Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to introduce the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. Its main purposes are to provide for the authorisation by the Minister of the use of the description "university" by a high quality education provider for specified purposes outside the State; to amend the Student Support Act 2011 to ensure the Minister has the power to prescribe post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses for the purposes of the student grants scheme; and to amend the Education Act 1998 to provide for a refusal of access to specified information that would enable the compilation of comparative information on relative school performance in terms of students' academic achievement.

I will address the legal framework for the use of the description "university". The Universities Act 1997 provides the legal framework for the operation and establishment of universities in Ireland. As part of this framework, a legal limitation on the use of the title "university" lies in section 52 of the Act. This section provides that, with the exception of the seven universities listed in the Act and any educational institution or facility established and described as a university before the end of July 1996, no person can use the word "university" to describe an educational institution or facility.

As for the rationale for this change, the programme for Government contains a commitment to "encourage more international students to study here and to create new jobs in the sector", with the particular aim of doubling the number of students from priority and emerging markets outside the European Union. In support of this aim, the international education strategy is being implemented to put in place the necessary policies and actions to support the development of internationally oriented, globally competitive higher educational institutions within Ireland. However, global competition for higher education is high. Increasing access to online information for students and their families, coupled with international marketing and recruitment campaigns, means that a growing number of educational institutions have international recognition worldwide. International recognition of the quality of the educational institution and the qualifications on offer is a key issue in attracting students to study in Ireland. Greater efforts are required at national and institutional level to enhance awareness of the national brand and promote understanding of what Irish institutions offer to prospective international students and partners in simple terms that are understood worldwide. In this context, it has become clear that the limitations prescribed by the Universities Act need to be re-examined. The use of section 52 does not serve to decide an application by an Irish institution that needs to convey the level and quality of its education abroad to an international audience. The Bill is required to put in place an applications process for an Irish institution to use the description "university" to convey the level and quality of its education.

It is, of course, of paramount importance to Ireland's internationalisation effort that the quality and reputation of our higher educational institutions remain fully intact. We are rightly proud to be leaders in Europe in terms of quality and the qualifications architecture put in place by legislation that I had the honour to introduce in the House just over two years ago. I will protect and enhance that reputation. The Bill ensures this opportunity will only be open to the highest quality providers. A provider's application to make awards to doctoral level will only be permissible where these awards are recognised in the national framework of qualifications. These strict criteria have been included to ensure a provider authorised to use the title for the specified purposes is offering education at a level recognised under the framework to be comparable to that offered by universities. In practice, these criteria mean that a qualifying provider will be subject to external quality assurance by Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI. A provider that applies must also have a strong internationalisation mission as its core focus and its ability to contribute to Ireland's strategic position on internationalisation is being constrained by a lack of understanding outside Ireland of its status. For this reason, an applicant provider must already have 40% of its registered student body in Ireland as non-EU students.

Supporting the export activities of our leading internationally oriented institutions also contributes to the Government's job creation agenda. International evidence indicates that high quality international education supports job creation and retention. The international education sector is a priority sector under An Action Plan for Jobs. Employment is created and supported through tuition fee income in educational institutions and student expenditure in the economy which boosts domestic demand. Estimates of the impact of international education on the economy usually range from approximately €800 million to €1 billion.

With this Bill I am also amending the Student Support Act. It is a short technical amendment clarifying the description of PLC courses under the Act. The provision of grants for students participating in further and higher education is provided for by way of secondary legislation through an annual scheme of grants and a set of regulations governed by the 2011 Act. The Act allows me to prescribe through regulation approved courses provided by approved institutions. Currently, an approved institution in the further education sector is one that receives a grant out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, pursuant to a scheme administered by the Minister, for the provision of a PLC course. Following the transfer of the administration of these courses to SOLAS after its establishment this day last year, for clarity I propose to remove the current reference to PLC courses as being "pursuant to a scheme administered by the Minister". This will be addressed by way of a simple technical amendment.

Turning to the amendment of section 53 of the Education Act 1998, that section gives the Minister of the day the necessary powers to prevent the release of assessment and examination data held by bodies under the aegis of the Department of Education and Skills. Successive Governments have been of the view that access to such data would permit the creation and publication of crude league tables. Such tables would have the potential, particularly as they would not be contextualised, to be damaging to students, schools and the system as a whole. I support that view. While I also support the Freedom of Information Bill 2013 which significantly extends the range of public bodies that will come under the ambit of freedom of information provisions, it is necessary for section 53 to be amended to ensure the long-standing protection of examination and assessment data remains in place and that the issue of crude and distorting league tables does not arise. Within the spirit of the freedom of information legislation under consideration, however, I am taking a focused approach to amending section 53. The proposed amendment provides for the Minister for Education and Skills, in consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to regulate prescription of access to the examination and assessment data held by specific listed bodies. Providing for regulation in this way gives flexibility by allowing the list of specific bodies to be amended by way of statutory instrument. The proposed regulations will only prescribe a limited list of public bodies such as the education and training boards, ETBs, ETB schools, ETB education and training facilities, the Education Research Centre and the National Council for Special Education, all of which hold examination and assessment information in the course of carrying out their functions. The amendment will also ensure the prohibition will apply only where it is necessary. Prescribed public bodies provided for in the amendment that currently release or share assessment and examination data with other public bodies for the purposes of research will continue to be able to do so, subject to ministerial approval or direction. Also, the existing provision that permits higher educational institutions such as universities and institutes of technology to release such information on the schools their student in-take attended will be maintained.

