Consideration of the Bill will continue until 8.30 p.m. unless Members decide to take a break. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999 [Seanad]: Committee Stage.
I will be proposing a technical amendment to the collective citation on Report Stage. This amendment arises because the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999, will be passed before this Bill.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 7, subsection (1), lines 25 and 26, to delete "Qualifications (Education and Training)" and substitute "Education and Training (Qualifications)".
As this is an education and training Bill the Title is not logical. If this was a nursing qualifications Bill, would it be entitled Qualifications (Nursing) Bill? The Title would be more appropriate if the sequence was changed.
This matter was debated in the Seanad. The Title of the Bill is the appropriate one. Consideration was given to the amendment at drafting stage. The Title proposed was the working Title for a considerable period but on further reflection it was considered that the current Title which emphasises qualifications was more indicative of the thrust of the Bill, that is, to provide for a high level of qualification for learners who have the confidence and meet the needs of the wider community. I prefer the current Title.
I have no hang-up about it. While I disagree with the Minister, I accept his submission.
Amendment No. 2 has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.
Amendment No. 2 is not out of order as it only seeks to insert a definition. It does not involve a charge. It is linked to amendments Nos. 38 and 39. On amendment No. 39, I can see the basis of the ruling and may modify the amendment on Report Stage.
I am prepared to examine amendment No. 38 prior to Report Stage.
I do not understand why amendment No. 38 has been ruled out order.
It was my intention to table an amendment. The difficulty is that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has two nominees, one of whom could be from FÁS. Providing for the nomination of an extra person involves a charge. It has nothing to do with me. The Deputy can be accommodated. Amendment No. 39 deals with a separate issue — the council of directors.
I understand amendment No. 39 is the substantive amendment which has been ruled out of order.
I may resubmit it on Report Stage. On amendment No. 38, I welcome the Minister's view. I do not understand why it has been ruled out of order as it would not confer a charge. It seeks to ensure that one of the members will be nominated by FÁS.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 6 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 10, subsection (1), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following definition:
"'retention rate' means the number of students remaining on a course, on a census date, as a percentage of those who commenced that course of education or training;".
This is an issue about which the Minister has considerable concerns, the evidence that retention rates in some colleges are poor. Amendments Nos. 3 and 6 seek to provide a definition of "retention rate" that would be consistent across all colleges. Amendment No. 6 seeks to provide for the preparation of annual reports by the National Qualifications Authority which would be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on access to retention rates and graduation of learners from programmes of education and training which operate under the aegis of the authority.
It has long been something of a black hole to identify the dropout level and the reasons for it. Some ad hoc research is being conducted but it is patchy in nature and has not produced consistent results to date, although it is at least two years since it was initiated. It is time the Houses of the Oireachtas cut through some of the obvious drag of resistance to having consistent reports on the issue. The amendment seeks to provide for proper reporting of retention rates and would add considerably to public debate. It is a relevant issue on which the National Qualifications Authority should collect information and report to the Oireachtas. One of the issues in establishing the quality of courses is the extent to which students can successfully start and complete them and receive the necessary support. I hope the amendments commend themselves to the Minister.
I can understand the Deputy's concern about the retention rate issue. I have also articulated my concern. The amendment is not appropriate to the section or the Bill. There are many aspects of education and training which require highlighting in annual reports. One should not be identified over another. Suffice it to say that the purpose of section 4 is to ensure that all those concerned with the implementation of the Bill shall have regard to its objects which are generic and all embracing in nature.
Under section 60 the National Qualifications Authority and the two awarding councils shall at the end of every two years prepare and publish a report on their operations and performance during that period. Such reports shall be forwarded to the Minister and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Reviews of the effectiveness of quality assurance procedures operated by providers are also to be published. Section 59 sets out that all the new bodies must also publish plans.
These measures combined provide for a significant degree of transparency, accountability and responsibility which is in the best interests of learners and will ensure information on the operation and performance of the new bodies is available. The question is whether one issue should be highlighted over another. One could argue that there are a range of issues of significant importance. Legislation endeavours to provide a framework, not to go into detail on every single issue. That is not to understate the importance of the retention rate issue. There are other ways of dealing with it.
There is no provision in relation to reporting under which the Houses of the Oireachtas will have an opportunity to indicate what they would like to have included in reports. A normal provision would require bodies such as this to produce reports in accord with certain principles or requirements set down by the person to whom the reports were to be made, generally the Minister who would lay them before the Houses of the Oireachtas. While section 60 provides that the new bodies shall report to the Houses of the Oireachtas, it does not provide for the detail that we might like to see included. I would be happy if the Minister would amend section 60 to allow issues of particular concern to the Oireachtas to be reported upon and to allow us a flexible right to request information in the case of retention. I accept that we are singling it out, as the Minister says. However, it is a controversial issue about which very limited information is being made available. That is why the Oireachtas has a right to ask that it be singled out. If the Minister is willing to do something on section 60 so that the reports we receive would deal with this, I would be happy with that.
What I have there at the moment in page 48 is that subject to subsection (7) a relevant body shall provide the Minister with such information regarding the performance of its functions as the Minister may from time to time determine. We could bring forward an amendment on Report Stage to provide that a relevant body shall provide the Minister with such information regarding performance of its functions as the Minister or the Oireachtas may from time to time determine.
That would be satisfactory. It would give a committee like ours an ongoing role.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 11, subsection (1)(e), line 3, to delete "to promote" and substitute "to facilitate lifelong learning through the promotion of".
The purpose of this section is to ensure that all those concerned with the implementation of the Bill shall have regard to its objects. This amendment arises from consultation my officials have had with a number of bodies engaged in education and training. There was a general feeling that the objectives of the Bill could be extended to state more broadly the aims of the Bill as a whole to be more inclusive of the different types of learning that are on the way in our society. Specifically the amendment includes the concept of lifelong learning in the objectives.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 11, subsection (1), between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:
"(f) to promote the recognition of knowledge, skill or competence acquired through research, adult and continuing education and training and employment;".
This amendment again arises from consultation in which we have engaged with a number of bodies. Specifically this amendment refers to the key role of research, adult and continuing education and training and employment.
Amendment No. 7 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 8, 29, 45, 79 and 80 are cognate. Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 29, 45, 79 and 80 can be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 11, subsection (1)(f), line 8, after "business," to insert "tourism,".
It is an important function of each of the three bodies to be set up under this Bill that they inform themselves of the relevant needs of business and industry. These amendments provide, inter alia, that when informing themselves of the education and training needs of industry, the professions and the public service, the respective awarding councils shall consult with the authority and promote practices in education and training in their respective areas of responsibility which meet these requirements. The aim in this regard is to ensure that the respective roles of the new bodies are clear.
All this seems to be doing is adding tourism to a list of activities. Is that what it is doing?
The Minister's rationale of the amendments does not seem to gel with that. He did not mention tourism.
The purpose of amendment Nos. 7, 8 and 29 is, in the case of each, to insert the word "tourism" after the word "business". What is the Deputy's question?
Because elements within the tourism industry, particularly those who are certifying currently in the tourism industry, wanted a certain assurance that their needs would be catered for by the new authority and by the councils. It is to give additional guarantees and recognition to the sector.
I think it is a bit coat-trailing. One could ask why industry is not mentioned. Why not electronics which is probably one of our biggest sectors? I would have thought business should be defined in a way that would be satisfactory without singling out tourism. Tourism is very important, and CERT is one of the bodies being brought in, but equally one could ask why is industry not mentioned?
It is there.
Business is there. Agriculture, business, trade are there. Is this a definition of industry?
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 11, subsection (1)(g), line 12, after "business," to insert "tourism,".
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 11, subsection (1)(i), line 17, before "to promote" to insert "having regard to the traditions of providers of education and training,".
This amendment again arises from consultation in which we have engaged with a number of bodies in the field. I am specifically putting forward this amendment in that it refers in the objectives to the need to have full regard to the traditions of providers of education and training. This relates to the existing providers of education and training and the objectives will have regard to those traditions.
Could the Minister give an example of what gave rise to this? I am not clear why it is necessary.
Following consultations we are endeavouring to develop as high a degree of consensus as we can. Some of the institutes, some of the colleges of further education, felt they had built up a particular ethos in their practices and that the objectives should have regard to those. One would expect that anyway in terms of the objectives. However, people felt concerned about it so we agreed to put it in.
My concern is whether this is bringing rigidity into the situation.
No, absolutely not.
It has a rather stuffy sound about it. If the Minister is trying to promote diversity and then qualifies it by saying "having regard to tradition", it almost undoes the first. It is like being progressive while taking account of conservative values. One cannot have the two.
I will have a look at it again on Report Stage and take on board what the Deputies have said.
One of the important issues about this whole process is the method by which standards will be developed. I would be interested in hearing the Minister amplify objective A which is to establish and develop standards of knowledge, skill and competence. It has been put to me, and it has a certain resonance about it, that there are two ways of developing standards. One is to look at everything that is being done at present and say we approve; the other is to say that there is a standard of best practice and that unless providers come up to that standard they will not be approved.
There is a concern that much of the thrust of this Bill will be just to certify the status quo rather than to stretch providers, to demand changes of providers and to have very much a driver of change in the National Qualifications Authority. As far as I can see, this is the only part of the Bill where we set out what the authority will be doing. Later we talk about establishing and maintaining a framework and maintaining standards. It is quite static. It could be just certifying the status quo.
What is the legal interpretation of this? Does this require that the National Qualifications Authority and any of the other satellites will be out there hunting for best practice, demanding that, say, in the area of electronic technicians we continually evolve this standard, and that if colleges do not come up to scratch they will fall away? There is a difference. Unless it is clear from the outset that this body will be a tough taskmaster, demanding best international practice from all those who seek qualifications, we will be back to the fear that this will become just a way of putting a stamp on what is already happening.
I endorse Deputy Bruton's view of what the authority should be doing. Section 4 deals with the objectives of the Bill, section 7 deals with the objectives of the authority and section 8 deals with its functions. The Bill goes into considerable detail in terms of the authority's remit and its functions. For the first time in legislation, it creates a framework to establish and maintain standards. That means new standards and new policies in relation to the framework of qualifications that will ultimately emerge. There has been consultation with existing bodies. However, the authority will have to inform itself of the education, training skills and qualification requirements of industry, such as, agriculture, business, trade, professions, public services, including the level of knowledge, skill or competence to be acquired by learners, and to promote practice in education and training which meet those requirements.
