Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

Tuesday, 29 June 1999

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 159 No. 21

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Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea): Information on Willie O'Dea  Zoom on Willie O'Dea  I will introduce the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999. Last year the Government agreed to the planning, building and funding of an institute of technology at Blanchardstown in Dublin. The institute is now one of the largest third level educational building projects in the country and its first students will be enrolled from this September and accommodated in an advance building. Applications have been strong and the institute already has in place a group of highly qualified and motivated staff.

To facilitate the establishment of the institute, a company entitled, Institute of Technology Blan[1510] chardstown Limited, was incorporated under the Companies Acts on 11 December 1998. The company is and was intended to be merely a device whereby the institute could be given legal personality pending the enactment of the appropriate legislation.

Early in 1998 the Minister set up an establishment board under the chairmanship of Mr. Donal Connell, general manager of 3 COM Technologies and vice president and the 3 COM Corporation. When he appointed the board, he gave it the task of completing strategic planning for the new institute and making arrangements for the commencement of courses. I pay tribute to the work of the members of the board who are drawn from the private and public sectors and who have given freely of their time since their appointment. The members of the establishment board were subsequently appointed as the members and directors of the company entitled, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown Limited, which was set up to facilitate the establishment of the institute.

Following this, the institute was designated by the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Finance under section 20 of the NCEA Act, 1979, on 15 December 1998 and has received NCEA approval for the following new courses: national certificate in engineering – electronics and computer engineering; national certificate in computing – information technology; national certificate in business studies; national diploma in business studies – information technology and French and national diploma in business studies – information technology and German.

In time the range of courses will be expanded as the institute develops. Because it will have a crucial role in extending opportunity and meeting the needs of this region, the institute will, in due course, like other institutes, also offer apprenticeship courses.

The design and construction of a long-term purpose built campus for the institute necessarily takes considerable time and the target completion date of autumn 2001 is some way off. This is why preparations are under way to provide a system built advance building on the site to immediately provide accommodation for 450 students. This will enable the institute to offer about 250 places on the courses beginning this coming September. A standard prospectus is available and was sent to all second level schools.

While it was not possible to have the institute included in the CAO Handbook for 1999-2000, applications for its courses in September 1999 are being handled by the CAO. School leavers and mature students seeking third level places for 1999-2000 were able to specify courses in the institute in their list of choices when filling in their CAO applications before 1 February 1999. I understand that the response from students has been very positive and that the institute is very pleased with the number of applications received for its courses.

[1511] The institute worked very hard over recent months to recruit staff and has filled the senior management posts of registrar, secretary-financial comptroller, head of development, head of school of informatics and engineering and head of school of business and languages. It is also currently engaged in filling other necessary academic, administrative and support posts and these appointments will be made in the lead-in to the commencement of courses in September 1999.

I see the new institute at Blanchardstown as a model for the future in many respects. Like the other institutes in the sector, it will help to meet the skills needs of emerging industries but it will also devote itself, in particular, to improving the level of participation in third level education and training in north west Dublin. This is an area with one of the lowest participation rates in the country, a situation we cannot continue to countenance. The institute will only have achieved its mission if it succeeds in making a significant impact on the level of participation in this region.

As it develops, the institute will provide a flexible education and training framework that is responsive to economic and social needs both locally and nationally and will be fully supported by my Department in its work. The emphasis will be on specialist higher education for leading edge industries in the region; upgrading specialist skills to higher technical-technological levels; continuing education and the needs of mature students; in-service courses, retraining and updating of skills in third level education; special needs arising from educational disadvantage or disability and apprentice education in liaison with FÁS.

The institute must adopt marketing, admissions and student support policies to ensure that a high proportion of students are non-standard entrants. This means applicants, including mature applicants, who meet the entry requirements other than by way of the Leaving Certificate examination, students with disabilities and students from a disadvantaged socio-economic background.

The second part of the institute's remit is equally important, namely, helping to meet the skills needs of emerging industries. In this respect, the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology will have a distinct advantage. Some commentators have started to compare the greater Blanchardstown area with Silicon Valley in the United States. Without doubt, the concentration and growth of high technology industry in the region over approximately the past five years has been spectacular. There are great opportunities for the new institute to forge links with these companies, to establish innovative models of co-operation and for mutual benefit from the synergy between industry and education. This work is already under way and has, to a large extent, been greatly facilitated by the representatives on the establishment board and the board of the company who come from a range of backgrounds.

There was a constructive and comprehensive debate in the Dáil on the special mandate given [1512] to the institute and the need for a legislative mechanism to formally underpin this special mission. As the Minister indicated in the Dáil, there is already provision in section 5(2)(a) of the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, which enables him by order to assign functions to the college from time to time. He proposes to make such an order when the institute is established, following consultation with the new governing body and other interests. This will require the institute to publish a statement of its strategy to address the special mission assigned to it, with particular reference to retention measures, liaison with business and industry, linkages with local second level schools and the community generally and the promotion of adult and second chance education.

The Blanchardstown Institute of Technology can offer what industry wants – talented, hard working people equipped with cutting edge skills. I have no doubt business and industry will support the institute in whatever way they can, including providing input to course development, offering co-operative education opportunities and sharing resources. I am also confident that the institute will make a significant contribution to the development of the area and its community. That will be a great catalyst for development generally in the region.