I turn to the Bill's key measures and main provisions, as set out in 11 sections.

The principal purpose of sections 2 to 5 is to provide the following: the authorisation of the use of the description "university" in limited circumstances outside the State for specified purposes; for review of the authorisation by an tÚdarás; for withdrawal of the authorisation by the Minister on the grounds that it is not being used for the specified purposes or that the provider no longer fulfils the qualifying criteria for application; and for an appeals board to hear appeals relating either to a Minister's decision to refuse to grant an authorisation or a decision to withdraw an authorisation.

The intent of the legislation, as drafted, is to strongly restrict eligibility on quality grounds and mission focus for this authorisation. Eligibility is restricted to the following: providers who are authorised under Irish law to make their own awards; providers who have doctoral degrees recognised through the National Framework of Qualifications; providers who have 40% of their student body enrolled in Ireland who are non-EU citizens and lawfully resident in the State primarily for education and training; and it excludes those with delegated authority to make awards such as institutes of technology and, potentially, private higher education institutions in the future.

The use of the title is also restricted in its geographical application and in the purposes for which it can be used. Use of the title is restricted to outside of the State and for the following purposes: to market programmes of education and training provided by the authorised provider, or research services of the authorised provider; and to enter into an arrangement with any person outside the State for the purposes of participating in a collaborative project relating to the provision of programmes of education and training, or research services.

Section 6 provides for an amendment to the Universities Act 1997 and will amend section 52 to ensure that an authorised provider, under this Act, is exempted from the prohibition on the use of the title in the Universities Act.

Section 7 provides for a refusal of access to specified information through an amendment of section 53 of the Education Act 1998, as amended by section 5 of the Education (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 2007.

The Education Act is amended by the substitution of a new section 53 which confers on public bodies, within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 1997, prescribed in regulations made by the Minister following consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the necessary powers to refuse access to information which would enable the compilation of information in relation to the comparative performance of schools in respect of the academic achievement of their students or learners.

Section 8 amends section 7 of the Student Support Act 2011. It will reflect the Department's decision to transfer the administration of the PLC scheme to SOLAS on the basis of its general functions relating to further education and training under section 7(1) of the Further Education and Training Act 2013. This change will remove the reference in the legislation to PLC courses as "pursuant to a scheme administered by the Minister" in section 7 of the Student Support Act, thus ensuring clarity regarding the basis for prescribing PLC courses for the purposes of the student grant scheme.

Section 9 provides for the service of documents. Section 10 provides for the expenses of the Minister in the administration of the Act to be sanctioned and paid. Section 11 sets out the Short Title, collective citations and commencement provisions.

In conclusion, this Bill is an important step in promoting Ireland's ambitions for internationalisation and for the protection of the educational interests of our children. I hope that Senators will agree that this is an important and vital piece of legislation. I look forward to listening to the views of the Senators today and to further debate as the Bill progresses through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I have always found him to be very helpful and cordial. It was on a point of principle that I raised the following issue on the Order of Business today. The Bill was published last Thursday and there was a clear commitment given by the Government Chief Whip, both in the Lower House and this House, that there would be at least two weeks between the publishing of a Bill, Second Stage and the various Stages. Therefore, it is regrettable that we have rushed into debating this legislation this afternoon which is an important point to make.

In this House it is either a feast or a famine. I mean we have waited ad nauseam for legislation for many weeks and months and then, all of a sudden, in the past three or four weeks and coming up to the recess, there has been an abundance of legislation with people, Ministers and the Government trying to push through legislation. We could have taken Second Stage next week. When I got my schedule of business last Thursday evening or Friday morning, to the best of my knowledge the Bill was not included so there was an amended version.

I want to say the following as a point of protest. I laud the Minister for what he is trying to do and my party supports the Bill, on principle. In Government we brought forward an international education strategy. Therefore, it would be rather ridiculous for us to oppose something that we had planned when we were in government. I shall not say a whole lot on the Bill or go over what the Minister has outlined, most of which I agree with. However, I would like him to give an assurance that allowing certain colleges to describe themselves internationally as universities will not undermine the standing of Irish universities. If he could reassure me on that issue it would address one of the greatest worries I have about this legislation.

