Private Members' Business. - Third Level Education: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann calls for radical amendment of the proposals of the Minister for Education on the re-organisation of third level education.

"In education genuine consultation with parents, school authorities, teachers and students will be introduced." These words are probably familiar to the House as point No. 9 in the 14-point plan of the Coalition Government. A virtue is made of consultation. That is a "quare one" in the present circumstances.

The Provost of Trinity College, Dr. Lyons, is on record as having said that on this issue the Minister made a virtue of not having consulted universities in advance. Professor Dawson of the same university stated that in fact the Minister's proposals—or the Government's proposals as the Minister is very careful to point out, thus in a way taking some of the heat off himself—were inspired by political considerations. I want to quote fromThe Education Times of December, 26th, 1974:

It would seem that the only consistent policy behind all the changes which the Government has made in the scheme amicably agreed between the National University and Trinity College is that of diminishing Trinity. The full list of changes in the redistribution of Faculties are (a) that Trinity shall not be the sole centre of dental education in the State, (b) that Trinity shall not be the sole centre of university education in law in Dublin, (c) that the sole Faculty of Veterinary Education shall not be located in Trinity but in UCD, (d) that Trinity's Faculty of Natural Science shall, with that of UCD, be jointly controlled and (e) that while Trinity shall have a Faculty of Engineering Science it shall be "without capital investment". There are no compensatory changes whatever. The NUI-TCD agreement minimised costs to the ratepayer, was fair to both UCD and TCD and was fully endorsed by both the Senate of the NUI and the Board of Trinity. It seems clear that the Government has made a political, not an educational, decision.

I do not need to say in this House how important an institution the University of Dublin is, of which Trinity College is the only college. I am not saying that we can accept what Professor Dawson said as being, in fact, true. He is speculating, as we are all speculating, on what are the various activities which lie behind the proposals which saw the light of day on 16th December. What I am saying is that, when the Provost of Trinity College and a senior professor of Trinity College are doubtful about the motivation and feel wounded about the proposals, that is a serious situation indeed.

Due to the length of time that university has been in existence and due to the diaspora of its students— a diaspora which other universities have with it, but not to the same extent, both because the University of Dublin is longer in existence and has its fields of activity spread in a wider net—when the Provost of Trinity College speaks like that and when Professor Dawson, a senior professor of the university speaks like that, we should know the reason the proposals were made. This will go out to every corner of the globe because, when the Provost speaks, he is speaking to his graduates in every corner of the globe and as serious educationalists we will be derided, and we will deserve the censure of those people.

I am making a plea for light in the situation, a plea which I made from the very first day the proposals were revealed to the country. In various discussions about the proposals since then, when the Minister was questioned, he skipped lightly over some of the points made by Professor Dawson. We were expecting, and I was pleading for, a White Paper which was promised a long time ago but which did not come. Apparently a Green Paper, or what is thought to have been a Green Paper, was presented by the Minister to the Government. In fact, we are told that these proposals are not the proposals the Minister, acting on the advice of the officials of his Department, put before the Government, that they were rejected. All this area in such an important question needs light and it is up to the Minister to throw light on what has happened.

Of particular concern to Trinity College, and to the people in general who are studying the situation, is the idea of the conjoint board in the context of two independent universities. Why is there a need for this conjoint board? We are waiting for its personnel and its functions. Why the duplication if one of the basic reasons for these proposals is to save money and to use our resources wisely? This White Paper that turned green and then disappeared in the Cabinet, is supposed to be the paper published in the currentEducation Times. I do not know whether it is. Perhaps the Minister could tell us. The conjoint board seems to be a duplication of the HEA. If the HEA have not got the powers at the moment, this is the House which can give them the powers to perform all the functions in the relationships between the various universities, between the various colleges now brought into the HEA bailiwick.

