area there is only one major item missing, namely, the awarding of degrees. I know this has been discussed before and I am sure we can discuss it again. It was raised in the Dáil. I understand there were amendments in the Dáil in relation to degrees but they were not accepted. If we are going down this road of establishing a new Dublin Institute of Technology, we should ensure that we endow it with the maximum status which would be appropriate to its new designation. For that reason I do not think we should limit it simply to diploma certificates, honorary awards, scholarships and prizes, with the possibility of degree awards, whether of a primary or of a post-primary nature, being conferred at the discretion of the Minister in consultation with the vocational education committee at a later stage. That is not the type of reservation we should have in this Bill. We should be brave and true in relation to where we stand.
If we are interested in allowing the institute to confer awards then we should state so: we should not simply leave it as a hypothetical situation that may or may not happen in the future or that is subject to the vagaries of an individual Minister. We have seen already the extent to which this Bill has been changed by individual Ministers as they came to office for a short space of time. In the space of the 12 months this Bill has been before the other House and it has come before three Ministers, each of whom put a different stamp on it. Now that we are bringing it finally to fruition, we should be quite clear where we stand in relation to the making of awards and the awards should include degree awards, post graduate and graduate awards. I have no doubt that of itself would be one of the best means of ensuring that it has a status and autonomy of its own, even more so than the individual structures we have talked about introducing here, and that it is seen nationally and internationally as a body that confers its own primary degrees and postgraduate degrees.
Effectively, the institute is the largest third level institution in the State. I would point out the extent of courses that are run there, particularly specialised courses that are not run in any other institution. There are courses, for example, in mechnical engineering in Bolton Street, in catering in Cathal Brugha Street, a diploma course in ophthalmic optics in Kevin street and an environmental health course in the College of Catering. These are specialised areas that are particular to the Institute of Technology and we should recognise that by ensuring that we award the institute the ability to confer degrees.
If the Bill is going to go through as drafted, perhaps we could take that one point on board. I would consider it to be perhaps the most important one. We are making a fairly fundamental break with the past. We have a structure whereby there is the conferment of degrees through liaison with Trinity College and the Dublin Institute of Technology. We have the NCEA and we have the new body that has been set up to validate degrees, the NCRA. What we have not got is the ability of the institute itself to actually give its own primary and post-primary degrees.
There is a range of proposals in the Green Paper in relation to validation and certification for the vocational and technological side in the future. I was amazed to see those proposals. They have an enormous bearing on this Bill before us. As I see it, the proposal here in relation to the new body, the Council for Educational Vocational Awards, CEVA, is that it would bring together all concerned in education, training and business interests, including the social partners. It would have a wide remit covering all aspects of vocational training provided by both the educational training agencies, including apprenticeship training, as well as taking over the role of the NCEA in relation to third level courses outside the university sector.
The university sector can independently give its own degrees. They have that status but with what are you going to lump our third level colleges? You are going to lump them with FAS, with CERT, with the NCVA, with second level, with unemployment courses, with all sorts of courses that are a long way from degree status. You are simply going to devalue an institution which we are now trying to put into a particular framework as an institution that will have a reputation for learning and for professionalism in the area of technology, commerce, business and so on.
It seems to me that we have again made a terrible mistake. This decision probably came about because it appeared that the NCVA was established last year largely to validate the post-leaving certificate courses; it simply was a badly thought out proposal and it has never got off the ground properly. However, for some reason somebody got the brilliant idea of combining all of the non-university degrees into this hotch-potch of a validating or certificating body, which of course will not do justice to any area. On the one hand, the Minister is distinguishing between second and third level. Now he is not only certifying the courses by bringing together second and third level, but he is bringing in FÁS and CERT as well. Primarily, he should be separating them. FÁS is essentially an organisation concerned with the unemployed. The vocational sector is concerned with training and education. We should be much more careful in the way we deal with our business.
In view of the fact that the awarding of degrees is not determined in this Bill and the fact that there is a proposal in the Green Paper that goes in the opposite direction, I think we have here another area where we are going to find ourselves badly let down when the situation arises in relation to the status of the Dublin Institute of Technology and the conferring of awards. Certainly I will be proposing an amendment in relation to the conferring of degrees and the validation of primary and post-primary degrees in the Dublin Institute of Technology.