I am not the spokesperson for education in this House but I am taking the topic on behalf of my colleague. The legislation would have received a more fulsome debate, on this side of the House in particular, if we had been given a bit more notice. However, I do not want to be petty. I have made my play and raised the most important issue that concerns me and my party. I shall conclude and hope that we will have further discussion on the other Stages of the Bill.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaorligh. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. Tá obair mhór déanta aige ar an mBille seo.

The first part of the Bill, as the Minister said, gives authorisation to describe an educational provider as a university outside the State in limited circumstances. I note that the provision will only apply to providers that have 40% of their student body enrolled in Ireland who are non-EU citizens. As he also said, it is one of the aims of the programme for Government to set out an ambition to "encourage more international students to study here and to create new jobs in the sector". The provision will also help to fund third level education and keep costs down for local students. The high regard in which Irish third level institutions are held abroad, in places like China, India and the Middle East, is very obvious in the numbers attending these institutions. We must do all we can to assist in this regard while ensuring that perhaps less competent providers do not jump on the bandwagon. The 40% benchmark will assist greatly in this regard while helping providers, such as the Royal College of Surgeons, to continue with its excellent provision and aid its capacity to attract non-EU students.

The second main part of the Bill amends section 7 of the Student Support Act 2011 and deals with the provision of grants to second school students participating in further education. It allows for the fact that SOLAS is now the administrative agency for post-leaving certificate courses. It is very necessary for students to get their grants.

I would like to talk here about the Education and Training Boards Bill and the Further Education and Training Bill. They are two of the most important Bills to go through the Oireachtas in this Dáil term. We need top class PLC education courses for the many careers, trades and apprenticeships which are and will be in demand. The young people educated and trained in this way are the nuts and bolts of society. In a great many cases they will employ the degree holders of the future if not moving forward to tertiary education themselves.

Last week, I attended a debate at the Council of Europe on improving the status of vocational education and training, VET, courses in Europe. It is a big issue throughout Europe and it is considered absolutely necessary. This is a very crucial area of education. These training centres must not be FÁS by another name. They should be monitored to ensure that they are being reformed in line with what is envisaged in the Bill. Will the Minister comment on the fact that five education and training boards have no discrete training centre? Is there any indication that this might be causing problems even at this early stage of the development of the new training centres?

The third aspect of this Bill involves an amendment of section 53 of the Education Act 1998 to prevent school league tables in ETB institutions. I welcome this while acknowledging that parents should have sufficient information to be able to make an informed choice of schools. The blunt instrument of league tables is invidious and pernicious. A former British Minister for Education, Sir Rhodes Boyson, said that one judges schools by the amount of graffiti on the walls, the amount of litter in the schoolyard and the number of children who are awake when the teacher is teaching. As a teacher, I can sympathise with that.

They never went to sleep in the Senator's class.

Some of them just gazed and I do not think "The wonder grew, That one small head could carry all he knew". I think they were saying, "He is not at his best today". Anyway, I did my best. As Seosamh Mac Grianna said in Mo Bhealach Féin, "Rinne mé mo dhícheall, agus is cuma liom". We all do the best we can.

I do not know how long the Minister will be in office as I believe I heard something on the grapevine about something he said, but the Bills he has introduced, many to the Seanad first, were strong and reforming. Everything was geared towards improving life for the school community. Pluralism in patronage is a huge issue. The Minister started that and it will be a major development in the years to come. We might have hoped there would have been a greater willingness, but I believe it will be huge in the future and I congratulate the Minister on it. On literacy and numeracy, as everybody knows the first steps are always the hardest. Well done to the Minister for his focus on literacy and numeracy and the various higher education measures. I could talk at length about him, but he can be very proud of all the work he has done in education. If he goes, I will be very sorry to see it. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire.

I welcome the Minister for this debate concerning matters that must be addressed for third level institutions, PLCs and the issue of league tables.

One of the issues the Bill seeks to address is the use of the term "university" outside of the State. To clarify, one of my colleagues mentioned that the Bill was not on the timetable last week for debate this week, but it was. The Bill provides for the Minister to authorise the use of the term "university" outside of the State while also providing for the withdrawal of the use of the term and the creation of an appeals board regarding the withdrawal of authorisation or refusal of authorisation. Eligible institutions must have authorisation to make their own awards; provide a doctoral degree which is recognised through the National Framework of Qualifications; and 40% of their student population must be non-EU citizens who are lawfully resident in the country with the primary purpose of their residency being education and training. The authorisation by the Minister for the use of the term "university" will be for specific purposes, and the use of "university" would only apply to outside of the State. The use of the term would be restricted to the marketing of programmes for education and training or research services by the educational provider or the entering into an arrangement with any person outside of the State for participation on a collaborative project relating to the provision of programmes.