We are in the dark also about the joint Science Faculty called a Co-ordinated Science Faculty. How will it be co-ordinated? Will this conjoint board, if it ever sees the light of day, co-ordinate these science faculties? Has the idea of cross-registration, which was mooted many years ago by the Irish Federation of University Teachers, been dropped? Or is the Minister thinking of cross-registration in regard to the joint or co-ordinated faculty of science? We need to know because, particularly in the planning of a science faculty, we must know well ahead. A university must know well ahead what it must do, what will be the conditions of its existence.

When this particular university speaks it is heard in every corner of the globe. University education in Ireland will suffer if the Minister does not clear himself pretty soon of the charges that were made against him by members of that university. I come back to my opening sentence. This Government took office, and the Minister for Education in particular, promising consultation at every level before taking any action. The Minister is quoted—the quotation is fromThe Irish Times—as saying:

Is there a suggestion here that the Government in taking decisions must in fact consult continuously with other bodies when it makes the decisions?

The language is not too clear, but it seems to be a rejection of the first principle of consultation which we were led to believe was to motivate the activity of the Coalition Government.

The late Donogh O'Malley—go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire air—decided there would be a merger of universities in Dublin. That idea seems to have gone. Trinity College and the new university, whatever its name may be, in Belfield, are to be separate and distinct universities, but the Minister in his new proposals is acting as a match-maker elsewhere in university education. The lady Trinity and the gallant UCD must stand rigidly apart although they are on the same side of the Liffey but the Minister is shot-gunning UCG and UCD into a marriage presumably to legitimate the new National Institute of Higher Education in Limerick—different principles for different places. I have on other occasions mentioned the tendency to metropolitan thinking in the present Administration. In their treatment of UCG and UCC the Government are guilty of this metropolitan thinking— settle Dublin's problems and anything will do for the rest.

All we got from the Minister so far as a reason for keeping UCG and UCC joined in a National University of Ireland so far as I can trace is "for a wide variety of financial and educational reasons". It could be contended that the Ó Dálaigh Commission examined both the financial and educational reasons in 1967 when it advised that they should have separate university status. It could also be surmised that the Higher Education Authority did the same thing in 1973 when it advised that UCG and UCC should have separate, independent university status. The Commission itself is on record as saying:

The working of the university system requires, under its constitution, expensive cross-reference and cross-consultation within the university itself, between the university and the colleges, and between the colleges——

They are talking about the old NUI now.

——and these requirements unnecessarily delay the making of decisions and bringing the college into each other's business even when they have no particular interest in it. Proposals travel outwards and upwards and are not decided where the need is present and the knowledge is most fully available. Cumbersome procedures have to be observed and decisions that would seem very often to require only the exercise of an executive function must wait the authority of the central legislative body, many of whose members may have no interest in the matters in question.

That is taken from Report 11, page 410.

Those statements are as true today, if not more so, as when the Commission made them. No doubt the Minister has received, as I have, a memorandum from the Governing Body of UCC putting forward its case for independent status. Among the points made—I shall not go into detail now —is this one of how cumbersome it is to run a university on the lines of a National University of Ireland. It sets out convincingly reasons why UCC and UCG should be universities in their own right but, to emphasise the point I made a few moments ago, it points out that it takes from the time a university college has made a decision that it wants to set up a structure or make an innovative appointment a period of 18 months from idea to achievement.

I take it that the people who prepared that document know what they are talking about. In fact, in private conversations with members of both colleges I have found that this is the case. The Minister may say that the structures will be different in a new NUI. That may well be. But no matter how different they are, when you have a new bureaucracy you will slow decisions and put chains on the people who are involved in developing university colleges.

University College, Galway, is also anxious to be freed. The Minister in an early statement rebutting their claim cited evidence that was given by some member of UCG before the Higher Education Commission stating that they were not ready for it then. I think he has been adequately answered by the people who said that the Minister had forgotten that Donogh O'Malley had crossed the scene in the meantime and had spread secondary education widely throughout the country, particularly in rural Ireland where it was needed, and that there were far more people in UCG now than when that person was giving the evidence and that the numbers were increasing, that university education was becoming more accessible to more people and that that was basic to the educational philosophy of this party. I am proud to say that this party, while not achieving all we wanted, went well on the road to that achievement.