The Blanchardstown Institute of Technology will offer a modern, accessible campus, set in some 60 acres at Blanchardstown Road North. It will have state-of-the-art computer and electronic laboratories and modern well designed lecture theatres equipped with the latest audio-visual teaching aids. It will be able to offer students a welcoming and supportive academic and social environment through a fully resourced library with on-line facilities, restaurant and a range of student support facilities, including its own playing fields. It has the capacity to become a new focal point for north-west Dublin.

The institute will be a landmark in other ways. It will join former regional technical colleges, now institutes of technology, as part of the national provision for third level technological education. This sector has rightly earned public esteem by making and continuing to make a significant contribution to our economic success. As the newest member of the group, we want the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology to make its presence felt right from the start. In particular, I expect it to be courageous and innovative in its approach to access, second chance education and life-long learning.

The institute will be located on Blanchardstown Road North. It will be established in conjunction with a new business park currently being developed as a joint venture by Fingal County Council and IDA Ireland. I see the institute as a flagship, operating at the heart of a network of business parks and clusters of industry.

Planning permission for the provision of internal roads and services and for the widening of the adjoining public road has been received [1513] from Fingal County Council and work has commenced on a temporary access road to the advance building which is also under construction at present. The design team for the new institute has been appointed and architectural planning is advancing with a view to completion of the new campus in time for the 2001-2 academic year.

The general aim of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown on a statutory basis and for the dissolution of the company known as the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown Limited. It will place the institute within the institute of technology sector and provide for the application of the legislation which governs institutes of technology, the Regional Technical Colleges Acts, 1992 to 1994, to the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown.

In relation to the institute, the main provisions of the Bill are as follows: the dissolution of the company; the establishment of the institute within the Regional Technical Colleges Acts' framework; and the appointment of the governing body of the institute. The need to expand educational opportunity has been central to the policies of the Minister for Education and Science and he has viewed the establishment of a third level institution in Blanchardstown as a crucial element of this.

On 30 September 1998, he announced formally that the Government had allocated £20 million to fund the capital costs of the first phase of the institute. The new campus will have 900 full-time student places in this phase of development which is scheduled to be ready for occupation for the academic year 2001-02.

The Bill is the final part of this initial process to formally establish the institute under the Regional Technical Colleges Acts. The amendment to the Regional Technical Colleges Acts is required to ensure the institute will have the same powers, functions and management and governance arrangements as the existing institutes of technology.

Section 1 is the definition section. Section 2 provides that the Minister may, by order, determine the day on which the new institute will be established. Section 3 provides for the dissolution of the company. Section 4 provides for the establishment of Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown within the regional technical college sector. Section 5 provides for the composition of the governing body of the institute.

Section 6 provides for the transfer of assets, liabilities and property from the dissolved company to the newly established institute. Section 7 provides for contracts entered into by the dissolved company to continue in force with the newly established institute substituted in the company's stead. Section 8 provides that the institute may be substituted in the company's stead in any legal proceedings which have commenced prior to the establishment date. Section 9 provides for the transfer of staff from the Institute of Technology, Tallaght to the Institute of Technology, [1514] Blanchardstown. Section 10 provides for an exemption from capital gains tax on the disposal of assets by the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown Limited.

Section 11 is essentially a technical provision to ensure any legal doubts about the constitution of vocational education committees in the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire area are clarified. Section 12 amends the Local Government Act, 1925 by allowing employees of vocational education committees to be members of local authorities, including vocational education committees in the same or an adjoining local authority area. Section 13 provides that the short title of the Act will be the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Act, 1999.

The Vocational Education Act, 1930, provides that every county borough and every county shall have a vocational education area and each such area shall have a vocational education committee. Before the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1993, came into effect, there were three vocational education committees for the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire area corresponding with the three local authorities, Dublin city, Dublin county and Dún Laoghaire. The 1993 Act altered the local authority structure for the county and Dún Laoghaire by creating in this area three new local authorities, namely South County Dublin, Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. In the normal course, given the provisions of the 1930 Act, this would automatically have precipitated the establishment of three new vocational education areas with committees. However, section 19 of the 1993 Act ensured maintenance of the status quo as it existed before the commencement of that Act. In other words, both the committees and the vocational education areas of County Dublin VEC and the Borough of Dún Laoghaire VEC were left unaltered. Accordingly, as the law stands, while County Dublin VEC and Dún Laoghaire VEC as statutory corporate bodies, remain in place, the law does not provide a mechanism to appoint members to the committees after the local elections. Section 11 is designed to deal with this.

As to the long-term structure of vocational education in the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire area, the Minister intends to engage in consultation with the interested parties on this matter as part of the preparation of the Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill which he means to publish later this year. In the meantime, section 11 will, as far as possible, retain the status quo and allow for those consultations to take place without affecting the effective operation of the committees concerned.

We have made considerable progress since a regional college was first mooted for Blanchardstown. Much has been done and it is now the largest single third level building project in the country. While much remains to be done to meet the schedule of commencing courses next September, I am confident everything necessary will be done to facilitate the opening.

[1515] I take this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to my officials in the Department and to the acting director and his staff for their incredible work. The commitment of the establishment board has also been exemplary, although it has involved a major imposition on the time of people who are usually busy. The enthusiastic reaction of the local community and the support already evident in the number of applications for enrolment this year show that Blanchardstown has a great future ahead of it.

