Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 6 Jul 2006

Vol. 184 No. 13

Institutes of Technology Bill 2006: Committee Stage.


I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, subsection (2), line 24, after "provisions" to insert the following:

", but all sections shall come into operation within 12 months of its passing into law".

I welcome the Minister to the House. I hope she will consider this amendment on the basis of the discussion on a particular case yesterday in regard to people with disabilities.

I welcome the fact that, in the Minister's absence yesterday, people with disabilities were included in the amendment in the Dáil. They had originally been omitted from inclusion in the legislation. The Minister will recall that on Second Stage, I highlighted the existence of a very irregular response to the needs of people with disabilities in institutes of technology throughout the country. Some of them have a reasonably good record in respect of the percentage of people with disabilities among their student population, while others do not. It was a response to the absence of financial resources to provide the facilities to students with disabilities.

Now that this has been included, I hope that there will be a commitment in the legislation to regularise and streamline this matter within at least 12 months. Some institutions may have to do some catching up compared to others but this is the primary reason behind this amendment.

This provision is already part of section 1(3) because it was amended on Report Stage in the Dáil.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 1 agreed to.
Sections 2 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 10, lines 1 and 2, to delete all words from and including "have" in line 1 down to and including "opportunity" in line 2 and substitute the following:

"facilitate life-long learning and promote gender balance and the attainment of equality of opportunity generally, as an object of the college".

I welcome the new section 7(6)(c), inserted in section 8, which requires a governing body in performing its functions to have regard to the attainment of gender balance and equality of opportunity and to promote access to education in the college by economically or underrepresented groups. The new section 21D inserted into the RTC Act 1992 by section 22 of the Bill requires each college to have an equality policy to implement the policies set out in a statement of its equality policy.

This requirement is similar to that placed on governing authorities of universities in the Universities Act 1997 and is a welcome improvement to the legislation for institutes of technology. Section 12 of the Universities Act deals with the objects of a university but there is no similar section in this Bill. This is despite the fact that, as I pointed out on Second Stage, section 52, which deals with the amendment of the Higher Education Authority Act 1971, contains a subsection that refers to the body having regard to the objects and functions of institutes of higher education currently in existence. Obviously, institutes of higher education encompasses both universities and institutes of technology.

The lack of a separate section in this Bill dealing with the objects of a institute of technology is a flaw. In particular, there is a need for a reference to the facilitation of lifelong learning, the promotion of gender balance and the attainment of equality of opportunity generally as an object of the college, as is contained in this amendment. The provision in this Bill is much weaker than that of the Universities Act because it refers to the functions, rather than the objects, of institutes of technology and includes the words "have regard to", rather than referring to objects. The provision relating to lifelong learning, gender balance and equality of opportunity is much stronger in the Universities Act than it is in this Bill. It is for this reason that I have tabled this amendment. I would like to hear the Minister's comments in this regard.

I do not believe there is a need for this amendment. The record of institutes of technology in this regard is well recognised. They offer a wide range of opportunities for education and training. On Second Stage we discussed the progression from certificate to PhD level in institutes of technology. They also have very flexible arrangements for groups like mature students. Senator Tuffy mentioned how people entering institutes of technology at a trade level can progress through them. Approximately 30,000 people attend institutes of technology on apprenticeship and part-time programmes. Institutes of technology are already doing what is being asked of them.

I am concerned that inserting a specific legislative provision relating to lifelong learning might place a requirement on institutes of technology to deal with matters that were not within their remit. If one takes lifelong learning to mean learning from the cradle to the grave, inserting such a provision could place an onus on institutes of technology to provide, for example, pre-school education which is not what is asked of them. It is better to support them in what they do and do well rather than place inappropriate functions on them through legislation.

The Minister is correct in saying that the institutes of technology have a strong record in providing access to different groups of people. I have made this point myself. However, their performance is weak when it comes to matters like providing for people with disabilities. I do not know what the relevant statistics are for universities but I know the record of institutes of technology is very weak in this regard. Similarly, institutes of technology must improve in the area of very targeted programmes which cater for groups like people with disabilities, Travellers or people from RAPID areas. For example, Trinity College has the Trinity access programme and there are similar programmes in other universities.

Institutes of technology should not sit on their laurels. Their good record in terms of providing access has largely resulted from the types of programmes they present, their flexible models, their lower fees regime before the introduction of the free fees initiative and their geographical location. However, they do not have a strong record in respect of trying to encourage more students with disabilities.

The provision in this Bill is weaker than that of the Universities Act. What is the reason behind this? We cannot mandate that providing for equality be one of the objects of universities while merely stating that institutes of technology should have regard to it. Such a provision is not strong enough. However, I welcome what the Minister has provided in the legislation.