The programme for Government has set out to encourage more international students to study in Ireland and to create new jobs in the sector. It is important that we continue to attract international students to Ireland while also prioritising our reputation and maintaining the high quality education provided to all of our students. We often hear the word "globalisation". It is important that we remain connected with international partners while also capitalising on the terrific in-demand programmes that are run in colleges and universities across the country. The international education system in Ireland is a sector of our economy worth an estimated €1 billion and it is supportive of direct and indirect employment. A number of surveys undertaken abroad have highlighted our country as one of the best places in the world in which to study. Ireland has a tremendous reputation for education abroad and it is important that we maintain that reputation and continue to provide the same high level of education and training for our students at home.

While the Bill does not include institutes of technology for consideration, it is important to mention the excellent education and training our institutes of technology provide. Dundalk Institute of Technology has educated thousands of Irish and international students over the years who, upon graduation, entered the workforce as highly trained and well equipped jobseekers with the right skills. Dundalk Institute of Technology not only provides an excellent education but also an overall great experience for students.

The Bill also addresses the issue with freedom of information legislation and the partial exemption for schools run by education and training boards. Essentially, the Bill seeks to protect certain data that may lead to the creation of league tables. Like my colleagues, I agree with this. The concept of league tables has crept in and even though they are not supposed to be there, they are. However, some of the records we get are not a true reflection.

I will digress briefly and raise an issue that has been brought to my attention. It is something happening in schools which shocked me when it was reported to me. Somebody who was applying for a position in a school told me that one of the criteria for getting an interview was that they must sit a leaving certificate paper and get an A1 in the paper. That is totally undermining our third level institutions. I have great difficulty with it. I have heard of two cases in the last week where a school has given prospective teachers a leaving certificate paper in whatever subject they teach, telling them they were expected to get an A1. Surely we have enough faith in our third level colleges, the quality of our degrees and our education system that we can accept it that when teachers graduate with their degrees they are well and truly prepared to teach the young.

I totally agree that the creation of league tables is not reflective of the important work of schools in the area of special needs. Students' results should not be the only criterion on which we gauge the success of a school. In this regard, the Bill has been welcomed by education partners. I certainly welcome the provision. While I appreciate that I am digressing, I would appreciate the Minister's comments on that.

I welcome the Minister. I endorse and agree with all the compliments paid to him by Senator D'Arcy.

Before I address the Bill, let me address two developments that have caused great satisfaction. The Minister will remember that on the Adjournment last year, reference was made to two mistakes on the leaving certificate mathematics paper. Former Senator Deirdre Clune was an engineer, the Minister had architecture experience and I had George Humphrey from the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association. The errors did not happen this year and over 100,000 young people were much happier. I commend the Minister on this. The Minister did ask people to sit the leaving certificate examination to determine whether it was possible to do it this year. It was very fair to 18-year-olds that some adults sat the paper. I commend the Minister on that.

It was entirely a matter for the State Examinations Commission. It was entirely in charge of the operation but I did commend it.

The House shares those sentiments.

The other great improvement this year concerns SUSI. Some 165,000 students are now happier because of a system that works. I acknowledge that there are always matters to be evened out. The Ombudsman is examining 55 complaints. Some 21 were resolved, with ten in favour of the student. Some 165,000 students could have applied for the payments. The Department sent us a list for each county. A pupil who contacted me from Wexford rang the appropriate contact number that the Minister gave us for that county and had a problem resolved instantly. Some tens of thousands of young people are better off and better served by the State Examinations Commission, SUSI and this House.

I welcome the interest expressed by Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, recently in apprenticeships in this country. He pointed out that there are hundreds of apprenticeship courses in Austria, Switzerland and Germany but just a couple of dozen here. We have lost out in this regard.

What has occurred is progress and I endorse everything Senator D'Arcy said in that regard. Having listened to the debate, I wondered whether an amendment to the Universities Act might address the issue of the Royal College of Surgeons, which appears to be the only eligible body at present, rather than special legislation. However, that is the Minister's choice and I accept what he said. An applicant provider must already have 40% of its registered student body in Ireland as non-EU students. There is only one institution that meets that criterion. An applicant will have to be entitled to award degrees at least at doctoral level. There is only one institution that meets that criterion.

With regard to what is known as a university abroad as opposed to here, are some of our colleagues in the third level sector a bit sensitive about titles? One earns one's reputation from the quality of one's graduates and research. MIT has a worldwide reputation. Some people said that in some parts of the world a college means a secondary school. Does that mean the London School of Economics must be a primary school? I wonder about titles as it is the quality of graduates and the work that matters.

The Minister referred to the commitment to encourage more international students to study here and to create new jobs in the sector, with the particular aim of doubling the number of students from priority and emerging markets outside the European Union. Is that a viable target? There is an increase in the birth rate here, to which the Minister has drawn attention. He referred to the amount of work being done at primary level to cater for the increase in the birth rate. If we removed from the system students whose parents paid the taxes to support Irish higher education to engage in the kinds of activities in question, a cost would be involved. If there was spare capacity in the Irish system, the target might make more sense. However, we will be put to the pin of our collar to satisfy the increasing demand from within the jurisdiction that we serve.