The authority can put its plate on the wall and sit back and tell people they can apply to it and it will see what it thinks of them. The alternative is for it to tell people that if they are providing a course that meets the authority's standards, in electronic engineering or whatever, the authority will demand that the course meets the authority's standards. They are two different approaches. Much of the rest of the Bill is couched very much in the reactive mould, in other words, that the authority waits for people to send in their applications. It needs to be made clear — here is probably the place to do it — that that is not what we are talking about and that we are expecting this authority to be the warble fly, the gingerman in the whole system, stretching standards, forcing people to improve if they want to be certified and validated. There is a difference of emphasis. My impression is that as this developed, some of the dynamism that was there when it was endorsed by Culliton and other worthies over the years has been winnowed out as it moved into this more hard form.
I do not accept that. The dynamic is there to do everything Deputy Bruton wants. Invariably, language in legislation tends to be precise. Unfortunately, it does not have the enthusiasm of Joycean phraseology or the phraseology of any other great writer. One could put in many enthusiastic phrases and adjectives. However, legislation does not lend itself to that. The bottom line is that the framework is there. The dynamic is there to establish a new era in terms of qualifications criteria, procedures and validation. The Bill is a watershed in terms of quality assurance for the future. It will be testing for many institutions. Above all, it reinforces developments in the past two years during which we have developed the objectives system of validating colleges, for example, in terms of delegation of authority, where colleges are now expected to go through a rigorous review in terms of their quality assurance procedures and so on, and that it is not at the whim of anybody to grant this or that qualification. Nowadays there is an acceptance abroad — this Bill copper-fastens that — that if one wants to do courses or gain greater status or new authority or powers, one has to prove one is up to it. There is a tremendous dynamic in the Bill in that regard. If Deputies can suggest improvements to ensure the pro-activity the Deputy suggested, I will gladly take them on board. It would be very much in harmony with my view.
I may come back on Report Stage with an amendment on the objectives at the end of the Bill because there is still something outstanding.
Amendment No. 10 is in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton. Amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 14 form a related composite proposal. Amendment No. 15 is related. Amendments Nos. 10, 12 to 15, inclusive, may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 11, subsection (2), line 43, to delete paragraph (b).
I am raising for debate on Committee Stage why the Minister feels it is necessary or desirable to have the chief executive on the authority. There is an argument that putting a chief executive on the authority would give him or her an excessive influence over the authority. A preferable model might be to have the chief executive reporting to the chairman and the authority. I wonder why the Minister went for the alternative model of putting the chief executive on the board. Perhaps the other model would be a more appropriate one. I tabled this amendment for the sake of debate so that we could hear the Minister's views on the issue.
It is fairly realistic that the chief executive should be a member of the authority, given that in practical day-to-day terms the chief executive will be the chief operational director and operator in terms of the activities on the authority. In other establishments directors tend to report from time to time and that can sometimes create unnecessary tensions between the person who is reporting and the board. To give proper continuity and a sense of ownership and belonging, the chief executive should be a voting member of the authority. I have not heard convincing arguments as to why he or she should not be. It does not give the chief executive a dominating role in the sense that it is a large enough body of 14 members.
In practice the chief executive would become the powerhouse of the board rather than the board being a form of wise council who would hear reports from the chief executive. It gives the chief executive very much a leadership role within the board of the authority. I am not 100 per cent sure that that is the best way to proceed. I do not know what custom and practice is in other jurisdictions in this area, but one could argue for the other approach.
The Universities Bill broke new ground in that regard in that the presidents can either be directors in essence or nominate an alternative but still be members of the board. In some instances they are beginning to nominate others to be chairpersons of the board while remaining on the board themselves and being, in essence, the chief executive officer. Directors of institutes of technology are on boards as well, so there is some precedent.
This is worth teasing out at this stage because where the chief executive is not a member of the board he or she attends all meetings and speaks by way of invitation as a chairman. If the chief executive is a member of the board he or she can offer in discussions as do other members. In no way should the chief executive be a special member of the board per se.
Because the chief executive will be at the helm in developing policy documents, it may be more practical and effective for that person to answer questions, to elaborate on points and to present documents rather than be part of the authority as this might limit his or her activities. Having had experience on various boards, I favour the chief executive being present at all meetings, but only being allowed to speak when invited to do so or when a presentation is being made. I am not suggesting the chief executive should be banned from contributing because it does not work that way. However, the chief executive could be restricted if he or she is an equal member of the authority.
I acknowledge there are arguments for and against the proposal. No matter how one tries to frame the composition of boards and the relevant positions of chief executives, as opposed to chairpersons and other members, it boils down to the personalities involved. The chairperson should be and is de facto the leading person of the board who gives direction to the board and organises the activities of meetings etc. A strong chairperson should be in a position to sort it out.
We all know of situations where chief executives may not be members of the boards of certain organisations but they still control them. That was said of county councils and corporations a long time ago when city and county managers were not necessarily voting members, but some of them were good people to call a vote when it came to the push. Having the chief executive officer as a member of the authority gives that person a more wholesome type of involvement other than just being the person who reports. The chief executive will be the key person in terms of a range of activities and reports.
I will reflect on the matter between now and Report Stage because I see both sides of the argument. The other side of the argument is that a chief executive officer could get caught up in board politics which could compromise his or her position.
Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 question the need for the chairpersons of the higher education and training awards council and of the further education and training awards council to be on the authority. Amendment No. 14 refers to subsection (2)(g), which provides for a nomination by the universities about whose interests this Bill has least to say, whereas the institutes of higher education and of further education, the Dublin Institute of Technology and other bodies have no representation on the authority. I presume the Minister is saying it will be a small, non-representative board. I do not understand why one group is allowed to nominate a person, while the other bodies are not. It is either a small, policy driven board which is not concerned with representational aspects or it is not.
We must take into account that the concept of social partnership has changed in recent years. The traditional social partners are IBEC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, but a wider brief is now held by the third strand in the NESF, for example, which represents a wide range of community and voluntary groups that work in the field. Adult education and the issue of progression, certification and validation of qualifications is a key concern of the third strand. It would be a serious omission if we provided representation to the traditional social partners in this Bill but overlooked the newer arrivals which do not have as loud a voice. It would be sensible to give them recognition in this Bill which goes to the heart of much of their work.
I endorse the point made by Deputy Richard Bruton about amendment No. 14. We are talking about giving universities a say on the board, but we are not giving representation to the institutes of technology, including the Dublin Institute of Technology which is specifically mentioned in this legislation. Little of this legislation relates to existing universities. Are we talking about existing universities or the new universities which will come onstream under section 9 of the Universities Act? New universities will be controlled by the new authority which will have a major say in relation to syllabi. However, there is little control of existing universities under this legislation, yet the organisations which will be controlled by this authority have no say on the board. We either give each body a say on the board or we leave them all out. We cannot give the one body over which this legislation and the authority has little control a say on the board and not give the organisations stipulated in the legislation a say on it.
The qualifications authority is not meant to be a providers body. There is a determined bid to keep providers off the qualifications authority because it is the overall body with responsibility for setting down the criteria, procedures and policy in terms of qualifications and standards. It must have a certain degree of independence from the providers.
The idea of putting the chairpersons of the higher education and training awards council and the further education and training awards council on the authority was to ensure continuity of direction of policy and philosophy. It will be a link between the two councils and the qualifications authority. The ideal person to form the link is the chairperson of each council who would be au fait with what is happening on each respective council and could bring the experiences of those councils to bear when informing policy. That is important because we do not want segregation. It is logical to have the chairpersons of the higher education and training awards council and the further education and training awards council on the qualifications authority to give that sense of continuity.
As regards the one person nominated by the universities, it is defined under the Universities Act. The universities have a role to play in this Bill, specifically in the progression area. We want proper progression to be worked out, made transparent and articulated between institutes of technology and other providers and the existing universities. The Bill provides for articulation and progression for all other institutions, such as institutes of technology, FÁS or other bodies which are not universities although they have the capacity to attain that status through objective review. However, even if they become universities through objective review, they will form part of the progression framework detailed in the Bill.
It would be a big mistake to remove the universities from the qualifications authority because we are in an evolving situation. We want to evolve to a position where there is a clear national framework which will facilitate progression. There is already movement on that front between certain institutes and universities. The Bill states that part of the remit of the qualifications authority is to advise universities on progression issues and so on. That is the raison d’ètre behind putting one representative of the universities on the authority. Significant progress has been made in terms of the measures in the Bill that pertain to universities, given the position a year or two ago and their stance on the issue.
I find that argument very difficult to understand. The Bill is, effectively, providing a very detailed framework for all the institutes other than the universities which have fought to defend their independence. Why would we then decide to give them representation on an authority which has very little to say to them? The only power it has is to facilitate and advise universities on implementing access policies, whereas it has the power to determine these access policies in the case of the other bodies. We are giving representation to those in respect of whom the powers are watered down and giving no representation to those from whom the powers are very clear and direct.
This seems a strange political gesture to the universities, which will only cause aggravation for those whose business is being organised by the Bill. The Bill is also providing for two speed universities — the old guard and these new universities which feel that, because they are going to be subject to more severe invigilation, they are regarded as second class beings. This provision is at once both curious and slightly provocative. While I am in favour of the universities coming under the umbrella, that is another day's work and giving them representation on this authority does not seem a particularly good way of developing that relationship.
I must disagree. If we want real progression in the country, to leave them out altogether and not to seek representation on the board——
The Minister's argument is that any provider should be left out, which is a rational position.
The Bill is both——
This is a qualifications authority and any provider——
Progression is also a central feature of the Bill. We all know how for years diploma or certificate holders from institutes of technology were, after two years, expected to start at the very beginning again to get a university degree.
However, what has representation on this board——
Representation on the board means the universities will be involved from day one.
Have they given any undertakings in return for this?
Is there some deal whereby universities have volunteered that, in return for a nominee on this board, they will do X, Y and Z?
