Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Fifth Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

On a point of order, will Senators have an opportunity to speak on Fifth Stage?

Yes. The Senator may do so now.

Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I take the opportunity to reiterate, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, why we are opposing this Bill. As I pointed out in the course of the debate, 90% of the Bill relates to the putting in place of an extraordinary new procedure for the benefit of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, whereby that institution, which is not entitled to call itself a university within this State because it does not satisfy the relevant criteria, may market itself abroad as a university. That leaves us with a bizarre situation where foreign students will be enticed to study there thinking it is a university when it is, under the Irish system of classification, a college.

As I emphasised, I have no difficulties with the educational standard of the medical qualifications provided by the RCSI. However, what is proposed here represents a huge departure in our system of third level education. The institutes of technology that have been jumping through hoops for a long time to secure university status are being told they must continue on that uncertain path while another institution is allowed to move ahead. The IoTs face exactly the same difficulties as the RCSI in marketing their qualifications abroad. To give just two examples, Dublin Institute of Technology and Waterford Institute of Technology provide qualifications on a par with, if not better than, those offered by many of those institutions in the United Kingdom, for instance, which can call themselves universities. It is unacceptable to facilitate one institution in this State at the expense of others and without addressing the broader issues of internationalisation and ensuring all our third level institutions can compete abroad and attract their fair share of foreign students.

We would like to work with the Minister on this issue, but the Bill before us today is absolutely the wrong way of approaching it. It is for this reason, notwithstanding our support for the provisions in the Bill regarding grants for post leaving certificate students and transparency in the provision of educational data, that we are opposing the legislation. The welcome provisions it contains are a very minor part of the Bill when stood beside the strange and dubious departure therein of allowing the RCSI to use the term "university" abroad when it does not qualify to do so here. I have put forward a better solution whereby the RCSI would be permitted to call itself a medical university both at home and abroad. That fine institution will never reach university status under the definition applied in the State because it includes only one discipline and does not have the scale required. The solution I am proposing would allow it to use the same title at home as it does abroad, thereby addressing the issue the Minister is seeking to address in a sensible way and without throwing our entire classification system in the air.

I voted against this Bill at an earlier Stage and find it regrettable that it has proceeded this far through the House. We should be very careful in our dealings with the academic institutions of this country. With negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ongoing, we are opening the door to foreign institutions coming here. In addition, while I accept the Minister's bona fides with respect to the quality assurance of those institutions that will market their services outside this country, I am concerned that institutions which are registered in Europe and already meet the European criteria will not have to meet separate criteria in Ireland.

I welcome the Minister's indication that the Bill will be brought back to the House. I hope we get a chance to have another bite at this particular cherry. This is the wrong legislation at this time.

To clarify, the provisions in the Bill may only be used by institutions that award to doctorate level under the Irish quality framework. There is no way that an institution which operates abroad and is not awarding at that level under the Irish system would be given the designation of university. The Bill contains a range of important measures, including provisions regarding support grants for students in PLC colleges. There is more to these proposals than what is provided in respect of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The Bill is very restricted in terms of which institutions will be able to call themselves a university outside the country. That will only be possible where they offer qualifications at doctorate level in Ireland.

It is not very often that I disagree with Senator Averil Power, but I must do so on this occasion. This is a very important Bill supporting the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, dealing with student grants and preventing the development of a system of league tables at further education level. I congratulate the Minister on bringing the Bill through the House.

We are almost out of time. If we do not complete our deliberations, the debate will be adjourned and resume on another day.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we extend the time allocated for the debate by five minutes to allow us to complete our consideration of the Bill.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Averil Power has steered this legislation through the House on behalf of the Opposition. She has raised issues of fundamental concern. I am glad that there is no use of the guillotine on this Bill, because we have seen the ill effects of guillotines on legislation in the other House. However, the Bill should not be completed today. The Minister needs to give further thought to it. Senator Averil Power has raised the most serious issues in respect of the Bill. These are serious issues of equity and fairness in terms of the south-eastern part of the country and other areas looking for university status when certain colleges are entitled to get that through Government action. I think there is an inherent unfairness there. The Minister should pause for thought, listen to what Senator Averil Power has been saying about this legislation and let the people of Waterford and other regions know why one institution is being treated in a different way compared to the institution that, as Senator Averil Power said-----

(Interruptions).

Níor chuala mé an Seanadóir.

(Interruptions).

Senator Thomas Byrne to conclude. We have five minutes left.

Tá an Rialtas ag tabhairt cúig nóiméad dúinn ach tá an deis ag an Seanad níos mó ama a chur ar fáil chun an reachtaíocht seo a phlé. Is féidir leis an tSeanad an díospóireacht seo a chur ar athló chun machnamh a dhéanamh ar an méid atá ráite ag an Seandóir de Paor agus teacht ar ais chuici níos déanaí faoi. This fundamental issue of unfairness must be dealt with and we cannot allow it to stand. It is as well that we have had a number of votes and I hope the issue will be highlighted.

