Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Increase in University Fees.

39.

asked the Minister for Education if he is aware of the burden imposed upon university students by the increase in fees in University College, Dublin, for the year 1971-72; if he is further aware of the possibility of additional increases in fees for the academic year 1972-73 in both University College and Trinity College, Dublin; and if he intends to make additional funds available to all the Irish universities to enable them to avoid placing such additional burdens upon their students.

40.

asked the Minister for Education what steps his Department have taken to date to alleviate the increase in university fees at UCD.

41.

asked the Minister for Education whether he will restore the additional grants to universities to enable them to reduce the fees in high cost faculties.

42.

asked the Minister for Education whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the provision of additional grants to the University Colleges in the current year.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 to 42 together.

I would direct the attention of Deputies to a general statement which I have made in relation to university fees and which with your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to have circulated with the Official Report.

"In connection with university fees the Minister for Education feels that he must refer to the mounting costs of higher education in general and university education in particular which are placing an ever-increasing burden on the taxpayer. While by far the major portion of these costs must continue to be borne by the taxpayer, the Minister considers that the students, who are the persons immediately benefiting from university education, should be called upon to bear a portion of the increases in cost. At the present time the taxpayer is contributing more than £400 per annum towards the education of every university student. This is apart altogether from the amounts being paid to holders of grants under the higher education grants scheme. The position is, therefore, that, even with the increase in fees now proposed, the proportion the students would be called upon to pay would be less than one-fifth of the total cost.

While accordingly the Minister considers that the increase in fees now proposed should operate, he is prepared to meet the case of grant holders by making funds available so that an increase may be made in the value of the grants, which would offset the increase in fees. Furthermore, in order to obviate any portion of last year's increase in fees other than £10 being passed on to students in the higher fee faculties, the Minister will be prepared to make sums available by way of supplementary grants to the university colleges which will offset any loss incurred by them through not levying the full amount of last year's increase in the case of such students."

Is the Minister not aware that within the last two days the president and the secretary of University College, Dublin, have said that institution faces imminent closure? Could I put a straight statistical question to the Minister? In view of the fact that within the last few days his colleague has been able to find a Christmas present of £20 million—no doubt related to circumstances within his own party and largely addressed to big business— could he tell us just how many thousand pounds a supplementary grant from his Department would cost to enable this institution to keep going by abating these fees?

Far from the money concerned being directed to big business it is being directed towards ensuring more employment for the people of this country.

On a point of order, it is unusual—and it is the first time I have ever heard of it being done —that, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, the Minister said he had issued a general statement and that, with your permission, he proposed to circulate it in the Official Report.

That has been done regularly.

It has not been done regularly. What has been done regularly is that a statistical table, which cannot be read out, has been circulated with the Official Report. Is the Minister incapable of reading? Is he so stupid that he cannot read an ordinary statement?

May I ask the Minister to answer the second part of my supplementary question? How much would it cost to make a grant to UCD to keep it open?

If I were to meet the demands which are presently being made by the students it would cost approximately £7 million a year.

If you want to tell a lie, tell a big one.

Are not the two demands by the students that the physiotherapy course be given grants —am I right in thinking that this would affect possibly one student or a very small number, if more than one —and that he should open negotiations on the provision of a comprehensive grants scheme at an appropriate point in the future? How would those two requests, the physiotherapy case and the negotiations, cost £7 million? Is that not what the Minister is requested to do?

The Deputy is being very simple. Could I put it to him that, as a member of the governing body of UCD, he might consider something in relation to the physiotherapy courses?

Consider what?

In relation to the comprehensive scheme, is the Deputy suggesting that all that is desired by the students is that we have discussions about a comprehensive scheme?

That is all they have asked for at this stage.

They have, in fact, stated the amounts and the Deputy is very well aware of it. I have pointed out, putting it at a very low figure, it would cost approximately £7 million.

On a point of order, I want to say that this is the first occasion in this House I have ever heard a Minister reply to a question that he had made a general statement and that he was not going to repeat it in this House. It has never happened before.

It has happened before and the Minister is entitled to say it in view of the fact that the statement would involve too long a period to read out.

With all due respect, all I can say is that we have had the longest statements read out here, pages and pages, and it is a bit thick that the Minister should suppress this——

With your permission, Sir, I will read the statement.