I do not think they asked to be on the board. The second Teastas report recommended that there be a nominee from the universities. We sought a nominee from them to try to develop inclusivity over time.
How stands amendment No. 10?
Amendment No. 10 is withdrawn but the Minister has not dealt with amendment No. 15.
Deputy Bruton referred to adult education. This issue was raised during the debate in the Seanad. It is very difficult to pinpoint someone who can represent all that. We accepted proposals made in the Seanad and we have now included in the Bill a provision that learners would be represented on the authority. We must devise mechanisms to ensure students will also be represented on the qualifications authority. I am not sure how one would identify the third strand.
We have already identified them. The National Economic and Social Forum's definition of the third strand includes traveller representation, women's groups, community and voluntary groups. There is a broad range of people who have their oar in adult education. Using the term "learners" could result in——
Which of them would nominate the representative?
They would use the network developed by the social partnership for getting nominations to all those positions. It would be up to them to agree on a way to nominate a representative. However, we recognise them and they have a position in the partnership. They were also in the last national pay deal.
To be honest, that sounds very nice but going from the theory to the practice sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. A great deal has to be worked out in this field.
The practice will be that there will be someone there——
For example, a range of people were appointed at local level who ostensibly represented community groups and so on, but they ended up running under political banners in the local elections. I am not saying that could happen here. However, we need to get rid of some of the fuzzy thinking on this issue and be very clear about who we are seeking. I am not saying the Deputy is in that position but——
I am absolutely clear about it. Social partnership is now a wider concept than just congress and IBEC. We have wheeled out here the traditional two partners, although it is an area with a far greater bearing on those who have never traditionally had a voice at social partnership level. Much of what we have been trying to do in social partnership in recent years is to recognise that there are interests other than those of the employed and their employers. One of those interest groups is those who are disadvantaged in some way.
The Bill is trying to provide the ladders and stepping stones that allow people progress through the education system. That strengthens the case for a representative whose brief will be to look out for those who find it difficult to get through the system. The work of the authority would be leavened by the inclusion of that point of view.
Obviously, the Minister will have to find an effective representative. The Bill could state "nominated by the Minister, following consultation with. . . " if the Minister wants to have some discretion in the selection. However, it is important for the Bill to reflect that developing concept of social partnership. It would be good in a broader sense because it would give that group a toehold in an area in which it should have a voice.
I will return to this on Report Stage, perhaps in terms of one of the ministerial nominees. I am anxious to facilitate the FÁS issue also. I do not want the board to become too large.
Amendments Nos. 35, 36 and 74 are cognate with amendment No. 11 and all may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 11, subsection (2)(c), line 44, to delete "two persons" and substitute "one person".
There is a simple reason for moving this amendment. I am always concerned about phrases like "two persons nominated by the Minister" — my concern relates to any Minister rather than the current one — which allow for the selection of political hacks rather than the people who should be appointed to the board. There is no description of the person the Minister would nominate.
The other amendments relate to the Further Education and Training Awards Council, on which there will be two nominees by this Minister and two by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, a total of four political appointees. The Higher Education Training and Awards Council will have two nominees from this Minister and one from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I would not necessarily make the same argument in other areas, but in this instance leaving the provision as loose as it currently is could permit the future appointment of people who would not necessarily have the most to offer to the authority or the councils.
I take issue with Deputy O'Shea on this point. Ministerially appointed boards, if properly selected and put in place, can be much better. I am not too comfortable with people nominated by universities, Forfás, IBEC, ICTU etc., worthy as those bodies are. The council and authority members are given a job to do and they should have only one role, that is, to serve the authority. Their role is not to represent anyone. I take Deputy O'Shea's point, boards can have hacks who do nothing, but equally the ministerial system of appointment, if good people are nominated, can be a better system than direct nomination. We in the political arena should take our courage in our hands, decide that we want a job done and appoint people to do it. If others are not happy with the nominees we can change them or take the responsibility for bad selections.
I disagree with the amendment. If anything, the balance on the board as currently constituted is too far in favour of people who, as on all these organisations, have limited managerial capability. They will have to stretch themselves to find a member to represent them on the board, and the person will often not be too well equipped, whereas the Minister may be able to pick a person who will bring a particular point of view. I would not be keen on limiting this.
I have great sympathy with Deputy Bruton's remarks and those thoughts were going through my mind as we tried to work out the composition. I recognise Deputy O'Shea's worry that if political hackery reigned supreme it could undermine the concept and objectives of the Bill, but that is not the intention.
The Bill has a long history and people have had different concerns and interests. Various Departments with different bodies under their aegis are encompassed in the legislation. We have endeavoured to work through this with consensus and the balance has been worked out in great detail after long discussions on all sides. The ministerial appointments are to allow flexibility and coverage but also, to take Deputy Bruton points, to provide people with specific commitment to and expertise in this field, and who can meet the objects of the authority.
I may now need two nominees because the Bill will be qualified on Report Stage to take cognisance of the previous amendment, to give recognition to the third strand. In other words, one of the two nominees may be from that group. That is how we are thinking at present. It boils down to how the Minister of the day performs. If we take this to its logical conclusion we would exclude politicians completely from this field.
What about An Bord Pleanála?
I am not suggesting that is what Deputy O'Shea has in mind. It is a question of getting the balance.
Later in the Bill provision is made for appointing the chairpersons of the three bodies, which will be done by the Minister in consultation with other Ministers. That does not appear in this section. I have argued both sides of this case from time to time. The counter-argument is that nominees may yield up people who are good at getting themselves nominated rather than the people one might want, which could also reduce the effectiveness of the board. However, some means of appointing people will have to be found. If the Bill contained a description of the people the Minister might nominate, at least we would have people with something to offer. The provision as it stands is quite loose.
As currently constructed, the authority will consist of a chairman; a chief executive; two nominees of the Minister for Education and Science — we will qualify that provision; one nominee of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment will nominate one person — many of the bodies mentioned in the Bill come under the aegis of that Department; the chairpersons of both councils; one person nominated by the universities; one person who, in the opinion of the Minister, after consultation with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, is representative of learners — this takes account of the Seanad amendment; one person nominated by Forfás etc. There will also be two persons with special knowledge and, where practicable, a person with international experience. The authority is not over large.
The authority can nominate two members. The Minister can nominate the chair, following consultation with other Ministers, and two members.
We will qualify that, one of them will be——
I do not envy the Minister's job, it is difficult to get the package right. I will not pursue the amendment on that basis.
Will the Minister assure the committee that not all his nominees will be from Cork?
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 12, subsection (3), line 20, to delete ", where practicable,".
I looked at the amendment in advance and am prepared to accept it.
The amendment seeks to delete the words "where practicable", which is an escape clause.
I mentioned on Second Stage that we need to increase the international experience on the authority and maybe even consider ensuring that the two members who the authority appoint would have such experience. It is crucially important if the awards which will be approved by this authority are to receive international recognition that we have some international expertise.
Graduates and postgraduates are monitored or assessed by external examiners and, in 90 per cent of cases, they are from outside the State. When those individuals use that qualification abroad, it helps that they have been externally examined on an international basis. Most of the people who examine externally come from within the EU because of cost implications and so on.
I would not limit the number to one person. We should seriously consider ensuring that the two people whom the authority will appoint have international experience. That experience is crucial and we cannot underestimate the need for it.
I accept the point the Deputy made. Subsection (3) does not rule out two people with international experience but states "at least one of whom". Many Irish academics are doing considerable work establishing and validating quality control procedures in other countries in respect of their third level institutions Indeed, one or two of our academics are in pivotal positions internationally and are helping countries, particularly newly developing democracies, to establish quality assurance systems. It is important that the authority is informed by best international practice. The people the Minister may nominate can also be people with knowledge of international practice but we need the flexibility.
When I talk about people with international experience, they do not have to come from outside the State. Somebody here could have international experience. It is a matter which cannot be underestimated when establishing this authority.
Amendments Nos. 40 and 76 are cognate to amendment No. 17 and amendment No. 133 is related. The amendments may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 12, lines 25 to 29, to delete subsection (6) and substitute the following:
"(6) Regulations under subsection (5) shall ensure that not less than 40 per cent. of members shall be men and not less than 40 per cent. shall be women.”.
My recollection of the debate on the Education Bill was that the Minister became more gender balanced friendly as the debate progressed. The existing proposal on gender balance is quite weak. If we are serious about gender balance, we should proceed along the lines I suggest whereby regulations under subsection (5) shall ensure that not less than 40 per cent of members shall be men and not less than 40 per cent shall be women.
Section 6(6) states:
Where a nomination is made under subsection (2) or (3), regard shall be had to the desirability of an appropriate gender balance and where a person or body has more than one nomination under this section, the person or body shall nominate at least one male and at least one female.
Effectively, it is down to the Minister and the body that will have two nominees. We could end up with a board which is badly out of kilter in terms of gender balance if we do not change the formula here. Similar amendments have been tabled in relation to the two councils.
Deputy O'Shea may have seen my amendment No. 133. There was considerable debate on this matter in the Seanad and I indicated that I would consider further the question of gender equality on the qualifications authority and the two awarding councils. Given the nature of the bodies, the nominations and so forth, it is not possible to ensure an entirely precise quota system, as provided for in Deputy O'Shea's amendments, particularly as the amendment would require nominating bodies with only a single nominee to nominate a person of a certain gender.
My amendment No. 133 addresses the issue of gender equity across the three new bodies and, effectively, provides for a balanced representation between men and women. Under the amendment where a body has a number of nominees between the three bodies to be set up, the body must nominate in a balanced way between men and women. There are already provisions in place in relation to nominations to each of the bodies on an individual basis.
Amendment No. 133 provides that where the total number of person whom a person or body may nominate under sections 6, 13 and 22 is more than one but less than four, the person or body shall nominate at least one male and at least one female and that where the total number of persons whom a person or body may nominate under sections 6, 13 or 22 is four or more, the person or body shall nominate at least two males and at least two females. That ensures good gender balance in a very precise way.
It is much better than what is there at present. In view of that, I will withdraw my amendment and may look at the matter again before Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 12, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:
"(b) to establish and promote best practice standards in respect of the course content, teaching methods, work experience and other relevant matters among course providers seeking validation for the provision of education or training for relevant qualifications, having due regard to international practice, the need for people to build competence that will endure and the needs of the market place;".