Section 5 (2) (b) of the Bill says:
The Minister may, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, by order revoke or amend an order under this subsection.
In other words, these important functions are going to be conferred on the new institute but, just like that, the Minister may, wilfully, with only the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, by order revoke or amend an order under this section. This applies to every one of those fine policy statements and functions that have been set out in section 5, which is the meat of the powers of this new institute, which points the direction it is going to go and gives the new definition of education and training — vocational, technical, economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial and so on. The Minister may get rid of the lot of them, or any of them, and the only person he has to refer to is the Minister for Finance. I think that section should be deleted from the Bill.
I will also be suggesting an amendment in relation to the governing body in section 6 (1) where there is tautology in relation to lines 20, 21 and 22 and lines 34, 35 and 36 of section 7 (1). The area is being covered twice, whereas it should properly come under the functions of the governing body in section 7. I will therefore be seeking to delete section 6 (1), namely, the end of lines 20 "and the Governing Body, save as otherwise provided by this Act, shall perform the functions conferred on the Institute by the Act" because it is covered later on in its proper place under functions of the governing body.
The constitution of the governing body has been an issue of very considerable concern as well. I believe that the amendments that have been taken on board have been very helpful. I see that there has been quite a shift in the balance of members in terms of the nominations and I think this is reflected in a more democratic result and that we will have a more democratic structure in relation to the governing body. The proposals that were there prior to this certainly were unacceptable to me and I am glad to see how the nominations have been increased.
I am not happy with the powers that are given to the Minister in relation to the chairman, that the chairman is appointed by the Minister and not by the vocational education committee. I would have thought that the normal thing would have been that the chairman would have been chosen from the members, which is the normal way it happens, and that is the proposal in relation to the Deputy Chairman. But I see in the Minister's contribution this morning that that is not the road he is prepared to go down, that it is more along the lines of a semi-State body where the Minister makes the appointment. I would think that it should be made either internally by the nominated people from the various representative organisations — the vocational education committee, the academic or nonacademic staff, the students, ICTU, those representing industry and so on — or else that the vocational education committee should make the recommendation with the Minister approving. I would like that aspect of it changed.
I welcome the reference to gender equity under the equality of opportunities provisions in section 7 and I am glad the Minister has taken those amendments on board.
Section 7 (6) states:
In performing its functions, the Governing Body shall have regard to the statutory responsibilities in the provision of vocational and technical education of the Vocational Education Committee.
That seems to me to be quite a loaded phrase. I wonder perhaps if the Minister in his reply could tease out what that responsibility is. Are we taking on board the range of statutory responsibilities that are provided in the vocational education committee and that these are being now combined with the new statutory provisions outlined here as the functions and proposals of the institute and of the regional colleges? It is a pregnant phrase. I am sure it will be something that will be looked at by vocational education committees throughout the country and I would like the Minister to try to tease it out a bit further. Is it his view that what have been stated already as the new functions in fact are more wide reaching and that all that is intended by this statement here is that the existing functions will be incorporated into it and that the Minister does not see it as being an extension of anything that is said in terms of section 5 previously?
Section 9 (2) reads:
The selection of the President shall be a function of the Governing Body in accordance with the procedures, which shall include the composition of a selection board, determined by the Minister from time to time.
I am just not clear on the wording of that. Are we talking about the composition of the selection board being determined by the Minister, or are we talking about the procedures? If it is the procedures, who will make up the selection board? If we are talking about the composition, I would have reservations about the Minister choosing a selection board for the appointment of the president? I would like some clarification in relation to that section as to what the responsibility of the Minister will be in that area. That is carried on in section 10 (2) which again I would like to have clarified.
I have not any problem in relation to the academic council. As I mentioned, I would like to see the making of awards by the institute, and obviously the academic council would have a role there in making a recommendation. As we can see from the various subsections of section 11, which deals with this, there is no such role. The academic council can recommend the award of scholarships and prizes and the conferment of all sorts of honorary awards, but obviously it has no role in relation to the conferment of a degree. Obviously, it would have a role if degrees were given, because of standards and certification requirements. I feel that the intention of the Minister to allow the institute to make awards is very questionable, because there is no further role given in the course of the Bill to allow recommendations by the academic council in regard to how these might be conferred and what recommendations they might make as the academic professional body there.
