Technological Universities Bill 2015: Report Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 904 No. 3

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny Amendment No. 19 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 are physical alternatives, as are amendments Nos. 81 to 83, inclusive. Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 81 to 83, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I move amendment No. 19:

In page 16, to delete lines 28 to 30 and substitute the following:
“(2) A notice under subsection (1) shall state that the applicant college and staff of the college and trade union representatives of these staff may make representations to the Minister in relation to the proposed decision not later than 30 days after service of the notice.”.

We covered most of this issue yesterday. It relates to the request for technological university status. Under the Bill, that would be done through the governing bodies. Our amendments propose that the request should come from that body, but with the agreement of all stakeholders, including trade unions. The Minister stated that this would be tantamount to giving trade unions a veto, but unless all of the stakeholders are in agreement, technological university status could be bestowed on a merged entity that was experiencing an industrial dispute with academic staff who were being asked to teach the courses. Before any request is made to the Minister, there should be consultation with and agreement by all stakeholders. This is the basis of the amendment.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am in favour of the Bill, as it is important that we have a technological university. Deputy O'Brien spoke about engagement. Recently, we were part of the engagement process with CIT and IT Tralee when Dr. Brendan Murphy held a meeting for public representatives and candidates. Deputy Creed and I met the TUI on Monday night and I met it previously. I am concerned by the large number of academic staff members who voted against the Bill. They numbered in excess of 80%. In my dealings with CIT's staff, they have been professional and committed. Notwithstanding the level or quality of the engagement between CIT and the TUI, Deputy O'Brien is correct, in that there must be a continuum of engagement at various levels.

It is important that we get this right and that the foundation be put in place now so as to ensure that the edifice that will be the technological university is of benefit to students and the cohort of people in the wider catchment area that it serves. Fundamental to this is the level of staff buy-in.

The representation that I received on governance and engagement centred on disillusionment in CIT and the appointment of academic staff and student representatives to the governing body. I was told that there should be a broad diversity of views among stakeholders. A concern has been expressed in the Chamber and elsewhere in this regard. To be fair to the Minister, she has been open to discussion and we have had conversations about this issue. She met TUI members in Cork on Monday night. In the education and training board, ETB, mergers, we brought people with us. It is important that we be open about the future appointment of staff, including academic staff, to the governing body, as the concern in that regard has been rightly expressed.

Another concern expressed to me during the dialogue centred on the six-month period at the beginning when there could potentially be no staff members or students on the governing body. That is not the right move. This relates to the question of engagement. Who better than the staff to be on a representative body? They are committed and interested and their remit does not end at the classroom or research door. Their role is much greater than that. As a director of adult education, I engaged with CIT and, in particular, Mr. Paul O'Mahony. The regional provision of outreach services for continuing education, back to education and upskilling was in its infancy and helped many people. The then Regional Technical College, Cork was good at doing this. It afforded people the opportunity to become part of higher level education in various shapes and forms. The Bill allows for this.

In this critical period of the merger, though, we must focus on ensuring access for students who might not otherwise get to college and on maintaining the core ethos along with business development, which is something that we have all accepted. What the Rubicon Centre and Dr. Murphy and others in CIT have done with the business case model, for example, the research and development of new thinking, new ideas and innovation, is to be applauded and commended. In keeping with this, there is an obligation to ensure that the ethos of upskilling and further education is preserved, but I am concerned that it will be lost during the opening six months. I say this conscious that we have high calibre people on the governing body, for example, Mr. Bob Savage of EMC, who do Trojan work and have no vested interest beyond the further advancement of the college and its students and staff.

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