Education Committee: Technological Universities

Education Committee: Technological Universities

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I thank the Minister. The piece of business he had to do in
the Department of Justice was very short.
Deputy Simon Harris: That is so.
Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: Other Ministers may have used the opportunity to escape
thereafter. I am glad he has taken the time to do an “ask me anything” session with committee
members. I appreciate that.
Deputy Simon Harris: Anything within reason.
Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I have a list of questions as long as my arm and I do not think
I will get through all of them. I am going to start with the news of the day, as the Minister described it, about the HEA expression of interest process. Like others on the committee, I turned
to my own region and was delighted to see that the three bids from the South East Technological
University, SETU, had been judged viable to go on to the next stage of the process. Those bids
related to veterinary and pharmacy places, and an expansion of the nursing places. I asked the
Taoiseach about this issue on the floor of the Dáil earlier today. He expressed the opinion that in
the fullness of time, we might need all of these places. I know there is now a process whereby
these expressions of interest go to the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery, and Reform. A full business case must be developed. It is at that point the
rubber meets the road. I would like an insight from the Minister as to how long he thinks that
process will take. Does he have an opinion or insight as to how many of those places that have
overcome the first hurdle are expected to be rolled out and the timeline for that?

Deputy Simon Harris: I thank the Deputy and join him in acknowledging the success of
the SETU. I also acknowledge that he has been an enormous supporter of the university. We
have gone from no university in the south east to one. We have moved from an aspiration in
respect of the Waterford Crystal site to having secured it, with plans coming on for student accommodation. Whatever happens beyond this point, there have been very high-quality applications that are being seen as such not just by me or the Deputy but by independent panels that are
assessing them. That is a credit to the leadership of the SETU and I acknowledge that publicly.
The Department of Health is of the view that all of the places that have been identified will
be required by it in the coming years. It will be a matter for me and the Minister for Health,
through the Estimates process and, more particularly, through the national development plan
review process, to secure the funding and try to programmatically roll that out. The Minister for
Agriculture, Food and the Marine, his officials and I have a piece of work to do on identifying
how many of the veterinary places the system suggests could be provided are viewed as needed
by his Department. We will then engage with the Minister for Public Expenditure, National
Development Plan Delivery and Reform. I want to be in a position to be moving this forward in
the autumn. I want to see additional capacity coming onstream across the disciplines in 2024.
Where we are looking to establish new schools, we must be honest that it is more likely to be
2025 in reality.

However, there is still room for us to see the expansion of courses in 2024.
I will say, in respect of veterinary medicine, that the HEA report refers to the importance
of regional balance and regional development. That will have to be a factor. The Minister for
Agriculture, Food and the Marine and I have said that we are not ruling in or out any project in
the sense that we are not saying there will only be one project because there may be more than
one. We will now work with the institutions to prepare their business cases. The Department
of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will then identify how many of the 230 additional places
identified by the system it believes it will need in the coming years.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: That is useful. There is a way to run yet.
The technological universities have been a driver towards the balanced regional development to which Senator Dolan referred and for which we are all striving. An issue in respect of
transformational funding has been raised with me consistently. Transformational funding was
extremely important in the introduction of multicampus universities and trying to integrate systems and ensuring that staffing worked out correctly. All of those were important. I understand
that transformational funding is coming to an end. Several universities have expressed to me
that there is still a need for it and while they have travelled very far down the road to becoming
one single, combined institution, they are not fully there, and the transformational funding will
still be important, going forward. What are the Minister’s thoughts on that matter?

Deputy Simon Harris: I am conscious that the first job was to establish the TUs, and a
great amount of work has been done by an incredible number of people to get to this point. We
are now going through the process of assessing projects that are under way and may require,
for example, an extension. The HEA and my own Department are considering what other funding avenues may be available. I am thinking in particular of things like the European Regional
Development Fund, ERDF, where €83 million is available. There is also the national recovery
and resilience fund, to which €40 million is allocated. We are doing this on a project-by-project
basis. We are assessing projects that may require an extension. I am due to meet the chairs
and presidents of the TUs on Thursday. There will be an opportunity to tease this through with
them. I am trying to avoid a cliff edge. We want to invest in these new institutions. We have
asked them to do things and start projects and no one intends to leave them hanging. However,
at the same time, we need to move from a transformation fund to a more regular way of funding
going forward. We will tease the issue through with the representatives of the technological
universities but there absolutely must be some form of step-down funding, rather than a cliff
edge, after the transition fund. We are working that through now. I hope that provides some
reassurance to them.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I will stay with the TUs, which we need to function as
research institutions. The Minister will not be blindsided by the following question because
I have put it to him previously. I feel, as do the institutions, that there is a need to develop a
professorship model so that we encourage that research facility. These institutions can be huge
engines for research in each of their regions. We also need a review of academic contracts. We
know that the balance of the contracts previously on offer in the institutes of technology was
in favour of teaching. The teaching burden is such that it is difficult to meaningfully integrate
research into such a role. What are the Minister’s thoughts about where the State ought to go
to restructure what the TUs, as institutes of technology, do so we can encourage that research