I am concerned with the trade union aspect of the staff as well. That is covered in section 13, I am concerned about the provision in relation to existing staff and how we are going to rearrange and redistribute duties. I can assure the Minister that he is entering a minefield here. We are talking about a very large number of people employed in the regional colleges and in Dublin Institute of Technology colleges. How is this going to work? Will people be transferred into areas where they have no expertise? What say will they have in the matter? Section 13 (2) (a) simply states here
The Institute may, following consultation with any recognised staff associations or trade unions concerned, redistribute or rearrange the duties to be performed by officers or servants to whom subsection (1) applies and every such officer or servant shall be bound to perform the duties allocated to that officer or servant in any such redistribution or rearrangement.
I an assure the Minister that there will be an enormous number of problems in relation to that. I hope that whole area will be dealt with sensitively, that there will be full discussions with the trade unions in advance of it, that it is not simply something where the Minister will have a word with the trade union and it is left at that. Then the heavy hand comes in and there is a rearrangement and redistribution. That certainly will cause strikes and all sorts of industrial action.
I am glad to see the role of the vocational education committee enhanced in relation to the programmes and the budgets of the colleges. That is a welcome decision by the Minister. It ensures that there is an element of input by the vocational education committee in terms of the direction things are going, the programmes that are determined on and the way the money is spent. That is to be welcomed and I am glad the Minister has taken that on board.
I also like the idea that accounts will be prepared and that there is a specific timescale within which to present them. I do not like to see the Minister being responsible to a rather extraordinary degree in this area; nevertheless it is good that audited accounts must be prepared and brought before the Oireachtas.
I do not have a problem with the transfer of property. I do not consider that one needs to own property to direct the policies of an education institution. It depends on the structures in the institution and the willingness of those who run it. It is of paramount importance that the governing body be a reasonably democratic structure. I would not get hung up on whether the property is strongly vested in the vocational education committee; it would probably be a better way to do it but my major concern is with the existing structures for education, the direction of policy and ensuring that vocational education committees have a say in the programmes that are drawn up and how the money is funded.
I am not happy with section 23 which states that the Minister may make such regulations with regard to the operation of the institute as he may, from time to time, see fit. I dislike catch-all phrases of this nature where power is given to the Minister from time to time as the Minister sees fit. I dislike that in any legislation and that part, including section 2, should be deleted from the legislation.
The Second Schedule deals with the governing body. I referred to that already any my concern about the appointment of the chairman. I would like the Minister to amend paragraph 2 (2) of the Second Schedule to read: "The chairman shall be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the vocational education committee and may be removed from office by the Minister, or that he or she would be chosen from among the nominated and elected members.
Under this Bill a person who has been selected for the governing body may be absent without penalty for six consecutive months. That is a considerable period. Since members are only appointed or elected for a period of 12 months subject to renomination and selection, that is far too generous. Anybody who receives the honour of serving on the governing body should be present for are least a third of the time; that period should be reduced at least to four months, if not three months. It is not often that I describe the Minister as being generous but he has been on that issue.
In relation to people who cannot be nominated to governing bodies, I am not pleased to see that, as a member of the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee, I cannot be nominated to a governing body and as a Member of Seanad Éireann, I am specifically disbarred. In fact, an interesting group of people are disbarred — elected representatives to the National Parliament, people who are bankrupt and people who have suffered sentences of imprisonment. I am not sure what category I would fall into given the fact that I spent a brief term in prison.
It shows how we are thought of.
It shows what one has to do to represent one's constituents these days. It is common nowadays for people to be involved in protests and demonstrations for just causes. We have had protests by students, farmers and trade unionists and, as a result, some of them were sent to prison. Paragraph 6 (1) (e) of the Second Schedule reads where somebody "is sentenced to a term of imprisonment by a court of competent jurisdiction". Even if one has been in prison for a day one is disbarred, and it does not matter what the offence was.