This Bill will place the new institute at Blanchardstown firmly within the family of institutes of technology. It is, therefore, an important Bill which deserves wide support and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  I welcome the Minister to the House for this technical legislation. I want to make two points, one of which was raised on the Order of Business. Legislation is being rushed through this House. It is often the case that Second, Committee and Report Stages are taken within a few hours. I know the Minister has nothing to do with that, but I have no doubt he does not disagree with it as it gives him the opportunity to escape early rather than having to come back here a number of times. I do not want this practice repeated. We must be given the opportunity to consider the legislation before Committee and Report Stages are taken. I know the Leader has provided for a sos today, but that is not enough.

I hope it does not become customary for the Minister of State's speech to be distributed when he has almost completed his speech. We would like the opportunity to look through his speech to ascertain his intentions and to make suggestions or notes of condemnation. However, we received this speech only two or three minutes before the Minister of State finished speaking, so we did not have the opportunity to read through it. We can only try to recall what he said.

Hidden behind the technical nature of the Bill is something which is extremely important, particularly for the people of Blanchardstown. The Minister has not availed of a golden opportunity to create a new form of institution which would be more malleable and have a moderate structure which could be easily changed. The Minister said the provisions of section 5(2)(a) of the Regional Technical College Act, 1992, enables him by order to “assign functions to the college from time to time”. He said he proposes to make such an order “when the institute is established, following consultation with the new governing body”. This is bureaucracy at work. To make those changes, the institute must consult the Minister but, in the meantime, its needs will be left behind. Opportunities for change are often missed as a result of such bureaucracy.

I welcome this Bill to amend the Regional Technical Colleges Acts, 1992 and 1994, and to provide for the establishment of the Institute of [1516] Technology, Blanchardstown. An amendment will also be tabled to deal with the composition of certain vocational education committees in the immediate Blanchardstown area. Accordingly, this will lead to certain amendments to the Vocational Education Act, 1930.

It is great that this college will open in the autumn and that a number of students have shown interest in applying for courses there. It will become the fulcrum around which students will get the qualifications necessary for job opportunities. It will open windows of opportunity for people from disadvantaged areas and for communities who wish to participate in third level education but who did not have the opportunity until now.

The Minister said he is committed to ensuring this college is innovative. Unfortunately, however, the administration is identical to that in other institutes of technology and regional technical colleges. We have exactly the same model for Blanchardstown. This is not to say that the work of the regional technical colleges during this time is not effective, it has been extremely effective but they were established under different criteria. I have some experience in this area, having spent 28 years in a regional technical college, now an institute of technology. During that period the Regional Technical Colleges became very innovative, but they were established to try to attract industry to the area and they adapted themselves accordingly. The industries are already established in Blanchardstown and I do not think the Regional Technical Colleges Act will allow the flexibility that is necessary for the symbiotic relationship between the colleges and industry to develop fast enough to keep up with the constant change that industry demands.

It is very important that adequate funding is on stream so that the institute can succeed. It is vitally important that new ideas, new thinking and new research is used to endeavour to indicate how we can succeed in encouraging people from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to third level education. The Minister said the take up is good. If we look at the statistics of those availing of third level education from this area, something had to be done to increase participation at third level.

It is welcome that staff from Tallaght Regional Technical College will bring their vast experience to the Blanchardstown institute. I came across research on the drop out rates of first year students at regional technical colleges, particularly Tallaght Regional Technical College, with its alarming drop out rate of more than 35 per cent. Applying that across the board, the cost is phenomenal, as it is approximately £10,000 per student. I do not think sufficient research has been carried out to find out the reasons for the high drop out rate. Who is at fault? Do students who get places on their forth or fifth choice know anything about these courses? I want to ensure that students will understand the composition of the course and the opportunities for jobs arising [1517] from it. Choosing a course on the basis of the points required rather than having an interest in the course is not the way to ensure the student will benefit from college.

The Department of Education and Science will have to conduct research into the extraordinary high first year drop out rate from regional technical colleges. Perhaps students do not know what courses they are doing, I was told a wonderful story by a marine biology lecturer who met a student who had signed up for a course on aquaculture and when he was asked how he was getting on, the student replied that it was wonderful but he could not understand the course because he could not understand how this could be done to fish. When the lecturer probed further he replied “acupuncture”. This is fact, the student thought he was studying acupuncture, not aquaculture. Often students are not quite aware of what is involved.

The White Paper on Education sets a target to increase participation of those from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is well below the national average, by 500 each year. Unfortunately this target does not seem to have been met. Such advances are, however, welcome. The Minister of State referred to opportunities for second chance education, which has to be welcomed. Professor Pat Fottrell, the President of UCG, describes himself as a second chance student and his case is indicative of how well a person can do when the opportunity is open to him. He went on to do a masters degree and a PhD and he is now one of the most highly recognised and admired men in academia and its administration. That shows us that if the opportunities are there people can avail of them. I would like that flexibility to be built in.

The Minister of State should also examine the concept of modular education. Deputy Michael Higgins stated in the Dáil that one of the difficulties with modular education is that one is inclined to lose sight of the value of education. He said that one only takes a little piece here or there and loses the overall concept. If the modular system is constructed in such a way that it comes together at the end the educational value will be established by that. People who cannot take up full-time education may get an opportunity to take up part-time education on a modular basis, building up these relevant courses that will draw together the total meaning of education at the end. These opportunities should exist.