There tends to be fashions in higher education and offshore campuses were a fashion. Results from the United Kingdom and Dubai, in particular, have been somewhat less than impressive. Before the financial crisis in Dubai and before its economy went into freefall, 54 universities were on the waiting list to open international campuses. This is in an article published by Finnish economists in the March edition of Learning & Education by the Academy of Management. There is a herd instinct and group-think in higher education suggesting what one should do. I plead with the Minister not to neglect undergraduates, who comprise the majority of the population in our universities, nor should he neglect lecturing to undergraduates because of managerial fashions and the fascination with life upstairs in a jumbo jet flying around the world setting up offshore campuses. Whether the suggested institutions would ever make enough money to compensate for the shortage of domestic money in the system is a moot point. They probably will not. These are caveats pertaining to the Government's target.

I support the Bill. It allows the Royal College of Surgeons to continue with what it has been doing. There is a reputational risk that Members have referred to regarding the human rights record of some countries with which we could become associated. I must issue a caveat in this regard. It will not do Ireland's international reputation much good.

The Minister must ensure that if this is a money-making exercise, the degrees on the offshore campus are directly comparable with those here and that the students are as good. If we say we cannot afford to fail a large proportion of the students, we are undermining the standards of the home university. This may be difficult to address in some parts of the world. If we are in the business of buying and selling education based on Ireland's reputation, we must ensure that reputation for excellence is not compromised by the fact that we need the money from those concerned. It is a commercial business. To fail too many would undermine the commercial business.

There is a fairly unimpressive record on the part of many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, with regard to offshore campuses. A large proportion of what is in the Bill is designed to protect Ireland in this regard, and I commend the Minister on that. The Minister is always welcome to the House. As with Senator D'Arcy, I believe he should be very proud of what he has done in Irish education. This Bill strikes the right balance. I have never worried about the league tables. I do not know whether they have any effect in any case. I appreciate the Minister's concerns about them and thank him.

As always, the Minister is very welcome to the House. Others have spoken about his reform record. I wish to pay tribute to him on that, particularly his work on pluralism in the primary sector regarding the patronage of schools. I have been directly involved with the Minister on the latter subject. He has really made considerable progress on what parents want to see, namely, greater diversity of choice in the schools available for their children. I thank the Minister for that and for the work he has done on literacy. There is to be a big launch of the Right to Read campaign later this week with Deputy Ó Ríordáin. The reforms of the junior certificate are very child centred. Others have spoken about the reforms involving SUSI and so on.

We would particularly like to thank the Minister for his willingness to initiate legislation in this House, including this Bill. We really appreciate that. It is great to get Bills like this first in the Seanad, particularly when they pertain to subjects such as higher education, in which a number of us clearly have a particular interest.

I agree with Senator O'Donovan on the timing. It was unfortunate that the Bill was published only so recently, on Thursday night. It was referred to in the schedule send around on Thursday afternoon; Senator Moran and I checked that. There is always an issue in July with regard to legislation being rushed in. It is not ideal to have such a short period between the publication of a Bill and its introduction in a House.

Turning to the Bill itself, as others have said, it has one primary purpose and two other issues contained within it. The primary purpose, of course, is provision for a very restrictive recognition, or restrictive authorisation, to describe a provider of education as a university outside the State for specified purposes. Senator Barrett and I had a brief conversation as to whether a simple amendment to the Universities Act would have sufficed if we had wished, for example, to just include one institution, such as the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. However, on reading section 2 carefully, I believe it is a much more limited idea of university recognition. Indeed, it is not university recognition and is, in fact, authorisation to be described as a university outside the State for specified purposes. Furthermore, section 2 states that an "education provider which is granted a university authorisation under this section shall not describe itself ... as a university otherwise than for a specified purpose outside the State". I and, I believe, Senator Barrett would approve entirely of that very restrictive approach and that more limited authorisation.

We all appreciate, as Senator Moran and others have said, the need to encourage more international students to study here, as the programme for Government has stated. Indeed, we recognise the huge benefits, not just economic but also cultural and social, that internationalisation of our education system provides.

The Royal College of Surgeons has a strong tradition of educating international students and has made an immense contribution to the Irish health care system. On a day when we have seen a lot of publicity about the difficulty in recruiting doctors into our health service, it is important to note that we are offering high-quality medical education programmes such as those provided by the Royal College of Surgeons. There are some concerns, particularly with regard to its links with the regime in Bahrain, as other Senators have noted. However, it is already a recognised college of the National University of Ireland and it is clear that, given the very tightly drawn and restrictive criteria for eligibility, there are safeguards in place to ensure that the title of "university", even in this limited sense, will not be overused.

There is a broader issue that has been raised by some of the Irish universities, which is a concern about the devaluing of the status of "university". I believe that is covered by the very tightly drafted provisions in sections 2 to 5 in particular.