Section 7 sets out the objectives of the authority, which include to establish a framework for qualifications based on standards acknowledged, to establish and promote the maintenance of standards and to promote and facilitate access. Something which has been left out is the role of the authority in establishing and promoting best practice standards in respect of course content, teaching methods and so on. It is important that it should have an eye on what is best practice and that it should put its work clearly into an international setting, which is looking at what would constitute best practice in these areas.
The phraseology in section 7 is too static and inward looking. To include the concept of best practice standards would force the authority to refocus its attention on being competitive in the international arena. It is important that is built in at the outset. Amendment No. 18 attempts to make such a modification and introduce that notion into section 7.
Section 8(3)(a) states that the authority, in the performance of its functions, shall inform itself of a number of issues, including the level of knowledge, skill or competence to be acquired by learners and to promote practices in education and training which meet those requirements. Later we will table an amendment which will deal with having regard to best international practice. The objects of the authority are, by their very nature, general. We have to allow a certain degree of autonomy and flexibility to the qualifications authority.
Deputy Bruton's amendment is very specific and leaves out certain issues. It states: "to establish and promote best practice standards in respect of the course content, teaching methods, work experience and other relevant matters among course providers seeking validation for the provision of education or training". One could have certain forms of learning and training which would be validated by this authority which may not necessarily fit into that kind of definition. Experiential learning is one form which immediately comes to mind and which is provided for in the Bill, but it is hard to be prescriptive in terms of the course content of experiential learning, teaching methodologies of experiential learning or work based learning in industry, factories or wherever learning takes place.
It is also clear that whereas in terms of validating programmes and establishing standards one must have regard to course content, teaching methodologies etc., the providers have responsibilities in that regard also under other legislation. In essence, it is covered in the Bill. We must make sure that we do not amend everything to be too prescriptive, that we do not leave out unintentionally other forms of learning and training which may not lend themselves to the definition included in the amendment.
The Minister does not convince me with his argument. He stated that we cannot have this because there might be some people who would be seeking validation of work experience. This particular object only concerns course providers. Therefore, it will not apply where one is not a course provider. Obviously this is not seeking that anybody who is trying to get work experience would have to set out a course content. That is not what it is intended to do. It is intended that the role of the authority will be to start from best practice and ask to what extent do those approaching it for validations meet criteria rather than look at the applications and give them a stamp. There is a difference of approach and that is what I was trying to capture in this amendment. I would expect the authority to start from best practice and demand that those seeking validation would come up to that standard rather than look reactively at all the applications which are received, state that they sound satisfactory and stamp them.
One starts by stating that with computer engineering, for example, this is what we should be trying to achieve, these are the various benchmarks which must be reached and these are the teaching contents which must be applied if someone is to be rounded in this skill, and then demand of those who come to it that they fulfil that criteria. That is weakly evident in the Bill and the Minister's arguments have not convinced me that it is picked up elsewhere. Even section 8(3)(a), to which the Minister refers, does not refer to international best practice. It talks about the needs of industry, and I acknowledge that one can say that the needs of industry are to be competitive.
There is reference to international best practice in another section. I think the Deputy has tabled an amendment there too.
I do not know whether this will make a difference but we need to make some attempt to clarify that there is a world of difference between an authority which is reactive and sits waiting for people to come in to stamp its approval and one which is pushing out the frontiers. Perhaps my amendment does not quite make the difference which I hope it would make but it is an important distinction which is not made properly in the Bill.
This is a matter of language to a large extent. The authority has three main objects: the establishment of a new qualifications framework and not reacting to what is there already — obviously a significant amount of what exists already will come into that framework; second, establishing and promoting the maintenance of the standards of further and higher education and training awards; and third is the access, transfer and progression issue. Those are the three central objectives of the authority.
We could insert another six, seven or eight objectives also. It is important that the central three objectives of the authority are spelt out. They clearly mean that the authority must have regard to international best practice. We will insert that later in the Bill where it is appropriate to copperfasten that, but here we are talking about language and the embellishment of language because one cannot establish a new qualifications framework without having regard to models of best practice.
We are talking about more than just language. There is a difference between an authority which sees its role as asking what ingredients are necessary to produce a quality apprentice, what are other countries doing of which we need to be ahead and how does one bring IT to bear on the training of an apprentice. Having determined that, it should decide who comes up to that standard. The authority will not do that overnight but it must have a mandate which states that is its task. That is different from stating that anyone who comes to us should have a quality assurance system because one can have a quality assurance system on one's own terms.
Subsection (3)(a) does that. It places an onus on the authority to inform itself of what it takes to become an apprentice.
Being informed as opposed to seeing one's role as forcing the pace in respect of the providers is different. A body should be well informed and it would fulfil that by sending its members on trips——
Subsection (2)(a) would force the pace. That subsection establishes the policies and criteria on which the framework of qualifications shall be based.
It depends on exactly what that means. I am not sure that will come down to that to which I refer. I suspect that will be a much more static procedural provision relating to the papers one must submit, such as ISO documents. It will be all about codifying what one does rather than being out at the leading edge. That is my concern. Perhaps the Minister has a different view of what subsection (2)(a) means.
I have. I see it as a proactive statement, that this body is not reacting and merely accepting whatever comes along and that it will actually establish the policies and the criteria.
I see the framework of qualifications as being, for example, NQA levels 1 and 2, and one trying to put some content on that. I fear it may not be dynamic. We need to clearly state the message of principle, that the role of the authority is not just to underwrite with its stamp some things which are already being done. There is a great distinction between certifying what is already being done and forcing the pace with regard to new things. That was the distinction which was drawn by Culliton and other people who were keen to have this legislation put in place. It was not just about bringing order into the field, it was about bringing dynamism into the field and forcing the pace of the providers. This may be buried away in the Bill and the Minister may be able to find pieces which cover that, but the Bill certainly does not shout out from the rooftops that this is what the authority is about.
If one looks at the functions of both councils, clearly the Bill gives a proactive role to the councils to establish policies and criteria for the making of awards under their aegis. The councils are the certifying bodies. It is their function to determine standards of knowledge, skill and competence to be acquired by learners.
We need to have the capacity within the authority and the two councils to bring students' qualifications to a higher level than is required at present. This can happen through student exchanges, sabbaticals and staff going overseas. Deputy Richard Bruton's proposal is reasonable. We need to be at the cutting edge in terms of knowledge, information and expertise so that the authority can reach beyond today's requirements. I have listened to the debate carefully and I understand the points made, but the authority's objectives must go beyond today's requirements.
Perhaps the best way to do this would be for the Minister to develop with the authority a mission statement which makes it clear from the outset that it is not about certifying what is already done but about pushing out the frontiers of what is expected from the providers delivering these courses and seeking certification and validation. That is an important distinction which needs to be made because it sets the tone of what the authority will do. It is easy for an authority to get so bogged down in the immense task of holding the ring for many activities that it will become an administrative agency rather than a dynamic force in the system. I am happy to withdraw the amendment if the Minister does something about it.
It is being done. Under section 8(3)(b) the authority shall "give effect to the policies relating to education and training which from time to time are established by the Minister, or by any other Minister". I undertake to present a mission statement in line with section 8(3)(b).
People's enthusiasm does not seem to be reflected in this. The authority could become a big bureaucratic service.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 21 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 12, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:
"(b) to ensure that there are effective bridges for persons, who have acquired their knowledge, skill or competence outside the recognised system, to access the framework;".
My understanding was that the Bill was to promote access for all learners. However, many people will come from outside the recognised system and they will need these "effective bridges".
Section 7(c) states: "to promote and facilitate access, transfer and progression".
Perhaps it does but what is new about this Bill is that it reaches out to people who are not well catered for under the conventional system.
Under section 2 "access" means the process by which learners may commence a programme of education and training having received recognition for knowledge, skill or competence acquired. The objects are deliberately broad and general to cover everybody who wishes to start a programme of training or education. Considerable work has already been undertaken by the NCEA and the NCVA in terms of foundation programmes so that people who left school early can access national qualifications. We have tabled an amendment later in the Bill to underpin the development of experiential learning to give added strength to it in the Bill. What is envisaged in the Deputy's amendment is covered by the Bill. The idea of this Bill is to give people the opportunity to feed into a national qualifications framework so that when they get qualifications they mean something in terms of onwards progression to other institutions and sectors.
I accept that, although it is remarkable how little space is given in the Bill to the problems of people who have not been able to properly access this system in the past. It is right that the central theme of the Bill is to develop this process of access, but it is not well elaborated in the Bill. I tabled this amendment because we need to make it explicit. When we talk about promoting and facilitating access, we are not just talking in vague terms about someone with an information technology diploma who gets into university but about people, traditionally outside the recognised system, who get into university and make progress. The Minister referred to the power we are giving the council to recognise non-convention. I am looking for more than just recognition, I want to ensure there are bridges and links. One would expect the Bill to be more explicit about the areas in which it is breaking new ground.
The word "access" encompasses everyone. The wording of the amendment could be unintentionally restrictive. The Bill does not recognise the recognised system any more but envisages a new order of things without a hierarchy. One can achieve a certain level of competence, skill or standard in any type of physical environment. It does not have to be a school, a university or an institute of technology; it could be a place of industry. The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has developed approximately 90 community development projects around the country. Many programmes are done at night, particularly for adult learners and those in second chance education, and many of them secure NCVA foundation level qualifications.
The language must change as we move on. The word "access" in the Bill covers everyone. Under section 8(2)(d) the authority "shall determine the procedures to be implemented by providers of programmes of education and training for access, transfer and progression and shall publish those procedures in such form and manner as the Authority thinks fit". That is ground breaking. People will not be able to hide behind their fortresses in terms of access, transfer and progression. The authority has considerable power in that regard, as it should have.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 12, paragraph (b), line 36, after "maintenance" to insert "and improvement".
Section 7(b) states "to establish and promote the maintenance of the standards". My amendment seeks to change that to "promote the maintenance and improvement of the standards".
I accept the amendment.
Is the Minister accepting amendment No. 21?
I accepted amendment No. 20.
