Technological Universities Bill 2015: Second Stage (Continued)

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 901 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan]  Sections 39 to 43 set out the process for the making of an application to become a technological university and the information which must be included in such an application. They also provide for the appointment of an independent, expert advisory panel to examine the application and the provision by that panel of a report and recommendation to the HEA and the subsequent provision by the HEA of the report, its views on the report and any other relevant information to the Minister.

Section 44 provides for the making of a proposed decision by the Minister while section 45 provides that the Minister may impose conditions on a merged institute where the merged institute does not comply with all of the criteria set out in section 38.

Chapter 10 of Part 3, sections 48 to 54, provides a mechanism for the incorporation of an institute of technology into a technological university.

Part 4, sections 55 and 56, provides for the hearing of appeals against certain decisions of the Minister under the Bill by an independent appeals board.

Part 5, sections 57 to 86, sets out a range of transitional provisions consequent upon the making of orders under Parts 2 and 3, which will ensure that functions, assets, liabilities, staff and so forth of dissolving bodies are appropriately transferred. Of particular note are sections 63 and 79, which provide for the transfer of the staff to the relevant merged institute or technological university. Those sections preserve the conditions of remuneration of transferring staff, while sections 64 and 80 also provide that staff remain members of the relevant superannuation schemes.

Sections 65, 66 and 81 provide for the appointment by the Minister of the first governing bodies of the institutes established under Parts 2 and 3. In each case, it is provided that the Minister will appoint a chairperson, two external members nominated by the Minister and a nominee of the relevant education and training boards as members of the first governing body of the institutes concerned. The president of the institute concerned shall also be a member. Within six months, the first governing body of each merged institute is required to agree a competency framework with the HEA for the appointment of external members, establish procedures for the election of staff representatives and the appointment of external members and conduct elections and make appointments to the governing body.

Sections 69, 70, 71, 72, 84, 85 and 86 provide for the continuation of arrangements relating to awarding the international education mark, quality assurance and enhancement and access, transfer and progression where an institute is being dissolved and its functions and so forth are being transferred to another body.

Part 6, sections 87 to 114, provides for a number of amendments to the governance arrangements of Dublin Institute of Technology and the institutes of technology under the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992 and the Regional Technical Colleges Act 1992, respectively. Of particular note are sections 90 and 103, which replace section 6 of each of those Acts with new sections setting out revised arrangements for the membership, terms of office, method of appointment and gender balance of the governing bodies of DIT and the institute of technology. These revised arrangements will be along the same lines as those which will apply to technological universities under section 25. Section 104 sets out procedures for the appointment of the first new governing body of each institution under the revised arrangements.

In addition, Part 6 amends those Acts to revise the arrangements relating to the appointment and membership of the academic councils of those institutions; revise and clarify the procedures for the recruitment and selection of staff; repeal provisions which provide that certain members of staff may not be removed from office without the consent of the Minister; revise and clarify arrangements relating to the determination of budgets and the borrowing of money; revise the manner in which an inspector can be appointed to report into matters relating to the operation of DIT or an institute of technology and amend certain provisions relating to the appointment of a commission by the Minister to carry out such functions of the governing body of DIT or an institute of technology as the Minister determines; and insert revised Second Schedules relating to the operation of the governing bodies of the relevant institutions into each Act.

Part 7, section 115 to 117, provides for consequential amendment to other Acts to take account of the establishment of technological universities.

Schedules 1 and 2 provide for a range of matters relating to the governing bodies and presidents of technological universities, respectively.

I would also like to bring to the attention of Members my intention to address a number of additional issues through the introduction of amendments to the Bill during Committee Stage. I propose to introduce amendments on Committee Stage to provide for the granting of degree-awarding powers, with the exception of doctoral degree level awards, to all the institutes of technology. At present, institutes of technology have been delegated authority from Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, to make awards. This delegation extends to master's degree level or doctoral degree level, depending on the institution and field of study involved. In contrast, the universities, as well as Dublin Institute of Technology and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, are awarding bodies in their own right and, therefore, have the authority to make their own awards at all levels of the national framework of qualifications. The granting of degree-awarding authority to all the institutes of technology would put them on an equal footing with the universities, DIT and the RCSI. It would, therefore, create a single, coherent quality assurance and qualifications space among public higher education institutions and it will support the future growth of institutes of technology as equal partners in the higher education landscape.

It is also my intention to introduce amendments related to the Universities (Amendment) Bill, which is currently at an advanced stage of drafting. That Bill will provide for the amendment of the Universities Act 1997 to provide the Minister for Education and Skills with powers to give directions to universities in respect of the remuneration of public servants and the number of public servants employed and to appoint authorised officers to investigate the contravention of such directions.

It is intended, once that Bill is settled, to insert similar provisions into this Bill to ensure the Minister has similar powers in respect of the technological universities.

This Bill currently sets out a range of transitional arrangements that apply where a body is dissolved under the Act and its functions, staff and so forth are transferred to another institution. It is currently being examined whether additional transitional arrangements are required and, if so, they will be introduced as amendments during the passage of the Bill.

This Bill is another important step in advancing the national strategy for higher education but it will mean much more to the regions of Ireland than just another step in a national strategy. The establishment of multi-campus technological universities will be of great benefit to their regions and to Ireland. Technological universities will have a distinct mission to provide high-quality, enterprise-focused higher education and research. I hope Members will agree that this is an important Bill. I look forward to listening to their views today and further debate as the Bill progresses through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I commend this Bill to the House.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the Minister for her opening remarks and for outlining the various sections and measures contained in the Bill. It is important to say that, overall, Fianna Fáil supports the concept of a technological university and the development of a new layer in our education system. We were very happy to participate in the pre-legislative scrutiny process which took place in March 2014. This involved widespread consultation on the proposals with stakeholders within the institute of technology sector as well as the university sector.

It is exceptionally disappointing that it has taken this long for the Bill to come before the House. The pre-legislative scrutiny took place in March 2014. There has been significant development over the past four or five years, progressing towards this point. It is unfortunate, as we come to the last two or three weeks of the term of this Government, that the Bill has only been published in the past few days. It is now likely that it will only reach Second Stage. Undoubtedly, it will be left for the next Government to take it up and proceed further with it.

This is further evidence of the kicking to touch of a number of issues within the third-level sector over the past four or five years. There has been an issue with overall funding at university and institute of technology level. Decisions over the past three or four years on its future direction have been continuously delayed. As of yet, we do not have the publication of the Cassells report and, according to media reports, it is unlikely to come before the election. The Minister might give us an indication in that regard because a proper debate is needed and the report should have been published so that it could be discussed. However, it has been continually delayed and pushed down the road and this is unacceptable.

Neither have we seen serious consideration of how we will fund the mergers.

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