We have had a good debate here today and are very fortunate to have the expertise of particular Senators such as Senators Sean D. Barrett, Feargal Quinn and Gerard P. Craughwell and, indeed, Averil Power in her education brief. The Minister quite clearly addressed their concerns, has agreed to bring a number of amendments to the Dáil based on proposals made by the aforementioned Senators and has said she will return to this House when the amendments have been passed by the Dáil. She explained the reason she could not bring the amendments forward today due to time constraints caused by her talks on other issues. However, she will address a number of the amendments.

I expressed some concern about this when it arose previously. Frankly, it is just about money. It is about the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland marketing itself abroad as a university because if it did not do so, the people it is hoping will come might not understand what its status was. It reminds me of how, when one goes to the United states as a Senator or a Deputy, one has a much more enhanced status as a Senator than as a mere Deputy. I suggest to those Senators who have not gone to the United States that they do so because-----

Is the Senator against its having international students?

I am asking why it has been singled out.

We are not being disruptive for its own sake, but we have made the point. I know there has not been agreement with the rest-----

I call Senator Fidelma Healy Eames. There is about one minute left.

Why is it being singled out in this regard and why is special legislation coming through when other institutes might like to have similar help from the Government? There are plenty of others.

We are on Fifth Stage and the Minister has said that she will be bringing it back to the House. I propose that we extend the time until 2.15 p.m. if necessary. As we are on Fifth Stage, I ask for the co-operation of Members.

As we are on Fifth Stage, we are obliged to be brief. We will extend the time until 2.15 p.m. if necessary. Is that agreed? Agreed.

My concern is that universities across the world are not always called universities. For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a world-famous university that does not have the word "university" in its title. Its reputation sells. Why can RCSI which is well known here not market itself as RCSI abroad without being called a university? It is a bit deceptive. My concern is for international students and their families. Down through the years and generations, the word "university" has conjured up the image of a higher qualification. We know international students are being fooled here every day. Colleges are closing without any regard for the concerns of students and their families and the amount of investment in them. I share the concern that we are keeping this going by allowing RCSI to exist here under its current name while calling itself a university abroad. Let us have a bit of standardisation on this. Has it been considered that RCSI might apply for university status here, or is that just another big problem? I ask the Minister to look at this because I know the Bill is going to the Dáil. It would be nice to be able to support this Bill, but the concerns articulated are worthy of consideration.

I tabled 15 amendments to this Bill. I know the Minister will consider them again. There is a possibility that loopholes could leave the State open to challenge. It is drafted too broadly and I hope this can be remedied when it comes before the Dáil. It treats RCSI much more leniently than Waterford Institute of Technology or Dublin Institute of Technology, which is a pity. I wish the Minister well with it in the Dáil. I hope it comes back in an amended state, because that is why we put down the amendments. There are flaws to which Senators Averil Power, Thomas Byrne and others have drawn attention.

I wish to raise the issue of Waterford Institute of Technology, because I am from the south east. Senator Maurice Cummins will know that this region suffers the most because it is the only region in Ireland without a university. The Minister has given an undertaking that she will look at the issue of a technological university for the south east, which is a very good thing. However, it is very important to realise that a change is not occurring with RCSI. It will still provide the same quality of education as before. There is a change in terms of status in that we are allowing it to style itself as a university internationally.

I am speaking about Waterford Institute of Technology and Carlow Institute of Technology and the possible merger of those institutions at some stage in the future. We cannot just merge them and call it a university without a significant upgrade in the standards that must be applied for those institutions. I do not just want a name change for the south-eastern technological university. I want a university that is able to stand up to scrutiny and provide courses of standing. That is the difference here. What is happening here will not have a major impact on RCSI, but there is a major job of work to be done, as we saw in the past couple of weeks when Waterford Institute of Technology withdrew from the conversation about the merger. The south-eastern technological university must be a university of standing. We cannot just merge them and change the name.

Does the Minister wish to have the final word?

We have had a very good debate, and those who have participated include Senators Averil Power, Sean D. Barrett and Marie Moloney. It has been a constructive debate. I will return and have given an undertaking to Senator Sean D. Barrett in particular that I intend to bring forward amendments in the Dáil to in respect of some of the issues he raised.

In respect of the specifics around the naming of any institution outside the State as a university under this legislation, the qualifications are very rigorous in terms of qualification under the Irish system. Senator Michael D'Arcy is right about technological universities. It is important that the bar be high for any institution that can call itself a university inside or outside the State in terms of Irish qualifications and how we recognise them. Waterford, Carlow and the other institutes of technology that are proposing to merge and become technological universities are very different.

They have a large number of undergraduates and a wide range of courses and know it is important they reach certain standards. This element of the legislation is tightly controlled in terms of how it can be used. The Senator is right to name the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, although it is not named in the Bill. As far as we know, it is the institution that is likely to reach the required standard. Nobody has questioned the standard of education or qualifications provided for within the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. I believe we are ad idem on much of this. I will come back to the Seanad on the Bill.

Question put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 16.

  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Darragh O'Brien and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.