It is amplifying——
There is no real need to amplify this. My comments on amendment No. 19 also apply to amendment No. 21. It is well covered.
Maybe I will come back to this on Report Stage to make it a little more explicit.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 12, between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following:
"(d) to undertake these functions in respect of second level education as the Minister shall by order determine.".
This is one of the two sectors missing from the qualifications framework, the mainstream sector of second level education with CAO access to universities. It seems that in setting up a national qualifications framework the Minister should have the reserved power to decide that at some stage second level education and its certification should be handed to this authority. In that way there would be certification of PLCs and adult education as distinct activities as well as certification of normal State examinations. These should be brought under the one roof and this amendment provides for the possibility that over time this will become a more all-embracing system. Currently it stands out like a sore thumb that the two areas of certification which people have traditionally sought most, the leaving certificate and university qualifications, have been left out. This facilitates the possibility that the system will evolve over time to include them.
This would not fit in with the objects section, even if one wanted to include it. The second level sector has been well covered by the Education Act and this is a rather new idea.
I raised it on Second Stage.
We have been labouring this matter for years. If we went back to the second level sector and said we were bringing this in we could labour forever. I am not sure it would be desirable. Second and primary level education are very distinct sectors that have more to do than just deal with qualifications. It is about the formal and earlier education, which relates to the whole development of the person and so on. It obviously fits into a qualification framework because the leaving certificate is the exit from second level for many, if not all, students into other sectors covered by the Bill. The quality assurance aspect of the second level sector is covered by the Education Act through the inspectorate and the development of programmes.
This is a very profound amendment that would need a considerable degree of thought and reflection. It has not featured in the debate for the last few years and none of the representatives of sectors, bodies or partners at second level have been consulted in this regard. My instinct would be strongly against it at this time.
In relation to the formal area of third level education in the technological sector, I have discussed with the Minister the issue of students being taken into national certificate courses who do not have the ability to finish such courses. They should be properly assessed at second level. Last year I asked a very active vice-principal who was providing a good range of PLC courses if they were picking up students who were not completing their certificates. He said they were not, despite their best efforts to do so. There is a certain difficulty with many marginal students, though I am not saying this amendment is the perfect remedy for this. I know some work is ongoing on the fall-out rate in colleges, which is unacceptably high. Too many students are going into the technological sector that would be better served on PLC courses. They could progress from that area to the technological sector if that was their choice. I may table a Report Stage amendment on this matter because it is an area that has caused me much concern.
I agree with Deputy O'Shea. If one talks to leaving certificate students, the joke among them is that if they get nothing else they will get fish farming in Letterkenny. That is not being derogatory towards that course, but it is probably a course that college finds hard to fill. Problems arise when people are offered a course that they may not be interested in or have qualifications for. All they need is a basic matriculation qualification for some of these courses and they should not be there. That is leading to students dropping out. For example, students doing science in college with only one science degree from school is unacceptable. However, because of the system, if they want to get points it is easier for them to get higher points from geography and history. It is crucial that an authority like this has some role in this matter. Perhaps this amendment is not the appropriate one, but this body needs some input on the types of qualifications people are getting at second level. We may talk about second level education being an all round education, but realistically for some their junior and leaving certificates are their only qualifications. It is crucial to have some feedback here.
I accept the points made though I am not sure if this is the best route for dealing with this issue. The commission on the points system will have some interesting views on those who may make the wrong third level choices and then drop out, for example. It will have some recommendations on this matter.
This Bill also governs access to a number of programmes in that it obliges providers to provide access. Is Deputy O'Shea saying that the early school leaver may need to feed into some of the programmes under this Bill rather than complete the leaving certificate?
There are those students who could be described in the technological sector as AQA — any qualified applicant — who are effectively students with five Ds on pass papers. They are accepted for science courses or courses with a strong mathematics content.
This Bill will have a role to play in that. The dynamic is within the Bill to set the standards of entry whereby that cannot happen. The Deputy is correct in that at present, because of the points system, on certain courses——
Places can be offered.
Exactly, irrespective of any assessment. However, the minimum eligibility criteria will have to be satisfied in respect of all courses. Two papers were presented at a recent meeting of western and eastern European Education Ministers. A very good paper was presented by the former Education Minister in the Schmidt Government which argued that there would be more cross-fertilisation in terms of disciplines so that, for example, a medieval historian could become the managing director of a company. The former Minister cited an example in which this happened in the case of a major multinational company. This illustrates that the disciplines and ethos of general degrees give people adaptability and the example given will increasing be the case in modern society.
The Minister should keep this issue to the fore as a problem to be solved. It is a cynical practice on behalf of the establishment to have students placed in positions to which they cannot aspire in terms of the standard. When they drop out the education system does not pick them up again.
There is a serious threat in that more and more children are leaving certificate applied and junior certificate schools programme and developing a profile which is in line with what we are trying to achieve in this Bill. There will be an evolving role but this does not seem the right time to make this stride.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 13, subsection (2)(a), line 4, after "based" to insert "and awards made on its behalf by the Councils established under sections 12 and 21”.
The Minister rightly stated that this section provides for the important power of the authority to establish policies and criteria on which the framework for qualifications will be based. This is where the dynamism will enter the system. Because of this, it is strange that the Bill omits any reference to the awards being made on its behalf by the councils established under sections 12 and 21. It seems the authority should set the broad framework within which the councils grant the awards. The authority sets out the dynamism of the system and it is up to the councils to take on the day to day role of developing that dynamic. The power to establish policies and criteria will apply right through the system and the authority should maintain the awards as NQA awards but delegate the authority to make the awards to the councils. This would result in a unified system of NQA awards which would be awarded by the councils on a delegated basis.
This is a fundamental issue. The section is important in that it sets out the role of the authority and how it will relate to the new awarding councils. These functions include the establishment of polices and criteria on which the framework for qualifications will be based and reviewing the operation of the framework. In effect, this will form the nucleus of the qualifications authority's activities around which the functions of the two awarding councils will revolve. It is not correct to imply, as does the amendment, that awards are made on behalf of the qualifications authority by the two awarding councils. The qualifications authority is not an award making body. This is a function of the awarding councils. One of the primary functions of the authority will be the establishment of policies and criteria on which the framework of qualifications will be based. The awarding councils will establish policies and criteria for the making of awards.
One of the primary intentions of the Bill is to allocate responsibility at the appropriate level to achieve a measure of coherence and cohesion which will allow for a flexible and all-inclusive qualifications system. The authority shall also establish procedures for the performance of their functions by the two awarding councils as well as determining procedures to be implemented by providers on access, transfer and progression.
I did not understand why we had to have three bodies when one would have sufficed. This is getting to the heart of the issue in the sense of determining what this umbrella body is doing if its awards are not ultimately granted. The portability of these awards seems to suggest that they are the National Qualifications Authority's awards. This gives the awards some standing in that they are national, recognised awards and not a subset of a system. It was not a misunderstanding on my part to think the awards were being made on behalf of the authority. They should be made on behalf of the authority as it is the national body which gives them credibility and it should have the power to ensure the delegated authority is properly exercised. This would be sufficient to ensure the awards are of national standing as they would have the endorsement of the authority.
The Minister has correctly explained the provisions of the Bill in that the authority is solely concerned with the framework, whatever that might mean. It sounds like a dead concept if it is just a framework, but what does an award mean when one receives it? Does it mean one is up to best practice or that one fits into some slot devised by the authority? This is not the best possible formulation. The authority is the ultimate test which delegates its authority, which can be withdraw if it is not happy with the manner in which the councils perform. The authority should set the policy and criteria which dictate everything. Its policies and criteria will be suited to an overseeing body rather than a day to day administrative body. However, its polices and criteria should go beyond an arid notion of a framework to detailing when and where people receive awards. The knock-on advantage of such an approach would be that everyone would receive NQA awards which would have a national, single recognition and would be seen as having greater status than anything which went before. Otherwise we will end up simply renaming some of the existing bodies and placing an umbrella body on top of them.
The authority has far more power and a more important role than suggested by the Deputy. It is the overall quality assurance body. This is a new approach. There are many awarding bodies at present in a range of areas and there is a lack of coherence. This Bill introduces considerable coherence and the NQA is over and above, and responsible for, the awarding councils. It will also establish, in consultation with both councils, procedures for the performance by them of their functions and shall review those procedures from time to time.
The authority has a range of powers under its functions. It shall establish the policies and criteria on which the framework of qualifications shall be based. That framework is not a vague concept but a dynamic entity which will ensure cohesion in future in terms of qualifications. It will have a proactive role in ensuring access, progression and, above all, in underpinning quality in the system.
There was a big debate about having one awarding authority versus two awarding councils. We have come a long way with the Bill in terms of a consensus emerging. It would be unfair to say we can have total consensus on the issue as different bodies have different perspectives. We have made very considerable progress given all the debate which has taken place on the issue. I think a good balance has been struck in the Bill. The Bill and the role of the qualifications authority represents a watershed in terms of qualifications, particularly for students who are the ultimate focus of the Bill. The ultimate role of the qualifications authority is to act as a guarantor for students with regard to the quality of courses and programmes they are engaged in and students having the capacity to access those programmes and to move up the ladder of progression.
The Minister is telling us he did not have the Kerryman's luxury of saying "I will start out from here". Against that background perhaps it is good that those involved have got this far. It is a pretty poor piece of work if we end up with HETAC and FETAC awards but do not have national qualification authority awards. The use of "national" in the title of the authority indicates it is recognised nationally and that the system has stature.
The councils will be recognised nationally and will be within the national qualifications framework. The awards will be national in nature. They represent different levels and different areas of activity.
The only merit of an authority, the effective job of which is to set broad policy criteria and to invigilate these councils in their operation, is in terms of recognition. A merit of having the umbrella body would be a unified award that spans both, but it seems we are getting less than full value. If we cannot have a unified system and if we must have an umbrella body policing the others, at least we should get a unified award which can be described as such and which has standing as an award endorsed and provided by the NQA. This arrangement has the look of the proverbial camel designed by a committee. We have ended up with three bodies, but we have failed to deliver on the merits of having an umbrella body.
I do not agree. We have delivered an umbrella body. Awards by HETAC and FETAC will in essence be national awards and be within the national qualifications framework.