The social and economic benefit of University College, Galway, has been emphasised by the college in its plea for independent status. I do not have to make any long speech. Very eloquent people in this House, particularly a very eloquent backbancher on this side of the House, and speakers from all sides of the House, on occasion, have outlined how important it was to have as many ameliorative structures as possible in the west because this side of the House, and I am sure the other side, feel the west has something worth saving. Consequently one of the radical amendments to this document for which we are calling is that the college in Cork and the college in Galway be granted independent status.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers, of which Deputy Thornley was the founder secretary, have spoken lucidly, well and convincingly on the Minister's proposals. They are afraid of too much public control of the universities and the third-level institutions—that this is implicit in the document. It is all right to say that 80 per cent of the finance comes from public funds and that consequently there must be a great measure of control. I agree with that. There should be a great measure of control financially. It is the duty of the Administration in power to see to it that resources are used wisely. But that is a different thing from trying to control the universities.

The Federation of University Teachers have endorsed also the decision of the Higher Education Commission and the Higher Education Authority on the benefits to university education generally that would ensue from independent status for the two colleges I have mentioned. They decry also the fact that the Minister promised a White Paper on third level education and did not give it to us. I must here and now castigate the Minister for not having done so. A great deal of the obfuscation of policy, which is all that one can call the proposals in many respects, would have been removed had we had long ago a White Paper which could have been discussed. We could have helped the Minister to put together more reasonable proposals, at least proposals that were lucid and clear. We might even have strengthened him going into the Cabinet meeting where his colleagues devoured him, threw his proposals aside and came up with these. Indeed the Minister may not be to blame for their obscurity to any great extent.

With regard to the technological sector, the Minister is right in stressing its importance in third level education. What the higher colleges need at present isLebensraum, plenty of it. They are bursting at the seams; they are crying out all the time for accommodation. They are quite happy with their studies and achievements, and rightly so. A concentration on providing them with plenty of living room would be desirable on the part of the Government.

I am on record elsewhere as saying that I regret that the proposals ask the RTCs to look towards Limerick and Dublin and that they ask the top level of the colleges to look to the universities. Originally it seemed there would be no possibility of selective development of degree courses in the regional technological colleges. Apparently from a reply the Minister gave to somebody—and, again, one should not have to depend on journalists to elicit this kind of information—it seems that this will not be so in all cases. But the more the attention of the regional technological colleges is directed on their localities, on the needs of their own localities, on the social structure of their own localities, the better the contribution they can make to the country and to education in general. At times the Minister must live in cloud-cuckooland because I saw a statement he made that the RTCs largely have welcomed the scheme. This is not so. They are worried about many things. I have mentioned one of them already.

They are worried also that the proposed Council for Technological Education will not have any representation from them and that the two National Institutes of Higher Education, one in existence and one to be created, will have so much control in this National Council for Technological Education. Naturally, they are worried. It comes back to the first point I made: that they are afraid that they will be in a position to be downgraded by the institutes, sometimes because the institutes are developing courses which they do not want the RTCs to develop.

On this occasion I am glad the Minister laid it on the line that these decisions were Government decisions, because we have had the spectacle over the last 12 months or so of representatives of the people belonging to the junior party in the Coalition Government luxuriating in a superior educational policy, disowning the Minister's. Perhaps they were right in so doing. But I want to point out the immorality of that with regard to any proposals such as these that come before this House and people. The Minister's policies are their policies; the Minister's mistakes are their mistakes in these proposals on higher education and in every other field. They have a responsibility for them. They have their own Members in the Cabinet. They have their own remedy, if they do not agree-and their own remedy should not be to put the Minister in the public pillory in order to remain the seagreen incorruptibles of the educational scene.

