Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 904 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien] Before an order arrives on the Minister's desk, there should be agreement by all parties, namely, the governing bodies, presidents, staff and trade unions.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath I support the amendment. I met staff representatives at Cork Institute of Technology, who are very angry. There has been an abject failure to bring the staff along through the process. This is reflected in the overwhelming rejection in the TUI ballot. They are deeply disappointed with what they regard as a significant shift from the heads of the Bill to the detail of it, which we are discussing on Report Stage.

There are serious concerns about many issues with which the Minister is familiar, such as pension entitlements, terms and conditions of employment and security in terms of the provision of certain programmes at a regional level. The concerns are not just about the impact on individual staff members but about the impact on the quality of the education the institutes of technology can provide. There has been a failure to bring the staff and their union along at a management level. They are very concerned that the Bill will be rushed through with very serious ramifications for them personally and for the students to whom they provide a service.

Even at this late stage, I ask the Minister to desist from pushing it through. I am sure she is receiving this feedback directly through her Labour Party representatives, from the TUI nationally and at a local level. It is not the way to do business. We are heading for very serious industrial strife, which is unnecessary. In my experience from talking to the staff members concerned, while they are not against the principle of a technological university, the way it is being done flies in the face of co-operation and the spirit with which these fundamental structural changes to third level education are normally introduced. It is not the way to do it, and I ask the Minister to rethink it.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan There is no doubt about the anger outside tonight from representatives of the TUI. Their anger relates to the conditions of service, which we will discuss in a later amendment. It comes back to the respect for the staff trade unions. There seems to be more concern to include staff associations, of which we have none, to allow them to make an appearance at some stage, than respect for the established trade unions which have been representing their members' interests.

The unions must be included because of another aspect regarding staff. Earlier, we discussed the movement of students. Staff may have to move from one college to another. There is a bigger picture around conditions of service. The main concern is that staff are not bringing their existing conditions of service with them into the merger. There will be an escalation of action unless this is addressed.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan As I said earlier, I have no intention of rushing the Bill through. We have given it full time on all Stages so far and have had very good engagement at the committee. We have three scheduled time slots in the Dáil this week. If we have not finished it by then, we have not finished it. I am not rushing it through.

Last night, I met representatives of staff in Cork. They have serious concerns. I was aware of it in previous meetings with the TUI. We are trying to address the concerns we can address and make as much progress as we can in the Dáil. Although I do not know what will happen in the Seanad or what the arrangements are, I do not intend to rush it through either House.

Chapter 3 of Part 2 provides a general mechanism for the merging of consortiums of institutes of technology to form new institutions of greater scale, which includes assessment by an expert panel of their application to merge. In 2014, consortiums in Dublin and Munster were assessed by an international expert panel and found to be on a clear trajectory to meet the very robust performance and quality criteria that had been set down for merging institutes which wished to apply for the new technological university status. Therefore, the Dublin and Munster consortiums have already completed the stage of the process set down in Chapter 3 of Part 2 and are working towards a full merger in the near future.

To repeat a point I made on Committee Stage, the mergers in Dublin and Munster provided for in the Bill are not forced mergers. Each of the consortiums has, of its own accord, decided to come together to work towards achieving technological university status. The purpose of Chapters 1 and 2 of Part 2 is to reflect the reality of these consortiums, that they have been proceeding along this path for some time, and to ensure they are not required to go back to square one and be reassessed by an expert panel. This is why I cannot support amendments Nos. 11, 14, 15 and 17.

Regarding amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 16, the Deputy is asking that we give the trade unions a veto on the proposed merger. Providing a veto on the proposed merger for anybody would not be in the best interests of everybody involved, including staff, students and the citizens in the wider region who are also to be served by the technological universities.

On the broader issue of consultation with staff, I have repeatedly stated that good communication between the leadership of any institute of technology entering into a merger and the staff and students of the IOT is vital so that a shared vision and understanding of the new institutions can be developed. The HEA and my Department have conveyed this message from the outset of the process. I have spoken about it here before. We have facilitated staff to be given the time to get involved on behalf of the TUI and other representatives of other people working in the institutions. We want such engagement and I will, if necessary, repeat it to the institutes concerned that it is to be real engagement, not what some people appear to think is not real engagement. This is my intention and we have allocated resources to ensure it can happen.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien In the Munster region, the Cork and Kerry case, the merger is very far down the line and they are meeting all the criteria. The Minister mentioned the expert panel report which found they are on course. However, the very people who are being asked to deliver the high quality education in a technological university are in dispute. They have no faith in the process and they feel excluded from it. While the Minister may say the governing bodies and institutes should consult the academic staff, in reality they are not engaging constructively. This is the major issue.

While the Minister may say the amendments would give a veto to the trade unions, I say they would ensure there is full co-operation from all stakeholders in the project before an application is made for technological university status. Although the Minister may say it is not a good idea to give vetoes to any one particular organisation, we had no problem giving vetoes to banks regarding personal insolvency. We cannot have it both ways.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure the Minister cannot make an order for designation as a technological university until all the stakeholders are in agreement. It is a very fair and rational proposal.

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