I am not sure about distance education. While it might have worked in the Australian outback, I do not think it is pertinent to Ireland. Distance learning has been established in the United Kingdom but it does not seem to have been effective. It is hard to control and measure the benefits of it afterwards. I would not be inclined to pursue it.

I was interested to note that the Minister when dealing with this Bill in the Dáil stated, with [1518] regard to Blanchardstown, that he intends to bring an order before the Houses of the Oireachtas which will incorporate the concept of a mission statement for the colleges. He said it will focus on local disadvantage and links with industry. I welcome that commitment because the institute is situated in an area where there is a lot of industry and a low participation rate, with a possibility of a higher one.

A link with industry is vital. It is also extremely important to support and recognise partnership companies. I am aware of this through my interest in a regional college where we have co-operated with industry, where industry has told us what their needs are or what they might need in the future and where the opportunity is given to the colleges to modify courses. Unfortunately course modification takes a long time. That is why I go back to the idea of an institute with flexibility. I want an institute that can modify or change itself faster to suit those needs rather than waiting two or three years for course changes which are difficult in themselves. Another matter which must be to the fore of our minds is the extraordinarily high student drop-out rate from institutes of technology.

I have no difficulty with this Bill. I hope the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown will make an enormous contribution to the lifestyle of people in and around Blanchardstown. I hope it will go from strength to strength and become another great institute of education. I wish it well. I hope the Minister of State will modify some of the bureaucratic restraints that will be imposed on this institution and allow it have the flexibility that I asked for.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I want to talk about the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown Limited and the placing of it on a statutory basis. The location of a third level institution in the north-west area of Dublin is a great step forward in the equality of educational opportunity. We have already established the Institute of Technology Tallaght. There are third level institutions in Dún Laoghaire and the Dublin City University is situated in the northern part of Dublin. It is a step forward to have a third level college in Blanchardstown which will embrace and spread into 60 areas. I compliment the Minister on his vision of the future of education in Dublin.

Locating a third level institution in that area represents a vision of the future. As someone who has taught in the north-west area for the last few years of my teaching career I know what it will mean to the area. Many young students did not know where to go once they reached junior certificate level. They wondered if it was possible or worthwhile to pursue further education. Few of them wanted to cross the Liffey to take up a course in the Institute of Technology Tallaght. No matter how much one tried to persuade them that there were opportunities in that institution they seemed to want to stay in the north-west area. [1519] The Blanchardstown institute is a great motivating factor for the young people in that area. They now have an opportunity to move further into the concept of third level education. The institute will open the doors of opportunity for all the young people. In the last generation they did not have second level education. They now have an opportunity to go from second level to take up a certificate course via the scenic route, then a diploma course and perhaps a degree course. This is a great opportunity that will spread out into so many areas and it will change the fabric of education and society in that area.

The Blanchardstown institute will also create a social environment. Young people will have opportunities to study because they will be able to avail of libraries with facilities, restaurants and support groups. Up to now those facilities did not exist. Many students did not study at home because they did not have the facilities. The new college will have all the excellent support measures incorporated into the building. It will be a great step forward. It will also motivate people to pursue third level education.

I also note that there will be playing fields provided. Not alone should we provide for academic education but we should also be rounded enough to facilitate social education and leisure activities. Playing pitches will be attached to the institute. It is a model for the future. It will embrace all the second level schools in the area. We have many community schools, second level schools and vocational schools there. It will be a great opportunity to market what will be on offer and establish links with all the second level schools in the areas so that students by the time they reach junior certificate level should be well ahead in their thinking as to further courses such as computer courses, business study courses or electronic engineering courses. Many second level schools in the area teach a wide range subjects and the institute will encourage students to upgrade their skills further by taking up a certificate course at the college. Being able to show students the link between school and industry will help to keep young people at school.

I welcome the fact that specialist higher education will be provided by the institute that takes account of industries located in the area and skills will be upgraded to higher technological levels. Up to now there was a very little linkage between third level institutions and the world of work. I compliment the institutes of technologies on moving out into the area of work and for facilitating learning by doing, which is the work experience element incorporated into their courses. The universities did not entertain that concept. Part of this model will be to link up with the industries and communities and to reflect on the type of courses that are necessary to deal with the needs of the area.

The needs of mature students must be considered. I know that they are part of the vision of the institution. We must also take note of second [1520] chance education. Many of our colleges and second level schools in that area offer second chance education courses and have vocational training opportunities scheme courses incorporated into their education programme.

They will provide alternative methods of entry to college, perhaps by post-leaving certificate courses, rather than the traditional route of the leaving certificate and the CAO. It is important that we have required standards for diploma and degree courses. However, this college should also provide opportunities for those who were unable to reach their potential by sitting the leaving certificate. Such people must have an opportunity to take other courses, thus providing an alternative route to achieving their ambitions. This will motivate young people into upgrading their skills and cause them to reflect on the needs of industry in their localities. Many industrial estates have close links with their areas and it is important that we create links with industry, involve key industrialists and incorporate modern industrial techniques. This will ensure that young people are up to date on how to upgrade their skills.

I welcome the decision to involve FÁS. I do not have the highest opinion of FÁS in the context of apprenticeships, but the institute may provide an ideal opportunity to discuss with FÁS how it will fit into the new concept of apprenticeship education which will form part of the courses available at Blanchardstown. I accept it cannot be included in this legislation but we must review our approach to apprenticeship training in light of the new institute's involvement. The Minister of State should accept that FÁS will have to come into line and identify how best it can complement the institute in implementing programmes to provide a rounded education for students.