I also wanted to mention the issue of the school league tables. I entirely agree with the Minister about the need to guard against the publication of crude school league tables. We have seen in other jurisdictions that this can lead to unfair jockeying for position among parents. It essentially sets up a false competition because, of course, as Senator Moran has said, academic results are not the only measure of success for a school. Schools will have different demographics and it is hugely important that schools have diversity in their enrolment. One of the many reforms the Minister has brought in is to ensure that we have fairer enrolment policies in our schools. I believe the publication of school league tables militates against that sort of fair enrolment policy as it creates unfair competition and puts huge pressure on parents and on schools.

I support the Bill and I commend the Minister again on this great reforming work in the education sector.

I thank the Minister for his contributions to the education portfolio. I would like to state that one of the joys of my brief career here to date has been the opportunity to interact with the Minister. He has done, and hopefully will continue to do, very important work in the educational arena.

I completely understand the technical requirements for this Bill and the disadvantage that its absence would confer on certain institutions in the international educational arena, where several Irish organisations have punched way above their weight and done disproportionately and appropriately well. I would like to make three points about the reputation of Irish educational institutions. The international league tables and other league tables may be an irritation, but there is something to them. Those of us who live in the education world and look at the structure of our universities understand there are absolutely profound problems which need to be addressed.

I can speak with the greatest authority in the area of the medical schools. The reality is that we labour under the handicap of the strange demographic of having six medical schools for 4.5 million people, which is twice the European average, while, parenthetically - I know this is not the Minister's doing - having the lowest number of career-level doctors per head of population of any country in the OECD. That is quite an extraordinary juxtaposition of records to find in one jurisdiction. One would nearly think it required an effort to simultaneously achieve those two, although I believe there are historical reasons why that situation arose. Partly, but not entirely, as a result of that, we have a very serious structural problem in the Irish medical schools. I feel a little like the people who did not like talking too much of their concerns about the economy prior to the meltdown lest they be seen as not wearing the jersey and perhaps causing a problem through scrutiny, which could create its own reality. All I would say is that those who are in charge of education in this country really need to look at the structure of our medical schools internally, and I do not just mean the number of medical schools. If we could sustain six medical schools - and we have enough patients in hospitals to do that - and if we had enough money to appoint the faculty and could attract high-quality students from home and abroad to fill the benches, I would have no problem with that. However, the reality is that we have under-provisioned medical schools which are unprecedentedly under-staffed in a way that bears an eerie parallel to the situation with respect to the mainstream health service.

While I do not have the exact figure, we have something in the order of 70 to 90 career-level, full-time faculty clinicians at consultant level, in aggregate, appointed across our six medical schools, whereas Harvard Medical School has 1,500. Whole departments, whole divisions, whole specialties have no full-time academic. I am honoured that two universities in this country, one with a medical school and one an institution with a fine biotechnology and science base - UCD and DCU, respectively - have seen fit to honour me with the title of professor. However, I must stress that they honoured me with it. The professorship, and 50 cent, gets me coffee. There is no division, no department and no formal faculty of medical oncology in any of the Irish medical schools, nor is there for any of the other mainstream specialties. This is a highly unusual situation. I do not believe certain of these structures would bear a great deal of scrutiny but there is an urgent need to reform them. The reform, I believe, will likely have to be undertaken in parallel with a fundamental and structural reform of the health service itself.

It must be acknowledged that much of the education that takes place in our medical schools takes place according to a principle of voluntarism by those who are primarily employed in the health service. I would have a certain modest reputation for having organised research and helped to organise a certain strand of cancer research in this country, although I would not over-hype my achievements in that area compared to other utterly brilliant people who are doing wonderful research here. However, I have not one minute of protected time for research in my contract, nor does pretty much any other Irish doctor. We are employed, by and large, by the health service and if we do educational research activities, this has to come out of time apportioned for other activities - or, indeed, for life.

I would like the Minister to set out his stall as a reformer and to look at this issue proactively, positively and creatively. I do not believe we are in the business of trying to close medical schools, but we need to be in the business of incentivising the medical schools to look inside themselves, see the fundamental problems they have and to try to remedy them. If we do not, at some stage, somebody may cast a harsh light of criticism on the structures of our medical schools and decide that perhaps there are implications due to a lack of adequate faculty numbers assigned to them.

Finally, I am a huge supporter of the wonderful educational activity of the Royal College of Surgeons and of our other medical schools at home and abroad. I cannot let this opportunity pass without mentioning the names of three doctors, Dr. Ali Al-Ekri, Dr. Ghassan Daif and Dr. Basim Daif, three graduates who committed their young lives to studying medicine with a qualification that had the word "Ireland" on it. To the best of our knowledge, they are living up to the highest principles of our medical profession, providing in an unbiased, uncritical, professional fashion medical care to people who need it. These people, who are politically inconvenient, have found themselves, several years later, still incarcerated and facing very uncertain futures.