Obviously the Minister feels a compromise has been reached and that it is hard to undo it at this stage. For that reason we are in the world of the second best. I will withdraw the amendment, but I am not happy with how matters stand. We are selling ourselves short.
Amendment No. 24 is in the name of Deputy Bruton. Amendments Nos. 25 to 28, inclusive, are cognate; amendments Nos. 24 to 28, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 13, subsection (2)(c), line 9, after "procedures" to insert "and policies".
Section 8(2)(d) sets out that the function of the authority is to "determine the procedures to be implemented by providers of programmes of education and training for access, transfer and progression". It seems that, if we want to determine a system of access and transfer which is open and dynamic, policies as well as procedures are important. Procedures strike me as dealing with filling out forms and having a process which is open and values certain things at a certain point so that, for example, a person with a NCVA level II qualification will be given a certain recognition which will allow further development. If we want to open up access, transfer and progress, the policies of the providers must also be supportive. I suggest the authority should have a role beyond procedure which would require that policies would be supportive of wider access and progression than existed in the past.
Deputy Bruton will notice the tenor of the section is about procedures. Section 8 provides that the qualifications authority shall do "all things necessary or expedient in accordance with this Act to further the objects of the authority." In pursuance of this the authority shall establish procedures for the performance of its functions by the awarding councils; determine procedures to be implemented in relation to access, transfer and progression; ensure that the Dublin Institute of Technology and universities which may be established under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997, implement such procedures, and advise the existing universities in implementing such procedures and reviewing their implementation in consultation with the HEA.
The emphasis throughout is on the implementation of procedures. It should be borne in mind that the general matter of policy in relation to the establishment of the framework and the promotion and facilitation of access, transfer and progression is a matter for the qualifications authority. In this respect I see the establishment and development of procedures as following on the formulation of policy. In view of these considerations, regrettably, I am not in a position to accept the Deputy's amendments.
In simple terms, what does the Minister of State mean by procedures? Will he give an example of the procedures which might be determined?
I will take the example of a person who wants to get a certain level of award. If such a person has had prior education it will determine the follow-up necessary and the exemptions to be given, etc. It will determine technical, procedural matters. For example, some institutions recognise previous qualifications and educational attainments in giving exemptions when looking for a particular qualification. Other institutions may wish a person to start from the beginning.
Does this mean an institution could say it will not admit people with experiential learning? That could be sound procedurally. They have stated that their policy on experiential learning is to say no to it. Codification is a procedure. The more important issue relates to policy; if the body is to promote access, the issue will be whether it is willing to put in place policies which will support people coming from a less than conventional background and ensure they succeed or whether it will merely refuse access to such people on the basis that they have not succeeded in the past. It seems to me that if one simply determines procedures, they will not change very much. The ISO, for example, codifies rather than changes events.
I have some sympathy with the argument being advanced here by Deputy Bruton. Not alone is there a deficit in the language, there is also a deficit in terms of content. Section 8(2)(c) reads "establish, in consultation with the Further Education and Training Awards Council and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, procedures for the performance by them of their functions. . . ". Deputy Bruton is seeking the insertion of the words "and policies" after "procedures". The interpretations section of the Bill defines functions as follows: "'functions' includes powers and duties and a reference to the performance of functions includes, with respect to powers and duties, a reference to the exercise of the powers and the carrying out of the duties". We are talking here about procedures which relate to the performance of functions. Policy is not taken into account at all. It seems to me that the drafting is faulty in that regard. Even if Deputy Bruton's amendment is not the appropriate manner in which to address this, I submit that a deficit certainly exists. The drafting is very legalistic. On the one hand, one is confronted with the objective to promote and facilitate access, transfer and progression which, of its nature, is a wide ranging policy statement and, on the other, with stark procedures in relation to the performance of functions.
I take the Deputies' points. As I understand it, individual providers will not have any right to say they will not consider people with prior on-the-job experience. Policy in that regard will be set out by the authority and the providers will be obliged to comply with that.
I take Deputy O'Shea's point and refer him to section 9, which has not yet been discussed, which states:
(1) The Authority may from time to time review the performance by the Further Education and Training Awards Council or the Higher Education and Training Awards Council of its functions and may make such recommendations to the Council concerned in respect of that performance, as the Authority thinks fit.
(2) The Further Education and Training Awards Council or the Higher Education and Training Awards Council shall implement recommendations, if any, made by the Authority under subsection (1).
There is also a further requirement to publish the results of any review.
I have listened carefully to the Deputies' comments. While I still feel that Deputy Bruton's proposed amendment is not really appropriate in so far as I could see objections being raised to it, I undertake to re-examine this subsection to see whether it can be improved in some way. That is the only commitment I can make.
That would be helpful. The role of the authority should go beyond mere codification. I accept that the Minister will establish policies but the authority requires a more robust power in this regard. My own amendments are not particularly well framed in some respects. There is a need to review the situation, particularly in respect of section 8(2)(d) in which we are essentially talking about a process of access. We must clearly consider what the authority's powers will be in this regard as these powers will roll out to the Dublin Institute of Technology under section 8(2)(e) and to the universities under section 8(2)(f). We must make it clear that we are talking about more open access and that it is not merely a matter of codifying some form of qualification which may or may not be accepted.
Support policies must be put in place to ensure that people who are so accepted thrive within the system. The matter goes beyond simply stating that people with experiential learning will be accepted. It is a question of whether, having been accepted, the necessary supports and resources will be put in place to ensure they succeed. That should form part of the authority's remit given the objective outlined in section 7(c). I welcome the Minister's undertaking to reconsider this.
I reassure Deputy Bruton that we do not have any intention of allowing the matter to develop in the way he suggested it might in regard to codification. We will consider his concerns between now and Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 13, subsection (3)(a), line 41, after "business," to insert "tourism,".
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 13, subsection (3), between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following:
"(b) inform itself of international best practice in standards of knowledge skill and competence in its field and promote practices in education and training which meet those requirements,".
This amendment seeks to ensure that the authority, in the performance of its function, would inform itself of best international practice in standards of knowledge skill and competence in its field and promote practices in education and training which meet those requirements. I feel there is something of a deficit in the Bill in regard to demanding that the authority would establish best practice standards and force the pace in relation to providers who seek validation. The amendment would assist in addressing that deficit. I commend it to the Minister.
I can see that a deficit exists and I assure the Deputy the matter will be examined between now and Report Stage. I am not in a position to make definitive promises but I anticipate that a suitable amendment will be tabled on Report Stage. I thank Deputy Bruton for pointing to the deficit. That is what Committee Stage is about.
I am sure the Minister will come up with a more eloquent wording.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 13, subsection (3), lines 45 to 48, to delete paragraph (b).
I regret that the Minister, Deputy Martin, is not present at the moment because I wished to remind him of my recollection of his condemnation of the Education Bill published by the former Minister for Education on the grounds that it conferred too much power on the Minister. I am proposing the deletion of paragraph (b) because it confers huge powers on the Minister. It is the first time in the section that the word "policies" is used in regard to the objects of the authority.
I accept that in terms of overall policy the Minister would retain a function. However, I am a little wary of the wording. With the agreement of the Minister for Education and Science, other Ministers, could make policies known to the authority following consultation with it. From my reading of the Bill, there is no obligation on the Minister to give a written instruction. In setting up the National Qualifications Authority, for its prestige to grow, we should give it the maximum level of autonomy. While I accept general policy directives from the Minister would be appropriate, this wording is far too loose. It undermines the autonomy of this important body which is to come into operation in the not too distant future.
It is essential that the authority can give effect to appropriate ministerial policies in the area of education and training as part of the wider context in addressing the education and training needs of the future. Any such policy would need to be consistent with the provisions of the Bill. The Minister could not effect a policy without proposing that the House amend the Bill. This issue was considered in detail in Seanad Éireann and as a result the Minister proposed an amendment on Report Stage for effective consultation between Ministers and the qualifications authority in this area.
Given this requirement for consultation, I do not think the amendment is necessary. I am sure Deputy O'Shea's colleagues made this point forcefully on Committee Stage in the Seanad. As a result, the Minister introduced an amendment which will improve the situation.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I still hold the view that the phrase "give effect to policies relating to education and training" is too wide. I am not aware of any restrictions in the Bill as it stands other than those in the section. It still requires only that there is consultation or, if another Minister is involved, that there must be agreement with the Minister for Education and Science. As this is unclear, it would be better if it were deleted or if the Minister included a more restrictive formula on Report Stage.
Normally when a Minister takes a policy direction of this nature, he is required to set out in writing that he is issuing a directive that the policy should be implemented by the authority. In relation to this subsection, is it proposed that the Minister will give such a written direction which will be generally available? It would not, therefore, be uisce faoi thalamh for him to tell people how to do their job without explicitly stating this is what he is doing?
I point to the last line of the paragraph which states that there must be consultation with the authority. This seems to be a fundamental difference from what the Bill proposed initially. Effectively, the Minister is responsible for securing money from his or her colleagues to run the education system. We cannot have a body floating around in orbit operating independently of the Minister. I do not see the logic in that proposal.
On Deputy Bruton's point about written directives, I do not think it is necessary to write this into the legislation because we could be referring to very minor matters. Major policy issues or changes would probably be communicated in writing to the authority.
I have become more concerned now that it seems the intention is that the Minister would interfere in minor policy matters. I have no problem with the Minister issuing directives to the authority on macro policy matters. However, directives on matters of real consequence should be in writing and in the public arena. Minor matters being dealt with by the Minister is a usurping of autonomy over the day-to-day management of the authority.
If validation was being withdrawn from an institute of technology or VEC, could this be used by a Minister to say it is policy that, for example, Waterford Institute of Technology, shall retain its validation powers, that he will agree to consult with those concerned but will not withdraw validation? The authority should be independent. One of its strengths should be freedom of operation because colleges may make strong and cogent representations that they were misinterpreted by the authority when it decided to withdraw their validations. The Minister would then come under severe pressure. It should be made clear that the Bill does not allow for the sort of ministerial day-to-day inteference referred to by Deputy O'Shea.
The awarding council would decide on a matter such as that raised by Deputy Bruton. It is not possible under the Bill for the Minister to say to the qualifications authority that it cannot do something and that as a result of a change in policy Waterford Institute of Technology, for example, will remain as it is. This would be against the tenor of the section and the legislation generally.