Deputy Simon Harris: We in the Department are in the same place as the Deputy on the
evidence of how he has presented the situation. We need to see a step change in research capacity in the TUs if they are to achieve their full mission. That will certainly require professors. It
will also require an opportunity for those contract discussions to take place. The Deputy will
be aware that I brought the OECD report in respect of what contracts might look like. It was
clear and stark, quite frankly, that there is a big body of work to do because Ireland’s current
contract structure is not comparable to the position in other TUs or their equivalents in other
OECD countries. I want to be clear to anybody listening who is working in a technological
university that any changes will be matters for negotiation. People sometimes say that we are
having all these conversations but have not sat down and talked to them. We are trying to make
sure we are in a position to have a meaningful conversation. We are working with the TUs to
make the case to the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery,
and Reform and others for the need for this change. My officials met with representatives of
the technological universities last week and I will do so tomorrow morning. We will tease
this through. If we get to a contract place, it will be an opportunity for people to opt in to new
contracts rather than people losing their current terms and conditions. There is an interesting
and important conversation to be had in that respect. We want to be able to have a meaningful
conversation and that is why we have been trying to get our own ducks lined up with the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform before we
formally enter those conversations.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I think the Minister will get to escape for a short period.
Deputy Simon Harris: There is a vote in the Dáil Chamber.
Sitting suspended at 6.19 p.m. and resumed at 6.38 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Deputy Ó Cathasaigh asked about the inability of technological universities to appoint professors. In the current academic context, there was an OECD report. Is it
ready to be published? Does the Minister have a timeline for it? This issue was raised when I
visited some of the TUs. I tried to explain that there is an OECD report. The Minister is right
in saying there is a journey that report must go on. When will he bring it to Government and
what are the steps to be taken after that? How would we get the technological universities to
make the transition? They need to bring their standards right up. I am not saying they have
low standards but there have to be specific standards. We will be depending on TUs over the
next number years. With the increase in population, there will be many more students looking
for places as we encourage more young people to go on to third level education. How will the
Government do that?

Deputy Simon Harris: I fully agree with the Cathaoirleach and Deputy Ó Cathasaigh on
this. We need to get to a point where we can have professors appointed in our TUs and offer
academic contracts that are fit for purpose and reflective of the mission of the technological university. We brought the OECD report to Cabinet in December and published it then. It outlines
where Ireland is at and gives suggestions as to where it believes Ireland needs to be. It also
outlines international comparators which are very useful. We are now working to develop the
case for the advancement of that with the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform.

We have had very good engagement with the technological universities. My officials are
in close contact with them and I will be meeting their representatives in the morning. We are
trying to arrive at a point where we have a contract that will allow more time for research and
working with industry because we are trying to deliver on the technological universities’ mission. This mission is not vague; it is set out in legislation. Once we have the case built up with
the Department, we will engage with representative bodies on the issue. The model will be
that new staff join on the new contract, once that is in place. I reiterate that anybody who is on
an existing contract will have an option to opt in or not. There will be a contract for the future
for technological universities. People can then opt in if they already have a contract and new
people will start on that contract.

An Cathaoirleach: Is the Minister liaising with the TUs at the moment?

Deputy Simon Harris: Yes, we are liaising very closely. My officials met them as recently
as last week and I will meet all the TU presidents and chairpersons to discuss a wide agenda
tomorrow morning. I have no doubt this issue will come up.

An Cathaoirleach: This issue was raised with the committee on our travels.

Deputy Simon Harris: Being honest, there is a common view here among everybody. We
need to advance that to a point where we can have success in the conversations we need to have
with the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform
and others.