The regional technological colleges are anxious about the National Council for Education Awards. One moment it is abolished, the next moment it is not abolished; it is back, but under a different name. It gets more and more curious. In the short time it has existed I think the NCEA has justified itself. I am of the opinion that it should be maintained and I am prepared to argue that in this House. The RTCs have developed a confidence in it. The NCEA also has structured courses which have gained the recognition of outside bodies.

Under the new structures there is the danger also that the good man in the small town who feels that he has not scope to develop will move— his eyes will be on a staff position in Limerick or in the new National Institute of Higher Education in Dublin. This also puts the whole idea of the RTCs at risk. It puts the country at risk of being impoverished, if the RTCs are not allowed to play the role designed for them. I have examples, but I have not time to give them to the House, of degree courses that have been structured in some of the RTCs, where people have dedicated themselves to these courses and where they fear the future. I am not saying their fears are 100 per cent valid, but the way the proposals were made left them with no option but to fear for their future and the future of the courses.

At the level of the national institute, the vocational education committees seem to be about to get the hammer. As I said of the colleges themselves, the committees have every right to be proud of their achievements in the development of third level education within the vocational education system. How the university and NIHE link is going to be established and how the difficulties are to be ironed out, I do not know. But I do know that if the vocational education committees are removed from the scene it will be a great loss to that particular field of third level education.

Many of the vocational education people, committee members and others, have made a strong plea that the regional technical colleges should be represented on all the relevant bodies, particularly the Council for Technological Education. I said that the Minister at times seemed to be living in a different world when he claimed that, for the most part, the heads of the RTCs were in favour of his proposals. I quote fromThe Irish Times of 20th December, 1974:

The principals of the eight regional technical colleges in the country have expressed "deep concern" at the Minister for Education's proposals for the future of higher education.

In a statement yesterday they described the proposals as a "tragedy" and warned that if implemented they would ensure that the vocational system would continue to be "the poor relation" in third level education.

They condemned the abolition of the NCEA. As I said, I think it should be maintained and given added power.

"The proposed abolition of the National Council for Educational Awards and its replacement by another council which will be badly constituted and severely restricted in its powers of awards is detrimental to the interests of the Regional Technical Colleges and of technical education generally, and ultimately will be seriously damaging to applied science and technology in Ireland," the statement said. "The decision to sacrifice the future development of technical colleges while appeasing the long-established vested interests in third level education is an abdication by the Minister in matters that are of vital importance to the future development of the nation."

If the Minister has any delusion about what the heads of the colleges think, then that should remove it. The Union of Students in Ireland made a very close analysis of the proposals, and I think I could recommend to the Minister, despite their occasional kicking over the traces and antagonising people, that they do a very close study of proposals. I do not always agree with either their actions or their conclusions but we must pay them the tribute that their research staff examine carefully the proposals that emanate from the Department and from the Minister.

Mr. Donegan, the Chairman of the Vocational Education Committee here in Dublin has also expressed his alarm, and I am asking the Minister to listen to these people who are experienced in the administration of vocational education. They are not just talking for the sake of talking. They fear that somehow or other the structures and the courses they have worked on and brought to perfection, in some cases, are endangered by what he proposes. I put down this motion in the following words:

That Dáil Éireann calls for radical amendment of the proposals of the Minister for Education on the re-organisation of third-level education.

I had intended to deal with the purported Green Paper. I did not get it in time to do so, and I would not have had time anyway. However, when I say "radical amendment" I mean radical amendment: first, that University College, Cork, be established as a university in its own right; secondly, that University College, Galway be established as a university in its own right; thirdly, that the Minister preserve the regional technical colleges by giving them representation on any board in which they have an interest, any board that deals with them on validation level, on assessment level or on structuring level; fourthly, that the vertical mobility that exists at present in the third level colleges should be maintained; and the Minister, if he intends to go through with his proposals, will have a lot of hard work to do in this area in bringing the top portion of the third level institutions into harmony with university requirements.