There are not enough skilled tradespeople available and it is sometimes difficult to find a plumber, painter or electrician. I had recent experience of this when trying to find a plumber to carry out some work. This new institute will provide a link with apprenticeship education and give it a platform in its own right, rather than it being an extension of other courses. There should be a specific department at the Blanchardstown institute for apprenticeship education and such a development will address trades and skills.

The Minister of State indicated that the governing body will have 12 members initially, representing the vocational education committees, ICTU and staff. He also said that an additional five members would be added according to the needs of academic staff. Will he elaborate on this provision? How long will it take to appoint these additional members? Will one be added this year or will the five be added at the same time? I am not sure how this section will be implemented.

With regard to section 11, I welcome the Minister's decision not to fragment County Dublin VEC. When we broke up in 1993, I was concerned that there would be a County Fingal VEC, South Dublin VEC and Dún Laoghaire VEC. Such a development would have been a disaster [1521] because it would have fragmented the concept of vocational education for the city and county. The Minister will introduce legislation in the autumn to amend the Vocational Education Committees Act, 1930. I am familiar with that Act and it is timely that it should be amended to bring it into line with modern thinking. We have come a long way with vocational education and many new courses have become available. However, we have not kept abreast of developments.

I welcome this worthwhile legislation which will provide equal opportunities in education. This institute will be a landmark for north-west Dublin and will motivate young people because they will see that there are opportunities for all in second level. Some of those students may not be academically bright but may be good in the field of technology. This Bill adopts a hands-on approach and a great vision for the future. I am sorry that I no longer teach because I would like to play a part in the hands-on approach to young people entering third level education.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, to the House. His speech was originally drafted for the Minister, Deputy Martin, but that is not to downgrade the Minister of State. I wish to place on record my appreciation for the good work carried out by Deputy Martin as Minister for Education and Science. He has been a good and progressive Minister and this is a good and progressive Bill.

This legislation is necessary and concentrates on the technical and scientific fields. I think it was Professor Ed Walsh who recently commented on RTE radio about the lack of scientific education at an early stage and pointed out that other countries provide science education at primary level. We have never done so and we are joining this race, in the European context, with one hand tied behind our back. It is a remarkable tribute to the education system, particularly teachers, that we have managed to bridge this gap and it is important that we become as proficient as possible in this regard because of the direction in which modern society and industry are going.

I note there has been NCEA approval for a series of new courses, such as certificates in engineering, computing and business studies and information technology with French and German. These are appropriately targeted courses as this is the direction in which the world is heading. We are in a leadership position in many of these fields but we must maintain that position.

I am glad the institute will be situated in Blanchardstown because it is not a particularly advantaged part of Dublin. I am sure the institute will reflect well in terms of job creation in this area. I do not know the site but the Minister of State gave a heartening description when referring to it as a modern, accessible campus with 60 acres on Blanchardstown Road North. I am glad that this will be a modern campus for a number of reasons. First, it is appropriate because I presume the institute will have the proper equipment, fittings [1522] and environment. Second, and I wish to make one snotty comment, there will not be a listed building for the VEC to damage. It has an appalling record in this city and has laid waste by neglect and vandalism of the worst kind every listed building it ever had. I hope the Minister will look at this issue. Some buildings near mine are involved but, luckily, a couple of buildings in Parnell Square were taken over by Dublin Tourism and Bord Fáilte.

There is one not far from me at No. 20 North Great George's Street, the former home of Sir Samuel Ferguson, the poet. The work done there is very good. It reaches out into disadvantaged areas of the community. However, it is not necessary to do such work under ceilings such as the one in this Chamber. Much better value can be obtained from this type of superb 18th century plasterwork by making it open to the public. However, the VEC is like a dog in the manger in that it is reluctant to give up inappropriate premises.

While it is welcome that this new campus is established, it is inappropriate that it be run by a limited company except on an interim basis. I welcome the fact that the institute will be established on a proper statutory basis, which is the principal purpose of the Bill. This will lead to an increase in jobs. Incidentally, we have a shortfall of suitable applicants for technical jobs as a result of the so-called Celtic tiger economy. On the other hand, we have skilled persons in the country who are barred from working because of the negligence of the Oireachtas in passing the appropriate legislation. If the Minister of State or any of my colleagues wish to know what I mean, all they have to do is look outside the gates of Leinster House where a crowd of properly qualified people, some of them with good third level qualifications, are protesting. They are not allowed work in the State because they are asylum seekers, despite the fact that employers are calling out for job vacancies to be filled. This is something the House must address. It is not germane to the Bill but it is appropriate that it be placed, however briefly, on the record.

I welcome the fact that Blanchardstown is being upgraded and statutorily recognised as an institute of technology. I wish to put in a plea that further consideration be given to Waterford where a successful institute of technology established for many years has been striving to be awarded third level status. As the Minister is progressive and is in receipt of good advice from civil servants in the Department – while I am sometimes critical of other Departments, I have a high regard for the Department of Education and Science – this is something which should be examined. Waterford had its case substantiated over ten years ago by the Bannon report and by the report prepared by Professor Sexton which indicated that it should be upgraded to the same status as the Dublin Institute of Technology and that there be an increase to 60 per cent of the [1523] number of students there studying for degrees. This was eventually watered down.