An Cathaoirleach: I know the Minister is due to make an announcement on the accommodation issue. There are a large number of colleges with courses that are specific to the college in question and the course is not available anywhere else in Ireland. Optometry in TU
Dublin is an example. I think there are between 40 and 50 students on the course. TU Dublin
also offers a degree in medical science. On our visit, I asked for a show of hands of how many
students were from Dublin and how many were from other parts of the country. I was amazed.

There were students from every county in the country. If these courses were available in other
colleges, many more people would be able to access them. Is the Department looking at what
courses are available in colleges? That would help in determining where similar courses could
be provided by different colleges.

The Department is considering where to offer more veterinary studies and medicine course.
I will return to that issue. In TU Dublin I spoke to one girl from the west whose family is making major financial sacrifices to put her through college. If that course was offered in Galway,
Kerry or Limerick, it would have been much easier for her. She might have been able to travel
home each evening. That is just one example but many parents are making the same sacrifices.
Dublin is a very expensive place for students to live.

Deputy Simon Harris: I completely agree. As the Cathaoirleach knows better than most,
we have been trying to bring university education into the regions. Even though we have done
that, there will still be certain courses for which people will need to go to certain universities
to access. I am very conscious of the autonomy of the universities and obviously they decide
what courses they provide. They have opportunities in their strategic statements to outline their
vision. Sometimes there can be particular issues around placements. It sometimes simply does
not work to provide a college course in one location if there is not a matching placement available in the healthcare system there.

My message to all of the institutes is that we will work with them. We have shown promise
in that regard today. We will work with a college if there are courses the college believes it
could provide to satisfy demand and regional balance. We will work with the college to tease
out the various issues. Some of these may be for our Department in terms of cost and some of
them may be for other Departments in terms of placements.

The second point is linked. The Cathaoirleach gave the example of TU Dublin. At the moment, TU Dublin does not have any college-owned accommodation. This is not a criticism, by
any means. The college has not been empowered to do that until now but we need to fix that.

This is one of the biggest higher education institutes, if not the biggest, in the country. It has a
state-of-the-art campus. A person would be proud to come to Dublin to study there but it needs
accommodation to go with it. Of course, when we invest Government money, which we are
now doing for the first time in the history of the State, we demand in return for such investment
that a certain amount of the accommodation is ring-fenced at below market rates.
We are open to and willing to support the provision of new courses in new universities
where universities have not provided them before if a case can be made that there is demand for
the skills in the economy and the region. We are open to working with people and where they
have to travel, we want to see purpose-built college-owned, or at least college-accessed, student
accommodation at affordable rents.

An Cathaoirleach: On the issue of student accommodation, the Minister spoke about Waterford. On a recent committee visit to the city, the president of SETU told us the college had
a site and wanted to build. TU Dublin also wants to build. Site availability is probably the
biggest obstacle in that case. When will the Minister make an announcement regarding accommodation for TUs and other universities?

Deputy Simon Harris: I want to just acknowledge that TU Dublin’s master plan has identified the need for student accommodation. Tomorrow, I will announce the appointment of
expertise to work with the TUs to advance their plans. Waterford is a little different and I will
come back to it presently. In general, the TUs have never been able to build accommodation
before. As a result, we cannot expect them to have a plan to dust down. It has been different
for UCD or UCC. They have had plans. Some of them have not been viable because of the
cost of construction. We are trying to help them to get those moving. I want to have a situation where all the TUs are banging down my door to build student accommodation. I want the
political tension, insofar as there is any, to be around the question of why we are not funding
this quicker and why we cannot get it done. We are not yet at the point where we can go back
to the Department with ten, 15 or 20 plans coming in from the universities or TUs on student
accommodation but we need to get there. In making these comments I am not being not critical of the sector. We need to support the universities and my intention tomorrow is to provide
them with the support that will enable them to come forward with plans that we can then move
through the process into planning.

Housing is the biggest crisis the country faces. Our sector has an obligation to students to
try to provide solutions. I think we have a bigger obligation. The Taoiseach has been very clear.
The policy is called Housing for All and is for everybody in this country. It about providing
all the housing that we need. Rather than just letting the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage shoulder all the burden, it is up to every Department to consider what it
can do to help address the biggest crisis the country faces. I am simply not going to accept a
scenario in which I, my Department or its agencies or the colleges adopt some sort of piecemeal
approach to this. We will go to Government to request funding for ambitious plans to work with
the sector to significantly expand the supply of student accommodation.