I urge the Minister, the Irish educational establishment and particularly the Royal College of Surgeons to come out in forthright support of the rights of these young doctors and other health workers who make the decision to look after their patients rather than to do what might be personally, politically expedient. I thank the Minister and wish him all the very best in this office, hopefully for the next several years.

I welcome the Minister. It is good to see him again. To have a cousin in the Cabinet gives me a certain amount of confidence, although I do not necessarily get to use it on that basis. Last week, my 22-year-old granddaughter graduated from Shanghai University and last Thursday, she spoke to the 600 graduates at her master's ceremony. I am rather pleased that Irish and European students - my granddaughter is more French than Irish - are expanding into that part of the world, and we should encourage them to do so. I welcome the Bill, which will allow certain educational establishments in the State to call themselves universities outside the State. It will set the conditions for strong Irish educational brands to expand outside the State.

Irish university brands have been relatively slow to exploit their names and to expand abroad. It is very welcome that UCD plans to open a campus in China in a very short space of time. I have been involved with UCD's Institute of Food and Health for a few years and it has had a very close relationship with the Chinese Agricultural University. The regard with which the institute is held and the close relationship is worthy of recognition. Is there a Government policy on Irish universities using their brands abroad? While it may seem lucrative to expand abroad with incentives from foreign governments, what will happen when the cash dries up? Will the Irish taxpayer have to foot the bill? Do we have a strategy to cover such eventualities?

As in all businesses, proper planning will give better protection to the State, taxpayer and university. While there has been a major rush among universities to expand abroad in recent years, they must be very careful. Investing heavily in physical campuses when online education is growing by the day is something that should be considered very carefully. The US Duke University has experienced a delay of two years in opening its campus in China due to construction delays while other American universities in China have experienced major problems recruiting students. Such projects must be considered from a business perspective, not just as a means of projecting a university's image or brand abroad. There may be over-saturation, as some figures estimate that there are 200 international branch campuses which have massively increased in the past number of years, mostly in the Middle East and China. That is a huge number.

One of the major problems foreign campuses have is quality control. There are usually fewer courses on offer and the big name academics are often absent or fly in for just a few days. Sometimes the students are of lesser quality, given that they come from a developing education system. In the context of the Bill, could a foreign campus of an Irish university decrease the university's overall rating? A decrease in its rating would have a major impact on an Irish university's ability to attract the best students.

Do students in foreign campuses have the same rights to speak their minds? We all know certain countries where university campuses may be established do not have the same freedoms. How do we reconcile this with academic research and the ethos of questioning? If there are infringements in how the university conducts its business, would Irish law be applicable? I am not sure. Could Irish law be enforced in an Irish university campus in China?

While I support what the Minister is doing, I would like to ensure we have asked certain questions and talked our way through them. I have great confidence in what the Minister is doing and it will be very worthy of success in the years ahead.

I thank all the Senators for their contributions and I extend, through Senator Ó Murchú, my apologies for the short notice his colleague received, which was less than the desired two weeks. I appreciate the fact that the Seanad facilitated Second Stage as I want to try to get the legislation through before the end of the session. There are three aspects to this Bill. The main one has been very carefully drafted and was in gestation for almost ten months because we wanted to facilitate the institution that seeks it, namely, the RCSI, and at the same time to protect the use of the word "university" and its application. Senators Bacik, Barrett and others have referred to this.

Third level education has been internationalised at an extraordinary rate, including through the Internet. Last week's Economist magazine devoted three separate related articles, including an opinion piece, to it. It raised a range of issues. The fact that one can generate a massive open online course, MOOC, does not necessarily mean one will get the audience and a proper accreditation system. Although the technology is new and a bit more sexy, this is distance learning with electronics. We have had correspondence schools since the century before last. Although distance learning is not new, the technology enables us to access it in a much different way. The issue of verification and standards remains to be satisfactorily addressed.

Senator Quinn addressed the pitfalls regarding the multiplicity of accredited campuses in other countries. The legislation does not address this. UCD's new president, Professor Deeks, has experience in both Australia and China and is examining UCD's links with China. There are other links between Irish universities and China because of the size of the country. The impression I got from talking to people who know much more about it than I is that a joint venture between an Irish institution and a comparable Chinese institution would result in a joint course whereby, for example, both Irish and Chinese students would do two years of a four-year course in China and two years in Ireland. The model of foreign students coming to Ireland, getting their education entirely here and then returning to their country of origin is evolving. The rebalancing of the world's economy and wealth is changing the dynamic. We are at a very early stage of this emerging model, and the historical model we are familiar with in places such as UCD, Trinity College Dublin, Oxford and Cambridge is not a static model but will change dramatically over the coming years.

