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

17 July 2017 

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.”