I want to get to a point where, by appointing expertise tomorrow, our universities, particularly our TUs, can come back to me in early 2024 with a plan which we can help to get over
the line. The second thing I want to do tomorrow is to try to have identified the requirement of
each region. I had a very good meeting with the presidents of the universities yesterday and I
am sure I will have a good one with TU presidents tomorrow. I had a very good meeting with
Irish Universities Association presidents yesterday and I am sure I will have a good one with
technological university presidents tomorrow. We have to look at this. In certain parts of the
country we should not be precious about stating accommodation is for a specific university. It
should be accommodation for students in that area. We see this in other countries not too far
from here. We should look at Dublin, Cork, Galway and the south east and see what are the student accommodation needs. We should get everybody to come together and meet that student
accommodation need rather than institutions being precious and stating student accommodation
is theirs. The scale of the challenge is too big for small solutions or small ideas. We need to
challenge ourselves to be ambitious.

An Cathaoirleach: The Minister spoke about medicine and veterinary education. I will be
parochial in the same way as Deputy Ó Cathasaigh. I have an interest in veterinary education.
I studied at Kildalton College and I know it is very much part and parcel of SETU’s application
for veterinary education. I know the Minister cannot give away too much as there is a process
that must be gone through. A question asked of me today was whether the process will be
dragged out for months. When does the Minister believe a decision will be made? There are a
number of options. Will one of the options be taken or will pieces of several of the options be
chosen? When does the Minister believe this will be finalised? It will be September 2024 at the
earliest. A lot of work must be done by the colleges regardless of whatever option the Minister
goes with. When does he believe a final decision will be made on this?

Deputy Simon Harris: Young people are doing their leaving certificate right now and
many of them will want to vets. In September, many of them will pack their bags and head
to other countries in the European Union to become vets. There is always a degree of this but
it is completely disproportionate in Ireland. A total of 65% of new entrants to the Veterinary
Council register last year were educated abroad. We need to do something as quickly as we can
while being truthful and realistic.

The HEA asked the sector what it could do. It put in place an expert panel that included
members of the Veterinary Council and the chief veterinary officer. Four projects were deemed
as viable with the potential to be able to deliver veterinary education. These are the expansion
of UCD, the South East Technological University with, as the Cathaoirleach said, the Kildalton
College campus, the University of Limerick and an Atlantic Technological University proposal
for a dual campus location between Letterkenny and Mountbellew, which we discussed earlier
with Senator Dolan. These are the four proposals that have been deemed as viable to proceed
to the next phase of assessment, which is a preliminary business case. The national development plan, which funds capital, will be reviewed in October. I want to be in a position to have
proposals, ideas and options with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for this
review process.

In the process we have gone through, the education system stated that in theory there could
be 230 additional places. A key issue will be to work with colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to establish the number we believe we need. The system says
it can provide 230, but what number do we and our colleagues in the Department believe we
should try to put in place in the coming years? By the time of the national development plan
review, I hope to be in a position, along with the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, to try to take
some of these proposals forward. It is very encouraging that good solid projects have come
forward and been assessed as having real potential. We will work to evaluate them further and
build up the cases.

An Cathaoirleach: With regard to the Wexford campus, the compulsory purchase order
is almost complete. It is going through without any major hiccups. The chief executive of
Wexford County Council is in contact with the Department and the Secretary General. He very
much appreciates, as do I as a public representative, what the Department is doing. Is the Department working with SETU and other partners on putting together the master plan so that we
are not waiting until we get it over the line before moving on to the next step? Is work being
done on other parts of the design and getting ready to go to planning as soon as possible?
How will the conversation start about what courses will be in Wexford? Who will be part of
it? It will include SETU and its governing body along with the Department. In the same way
as other counties, Wexford has its own strengths. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA,
is based in Wexford. There are also a large number of financial services in County Wexford.
Waterford has many pharmaceutical companies. It is about working with industry. This is
about the region. It is not only about Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny or Carlow but also about
the region working together. Somebody living in Carlow can get into a car and be in Waterford
in 35 or 40 minutes.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: There is also a great train service.

An Cathaoirleach: The Minister understands where I am coming from. It is a small region.
We should work with industry and the strengths each county has.