I am asking the Minister not to exclude the vocational education committees from the running of the third level institutions which they have been running and which they know so well, and which they have been running with success. I am asking the Minister to maintain the NCEA and extend its powers to perform a dual function, that of validation of degrees and of structuring. I am asking him to consider also Maynooth College as a possible independent university institution.

I am asking him finally to remove the charge made against him, justly or unjustly—and in the light of the amount of information he has let out to the public, how can we know whether it is justly or unjustly—that the Government have acted politically in their dealings with Trinity College, so that we shall not be the world's fools wherever educationalists gather.

When the Opposition put down a Private Members' motion calling for the radical alteration of the Government's proposals—I think it was put as the Minister for Education's proposals—I expected we would have been given somerationale, some reasoned case, which would guide us towards a view of how this might be done. I have listened without interruptions to the Deputy although on a number of occasions I would have liked to ask questions in order to elucidate points he was making. Therefore, I expect to be heard totally without questioning.

It is not good enough in dealing with higher education for someone to come here and recite a litany of grievances which particular interests have expressed either privately to the Deputy concerned or by way of the media in respect of the Government's proposals. I have noted briefly some of the points raised by the Deputy. He began by quoting from TCD and from Professor Dawson. The most charitable line that I could take in relation to what was written by Professor Dawson would be to remain silent. Even one's own colleagues could be embarrassed by what was written by the professor forThe Education Times.

It is not good enough either to trot out in this House the alleged grievances of one of the colleges in Dublin. I refute the unsubstantiated charge, and the Deputy was good enough not to substantiate it, that the Government's proposals in respect of higher education were politically motivated. They were not, as anybody reading them carefully will realise. In the first place what benefit would there be in allowing considerations other than education considerations to guide us in relation to these matters? I should like the seconder of this motion, Deputy Faulkner, when he comes in, to elaborate on this charge made by the Opposition. I challenge him to say what precisely is meant by the Opposition when they quote political charges. Do they mean party political charges?

The Minister is asking what is meant by Professor Dawson or by the Provost.

There must be no interruptions.

Mr. R. Burke

These charges were quoted with the approval of the Opposition.

I was seeking information.

Deputy Wilson must desist from interruptions.

Mr. R. Burke

This is the kind of smear innuendo that is unworthy of this House. I ask Fianna Fáil either to dissociate themselves from the professor's views or to substantiate them from their own point of view.

Deputy Wilson mentioned the policy of a merger of the two universities in Dublin. I have not got the verbatim account before me but I should be surprised if it reveals that Deputy Wilson came down either for or against this policy. Am I to take it that the Fianna Fáil policy on higher education is to merge the two colleges in Dublin, a suggestion that was made by the late Donogh O'Malley in 1967? Mr. O'Malley proposed a merger then and I challenge the Opposition now to clarify whether they adhere yet to that Fianna Fáil policy which, as far as I know, has never been departed from publicly. It ill behoves Deputy Wilson to speak in the terms he used. Subsequent Fianna Fáil Ministers, and there were two, made references and proposals in relation to higher education but they did nothing about solving the problem although they had opportunity in plenty to do so. Therefore, it comes ill from Deputy Wilson to make the points he made and to complain about lack of information.

On a point of order, I complained of lack of consultation.

Mr. R. Burke

I do not wish to waste the time available to me in going through all the points raised by the Deputy but consultation was one question about which he made a song and dance. What we are dealing with here are not, as the Deputy would suggest, proposals. They are decisions, decisions for which this country has waited for a number of years while people dithered and failed to make up their minds. At least, this Government have issued the decisions.

On a point of information, I have here a document from the Minister entitledThe Government's Proposals in Relation to Higher Education.

Mr. R. Burke

I am saying, as I have said publicly on a number of occasions, that these are Government decisions. I reiterate that so that there can be no misunderstanding on this point. The litany of grievances to which the Deputy subjected us included references to UCC and UCG. The difficulties which all agreed existed in relation to the present NUI are advanced as reasons why one should depart from a federated university between these colleges or any other college that should wish to join them. We heard also about IFUT. Did the Deputy come down on the side of IFUT? Is he saying in effect that the proportions as between the State expenditure on higher education of 80 per cent and 20 per cent should be maintained or should the State contribution be increased? If the State's contribution should be increased I should like to have heard that at Question Time to-day when these matters were being discussed.

