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

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 904 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer]  When staff vote in such high numbers, it raises a flag and demands that an issue be examined. Undoubtedly, this Bill is about a future vision. The amendment referred to by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is about stakeholder engagement. The governing body is best served by having a wide diversity of opinion and membership. If we had done nothing in this Oireachtas other than pre-legislative scrutiny, it would have shown that true engagement and participation, beyond the normal shuffling of paper involved the compilation of Bills, works. In this case, it is important that we see further engagement.

The Minister is aware that those of us who are interested in education and have been involved in it for a long time recognise that a Bill is about winning people on the journey towards a particular point of view. It is about arriving at a consensus, if possible. It is important that we have a Bill that reflects the views of all of us. The Minister has gone some way towards this with the many amendments she has accepted since the consideration of the Bill began. The members of the academic council should be elected by the academic staff to ensure a diversity of views, as a TUI member said to me on Monday, and also to ensure a constructive challenge to management and the maintenance of academic quality. We must always ensure this.

I am very much cognisant that there is an excellent management council in CIT. It comprises people of the highest calibre who have done considerable, transformative work in bringing the institute to where it is today. In the fullness of time, this Bill will prove to have been the correct approach for both the students and staff. However, concerns have been expressed and views have been articulated that we must listen to and take on board.

I note how we have changed. Yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, commended a new skills strategy, on which I congratulate him. He is correct that we need to challenge one another in this area and reach out to young people to invite them to become part of the new skills era of our country. With a view to making this legislation better and having and a meeting of minds, I hope the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will listen to and reflect upon some of the views expressed to us at our meetings on Monday and during the week, and in the emails we received.

This is good legislation. It represents the right thing to do for CIT and IT Tralee. As I stated, we must now proceed in a calm, measured way. If we can do so, we will have a better Bill that will serve the needs of the staff and students, which is what we are about here today.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan I wish to make only a couple of points because we have discussed this on Committee Stage and yesterday with the Minister. If mergers, the technological universities principle and what is being proposed here are to work, the process will require the support of all the stakeholders. The staff are vital in this regard. Staff are extremely critical of the proposal, and there is a lot of opposition from them. When the Minister of State says there was engagement with staff, I say it could not have been meaningful and real. If it had been, the issues of the staff would have been taken on board and we would not be noting the extent of the opposition to what is being proposed. Staff are not being included. Unless they are included and listened to, this merger will not work and we will see a further escalation of industrial unrest.

As it stands, the merger is being imposed. When mergers and such arrangements are imposed on people, they are just starting off on the wrong footing. It was stated we can come back to this at a later stage but, unless we get it right in the beginning, it will be disastrous at later stages. Later stages will be futile and very difficult.

We know about the opposition and criticism, and we note their extent in the content of the amendments before us. There is a disconnect in that, although we have engaged, the stakeholders are saying they have not been engaged with and that they have just received briefings at which they were given information. I ask again that this matter be examined in the best interest of what is being proposed. People are in agreement with the concept of technological universities but the way the arrangement has been imposed on staff at this stage will lead to much unrest.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I wish to deal with a couple of issues. Colleagues are correct that some of them were dealt with already by the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, yesterday and probably on Tuesday and on Committee Stage. Deputy Buttimer might not have been present for the full debate so I will clarify the position for him. The TUI has consistently sought a full process of consultation in regard to the process and legislation. This has been followed through by the Minister and the Department with the respective institutes involved in the processes. We are disappointed that the TUI has chosen to withdraw from all the WRC engagement processes in respect of technological universities because I believe that all the TUI concerns can be addressed through discussion and negotiation via the normal industrial relations processes, including that of the WRC. The processes were employed in the recent successful ETB mergers in the education sector, to which the TUI was a party. They were not rushed. All of us wanted the reform of the full education and training system in respect of the ETBs but the process was not rushed. There was ample time for the issues to be worked through and negotiated at the desired level. That is what happened. In the case of the technological university proposal, the position is similar. There has been ongoing engagement and discussion. Everyone might not have got his way but there have been ongoing discussions and engagements for the past three or four years. There are new procedures in place allowing everybody a chance to have his or her voice heard. There is ample opportunity for all the concerns to be dealt with. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is correct that most people seem to agree with the principle of what we are trying to achieve here. However, many of the problems she is raising can be sorted out. It is not necessarily a matter for this legislation. It is to be dealt with under the WRC; that is what it is for. The processes are in place. Looking back at what has occurred in all the institutions of the past three or four years, I note there were many meetings and much engagement and consultation. New procedures were put in place to allow for that and to allow a safe space or forum for conversation.

I have visited the CIT on probably seven or eight occasions in the past 18 months. It is a fabulous place and is doing unbelievable work, including through the Rubicon Centre, the innovation centre. Unbelievable work is being done with local enterprises and people are being given a start-up opportunity. The students are being turned into entrepreneurs and business people who are creating jobs. The institute is an exemplar and I cannot commend it enough. This legislation will only enhance the good work and give further opportunities. There is ample time to sort out all the concerns.

Let me refer to the specific amendments, namely, amendment No. 19 and the rest of the amendments in the group. Sections 17, 44 and 52 all relate to the making of a decision by the Minister on an application made by a higher education institute or institutes. Each of these sections provides that the Minister, having come to a proposed decision, will inform the applicants of the proposed decision and allow them to make representations on a proposed decision within 30 days, and that those representations will be taken into account before a final decision is made. This is a common step in such processes, particularly statutory processes, and it is designed to ensure fair procedures are adhered to. More important, it allows the applicants the opportunity to point out any errors that might have been made in coming to a decision before the decision is finalised.

It would not be appropriate to open this process up to a wide range of other stakeholders. For that reason, we cannot accept amendments Nos. 19, 20, 81, 82 and 83.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan It strikes me as illogical. Surely the concerns of the staff have to be addressed now and not at a later date. If there had been all the engagement and discussion the Minister of State mentioned, surely it would have led to some kind of resolution that staff would have bought into. The staff fears still feature. Definitely, the staff do not feel confident that they will have an opportunity to talk about those fears and they do not believe their fears and issues will be addressed.

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