Looking at the situation in Waterford, the case becomes clearer and more urgent. The Waterford and south-east region has the lowest participation in third level education in the State, as underlined by the Sexton report on third level education, to which I have already referred. The existence of this deficit is accepted on all sides. The local people have proposed the upgrading of the institute of technology. Waterford, the only county borough without university facilities, is located in the south-east, the third most populous region in the State and the nearest to Britain and mainland Europe and is being handicapped in its ability to compete across the economic spectrum. After Galway, Waterford had the highest population increase at the time of the last census.

In 1997, the former Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreathnach, upgraded the former Waterford Regional Technical College to institute of technology status and that was confirmed by a ministerial order in May 1997. This is seen as the Government's answer to disadvantage in the south-eastern area. Waterford ought to be upgraded further on the basis of the points I have put on record. Waterford Institute of Technology has had the lowest capital allocations for any of the major institutes of technology over the six years from 1991 to 1997. The grant per student in Waterford was at the lowest level over the past five years and was less than half that paid to Cork Institute of Technology, despite the fact that Waterford is the largest institute of technology.

I make these points in the context of a general welcome for the Bill which I have no difficulty in supporting. I wanted to take the opportunity to make some points relevant to the general context of the Bill but obviously not leading to any possibility of amendment of it. Every time such legislation comes before the House, we ought to bear in mind the existence of a reservoir of highly skilled people – asylum seekers – who are parsimoniously and meanly barred from working. We also ought to bear in mind that, although the Minister and his predecessor have improved the status of technical colleges, further work remains to be done and I take the opportunity to raise the case for Waterford Institute of Technology.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  I welcome the Minister of State to the House but deplore the fact that we are taking all Stages of the Bill today without a decent break, either through the intervention of other legislation or the promise of a little sos to enable us to table amendments. It is not right or fitting that any legislation should be taken without a period of reflection after Second Stage on the matters raised, the wide range of opinions given on a cross-party basis and the Minister of State's input.

Unfortunately, we did not see the latter until he finished his speech. It is important that copies of ministerial speeches are distributed in advance [1524] to allow party spokespersons the opportunity of making a considered response to what a Minister will say. This is even more important when it is proposed to take all Stages in one day. What happened today was outrageous. While I cannot blame the Minister of State for it, it is an unacceptable insult to the House that this is the manner in which we are told we must proceed with our business. The Minister of State said this is the largest third level building project in the country and that he intends it to be a model for the future in many respects, yet the manner in which we are asked to treat the Bill is to rush it through without proper discussion.

Senator Norris does not regard it as appropriate that the City of Dublin VEC should have educational facilities operating from one of the Georgian buildings in North Great George's Street. I remind him that buildings were built for people and if they are merely to be museum pieces or to be observed their purpose is not very useful to the community. It is more desirable if they can be used for educational purposes as well as being available for viewing and examination by tourists and local people. Senator Norris is being a little philistine in his belief that the VEC should not have one of the listed buildings on North Great George's Street.

However, I agree with his remarks about asylum seekers. There is a protest by them outside the gates of Leinster House at present for the purposes of seeking the right to work. By and large, they are already well educated before coming here seeking refugee status. However, if they were in need of skills, the new institute in Blanchardstown would not allow any of them attend. While we allow asylum seekers to attend primary and second level, we do not allow them attend third level unless they pay the private rate of fees. That would effectively disbar asylum seekers from entering third level education because they are prevented from working. The Minister of State should ensure this matter is addressed. Why are we limiting asylum seekers' access to our education system? It is not good enough that their applications are delayed for a number of years and it is not appropriate that, in addition to being disbarred from working, they should be prevented from entering further or third level education.

I welcome the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill which is a technical measure designed to place the institute of technology in Blanchardstown on a statutory footing. I must highlight that it was a former Labour Party Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreathnach, who made the decision to build the institute and I am delighted that it will be offering courses in electronics and computer engineering, information technology, business studies, French and German from September. I am glad the institute is coming on stream so quickly, despite the fact that construction is not yet completed.

I have a major difficulty with the legislation, namely, that it is limited to making purely techni[1525] cal provisions for the structure and governance of the new institute of technology. The main part of the Minister of State's contribution was devoted to what he termed the “role” of the institute. He said “I see the new institute at Blanchardstown as a model for the future in many respects.” The Minister of State outlined the model and indicated that it will help to meet the skill needs of emerging industries, improve the level of participation in third level education and training, provide a flexible education and training framework and place emphasis on specialist higher education courses, continuing education, retraining courses, in-service courses, updating of skills, special needs arising from educational disadvantage or disability and liaison with FÁS. He also said that the institute must adopt marketing, admissions and student support policies.

The Minister of State indicated that the institute will be given a special mandate to link with emerging industries to provide skills training. However, that mandate is not provided for in the legislation. Provision is made under section 5(2)(a) of the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, which enables the Minister to assign functions to the college from time to time. Has the Minister or his predecessors assigned functions to a college since that legislation was passed in 1992? To my knowledge, they have not and there is no guarantee that the Minister or Minister of State will take such action. The Minister of State proposes to make such an order when the institute is established, following consultation with the new governing body and other interests. If I recall correctly, the same phrase was used by a former Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke, when the legislation was put through the Seanad in 1992. However, such action has never been taken.