The Deputy talked about the obfuscation that would have been avoided if a White Paper had been published. I have dealt already in public with this question. The decisions that have been taken by the Government are the decisions which will form the basis on which the White Paper will be elaborated. There is no obfuscation in relation to these decisions. They are clear. As I have said elsewhere, some of the fuss about them is because they are not acceptable to some people and, consequently, the red herring of a White Paper is being drawn across the track to obscure that point.

I was glad to note that the Deputy agreed with me generally on the question of the technological sector. However, he seems to be under a misapprehension and not to have read my previous statements in regard to the taking over of the colleges by the universities. There will be no taking over by any university of the technological colleges. I have tried to make that clear in a number of statements.

I did not say that.

Mr. R. Burke

The Deputy said that the Council for Technological Education will not have RTC representation. That is not so.


Mr. R. Burke

The Deputy said I have laid it on the line that these are Government decisions. It should not be necessary to do it but people in discussing these matters have tried to give the impression that these had been my personal views for a long time. Now, at last, when I have got home the message that the decisions are Government ones, these people are not pleased either.

Reference was made to the NCEA. Does the Deputy mean simply that he wishes "NCEA" to be retained? This is not a matter of major importance. Does he wish their functions to be widened? I have said on a number of occasions that I intend widening the functions of the NCEA. Is the Deputy saying that he wishes degrees to continue to be validated by the NCEA or whatever body will take over from them?

Mr. R. Burke

If that is the case the Deputy is coming down firmly in favour of the binary system and it would be helpful if the seconder of the motion would tell the House clearly whether Fianna Fáil are in favour of the binary system, and the keeping apart of the autonomous sector and the technologically integrated sector.

We were treated also to the views advanced on behalf of the chairman of the Dublin VEC but we were not told whether the policy of allowing the Dublin VECs to continue to be the governing structure of the NIEC in Dublin should be followed in relation to Limerick city VEC. Perhaps the seconder of the motion would enlighten us on that matter also because he or his immediate predecessor were in office when the Limerick NIHE was instituted. I have not seen any reference in any record to the fact that that college should have been given to Limerick city or Limerick county VEC.

It has not been given to anybody yet.

Mr. R. Burke

We have heard from Deputy Wilson that the principals of the RTCs spoke about this matter as a tragedy. The statement he is quoting from was issued in early days and from memory I could give him the name of one principal of an RTC who wrote letters to the papers saying there was a lot of merit in the Government's proposals and calling generally for agreement with these proposals.

I know who the Minister means.

Mr. R. Burke

Then, the Deputy can hardly say that all the principals of these colleges were against these proposals. References were made to the USI and others. At no point— and I listened very carefully and attentively to what Deputy Wilson said— did it come through to me what the policy of the Fianna Fáil Party is in relation to higher education. We have been treated to a litany in some cases of the publicised grievances of certain interests in relation to some doubts they may have and in other cases, to the lack of understanding of the purport and direction of those proposals.

As I made it clear when I made the Government's decision on higher education known on 16th December last—and as I have repeated since— my immediate concern in making the announcement was to inform the public of these decisions. I am convinced that in doing so I did what was correct.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that at the time of my statement on 16th December, the many interests and institutions which are intimately involved in higher education, and the general public, had for seven years been awaiting decisions which would indicate the trend of future development. It is not, I think, an exaggeration to say that these seven years constituted a period of anxiety and of unsettling uncertainty about the future for all concerned with higher education and its development. It was a period throughout which various, and I underline the word, proposals, counter-proposals and alternative suggestions from some of the interests concerned emanated and various recommendations followed one another in a seemingly endless series; it was a period which one might say was rich in everything except decisions which would signpost the way ahead.