The protection of the title "university" is very important. There are approximately 15,000 universities worldwide, although some would put the figure closer to 13,000, depending on what one includes as a university. Colleges of education are sometimes seen as universities. Our seven universities are in the top 600 of the category which, as Senator Crown said, for a population of 4.5 million is an extraordinary achievement. They are not getting some of the resources. One of the issues that affected their ranking was the pupil-teacher ratio. The fact that we have reduced funding on a 1% basis over the past three years as an overall adjustment, has had a direct impact on the pupil-teacher ratio and, consequently, there has been a drop in ratings in that category.

What has improved the rankings of the same institutions has been the extraordinary success in research in the universities, in terms of their funding through Science Foundation Ireland, and also through the improvement in participation in research and winning of research grants from the European Union and others. We are still very much in the first division in respect of our universities.

In the 1980s Mrs. Thatcher re-labelled every polytechnic in the United Kingdom, or certainly in England and Wales, with the title "university". It had no effect on the Russell Group universities, the premier league, so to speak, but it played havoc with the reputation of middle-ranking universities and their ability to survive. I forecast that some of those universities will be in a powerless state in five, ten or 15 years due to the funding model, the cost of going to college and the loan scheme. Mr. David Willetts, the Minister of State with responsibility for higher education in the UK, all but admitted to Jeremy Clarkson that the €9,000 fee loan scheme introduced by the Tories is unviable, and that the cost will be picked up by the taxpayer because the vast majority of students will never repay their loans. Student loan debt in the US, which is the single highest category of debt after the national debt, is in the trillions and is more than all credit card debt in plastic terms. The funding model of universities worldwide will have to be looked at. That is one of the reasons that later this week I will announce a new review group to examine the sustainability of the financing of our universities.

I thank Senators Jim D'Arcy, Mary Moran and Ivana Bacik for their kind comments. I thank Senator Sean D. Barrett for his correct observation about the way in which the State Examinations Commission addressed in a very satisfactory manner the problems that arose last year. I telephoned Mr. Richard Langford, chairperson of the State Examinations Commission, to congratulate him and his staff. They did what all good proofreaders do when they get tired of looking at their own script; they got somebody to come in with a fresh pair of eyes and to sit it anew. That worked. SUSI has also worked because we fixed the problem. Again, credit is due to the various people who brought that about.

Senator Barrett raised the question of spare capacity within the universities. Ireland is an island off an island off the west coast of Europe. We are not on a crossroads to anywhere. People who come here come out of choice. We do not have the through traffic in terms of cultural diversity that Munich, Rome or places in the middle of Europe would have. For that reason, until about 25 or 30 years ago, Ireland was a highly homogenous society. We need the internationalisation of talent and smarter and different teaching in our universities, which is already happening. It is clear from the nationality profile in his own university that there is a wide diversity of cultural and academic backgrounds and, as a consequence, experiences. At graduate level, students are bringing about that diversity as well. At undergraduate and graduate level, students bring a different perspective of their experience which enriches the indigenous Irish one. The income from non-EU students is an additional and welcome contribution. I put the benefits in the order I have articulated - the internationalisation of academic staff, the cross-fertilisation of students and finally student income - in terms of what we are trying to do in increasing the number of international students. We have to do that without damaging quality or damaging our reputation. The Australians, for example, have lost much reputational goodwill after being perceived to have exploited Asian students. Asian students in Australia encountered much racism and aggravation. It takes time to develop a reputation and it can be lost very quickly, but trying to redevelop and retain it is not easy.

Senator John Crown raised the whole area of medical schools. I would like to come back and hear his thoughts on that issue. It is not an issue we got into in this Bill. This Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is literally what it says: it is a Bill designed to address a specific request from the RCSI. It caused quite an amount of concern. We did not want to distort the existing landscape but we were persuaded, and in due course, when its plans are revealed, it will be self-explanatory. We were persuaded by the validity of its request, but at the same time we wanted to keep it as tight as possible. That is the reason it was drafted in the way that Senator Ivana Bacik stated.

Senator Mary Moran raised some questions about teachers being asked to undergo the test themselves. We are not aware of that issue. As the Senator is aware, in the initial changes in teacher education that have been introduced, post-primary teachers will have to complete a two-year course. The way in which that will work will be very different from the previous experience, when teachers got their H Dip. Likewise, primary school teachers now complete a four-year course. Some 87,000 teachers are registered for the first time with the Teaching Council. One cannot get paid as a teacher here unless one is registered. The Teaching Council, which was established in 2006, took a long time to get to the point at which it is now. It is dominated by insider professionals, which is countercultural compared to most professional organisations. I think I am correct in saying that the majority on the Medical Council and the Irish Medical Organisation are non-medical people, but in time that may change. A requirement, which is not yet effective, of the Teaching Council for a teacher to renew his or her licence to teach will be that one will have to participate, as all professions do, in some specified form of continuous professional development, CPD. It is for that body to specify the CPD in order that teachers meet the qualifications that the interview process is presumably seeking.

I thank all the speakers who have contributed and also for the kind comments made in respect of me on Second Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 8 July 2014.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.