I place strong emphasis on this matter because when the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology were separated from the vocational education committees in 1992, a tremendous commitment was given by all concerned to go into the marketplace and the community in order to respond to people's needs. However, what they did not say was that they would do this on a selective basis and that they would not adhere to their existing mandate. The Dublin Institute of Technology stated that it had no intention or aspiration to become a university but it has spent the past six or seven years doing its damnedest to obtain university status. That is the full thrust of its ambition which has coloured, to an inordinate degree, the type of courses offered by and the type of academic work carried out in the Dublin Institute of Technology. The community has suffered as a result.

An enhanced points system was introduced for people in disadvantaged areas within the City of Dublin VEC area to allow them to bypass the CAO system to obtain admission to third level education. However, this system was abolished under the new structure. There was also a fine apprenticeship structure in place under which the [1526] Dublin Institute of Technology offered training courses to large numbers of apprentices. In the intervening years, however, the Dublin Institute of Technology has reduced the number of apprentices it takes on each year. That is a questionable way for the Dublin Institute of Technology to exercise its remit and mandate.

The Minister of State is entitled to ensure in the Bill that the approach I have outlined becomes a model for a response to the community's educational needs. This has not happened in the case of the Dublin Institute of Technology legislation. While the Minister was given power under the Regional Technical College Act, 1992, to assign functions from time to time, they were never so assigned and the Dublin Institute of Technology went hell for leather to obtain university status. That is the current position.

Unless the functions of the new institute of technology are outlined in the legislation, matters will not proceed as planned. The Minister of State must put in place a broad-based strategic development plan. The universities have a responsibility to provide a such a plan under the Universities Act, 1997. Under the Education Act, every second level school must provide a school plan each year. However, the Bill before us, the regional technical college legislation and the Dublin Institute of Technology legislation contain no provision which requires governing bodies to supply a plan on how they intend to respond to the educational needs of the community, the courses they propose to offer, the support systems they intend to put in place and the way they propose to relate to the social and business needs of the community. This is a serious matter.

Why was the new institute of technology based in Blanchardstown? The institute was situated there because the sprawling area which surrounds Blanchardstown, which contains many thousands of local authority houses built in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, lacked facilities and amenities, particularly those which relate to education. The area in question is also connected to a huge hinterland of disadvantage, centred in Cabra, Finglas and Ballymun, and Blanchardstown was identified as the focal point of a community that required a different model of education.

It was believed that the model of education to which I refer would require primary and secondary schools in the area to link up with VEC colleges such as Coláiste Dhulaigh in Coolock, Coláiste Íde in Finglas or Ballyfermot Senior College which provide VTOS and FÁS courses, that a survey should be carried out to obtain information about levels of educational attainment and that we should discover why so many people drop out of the education system before they reach third level. There is a low rate of access to third level education in the area in question, namely, the north inner city and the north-west of the city and there is a need to include in the legislation an outline of the institute's mandate.

None of our third level educational establishments have put in place a strategic development [1527] plan that will respond to the economic and social needs of the community. There is nothing in the Bill which shows that the Minister of State has any intention of doing that, other than the inclusion of a statement that the Minister has powers under the 1992 legislation. That is not good enough. The new institute is a free-standing educational establishment and the Bill should contain provisions to govern its operations in order to ensure that it cannot backtrack in any way on its commitments, requirements and responsibilities.

I welcome the establishment of the institute of technology. I am concerned that a large section of our youth do not have access to third level education and that a large section of our mature population did not get access to second level education, never mind third level education, when they were young and they are anxious to access education. I am concerned the Bill does not provide a framework to enable those people who live in the hinterland of this third level educational facility to gain access to it. Unless steps are taken to ensure they can do so, we will once more have an educational institution operating in an area of disadvantage but drawing its students from areas outside the disadvantaged area. Unless steps are taken to ensure that this educational facility responds to the needs of the area, we will still have 14 to 20 per cent of our young people who cannot hope to gain access to third level education and 23 to 25 per cent of adults who are anxious to get back into education, many of whom have serious functional literacy and numeracy problems, as indicated by OECD and other surveys.

I ask the Minister of State to address those matters in his response. He might also firm up the legislation by tabling an amendment to provide a framework to ensure that the institute of technology in Blanchardstown will do the job for which it has been established.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I welcome the Bill. It will help greatly to improve the facilities in Blanchardstown. My first teaching post in the last year of the 1960s was in Blanchardstown, which was then a small village. It has been great to see it develop to the point where it will have a third level college.

I have no objection to any sections in the Bill. I want to raise a related matter, that of what it sets out to do and the courses that have received NCEA approval, although I do not have a difficulty with those; they are very single-minded. I wish to raise an issue that concerns me. Over the past four or five years there has been a focus, quite correctly, on the development of information technology and skills to accommodate the computer industry. I am worried that two aspects in which we are greatly lacking in the context of developing our economic structures and infrastructure for industry, are being ignored. One of those aspects, the important question of apprenticeship, is dealt in this Bill. That must be wel[1528] comed as a positive development. The other aspect of concern is the absence of any reference to science in the courses that have been approved. I know there is nothing restrictive in the number of courses approved to date.

This country is utterly reliant on the computer industry. The way that industry is developing at present does not give great hope for the future in terms of employment and the sustainability of the industry. The low quality of computer jobs to be found in much of the computer industry in Ireland is very worrying. What we have seen happen in Fruit of the Loom will eventually happen in the computer industry, with some notable exceptions. For example, the work and the opportunities that Apple in Cork provides are not those to which parents will aspire for their children in the future. Companies that provide such work will eventually pull out of the country.