In connection with university fees, the Minister for Education feels that he must refer to the mounting costs of higher education in general and university education in particular which are placing an ever-increasing burden on the taxpayer. While by far the major portion of these costs must continue to be borne by the taxpayer, the Minister considers that the students, who are the persons immediately benefiting from university education, should be called upon to bear a portion of the increases in cost. At the present time the taxpayer is contributing more than £400 per annum towards the education of every university student. This is apart altogether from the amounts being paid to holders of grants under the higher education grants scheme. The position is, therefore, that even with the increase in fees now proposed, the proportion the students would be called upon to pay would be less than one-fifth of the total cost.

While accordingly the Minister considers that the increase in fees now proposed should operate, he is prepared to meet the case of grant holders by making funds available so that an increase may be made in the value of the grant, which would offset the increase in fees. Furthermore, in order to obviate any portion of last year's increase in fees other than £10 being passed on to students in the higher faculties, the Minister will be prepared to make sums available by way of supplementary grants to the university colleges which will offset any loss incurred by them through not levying the full amount of last year's increase in the case of such students.

Thanks very much. It did not take so long, after all. We have had much longer statements.

I thank the Deputy for having given me the opportunity of reading it to the House.

I wish to ask the Minister a question on his reply to Question No. 40. Is the Minister aware of the seriousness of the situation in UCD? Is he aware that there is a real danger of a breakdown in education at UCD and that he and his Department encouraged students to go to UCD by stating that not only would grants be made available to students so that they could have completely free education, but also indicating that other grants would be given to cut down the cost of higher education for these students? Is he further aware that many children who have the necessary qualifications to go to UCD have not been able to go there this year because of the increase, and that because of the increase next year which the college authorities have already announced the same situation will arise? Is he aware of the seriousness of this which is affecting 8,000 students?

It appears the Deputy did not listen to the statement I read out.

Indeed I did.

If he had listened he would realise that I stated I am prepared to meet the case of grant holders by making funds available so that an increase may be made in the value of the grants which would offset the increase in fees.

Why are the students out there?

This is the answer and this has been published on several occasions.

There are a lot of students who cannot afford to go——

Let me say this to the Deputy: my main concern is with those who are most likely to benefit——

Why then are the students——

The Deputy has asked a question. Would he please resume his seat and let the Minister reply?

——and least able to help themselves. They are the ones I have helped.

Is the Minister aware that there has been an occupation of UCD and that when I left it several offices were occupied and attempts are being made to disrupt telephonic communications? Is he aware of the statement of the secretary of the college yesterday that up to last Monday only 10 per cent of the students had sent in their fees, what on both these counts the university is facing an imminent threat of closure, and will he therefore agree to the two steps that would end this deadlock— first, to agree to extend grants to three-year diploma courses which is what is involved here and which does not involve much cost, and secondly, to agree to discuss with the students the devising and the eventual introduction of a comprehensive grants scheme? If these two steps were taken the college could be kept open. The responsibility rests with the Minister to ensure that it does not close.

Does the Deputy agree with what is happening at present in the college?

I am glad to hear that.

Is the Minister prepared to assist in preventing it happening?

The Deputy is aware that in relation to the Act I am confined to providing grants for those who are doing degree courses in the universities—this particular course is the diploma course—and therefore I am precluded from paying grants for courses in the university which are not degree courses. The second point is in relation to the Deputy's query as to whether we would agree to have discussions in relation to a comprehensive scheme. You do not have discussions unless you have a reasonable hope of being able to provide the money. I have pointed out that the minimum amount necessary to cater for what is being demanded by the students at the moment would be £7 million.

Is the Minister prepared——

We cannot debate this point by point.

If the Deputy says he is quite willing to add this extra burden to the other burdens of the taxpayers, that is a different matter.

I want to ask a final question. I want to ask the Minister, first of all, whether the legislation he speaks of is this Government's legislation, and whether it is not open to him to change that if he thinks it is desirable? Will he take steps to amend that legislation if it is an obstacle to giving grants to senior diploma courses in the university? On the other point, will he agree that to suggest you do not negotiate with people unless you know in advance you can give the maximum they are looking for, if adopted by employers in this country, would lead to a shut-down of all industry? Does he suggest that where workers ask for a 50 per cent increase in wages you do not talk to them at all, you just refuse to negotiate?

I will say this to the Deputy: he is a member of the governing board of the college and would he consider the status of the physiotherapy courses?

I must point out——

I understood this was the last supplementary. I am calling Question No. 43.

I want to ask a question.

Can we proceed? Deputy FitzGerald said his was the final supplementary.

My final supplementary.

Will the Minister not offset the total increase in fees this year and next year?

I am offsetting it this year and I will consider it favourably next year. That is in the case of grant holders.

In the case of all students.