The other day we discussed the electoral Bill which contained a provision disbarring a person from standing as a member of Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann if they had received a sentence of six months. In other words, one is entitled to stand as a public representative representing maybe 10,000 people in this House or in the Dáil but one is not entitled to sit on the governing body. The rules are different. If one serves a sentence of imprisonment one is disbarred from the governing body whereas one can be a Member of the Dáil if one's sentence was less than six months.
The Minister has taken on board some suggestions I made and said he would look at them again. I gave the example that a person could be sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for the unauthorised sale of contraceptives. Now the Minister for Health is making that legal. Somebody who broke the law and spent six months or perhaps a year, in prison for such an offence now finds that under the legislation introduced recently no such offence exists. Nevertheless, the offence remains on their record. That too, could be looked at and I would like to see an amendment that where somebody "is sentenced to a term of imprisonment by a jury court of competent jurisdiction" it would not be a trivial offence and it would be a verdict of one's peers. I would like to know why a Member of the Oireachtas should not be allowed to sit on the governing body. I am sure the Minister has a reason for that.
Those are the main aspects of the Bill with which I am concerned and I would like to see changed. At present there are 10,000 apprenticeships in the Dublin Institute of Technology system, and I wonder how we will deal with them. Will this scheme continue? Will these apprentices continue to work outside and attend classes at Bolton Street, Kevin Street, etc., during their training? It is not clear from the Bill. Many people are concerned because the Dublin Institute of Technology system crossed the barriers between many areas in education. It was not the university, narrowly defined, third level education that followed on directly from second level. It covered a broader area. An apprenticeship is one of the major areas where one does not depend on one's qualifications from second level education or leaving certificate.
Will the role of vocational education training, now devolve to FÁS or to second level institutions? Will apprenticeships remain within the third level colleges? Will it be left to the individual vocational education committees and to the governing body? I do not know. I would like to hear the Minister's reply to that.
As regards funding, we have had many complaints recently about the Minister's decision to alter the present arrangements ESF funding and bring in a form of eligibility qualification. That resulted in much confusion as people had to opt for courses on 1 February and did not know if they would get the requisite funding. The Minister decided to eliminate the allowance that was given formerly, for which there was no means testing. People who would have expected to get the full ESF grant for training and for living purposes are now not going to get it.
The Minister announced that he is going to raise the eligibility levels, and that is to be welcomed, but it is still unclear what will happen in the autumn when people who applied for courses for which would have been eligible under the old system find they are not eligible, even though they applied in the early spring expecting that the old system would still be in operation. The Minister's decision was made only a few days before the cutoff time for decisions in relation to the CAD and the CAS points scheme. It is my opinion that the Minister had no business stopping the money which came from the European Social Fund. The first thing he should have done was to establish a review committee to look into the overall situation in relation to third level funding, which badly requires to be overhauled.
As regards the budgetary provisions, will the budget be streamlined? We have a very bad situation in relation to the Department of Education where we never get a budget for the Dublin Institute of Technology. Estimates are given, but the year is over before we know what is going to be allocated. We operate in a vacuum, not knowing whether we have overspent or underspent. No budget is given in advance. That has been a criticism of the Department of Education in their dealings with the Dublin Institute. Will the new accounting and auditing procedures ensure that the Department of Education do their job properly as well? My concern is that there would be adequate budgetary provisions so that the new colleges and institute will be on a par with the universities and that there will be parity of funding for all third level institutions, perhaps on the per capita basis the Minister was talking about at second level. If we are to enhance the status of third level colleges then we should enhance their funding. I know that there is provision for participation in limited liability companies and that resources can be got from the industrial sector, the European Community or from research and development; but, nevertheless, the Department of Education must ensure that they treat the new institute and the new colleges on a par with the universities.
I warmly welcome Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, to the House. My support for the Minister and my delight that he has a Ministry is well known. I thank him sincerely for listening to people who were concerned about the Bills and for the time and extraordinary care and attention he gave to them even at weekends.
This has been a lively debate and was quite colourful at times, even when Senator O'Toole and I had the usual banter across the floor of the House.