I disagree with the point made by the Minister about lifelong learning. I have repeatedly voiced my belief that lifelong learning should be at the core of the delivery of third-level education. This is very important when it comes to addressing access to education because it deals with the issue of second chances. It also affects the way in which programmes are provided, leading to a greater emphasis on part-time education and allowing people to have more than one chance of participating in third-level education. I do not believe this amendment could be logically interpreted as including pre-school education. Anyone interpreting the Bill would realise that it concerns third level education and that the measure provided for by this amendment involves the institutes of technology facilitating lifelong learning.

I agree that, compared to other Ministers, the Minister is very good at coming to the House to debate matters. However, I wish to return to a point made by Senator Quinn on Second Stage. I believe the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, was present at the time.

No, I was here.

Okay. This is an opportunity for the Minister to consider accepting the amendments and returning the Bill to the Dáil as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did in respect of the Criminal Justice Bill. Will the Minister reconsider? I know we will take Report Stage today, but perhaps the Minister will consider accepting my amendment between now and then.

Before I call the Minister, we have lost a bit of time and the Order of the House is that this matter must conclude by 12.30 p.m. If the House is agreeable, I will call on the Acting Leader to propose a change to the Order of Business.

I propose that we amend the Order of Business to let the debate run until 1 p.m. to complete all Stages of the Bill.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Tuffy is right when she says there is a responsibility on all third level institutions to ensure that people from various backgrounds, particularly those with disabilities, are included. The record has been abysmal, but one must admit that significant progress has been made by each college. The higher education access committee has done considerable work in this regard, not only by way of providing funding, but also by providing guidance.

I draw the Senator's attention to section 21D on the equality policy, which clearly states that the governing body must "require the Director to prepare a statement of policies of the college" in respect of access for persons who are socially or economically disadvantaged, have a disability or are significantly under-represented and to prepare a policy in respect of equality, including gender equality. It is interesting that the governing body must approve and implement the policy. The Senator's concerns about access and disability are covered in the Bill. This policy provision is similar to that in the Universities Act.

On taking amendments, the Senator is aware that I have previously accepted Seanad amendments to other Bills. It is not a question of today's timing. If something is worth accepting, I am always happy to do so.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 10, line 14, after "State" to insert the following:

"and in particular of the region served by the college".

The provisions herein are needed because the regional and local roles of institutes of technology are more important than the role of universities. I would like institutes to devote more attention to addressing the problems of social exclusion and inequality in pockets of extreme deprivation, such as RAPID areas and elsewhere. The roles of the institutes should be recognised.

While I agree with the Senator, this matter is covered in the Regional Technical Colleges Act 1992, which obtains in respect of colleges. Regarding functions, that Act states: "with particular reference to the region served by the college".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 8 agreed to.
Sections 9 to 15, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 13, line 41, to delete "months," and substitute "months".

Section 16 reads, "The governing body of a college shall, as soon as may be, but not later than 3 months, after the end". I do not know what the significance of that comma is, as it makes the situation meaningless. It is a technical error.

If this must be done, it can be done by direction.

The former primary school teacher beside me advises me that the subordinate clause should run without a comma, but the comma is present to clarify that the time, as soon as may be or not later than three months, starts to run from the end of the academic year. The reference to the three months, including the comma, was inserted as a Report Stage amendment and was drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

Is the Senator prepared to dispense with the comma?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 16 agreed to.
Sections 17 to 21, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 16, line 12, after "college" to insert ", including a time scale for implementation,".

If there is a necessity for the director to prepare a statement on the college's policies, it would be important to have a timescale for the implementation of those policies as prepared.

I do not propose to accept this amendment or amendment No. 7, which contains similar terms, as both refer to the policies about preparing the statement and so on that I discussed with Senator Tuffy. The policy must provide for inequality in all of the institute's activities. Subsection (3) strongly requires each institute to implement those policies by stating that once a policy is included in the statement, it must be implemented.

Does the Minister not consider it important to set a date for the implementation of policy? It is a major statement of policy and such a date would be appropriate.

I understand why people would want the policy implemented. As such, we have stated in plain English that it should be implemented. However, I envisage a director of a governing authority, in setting up and devising his policy, setting out a timescale for the implementation of its various elements. Some might be done immediately, some in three months and others in six months. There is flexibility in this regard, but the policy must be implemented. It is for each governing body to restrict the time.

Could the Minister not set a time limit within which the policy must be implemented? Often, reports and other implementation policies have not been implemented within such institutions.

It is not necessary, given that a governing body will devise its policy rather than having such imposed upon it from outside. It is anticipated that the colleges will want to implement their policies, but they are also instructed by the legislation to do so. They must stick to the terms of the legislation, that is, writing statements and implementing policies.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 22 agreed to.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.