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Minister Bruton and Minister Mitchell O’Connor Secure Government Approval to Progress Technological Universities Bill

  • Technological Universities to be Drivers of Regional Development 
  • New Ministerial Power to Appoint an Investigator to a Publicly Funded Higher Education Institution

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D., together with the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (Monday 17th July) announced their intention to prioritise the passing of the Technological Universities Bill following Government approval to the drafting of insertions and amendments to the 2015 Bill.

As a result of a number of issues raised regarding the Technological Universities Bill, the Minister commenced a consultation with stakeholders, including Trade Unions, in May 2016. As part of that process, a clarification document was agreed between the Department, Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Technological Higher Education Association. TUI members voted to accept the agreement in June 2017 and they will now suspend their industrial action in relation to the development of Technological Universities. A clarification document also issued to IMPACT as part of this process.

The Minister now proposes to bring forward a number of insertions and amendments to the Technological Universities Bill. These relate to terms and conditions for staff, strengthening the regional remit of a technological university, membership of governing bodies and amendments to the application process for designation as a technological university.

It is now intended that the Bill when revised will be re-introduced at Committee Stage as early as possible in the next Dáil session.

In driving ahead the Technological Universities Bill, Ministers Bruton and Mitchell O’Connor will ensure that the mission of TUs is to drive regional development and jobs growth. This regional mission will be set out clearly in legislation. Technological Universities must have the scale and capacity to deliver for their stakeholders in areas such as:

· Delivering a range of disciplines and levels of qualification, including apprenticeships, to meet the skills needs of the regions, retain talent in the regions and contribute to national priorities.
· Effectively supporting lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling to support career development for citizens throughout their lives.
· Internationalisation activities including attracting more international students and increasing mobility opportunities for Irish students and staff.
· Creating the capacity for greater engagement with local enterprises, particularly SMEs. Supporting innovation, management upskilling and internationalisation of companies.
· Undertaking globally significant research and innovation that supports competitiveness and nurtures new business ideas; creating a regional research capacity.
· Attraction, retention and development of enterprise in the regions.
· A greater capacity for social and community engagements that would include placements, research and innovation, work with schools, cultural and sporting activities.
· Increased national and international influence and visibility with a single coherent university brand.

The Department has worked closely with the HEA in recent years to improve governance in the higher education sector. The Minister and the HEA have a range of powers available to ensure that high standards are maintained throughout the sector. However, it is important to ensure that the powers available are sufficiently robust to deal with serious concerns that might arise.

The Minister for Education and Skills currently has the power, following consultation with the President of the High Court and the Governing body of a publicly funded university, to appoint a visitor to investigate serious issues raised in relation to governance or the management at that university. However, this power has never been used, and could be an excessively legalistic procedure in practice, with issues being decided in the courts.

In order to provide consistency across the higher education system, the Minister is proposing to insert new provisions to this Bill so that the same power to appoint an investigator will be extended to all publicly funded higher education institutions.

Minister Bruton said:

“The basic aim of this government is to deliver a strong economy and a fair society. Part of achieving this is ensuring that every region in the country can fulfil its potential.

“As Minister for Jobs, I was the first Minister to implement a Regional Action Plan for Jobs in every region. Each plan was based on a region using their own competitive advantages to drive jobs growth.

“Technological Universities have a key role to play in driving job creation and regional development. My plan focuses on creating strong regional competitive advantage based on technological innovation and skills, including multi-campus Technological Universities, research access and enterprise partnership.

“The consultation process has provided an important opportunity to take stock of progress in relation to the development of this ambitious new model of higher education in Ireland and its potential to both strengthen higher education provision and enhance the contribution of higher education institutions to regional development.

“It is important that the powers available to me as Minister to ensure good governance within the higher education sector are fit for purpose. I will introduce a new power for the Minister to appoint an investigator to a publicly funded higher education institution to investigate issues of concern above and beyond the current process. This strengthened power will facilitate greater oversight and improved corporate governance.”

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said:

“I look forward to progressing this important legislation and working with stakeholders on the development of technological universities. The technological university model provides the opportunity to drive regional development, provide more opportunities for students, and create a step change in the impact and influence of these institutions regionally, nationally and internationally.”



Technological Universities Bill 2015

The legislative process for the Technological Bill 2015 commenced in January 2014 and had had passed Committee Stage when the 31st Dáil was dissolved in February 2016.

On taking up office in May 2016, Minister Richard Bruton decided, having reviewed the progress of the Bill, that consultation with stakeholders was required.

The Minister indicated that following the finalisation of the consultation process, he would then advance the legislation having determined a position in relation to any matters raised as part of the consultation process. The Government Legislative Programme, published on 17 January 2017, lists the Technological Universities Bill on the Dáil Order Paper at Committee Stage.

The Minister has now received Government approval for drafting of insertions and amendments to the Technological Bill 2015 (as passed at Committee Stage).

Detailed drafting of the insertions and amendments to the Bill will now be progressed with the assistance of the Office of the Parliamentary Draftsman.

The changes are summarised below:

Terms and Conditions of Service: The Bill will contain a provision outlining that all staff members of the constituent IoTs shall become staff members of the Technological University on the appointed day of dissolution of the constituent IoTs and establishment of the Technological University.