Deputy Simon Harris: The Cathaoirleach is entirely right. We have all been making this
point for a long time and, in fairness, there are many believers in this room. It is always about
the region. We all wear our county jerseys from time to time and that it is important. We are
elected to Dáil Éireann to represent our constituents. The regional impact of these technological universities is where the real transformation will be. The strategic plan published in recent
weeks by the South East Technological University recognises this. It set out the vision for the
region. It is about every part of the region playing to its strengths, as the Cathaoirleach rightly

I will not get into the individual veterinary college proposals but today we saw SETU recognise that Kildalton College in Kilkenny has real potential because of the tradition in the agricultural college there. It is not being small-minded but asking how we play to our advantage
and then complement the work being done in each part of the region. The straight answer to a
straight question is that it is a matter for SETU, and its governing authority and chair in consultation with the executive, to decide how it wishes to provide courses throughout the region. We
stand ready to support it on proposals and ideas and work with it and the HEA in this regard. It
is for SETU to decide quite rightly and properly what is provided in each part of the region and
on what campus.

We were very clear as we established SETU that a Wexford campus would be a very important part of it. I have been on the Wexford campus with the Cathaoirleach. I am very proud
of the work that is being done in Wexford. I was very taken by some of the learners I met who
told me if the campus had not been there, they would not have been able to access a university
education. This shows the importance of being able to provide education locally. I met some
lone parents who spoke openly to me about the fact that if they had had to travel to Waterford,
it would not have worked for them. It has a particularly good tradition of lifelong learning. I
was very struck by this when I went there.
I am also conscious that the technological universities have a mandate in law to engage with
industry. The Cathaoirleach made a point about the skills needs in County Wexford, and there
is an opportunity to explore it. I express my gratitude to Wexford County Council for the role
it has played. I am conscious of the CPO process needing to conclude and I do not want to cut
across it. We stand ready to assist. I know SETU has been doing some thinking on the Wexford
site also. We will work with it on capital applications as they are made.

An Cathaoirleach: The most important part of any capital application is the financial funding commitment. Any time I am on local radio or speaking to local reporters, I am asked
whether funding will be available for the construction of the buildings required on any campus.

Deputy Simon Harris: I have not been on South East Radio with Alan Corcoran in a while
so I ask the Cathaoirleach to send him my best. He always asks me that question also, and the
Cathaoirleach can tell him directly from me that we remain absolutely committed. The Cathaoirleach reminds me regularly of the importance of delivering for the site. The State is not in
the business of purchasing assets to leave them lying idle. This will be a significant investment
in terms of securing a site. We are doing this because we want to be ambitious in terms of the
campus in Wexford. When I say “we”, I know that SETU wishes to be there and we wish to
support it. All capital applications have to go through various stages, as the Chair knows, but
the commitment to develop the Wexford campus and secure the site is real. A great deal of time
has been invested by the Secretary General, Wexford County Council, others and me in ensuring that we make progress in that regard. We are determined to do so. We work closely with
the governing authority, the president, Professor Veronica Campbell, and Wexford Oireachtas
Members. The next step is ensuring that a site is secured. I look forward to that happening

An Cathaoirleach: I used SETU as an example of technological universities not being allow to take the lead in teacher training courses, but students could save a great deal of money
by doing their masters in education to qualify as secondary school teachers at technological
universities across the country. They could do part of their courses in a technological university and the other part in a university in Limerick, Cork, Galway or Dublin. Many families
are struggling and, while the Government is doing a great deal to help them with the cost of
living, we need to think outside the box and use technological universities as a means of assisting families and students. These students would get the same qualifications at the end of their
courses and the technological universities would be elevated a step in the quality of the work
they turned out. Is this something that the Minister would encourage or something his Department would consider? The HEA would have to be part of any conversation or decision in this
regard. Has the Minister plans to address the matter or has it been discussed with him by any
of the technological universities’ presidents or governing bodies?

Deputy Simon Harris: Teacher education policy is a matter for my ministerial colleague,
Deputy Foley, in the first instance but there is an openness from her and the Department of
Education to engage on this issue. As far as I am aware, that Department’s policy is one of developing centres of excellence in teacher education, but perhaps that can be advanced through
technological universities working with established providers. We have seen examples of that
in the west. We spoke about St. Angela’s and how the home economics teaching there was
going to be incorporated in a technological university. If the question is whether there is an
openness from us to having the conversation, there is, but we will be led from a policy point of
view by the Department of Education. Without straying into its work, my sense is that it is in
the space of partnering with existing providers and the like, which would, in theory, address the
Cathaoirleach’s point around being able to access such education in his region. I will engage
with the Minister, Deputy Foley, on the matter. I am satisfied that we can both revert to the
committee with a view.