That was Senator O'Toole's fault; it always is.
I am not altogether happy with the Bills but at the same time I welcome the changes and the amendments made by the Minister. It is the first time that legislation came into the Seanad, since I became a Member in 1977, in which four Ministers were involved in so many months. It is not easy to be quite clear about what exactly is before us without reading it with great care and that I have tried to do.
I welcome the amendments made by the Minister to this Bill in the Dáil last week. I listened at the time with care because of my deep concern. Maybe there was more national concern than was realised at the provisions in the Bills. Many dedicated persons have served well for many years on the vocational education committee committees. I do not have any trouble with changing the structures of committees, but I would like the change to be for the better.
Vocational education training in Ireland may be traced back to the introduction of Bills in 1891 and 1899 empowering local authorities to initiate commercial and technical programmes. We are changing the Act of 1930 to the Acts of 1992. For the record, there could have been more consultation but I want to record my thanks to the Minister, Deputy Aylward, for being available at all times to meet people when they wanted to talk before the Second Stage of this Bill came into this House.
These Bills are not dealing with elected people or members of vocational education committees but will affect the students of this nation now and in the future.
I must admit that I am more at ease dealing with local government, environment and health issues than with educational issues. I was looking for somebody to advise me before I came into the House to speak on these Bills. One person I spoke to said the staff wanted the Bills changed; another person suggested it was the Department; another said the Minister, Deputy Brennan, wanted the changes; and another said it was the vocational schools. Whoever wanted change and whatever changes we make when we pass Bills must be for the betterment of students. In the past — I say this as a long serving member of Fianna Fáil — we made mistakes in the fields of health and agriculture. It is not that I do not accept change but I must be convinced that the change is for the better. Some of the changes we made in the past were a mistake.
I would dislike it if the only role left to vocational education committees was to look after the disadvantaged. That will not be so now with the amendments. I remember that was the role of vocational education.
I have been associated with vocational education for 40 years now. I have seen it move from what it was then to what we have now. This is why I am a little worried and I hope the Minister understands what I am saying. He knows me well enough to know that if I have a worry I will mention it to him either here or outside the Chamber.
Until the mid-sixties vocational schools and their committees were just seen as providing apprentices and junior hotel staff. It was my close friend, Dr. Paddy Hillery, then Minister for Education and our Dáil representative at the time, who gave them a new role in providing intermediate and leaving certificate courses. I remember quite clearly how positive Dr. Hillery was at the time and how strongly he felt, with the advice of people like my late husband, Derry, that vocational education should be lifted and taken onto a new plane. I have seen the number of students attending the vocational school in Ennis increase from 270 students to 670 today. I worry about changing something that is so successful. We had regional colleges in the seventies and they have made a major impact under EC management. Here again we are changing something that was successful under vocational education committees management.
There is something very human about the vocational committees and the success of the colleges. I look at the concept of Shannon and see how massively successful it has been. I ask myself why change it. There we have an industrial base, with students from the colleges and the vocational schools and we also have the tourists. Our chief executive officer and the other chief executive officers have played a major role in that whole area. The small amount of space given in the Green Paper to vocational education worries me.
We will be discussing the Green Paper in the autumn and I am putting down a marker for Minister Brennan in that regard. Mistakes were made in the past and I have strong views on this. I make no apologies for it because I saw the work done by the agricultural committees and the health committees taken away from them. I just worry about what we are doing.
This is an ideal opportunity to co-ordinate educational services at county level in manageable units, with representation from all interested sections, local elected representatives, teachers and parents. The county is a recognised traditional unit for provision of realistic mechanisms for co-ordination and delivery. Local co-ordination has borne fruitful development in counties like Cork, Clare, South and North Tipperary, Kerry, Carlow, Kilkenny and further up into Laois/Offaly. I am familiar with those areas. Religious managements have taken initiatives in those areas, always for the common good. If these managements were formally united as equal partners, major development and rationalisation possibilities would be feasible. The Minister has not taken the option of co-ordination in his Green paper. He speaks more of streamlined vocational education committees. What is a streamlined vocational education committee? When those two Bills go through will there be further streamlining of the vocational education committees? I am concerned about that matter.