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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers (Resumed). - Private Colleges.

Thursday, 28 March 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 463 No. 5

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 4. Mr. Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin  asked the Minister for Education Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach  whether she has received the report of the working group on private commercial colleges; whether she will comment on and publish this report; whether she will meet with representatives of the Higher Education Colleges Association to discuss the contents of this report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6840/96]

 77. Mr. E. Byrne Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  asked the Minister for Education Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach  the current position regarding the introduction of a code of standards for private colleges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6773/96]

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 77 together.

I have received the report of the Working Group on Third Level Private Commercial Colleges. The working group was required to make recommendations to me on the following [1368] issues: (a) a code of standards for the purposes of approving colleges and courses which would be eligible for tax relief on fees; (b) appropriate administrative arrangements and procedures for determining those colleges and courses which comply with the code of standards; and (c) guidelines for determining the amount of tuition fees that I should approve, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, in respect of each approved course for the purposes of tax relief.

I expect to take decisions on the report in the near future. I will then, in accordance with the provisions in the 1995 Finance Act, seek the approval of the Minister for Finance for the codes of standards and the level of tuition fees that will be eligible for tax relief. I will make copies of the report available to the public when I am in a position to make an announcement about these matters.

In preparing its report the working group considered submissions from a number of private colleges, including the Higher Education Colleges Association. The group also met representatives of the Higher Education Colleges Association. Officials from my Department will be available to meet the association.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Will the Minister be available to meet representatives from the Higher Education Colleges Association?

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach I have put the working group in place. A public notice was placed in the newspapers and people were invited to make submissions. The report has now come to my desk and I have to make decisions, in consultation with the Minister for Finance. The information should be available by 1 July.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Will the Minister meet them?

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach I will concentrate my attention on having the report and [1369] the decisions taken conveyed to them. I have given a commitment that officials in the Department will be available to meet the association. I think we should proceed in that way. There will be an opportunity for the association to see the report and I have already made a commitment to put it into the public arena. If we go that far there will be clarify and the matter will have been resolved.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I detect from the Minister's reply that the answer is no and the Minister will not meet with representatives of the association.

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach I did not say that.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin All I want is a simple yes or no. Will the Minister meet with representatives of the private independent third level colleges prior to any decisions being taken?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy This is leading to argument.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I want a commitment from the Minister that she will meet representatives of the third level independent colleges prior to the decisions that will be taken under the Finance Act. I put it to the Minister that no representatives from the sector were on the working party, hence the need for urgent consultation with the group. The Minister as the political head of the Department will make the ultimate decisions.

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach I have spelled out to the Deputy the way in which this is proceeding. I suggest he should not attempt to read my mind. The working group was set up. A public advertisement was placed in the newspapers and every opportunity was given to people to make submissions. Those who did so were the Higher Education Colleges Association comprising the Byrne College and HSI College in Limerick, the Mid-West Business Institute, Skerries Business College, Griffith College, LSB College and the American College. [1370] Their submissions were considered very seriously. There were submissions also from Portobello College, St. Nicholas College, Loreto Business College, Leinster Business Institute, the Montessori Education Centre, the Gaiety School of Acting, the Business and Education College in Cork, the Institute of Public Administration, the Union of Students of Ireland. The working group met the Higher Education Colleges Association and Mr. Ray Kearns of Portobello College in the course of its work. The Deputy can be assured that they were given the opportunity to make the points they wished to make. The report is with me and I will be making decisions with the Minister for Finance. Those decisions will be conveyed to all people whom we met and the report will be put in the public domain. I think I should concentrate on doing that. The information must be available by 1 July.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Minister seems to have a problem with meeting groups and delegations generally. I regret that I have not received confirmation that she will meet representatives of this association prior to making the decisions. Will she agree that since the introduction of free fees students attending NCEA designated courses in independent colleges are unfairly discriminated against in that they must pay fees and many of them attend those colleges because of the lack of places in public colleges? Having regard to the time factor, there is an urgent need to ensure social equity in the treatment of students attending those colleges, particularly prior to the new academic year.

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach I note the Deputy's comments. I do not consider those students are discriminated against as extra places have been made available and a regressive tax has been abolished. I responded to calls by the Deputy two years ago to open third level State institutions to students through the abolition of fees. There is a commitment in the 1995 Finance Act to allow tax relief on tuition fees paid to private colleges. I [1371] will communicate the decisions and recommendations taken to the Deputy and I will publish the report.

Ms Keogh: Information on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh Zoom on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh Will the Minister give priority to providing grant aid to students on approved NCEA courses in private colleges here over students in British colleges?

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach I was not asked to prioritise in that way. The 1995 Finance Act provides for tax relief on tuition fees paid to private colleges for approved courses. The Act states that courses and colleges will be approved by the Minister for Education having regard to a code of standards laid down by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance. A commitment was given that tax relief on fees paid in the 1996-97 tax year will come into effect in that year. The Act also requires the Minister for Education to provide the Revenue Commissioners with relevant information on or before 1 July. We are on time in meeting that commitment. I was not asked to make a difficult choice on this matter. The question refers to the commitment given on this matter in the Finance Act. I assure Deputies that I will meet that commitment and will put the report into the public arena.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The key point in terms of social equity is that students attending NCEA approved courses in independent colleges should qualify for the same financial support as that given to students attending other State-funded institutions. That is a recommendation of the de Buitléir report. Is the Minister prepared to implement it?

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach The question tabled asked if I received the report. I have received it. It also asked if I would comment on and publish the report. I will comment on it when I publish it. It asked whether I will meet representatives——

[1372]Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Minister will not meet them.

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach The Deputy should not put words in my mouth. I have spelt out the timetable within which I will meet these commitments. Social equity was not raised in the question. I answered the question tabled to the best of my ability.

Miss Coughlan: Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan Given that the Minister has the report, that many students are preparing for their leaving certificates and that their parents are anxious about what will be available at the beginning of September, will she publish the report to allow decisions to be made prior to July and closer to the end of the academic year?

Ms Bhreathnach: Information on Niamh Bhreathnach Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach I have not yet considered the report, but I will do so. There will not be any undue delay in dealing with it as I would not like to cause people undue stress or strain. Under the Finance Act a commitment in this regard was given to meet the 1 July deadline. I will consider the Deputy's points.


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