It is now proposed that a provision already contained in both the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 and the Roads Act 2015, relating to the terms and conditions of service of these staff members, be included in the Technological Universities Bill. The relevant provision would be inserted into the existing Section 82(2) and reads as follows:

“Except in accordance with a collective agreement negotiated with a recognised trade union or staff association a person referred to in subsection (1) shall be subject to such terms and conditions of service, including terms and conditions relating to remuneration, as are not less favourable than the terms and conditions of service, including terms and conditions relating to remuneration, to which the person was subject immediately before the coming into operation of this section.”

The regional mission of TUs: Amendments are proposed to the sections of the Bill dealing with the Functions of a Technological University, the Strategic Development Plan and the eligibility criteria for a Technological University to further bolster the references to meeting the needs of regional stakeholders through their programmes of education and training and will also specify how the Technological University will further engage with and serve the community and public interest.

The application process for TU designation: In response to concerns that IoTs may merge but subsequently fail to gain TU status, it is proposed to amend the Bill to provide for the merging of two or more IoTs and their designation as a Technological University simultaneously. This change will significantly streamline the application process for designation as a technological university and will remove the potential for institutions to merge and then subsequently fail to achieve designation as merger only occurs if they are successful in being assessed for designation. The process up until now has required two separate assessments by an international panel at two stages in the process. This will now be reduced to one assessment. However, there will continue to be a rigorous examination process by the international panel to ensure only the highest quality applications are approved and that institutions of the requisite calibre are progressed. The Panel will have expertise in matters relating to higher education, standards and practice and will have regard to specific criteria, legal and administrative requirements applying to universities in Ireland, the configuration of institutions within the Irish higher education system, the characteristics of technological universities internationally, detailed statistical profile data on Irish higher education institutions and the overall merits of the application.

Composition of Governing Bodies: Amendments will be made to the draft legislation whereby an element of the Governing Body membership will be determined based on the number of IoTs involved in the merger to become a Technological University, be this 2 or 3 IoTs or 4 or more IoTs.

Appointment of an Investigator: An insertion will be drafted to provide the Minister for Education and Skills with a new power to appoint an investigator to a publicly funded higher education institution to investigate issues of concern. In the case of universities, this new power will supplement the existing power to appoint a Visitor.

Status of Technological University Consortia
There are currently four consortia engaged with the process to become designated as Technological Universities. These are:
· TU4Dublin (Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Tallaght, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown),
· Technological University for the South-East (TUSE – consisting of Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Carlow),
· Munster Technological University (MTU – consisting of Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Tralee)
· Connacht-Ulster Alliance (CUA – consisting of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Sligo and Letterkenny Institute of Technology)

An initial impact assessment, entitled “The Economic Impact of a New Technological University in Ireland - An Exploratory Study” has also been prepared by the CUA consortia and three institutions that are not already part of a TU project to explore the potential for an expanded TU consortia. The three institutions are Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) and Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT). Work is ongoing on this proposal.

Governance Issues at Third Level
The Department of Education and Skills and the HEA, have been working closely together to strengthen governance arrangements in the higher education sector in recent years.

During 2015, the HEA reviewed its approach to the oversight and governance of higher education institutions and built on existing governance and accountability infrastructure with improved and more transparent mechanisms. This included:
o More comprehensive annual governance reporting requirements
o The introduction of signed financial memoranda between the HEA and HEIs setting out respective responsibilities
o New guidelines on timeliness of reporting
o Regular reporting and liaison with the Office of the C&AG
o A new accountability and risk mechanism in place with the Department of Education and Skills
In addition, a new programme of rolling reviews has been established to cover specific elements of governance. The first rolling review of governance compliance was on procurement and was undertaken in 2016. The second review will look at Intellectual Property policy implementation across Higher Education Institutes.

The Department and the HEA have already acted to establish an independent review of the governance, HR and financial practices within the University of Limerick. This review will be completed by end September.

These specific steps taken by the Department and the HEA complement the other measures that have been introduced in recent years to strengthen governance in the higher education sector, including the establishment of a new Governance Framework for the Higher Education system.

Powers Currently Available
At present the Minister for Education for Education and Skills has the authority to appoint an external person to investigate issues in Universities and Institutes of Technology (IoTs) under the Universities Act, 1997 (sections 19 and 20) and the Institutes of Technology Act, 2006 (section 20) respectively. This would arise in instances where there are serious issues raised in relation to governance or the management of an institution.

There is a provision under the Systems Performance Framework for the higher education sector, for the withholding of up to 10% of funding in the event that an institution does not meet the objectives outlined in the compact it has agreed with the HEA.

The HEA are currently reviewing the Recurrent Grant Allocation Model (RGAM), the model that is used to allocate funding to Higher Education Institutions.

Following the enactment of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2015 the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has a power under Section 16a of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2011 which allows the Minister to recover unauthorised payments to Public Servants from the public servant who received the payment or in certain circumstances the public service body concerned. This power applies to instances of unauthorised payments which were made after the 30th November 2015 (Commencement of the FEMPI Act).

The Minister will propose to insert an amendment into the Technological Universities Bill to provide the Minister for Education and Skills with the power to appoint an investigator to any publicly funded higher education institution to investigate and report on issues related to governance and management of the institution.