I was trying to explain to Deputy O'Shea that it is not a question of the Minister interfering in minor matters. The authority may operate on the basis that policy, even in a minor area, may be changed for a very good reason. However, we could be talking about something minor which would not require written communication in triplicate or whatever. I envisage that major policy changes will be communicated in writing. I am advised that this is not necessary in the case of minor matters. The authority could operate on the basis that it is 100 per cent in tune with current policy, even on minor matters. I understand the Deputy's point and I will re-examine the wording to see if it can be tidied up.
I am happy to withdraw the amendment on foot of that assurance.
Amendment No. 37 is consequential on amendment No. 32 and amendments Nos. 33 and 34 are related. All may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 14, subsection (3)(c), line 2, after "Dublin Institute of Technology," to insert "recognised institutions, An Foras, CERT, Teagasc, An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, education or training institutions established by a vocational education committee,".
Amendment No. 32 extends the list of bodies with which the qualifications authority may consult in carrying out its functions. I am aware there was nothing to preclude this but there is a strong feeling that the provisions of the Bill should be made more explicit in this regard. There has been much discussion on the need for a partnership approach to the implementation of many of the provisions of this Bill. An important aspect of the functions of the national qualifications authority will be its role in setting out procedures for the implementation of arrangements for access, transfer and progression.
Building on the importance of partnership, the second amendment provides that the authority shall consider any views expressed by the bodies concerned in relation to the procedures for access, transfer and progression which it is to determine. Deputy Bruton's amendment seeks to further expand the list of bodies to be consulted, and I will undertake to look at that again.
I welcome the Minister of State's willingness to consider again the idea that consultation rights should be afforded to the representatives of students, parents and teachers. That would be a welcome change and makes sense. Ultimately, they are consumers or main players and are a part of the partnership.
Amendment No. 34 provides that the authority will consider the views of bodies when looking at issues of access, transfer and progression. The authority is being given the power to determine the procedures. We already had a discussion on how dynamic the procedures may be and whether we need to go a little further. I welcome the Minister of State's willingness to consider that.
We are providing that the authority shall consider the views of the bodies listed, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, the language used, that is, "for the purpose of" suggests that its views will be a main component in determining the procedures. I would not like to see the status quo get a particular status, that is, the idea that we must stick with what is there because that is the view submitted.
Should the words "for the purpose of" be watered down to "in the process of" determining procedures? The views will not have a special determining role and will be one of a number of inputs which may be made to the determination of procedures. Perhaps I am reading too much into the words "for the purpose of", but it is not even good English. The inclusion of the word "shall" means the authority is obliged to consider their views for the purposes of determining the procedures. It seems to give them a strong status.
With due respect to Deputy Bruton, he is reading too much into it. The amendment simply provides that the authority will consider the views of those bodies to determine the procedures. There is no substantial difference between the wording in the amendment and that proposed by Deputy Bruton but if it makes him happy and puts his mind at ease, we will ask the draftsman to look at his proposal.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 14, subsection (3)(c), line 3, after "Assessment" to insert "appropriate national representatives of students of parents and of teachers and of centres of education and training".
The Minister has said he will look at this matter on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 14, subsection (3)(c), line 5, after "appropriate" to insert ", and the Authority shall consider the views, if any, of those bodies for the purpose of determining the procedures referred to in subsection (2)(d)”.
This is subject to the Minister clarifying the meaning of the words "for the purpose of".
The Dublin Institute of Technology and the universities established under section 9 of the Act of 1997 are obliged to implement the procedures referred to in paragraph (d) whereas the other universities will be facilitated and advised. What is the difference? Why is it fish for one and flesh for another, so to speak? Why is the same approach not taken to both types of institute?
My understanding of the difference in treatment under paragraphs (e) and (f) relates to the fact the universities are governed by separate legislation. This legislation deals specifically with the procedures, etc., in relation to the non-university providers — those referred to in paragraph (f). The universities are dealt with under a separate regime and the most we can say in relation to the national qualifications authority is that it will facilitate and advise them in implementing their procedures which are governed by a separate provision. We can, however, ensure that in relation to the Dublin Institute of Technology and the universities established under section 9 of 1997 Act.
I know that de facto the position is that the Minister is not taking powers. Why is the Minister not taking those powers? It is not that he is debarred from doing so but is choosing not to. Equally, it is the universities which are probably the greatest culprits in blocking access and progression. That is how some people would see it. Getting into the universities has been less open. The institutions being certified here have generally been to the forefront in trying to accommodate non-traditional access. It is hard to rationalise this difference. I presume it is political with a small “p” rather than good policy.
The Government considers that it is essential that the universities are linked to the new arrangements. It was not envisaged by the then Government in 1995 that Teastas would have a strong role in relation to the existing universities. A forum on the development of a framework of qualifications was held after the Teastas second report was published. It was not envisaged by the then Government, in 1995, that Teastas would have a strong role in relation to the existing universities. A forum on the development of a framework of qualifications was held after the Teastas second report. There was a strong message from those involved in education and training that universities should be involved as much as possible in the arrangements. Indeed, at the forum the universities showed a strong willingness to co-operate as much as possible with the developing framework and associated arrangements.
Arising from this, the Bill sets out that the existing universities will have a nominee on the National Qualifications Authority and would be advised by that authority on the implementation of access, transfer and progression arrangements. Furthermore, the National Qualifications Authority will work with the Higher Education Authority in reviewing the implementation of those arrangements and shall publish the outcomes of any such review.
Section 40 also provides that the Higher Education Authority in performing its role in advising the universities in relation to quality assurance shall consult with the qualifications authority. We consider that the set of provisions in the Bill best provide a way for the universities to be involved in the developing framework. As we all know, the Universities Act, 1997, has only been in operation for less than two years and that Act sets out the key role of the Higher Education Authority for advising the universities on quality assurance. I do not wish to transfer any such functions from the Higher Education Authority to the NQA, although the Bill provides that the Higher Education Authority must consult with the qualifications authority in performing its quality assurance role.
What the Minister is saying is that half a loaf is better than none.
This is a strange provision where the authority will determine what is higher education and what is further education — it will make a demarcation so to speak — and there will be no appeal from its determination. It is equally strange that we ended up with two councils rather than one but the boundaries between them are not defined in the Bill. The authority will act as Solomon when making its decision. Is there a need for this? Cannot bodies apply as they choose for validation by whomsoever they choose and will not the policies and criteria of the awards make it self-evident whether they fit in? What is behind the idea of the authority determining what is further education and what is higher education? I do not know what constitutes the distinction and I am not sure the authority will have a clear brief as to that distinction. Would it not be better to let it evolve and let the providers make the applications and the councils determine as they see it.
Deputy Bruton wants to know the thinking behind this section. The intent is to clarify and distinguish in respect of the areas of further and higher education and training and the respective roles of the qualifications authority and the two awarding councils. It will be a matter for the authority to determine whether a programme is higher or further education and training or whether the standard of knowledge or skill of a learner seeking an award is at further or higher education and training level. In considering this, the authority should have regard to either or both the programme or standard of knowledge or skill acquired by a learner.
Subsection (3) elaborates further on the distinction between further and higher education and training. It provides that, as a general guideline, where a programme leads to the attainment of a standard by learners which is not higher than the level at which, before the date appointed, the National Council for Vocational Awards made awards, the programme concerned should be deemed to be a further education and training programme unless the qualifications authority determines otherwise.
The Government considers the mechanism set out in section 10 is the most appropriate way to define further education and training and higher education and training for the purpose of the Bill and would not support any proposal to delete the section.
Having listened to the Minister's reply I cannot say this matter is any clearer. It appears to be a nuts and bolts issue and not this rather withdrawn policy driven issue. The role of the NQA is one of supervising the whole system. It is high level policy, not low level policy. Here the Minister seems to be giving it a role in going into the nuts and bolts issue where someone might regard his or her experience as higher education and not further education. It will be sucked into determining what are primarily day-to-day issues of the individual councils. I do not see how it fits in with the broader remit of the authority which is a high level policy body. It seems out of place here. If the issue of deciding the demarcation were an important power, should there not be a power of appeal? Where there are issues of dispute with the councils, the authority might have some reserve power of appeal, but I do not see why it should have a day-to-day role in this area.
I am not clear what the Deputy is saying, particularly in the context of what he said a few moments ago. If I heard him correctly in his first contribution on this section, he seemed to suggest that each provider should——
I suggested that the providers should apply to whichever council they prefer and let it progress and, if there is an appeal, by all means let it go to the authority. I do not see why a provider should go to the authority for a decision in the first instance.
One of the basic reasons a provider should go to the authority in the first instance is that there might be competition between the councils if it is left to them to decide. There must be a body which stands outside those councils on such matters. That is the thinking behind the section.
As regards appeals, there is an appeal from a decision of the council to the authority.
Precisely. There is no appeal from the authority — it is the final arbiter.
The Minister is slightly misunderstanding me. I am in favour of healthy competition. If they are competing for providers that would be a sign of a healthy system. To have groups sending applications to a high level authority before approaching the councils would not be appropriate. I will not make a big issue of this but it seems to ill fit what the authority is about. If issues need to be appealed to the authority on the determination of further as against higher education, and if it is felt that the ruling given by the higher education council is unjust — an institute of technology may be informed that a course is not deemed at higher level and must be validated at further level — it could have its case heard on appeal by the authority. I do not see why such issues would go to the authority in the first instance.
I find subsection (3) rather restrictive and I could see it being somewhat destructive in the longer term. It states:
A programme of education and training, which leads to the attainment by learners of a standard of knowledge, skill or competence which is not higher than the level at which, before the 3rd day of March, 1999, the National Council for Vocational Awards has made awards, shall be deemed to be further education and training, unless otherwise determined by the Authority under subsection (1).
This could, in effect, be a capping of the standards being applied to further education and training. It is specific to a particular date and standard. There is an opt-out clause at the end. This is a dangerous formulation. We aspire to a position where the ceiling for higher and further education and training would continue to raise.