An Cathaoirleach: I apologise, as I took a little over six minutes.

Deputy Simon Harris: Yes.

An Cathaoirleach: I will give my two colleagues the same leeway. I know that Deputy
Ó Cathasaigh wants to leave, so if Senator Dolan does not mind, I will let him contribute first.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: Before I ask my questions, I support the Chair’s view on
teacher education. I am not saying that the centres of excellence model is outdated, but the list
of centres available within the State is old. If I am right, it dates back quite a number of years.
It could be updated. There is a history of education, particularly lifelong education, at the Waterford campus of SETU. It is a space I would like to see SETU getting into, as quite a number
of the young people who leave the south east do so to engage in teacher training. Everyone
would like to see that flow of young people reversed.

I wish to ask a number of questions that arise from my engagement with the Postgraduate
Workers’ Organisation, PWO. I am sure the Minister has received the same correspondence
and seen the questions already. They relate to a review that his Department has been undertaking in respect of PhDs. A number of issues have been identified, but chief among those
we should examine if we are serious about expanding research capacity is the need to make a
decision about employee status for PhD students. They are in an undefined space and we are
probably out of step with most of our European partners in how we define it. Similarly, we
need to examine how we provide residency visas for PhD candidates and students from outside
the EU. I believe they have to update their visas annually, meaning there is a yearly cost, even
though we know they will be in Ireland for four years. They also receive minimum rates of pay.
How do we make the four-year process of earning a doctorate affordable for people and reward
the incredibly valuable research work they do during their studies? I am sure this matter has
come across the Minister’s desk already, but I wanted to put the question, seeing as how I had
the opportunity.

Deputy Simon Harris: I thank the Deputy for raising it. This is an area where I am determined to make progress. Our country’s future economic and social well-being is dependent on
human capital. We spend a great deal of time in the Oireachtas speaking about capital, but we
do not speak enough about it in the context of human capital. An example of what we can do in
this regard is to invest in research innovation, the ability of that to translate into academia, industry and the regions, and the contribution that Ireland Inc. can make to meeting some national
and global challenges. This is why we decided to commission an independent review. I am
grateful to its co-chairs. I believe it was yesterday that I brought the first output of the review
to the Cabinet. It will be published early next week, probably on Monday.
We need to make progress on the stipend. I cannot get into budget day commitments and
the like – we all know the process we have to go through – but the stipend is an issue. We have
made some progress. When I entered this Department, we moved to equalise the Irish Research
Council, IRC, and Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, stipends. The IRC one was much lower.
We have seen some increase in the stipends, but we have more to do. Let us say that we will all
be shocked if the report does not indicate that.

As the Deputy rightly said, work also needs to be done on how we support PhD researchers
in mitigating the challenges they experience with the visa system, spousal access to the labour
market, etc. The review’s first output will address these matters as well and make recommendations, on which my Department will have to liaise with the Department of Justice.

I have met researchers and it is fair to say that people have strong views on the question of
employee status. I have an open mind on it, but the most important issue is how we support
people and address matters like maternity benefit, paternity benefit, career pathways, healthcare
supports and stipends. Some of the countries that do this well classify their PhD researchers as
employees while others do not. The most important thing we can do is to ensure that the supports for PhD researchers become much better than they are today. There are equally strong
views on both sides of the debate and I have heard them both. Let us see where the reviews
bring us, but my approach is that we must support PhD researchers better. We must keep people
in Ireland, and attract others from outside, to do research so that the best and the brightest are
working here. Something that came out of the stakeholder engagement was that we needed to
ensure that some of the supports in place through universities were available to PhD researchers
as well and that that information was known to them.

The stipends need to increase, we need to support PhD researchers better financially and we
need to consider supports outside the stipend, particularly those having to do with maternity.
We need to address career pathways and making the visa process easier and more streamlined.
We have much to do. I am not approaching it from an ideological viewpoint but from the point
of view that we have to make real progress here and the practical steps we can take. The first
step is the publication next week, and then we will go forward to the Estimates process.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh: I thank the Minister. That is very helpful.