An issue that is most important for us is the development of computer science, the computer industry, software and new methods of harnessing IT in general. To that extent, I welcome the courses that will be provided. However, they do not feed into the area of research and development. The worst aspect of our economic performance over the past number of years is how little we are reinvesting in research and development. One can engage in research and development in simple ways. If one were to ring Apple in Cork and ask a basic question about the hardware being made there, the employees would not be able to supply technical support or advice. One must ring elsewhere to get that information. In other words, the basic aspect of the work is being done here.

The amount we invest in research and development is the lowest of any European country. This point is relevant to the Bill because we must begin to proceed along these lines in the institutes of technology and other third level institutions. What is in the Bill is good, but I ask the Minister of State to raise with Government the importance of the need to make a major investment in research and development. This is in contrast to the Minister of State's city and the structures around UL where research and development facilities are developing and people are seeking to move matters forward. That does not happen by accident.

I have no doubt that the courses that will be provided in this institute will produce good quality graduates, but they will be graduates expert in their own area. We must also produce graduates who will be experts in many areas. Much more research must be considered in regard to these institutions. It was felt that a great deal of the work of the teachers in the universities of old was to do with research, development and writing. The institutes of technology, and the Regional Technical Colleges previously, have become more and more functional. They have become more Gradgrind orientated, so to speak. They are employing people for the set number of hours during which they are required to deliver a set [1529] course. We also need people in those institutes who would promote research and development, push out the borders and examine ways of creating new opportunities. This is happening to some extent in Trinity College and UL, but I would like it to be a fundamental aspect of the institutes of technology.

Legislation such as this gives us an extraordinary opportunity to tie in the educational service with the needs of the economy. The way to do that is to ensure that the institutes of technology produce people who will be innovative, creative, flexible and will be able to drive forward industry by harnessing and directing new ideas. That is why I would also like to see an opportunity for lateral thinking and development emerging from these colleges. I will not labour this point.

I welcome this important legislation. As the Minister of State said, it fits nicely into the general jigsaw of third level education. Our future lies in research and development and in the development of science. In many ways science has been dropped from much of the education sector. One of the most worrying aspects of primary education is that in 1897, 102 years ago, we agreed to the introduction of a science curriculum into education at all levels beginning at primary level. Members of my union taught it from 1900 until the formation of the new State, when science was dropped in favour of Gaeilge. It has taken over 70 years to bring science back into primary level. It must also find a place at all levels as a much broader element of our economic development. Research, including by staff, development, science and lateral thinking should be given priority by these colleges. It is vital to our future that the techniques of research should be taught to students in institutes of technology, as they are in universities. I support the Bill.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea): Information on Willie O'Dea  Zoom on Willie O'Dea  I thank Senators for their constructive contributions. This is a relatively simple Bill which is worthy of broad support in the House. The general aim of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown, on a statutory basis, in order to place it within the third level institute of technology sector. It provides for the application to the institute of the Regional Technical Colleges Acts, 1992 and 1994, which govern the other institutes of technology. The institute is already operating as a company and plans to have its first intake of students in September, the arrangements for which are well-advanced. However, the setting up of the company was intended to be a short-term device to give the institute legal personality pending the enactment of appropriate legislation.

It is important, therefore, that this Bill be enacted as soon as possible in order to place the institute on the same statutory basis as the other institutes. This will ensure it will have the same powers and functions and the same management and governance arrangements as the existing [1530] institutes of technology. This is essential to enable it to develop fully in the coming years in order to meet the needs of the region and expand educational opportunity.

The area to be served by the institute has one of the lowest participation rates in third level education in the country. The Government is confident the institute will make a significant impact on the level of participation in this region. To enable it to fulfill its mission, we must ensure it is established on a firm footing from the outset. This Bill is important for the future of the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology and I urge that it is given the widest possible support.

Senator Coogan said we should be creating a new form of institution. It is important for the legal status of the institute that it is placed firmly in the legal framework of all the institutes. This does not in any way interfere with the capacity of the institute to have a distinctive mission and ethos. The proposed order will lend support to it in doing so . It is intended that order, which the Minister promised the Dáil he would make, will be made by the end of the year.

Senator Ormonde raised the issue of the governing body. I am informed it is not possible to appoint staff and students to the governing body at present because there are not enough of them. The Bill provides that representatives of these groups will be elected as soon as the governing body informs the Minister it is practicable to do so. This is likely to occur within a year.

Senator Norris referred to Waterford Institute of Technology, which already has third level status. The Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999, will provide for the delegation of powers to confer awards to all institutes. As regards university status for Waterford, as the Senator is aware, there are provisions in the Universities Act, 1997, to provide for this through a process of objective review.

With regard to the point raised by Senator Costello, the institute can undertake its mandate under the Regional Technical Colleges Acts without a ministerial order. The purpose of the order, which is provided for in the relevant section of the 1992 Act, is to make the mandate explicit and in this way to support the institute in its mission. With regard to the strategic plan, section 13 of the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, provides that the institutes will prepare programmes for the next two academic years.

I thank Senators for their thought-provoking and constructive contributions. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  Now.

Agreed to take Committee Stage today.

Sitting suspended at 1.55 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.[1531]


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