In this connection let me say that on becoming Minister for Education I soon discovered, in the course of discussions which I had with deputations from higher education interests—and I have already given the Dáil details of the number of these meetings— that the sense of frustration which had enveloped many of those with whom I spoke was so strong that I formed the impression that almost any decision that would end the uncertainty would be welcomed by them. Indeed, the very Opposition which is now calling for a radical amendment of these proposals repeatedly asked me when these decisions would be forthcoming. In fact I have a very clever recollection of hearing academics speak in these terms.

It would, of course, have been an easy matter to present decisions to the public shortly after I became Minister. It might even have won a measure of public acclaim that the mists had at last been scattered. It would not, however, have been the action of a responsible Minister for Education or Government. Rather would it have been irresponsible in the extreme. So, while under continuous pressure to expedite decisions I pressed on with a detailed examination and a thorough survey of all aspects and areas of higher education. At the same time, I continued to receive deputations from bodies whose views I felt would be valuable to me in my examination of higher education as a whole. I say "higher education as a whole" designedly, because I was aware that some at least of those who were, understandably in the circumstances eager for early decisions, appeared to see higher education in rather traditional terms, a higher education which was somewhat confined in range and scope, and where institutions were concerned centred in the main in the traditional-type institutions such as universities and other long-established institutions.

This, of course, is far from being the true situation. While higher education may in another age have been associated largely with the universities, the situation had changed radically with the establishment and rapid expansion of a network of new third level educational institutions, in which a great variety of new programmes, both general and specialist, was fostered and developed. Indeed, the whole landscape of higher education was changed by this development. The result of the emergence on the scene of this—let me call it—modern aspect of higher education and the importance of its rational development from the outset made it imperative that third level education in its entirety should be studied as a unit and decisions relating to it taken as such. In fact the questions on which decisions were awaited had become much more difficult and complex than they were, for example, in the time of my predecessor who announced by a simple statement about a merger in Dublin——

It did a lot of good.

Mr. R. Burke

We await clarification if this is still Fianna Fáil policy. What had begun as a relatively, in retrospect, clear-cut matter of rationalisation of the university situation in the Dublin area, and consequential restructuring of the university system generally, had now encompassed a much broader field requiring the most careful consideration.

After exhaustive examination of the situation the Government reached the decisions which I announced in December last. I am aware that the substance of these decisions has drawn criticism from some quarters—some of this criticism is, I feel sure, due perhaps to misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Government's purpose and intentions. Our decisions have been inspired by a desire to effect rationalisation of the system of higher education in its entirety and to guarantee maximum interaction between institutions to the benefit of our students and of the quality of the education which must be provided for them. To this end we decided to initiate the establishment of the structures necessary to secure a comprehensive system of third level education in the country. We took this decision, having considered all the advice available to us.

I need not say that I am convinced we took the correct decision. The establishment of a comprehensive system has been the central guiding principle underlying our plan. I await with eagerness clarification by the seconder or some other speaker of the underlying principle guiding the Opposition's view of third level education. Such a system facilitates making the ideal of real and genuine equality in education a reality. When I use the word "equality" in this context I have in mind the equality of opportunity in access to higher education, equality of opportunity within the system of higher education and equality of opportunity within the matter of recognition of courses and qualifications, whatever the institution on which they are based.

Let me point out, too, that the overall comprehensive framework for which we have opted is calculated to make access to higher education a reality for many, who, under an alternative plan, might not have been afforded this opportunity. To me it seems clear that the opportunities for student mobility between institutions and different educational levels—and these are most desirable objectives— are offered in a comprehensive system to an extent that no alternative plan would be likely to provide.

My list of the advances that are inherent in a comprehensive framework of third level education is not at this point intended to be exhaustive. We have been guided by a strong desire to ensure greater liaison and co-operation between a great variety of institutions old and new, and have formulated decisions which aim at breaking down the traditional isolation from one another of these institutions the common purpose of which should be to serve the same ends, the welfare of the students and of the country generally. As I have already said at my Press conference, the Government are confident "that they may rely on the goodwill of all the parties involved in higher education in securing the best possible service to all students, whether whole-time or part-time, adolescent or adult".

