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 Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy] The suggestion that the cost be met from further efficiency cuts, or "efficiencies" is unacceptable in the current climate. That translates, in reality, to a process of cuts.

A second issue we would like to raise is the question of dissolution of institutes of technologies. The Bill effectively provides for the dissolution of the institutes at Tallaght, Blanchardstown, Cork and Tralee, with Tallaght and Blanchardstown to be amalgamated with Dublin Institute of Technology. There is no further process envisaged in the Bill other than the issuing of an order by the Minister setting a "dissolution day". It has been argued that given that an international panel has already assessed the case for the amalgamations in Dublin and Munster, no further process is necessary. Given that we now have the legislation setting out the terms and conditions for being a technological university, surely individual institutions should be allowed to look again at the issue. This is particularly important given the opposition of staff in many of the institutes of technology to forced amalgamations. The Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, is about to ballot members for industrial action on this specific issue, as there is significant disquiet about the lack of consultation and engagement with staff. In light of this, there should be provision in the Bill for the institutions to collectively trigger the process prior to the Minister issuing an order and only after agreement has been reached with staff on the terms of the amalgamation.

The third point I raise is that it is clear in reading the Bill that it is unnecessarily slavish to the needs of business and enterprise. This is in line with an approach that is generally happening across education but in clause after clause, the needs of enterprise and industry are acknowledged and privileged over what the Bill refers to as "other stakeholders". There is a stark contrast between the number of times the word "enterprise" appears relative to terms such as "community". The Bill would have us believe that business and community interests are the same thing. Technological universities are to serve the community and public interest by, in the first instance, "supporting the development of business and enterprise at local, regional and national levels".

A strong illustration of the slavishness to business relates to the provisions for the academic councils, which are traditionally composed of academic staff and are forums for debate and the making of decisions on all matters related to academic programmes and research activity. Their main focus is on upholding academic standards. The Bill as it stands indicates "the majority of members of the academic council shall be members of the academic staff of the technological university,". That clearly raises the prospect of non-academics from outside the institutes being members of the academic council and the prospect that those with unduly narrow views of education will come to have influence over the structure and content of our higher education programmes. All those committed to a broad view of education should oppose such moves.

The Bill also proposes with regard to membership of academic councils that they would be "a member of the academic staff with sufficient experience, in the view of the technological university, of business, enterprise or a profession"; and "members of the academic staff with sufficient experience, in the view of the technological university, of collaboration with business, enterprise, the professions and related stakeholders in the region in which the campuses of the technical university are located for a purpose as referred to". This is a concrete example of the privileging of the needs of business and the placing of business at the centre of these technological universities. Our education system is not a tool of the business community. Education is a public good and it should be retained as such. It should not be limited to preparing students to adapt to the demands of employment and remaining competitive in the labour market. The immediate needs of employers are not a good basis for designing a curriculum. What concerns industry is what is relevant to industry and the interests and concerns of employers and big business in particular. It is not necessarily the same for society or students. We must remain committed to a view of education as a vehicle to enhance the capacity of citizens to learn, develop critical thinking and contribute to a society that provides a good life for all. This will involve being critical of the practices of business and students should be prepared in their education to do so.

A fourth point to be raised relates to governing bodies. The proposal as currently outlined in sections 25, 65, 66, 81 and 104 is unsatisfactory, as these sections see a diminished role for the Minister and the establishment of a system of self-regulation, which may diminish public accountability. Following the first appointment of governing bodies, the Minister's role will be reduced to the appointment of two external members. Levels of staff representation on any new bodies arising from this legislation should be no less than current levels, at least, at two academics and one non-academic person. Given that the technological universities will be formed from amalgamated institutes of technologies, staff and student representation should be expanded to provide for representation from all relevant institutes that have been amalgamated. It is also the case that as currently written, there is no provision for trade union representation on governing bodies.

The last point I want to raise relates to collective bargaining and the threat that is potentially contained in the legislation as currently written. As the Minister knows, all staff currently working in institutes of technology are covered by national collective agreements covering the whole sector. The Bill in section 27(2) provides with respect to trade unions that the staff of a technological university shall be employed on such terms and conditions as may be determined by the technological university, subject to the approval of An tÚdarás, given with the consent of the Minister etc. The implication of this is that staff working in different technological universities could have different terms and conditions. It is clearly implied. This is different from the heads of the Bill as published, which contained head 55, and stated "The Minister may, in relation to the performance by a technological university of its functions, give a direction in writing to that technological university requiring it to comply with a (a) policy decision made by the Government or the Minister in so far it relates to the remuneration or numbers of public servants employed in that technological university, or (b) collective agreement entered into by the Government or the Minister." It also indicates that "a technological university shall comply with a direction under this section". That provision in the heads of Bill does not appear in the Bill as published. It is legitimate for people to have a concern that collective bargaining is being undermined and there can be a fragmentation with respect to terms and conditions of those currently working in the institutes of technology. There could potentially be a race to the bottom and competition between institutes that forces wages and conditions down across the sector. This would weaken the position of a union representing academic staff across the different technological universities, which is completely unacceptable.

The Minister must retain at least a similar role to now in ensuring similar pay and conditions apply across all new institutions created by this legislation. Otherwise there is the prospect of differential pay and conditions, making it less attractive to work in some technological universities, undermining their ability to attract the high calibre staff they need to provide a high quality education. Finally we note that staff who transfer to new amalgamated institutions are only guaranteed their current levels of remuneration and not their current conditions of employment. We support the demand of the TUI that transfer of undertakings regulations should be applied to ensure people are transferred in total with respect to pay and conditions.

I generally welcome the idea of technological universities and institutes of technology being able to apply to be technological universities. It cannot be a Trojan Horse for further cuts or the undermining of worker rights and conditions. It cannot be a Trojan Horse for the undermining of collective bargaining.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Before calling Deputy Boyd Barrett, as I will be leaving the Chair shortly, I will avail of the opportunity to wish a happy Christmas and prosperous new year to all the staff. These include the reporters in front of me; the ushers; members of the press, whom I never see because they are seated behind and over my head; officials around the Houses; members of an Garda Síochána; staff working in the restaurant and bars; staff in the communications area; my fellow Members; and members of the Government. It will be an exciting new year for everybody. I apologise for interrupting proceedings but I will be leaving before the Deputy finishes.

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