Deputy Bruton's interpretation of this provision is wrong. In this regard one goes straight to the council, not the authority. Section 10(1) states that "the Authority may determine". It is envisaged that most applications would be routine and that it is only in disputed cases that the authority would be approached. This section will operate as the Deputy said it should, namely that a person should contact the council about routine matters, not the authority.
There is no question of capping. This is simply a broad guideline. Section 10(3) states: "unless otherwise determined by the Authority". It does not provide that the previous NCVA levels will be the cut-off point. It provides that, as a general rule, they will but only "unless otherwise determined by the Authority". That is an example of where people can approach the authority if they want to gain entry into the higher category.
I thank the Minister for his response but it does not lessen my concern about this section. This is in effect capping, albeit with an opt-out clause at the end. It will have a capping effect over time because the provision refers to determination by the authority, not by the council. The directive to the authority in this section seems to cap the level at which it can make awards. Section 10(3) provides that anything over that level moves into the realm of higher education and training. I am unhappy with the current formula.
I reiterate that the reference to the awards made by the National Council for Vocational Awards on or before 3 March 1999 is only a broad guideline. If someone feels that a programme comes within the ambit of higher education they can go to the authority which has the power to make that determination.
I worry that such a cut off point, although there seems to be an opt-out clause, could have a depressing effect on standards within the further education and training sector. There is no ceiling in the legislation on higher education and training.
There must be a yardstick if only to guide providers. This cut-off point was selected by the draftsman. If someone wants a programme to be included in the higher education category they can approach the authority. We cannot have a seamless garment.
I accept that we cannot have a seamless garment. My concern, and this is an ongoing area of subtle conflict, is that we are talking about second and third level education in the context of further education. As the system stands, further education is provided at second level and higher education is provided at third level. The Minister is inserting a strong line of demarcation which will cause many pitched turf wars in the future. I may return to this section on Report Stage but I will not oppose it now.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 16, subsection (2)(f), line 2, to delete "education and training institutions" and substitute "educational or training institutions".
Amendment No. 38 is out of order.
What is the basis for that?
Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 seek to increase by two the overall membership of the Further Education Training Awards Council.
I think amendment No. 38 is in order because it states "one of whom shall be nominated by FÁS,". It does not increase the membership number. Section 13(e) provides for "two persons nominated by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment" and this relates to one of those.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 16, subsection (2), between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"(i) one of whom shall be nominated by FÁS,".
I will return to this matter on Report Stage to give effect to that.
Amendment No 39 is out of order.
Will the Minister be making the complementary change to remove "where practicable"?
Amendments Nos. 41 and 47 are related and may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 16, before section 14, to insert the following new section:
"14.—The objectives of the Council shall be——
(a) to establish and promote best practice standards in respect of the course content, teaching methods, work experience and other relevant matters among course providers seeking validation for the provision of education or training for relevant qualifications, having due regard to international practice, the need for people to build competence that will endure and the needs of the market place,
(b) to promote the award of recognition to knowledge skills and competence acquired by learners in the workplace or in structured community activities and to facilitate paths of progression from these awards,
(c) to encourage new modes of delivery of further education and training by recognised institutions either directly or in joint venture with employers or other community organisations in order to facilitate greater participation by learners throughout their lifetime,
(d) to benchmark the further education and training by providers against best international practice.".
The purpose of this section is to set out the council's objectives. We outlined objectives for the authority but we have not outlined objectives for the council. The Minister may say that the section refers to the objectives of the Act. It seems that there will be particular issues related to the council that will merit an explicit statement of its objectives. My amendment sets out its objectives.
Subsection (a) seeks "to establish and promote best practice" and subsection (b) seeks "to promote the award of recognition to knowledge skills and competence acquired by learning in the workplace or in structured community activities and to facilitate paths of progression from these awards". The Minister may say it is expected that this will happen but it is a significant new area. The notion of developing recognition for structured community activities is novel but it is couched in vague terms in the Bill, whereas this is explicit in that we do expect it to reach outside the conventional provider network to develop the stepping stones from activities in which people are engaged to the next step in education. That merits an explicit statement of the type I have tried to formulate.
Section (c) seeks to encourage new modes of delivery of further education and training, either directly or in joint venture with employers or community organisations, to facilitate greater participation by learners throughout their lifetimes. There should be an explicit statement that it is expected to explore, certify and validate new areas over time and that it will be experimental in its approach to work. That is not clearly stated in the Bill. The objectives in the early part of the Bill are vague in their intent. The subsection (d) provides a benchmark for further education and training by making use of best international practice. That gives it a clear mandate to make sure what it is doing is comparable to the best.
This Bill would be strengthened by the insertion of an objective section for the further education council. The Minister linked this to another section.
Section 77 — the higher council.
That is in respect of the other body.
It is the same thing.
They are not really linked. They do similar things but in different areas. If the Minister is agreeable I would prefer not to discuss them together.
I do not consider it appropriate to have a set of objectives for each of the awarding councils. The Bill was framed in the context of objectives to which all of those involved in its implementation must have regard. There has been discussion about the objectives of the qualifications authority. Where there is something the awarding authority should do and there is a need to refer to it in the Bill, it should be included in the functions of the awarding councils.
Deputy Bruton suggested that the key to the success of the arrangements in the Bill is the bodies being innovative and proactive in developing ways to recognise skills. I hope the new bodies will be proactive in doing this. I stress, however, that they have an overall quality assurance and awarding function and are not bodies to encourage the provision of education and training as such. That is a matter for the Minister and State agencies involved in the funding and encouragement of providers of all kinds, be they education and training institutions, community groups or employers, to access the facilitating awarding framework which is to be set up by the Bill.
Many of the objectives proposed by Deputy Bruton stray into the role of the Minister and other State agencies. It is the Minister's role to encourage institutes of technology to introduce new modes of delivery. It is a role of the awarding councils to ensure the awarding systems are receptive to any such modes.
I do not favour including in the objectives certain functions of the awarding councils and leaving out others. There will be aspects of further education and training programmes which will stress personal development and other aspects which are relevant to work. The way in which the functions have been drafted ensures that an awarding system is put in place which is receptive to all of this rather than one which leads to the development of workplace learning. Such a function is the responsibility of Enterprise Ireland.
I tried to ensure consistency between the functions of the two awarding councils and to set out that they will have the same responsibilities to the State. I do not favour Deputy Bruton's implication that the two councils have unique roles. There roles are different in that one deals with higher education and training and the other with further education and training. Other than that, I do not favour the implication which could be taken from the draft objectives that work based learning is a function of only the further education council.
On the functions detailed in the Bill, on Report Stage we will introduce an amendment to that section to cover best international practice. The Bill states that the council, in the performance of it functions, shall inform itself of the education, training, skills and qualifications requirements of industry. These will include needs in agriculture, business, trade, the professions and the public service, including the level of knowledge, skill and competence to be acquired by learners, and promote practices in education and training which meet those requirements to ensure procedures for access, transfer and progression determined by the authority are implemented.
It is worth re-examining the definition of programme given in the Bill. It is all encompassing. It defines a programme of education and training as any process by which learners may acquire knowledge, skill or competence and includes courses of study or instruction, apprenticeships, training and employment in references to the programme and shall be construed accordingly. That is a wide remit.
When the Minister was out we discussed an amendment. Looking at the objectives and functions of the authority, one such function is to give effect to the policies relating to education and training which are established by the Minister or any other Minister with the agreement of the Minister following consultation with the authority. There is no such function. The Minister does not become involved in directives to either of the councils. The Minister can be advised by the councils. My interpretation is that functions relate to powers and duties. The only reference to policy is where the Minister intervenes and gives a policy directive to the authority. Does that mean that policy will be the remit of the Minister?
The function of the council shall be to establish policies and criteria for the making of further education and training awards and the validation of programmes of further education and training. The councils, therefore, have a policy function.
The authority does not, except where directed by the Minister.
It does. It is in section 8(2)(a), which states the authority shall "establish the policies and criteria on which the framework of qualifications shall be based".
Those are policies only in relation to the framework.
That is its function.
Is there a more generalised policy role at any level for the authority?
No. That is a wide remit in itself. It will not run schools. There must be a clear delineation of functions, remit and areas of jurisdiction. The Minister of the day is ultimately responsible for education policy. Bodies under the umbrella of education must have regard to the policies of the Minister and give effect to them. In the context of legislation, there are certain policies the authority must establish within its remit. The awarding councils will also have policy functions in relation to their remit.
That explanation gives this more coherence. There is a policy deficit, however, in the authority's remit. It should have more generalised functions. We are talking about policies and criteria in relation to the framework. Policy refers to more than the mere framework. What are the objectives and the matters on which the State wishes to place particular emphasis? This is causing me some concern.
I do not perceive the deficit but I will reflect on the matter between now and Report Stage and discuss it with the Deputy.
We discussed this matter with the Minister of State. If we have two councils with identical objectives, functions and powers we must ask why there are two councils. I presume there are two councils because a different process is at work in each one. One expects, in that case, that the objectives would be set out to show the difference.
The Minister says that the proposal in paragraph (b) of my amendment is covered adequately elsewhere. However, I expect that the further education council will give help to community groups who conduct educational programmes and will set down the stepping stones for entry into education and development. There is a difference between the two bodies. I am not convinced when the Minister says their objectives will not be set out and that everything about them will be identical. The establishment of two bodies implies that there is a different job to be done by each. In that case one expects each body to concentrate on particular objectives. As Deputy O'Shea has said, we expect that certain changes will occur with the setting up of the councils. That expectation cannot be reconciled with the establishment of two bodies which will be equal in every respect and carbon copies of each other, in legislative terms.
The difficulty of defining the objectives of the councils has been demonstrated by the Deputy's contribution. It is not necessarily the case that learners in the workplace will only receive awards at the level of further education. There are examples already of people who are learning in the workplace via a provider of third level qualifications. Such a programme is currently being piloted by a company and an educational institution. This might happen, for example, when general operatives wish to become technicians. We must not prevent developments by being too specific and definitive in legislation.
With regard to Deputy O'Shea's point, it is a function of the authority to consult and advise the Minister for Education and Science or another Minister. The Bill gives a policy function to the authority. It may be necessary to examine the language of the Bill to see if it can express our objectives more explicitly. I will do that between now and Report Stage.