This is one important aspect of the Government's decisions to which to date little attention has been given by those who have commented upon the decisions in general. It is our clear commitment to devolution of authority in relation to the institutions that constitute the sphere of higher education. I am referring now to that section of my statement of 16th December, when I announced a list of bodies which are to be designated institutions for the purpose of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971. These institutions are as follows:

the Conjoint Board of the Dublin Universities,

the Council for Technological Education,

the National Institute of Higher Education, Dublin and Limerick,

the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies,

St. Patrick's College of Education, Drumcondra,

Our Lady of Mercy College of Education, Carysfort Park, Blackrock, Dublin, the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines,

the National College of Art and Design, Dublin,

the College of Education for Teachers of Specialist Subjects, Limerick,

the National College of Physical Education, Limerick,

Mary Immaculate College of Education, Limerick,

St. Catherine's College of Home Economics, Sion Hill and

St. Angela's College of Home Economics, Lough Gill, Sligo.

I invite the Opposition to agree with me that the Government's decision to designate these institutions was the right decision so that we will know where they stand in relation to these matters.

In addition to the specific functions given to it under the Act, the authority has the general functions of:

(a) furthering the development of higher education,

(b) assisting in the co-ordination of State investment in higher education and preparing proposals for such investment,

(c) promoting an appreciation of the value of higher education and research,

(d) promoting the attainment of equality of opportunity in higher education,

(e) promoting the democratisation of the structure of higher education.

Clearly, these are all functions which the authority with its experience and expertise can carry out most fruitfully and effectively in the context of the comprehensive structures which we propose to establish. Incidentally, I did not hear the Opposition comment, favourably or unfavourably, on our recent decisions to widen the personnel to increase the number of persons on the Higher Education Authority, particularly from the areas of technological education, which we desire to see integrated with the autonomous sector.

You could widen it still further.

Mr. R. Burke

At present there are two designated institutions, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and the College of Pharmacy and these as designated institutions deal directly with the Higher Education Authority, not with my Department.

In deciding to designate 14 additional institutions, which I propose to do at an early date after consultation with the Higher Education Authority, we are not motivated by any desire to abdicate responsibility on our part. Rather have we decided to do so because of our firm belief in the value of devolution of authority. Aside from the Government's expressed intention to devolve authority where appropriate and feasible, there is another important point to be made with regard to the bringing within the ambit of the Higher Education Authority of those institutions I have just mentioned. These institutions provide third level education or have close involvement with higher education. It is more than a little strange then that the body directly charged with the development of higher education should up to the present, because of the sharply-drawn lines of demarcation that have run through the structure have been more or less confined in its endeavours to part of higher education. Our decision to designate the additional institutions will end that situation.

Deputy Wilson in his contribution was worried about the regional technical colleges. I am not too clear, having listened to the Opposition, to what extent they wish the regional technical colleges to become degree-awarding institutions. I hope Deputy Faulkner will follow me and with his experience in relation to those colleges may I remind him that the regional technical colleges were established for the specific purpose of providing technicians for the local regions and for our industrial progress generally. It was never the intention—I invite the Deputy to give me his view on this—that degree courses should be followed in these colleges except in very exceptional circumstances. If Fianna Fáil's suggestions about the RTCs are carried out then inevitably we will have to build a new series of colleges to do the job for which these RTCs were set up originally. Since Deputy Faulkner is likely to follow me I should like to know why the previous Government did not accept the Higher Education Authority's proposals on reorganisation when submitted to him on 9th December, 1971, or early in 1972. Perhaps he will explain to the House why the then Government decided to discontinue the building of the dental hospital in Cork. I take it the Opposition are not going to suggest to me and to the Government that our decision to provide a dental hospital in Cork was the wrong decision. In the so-called call for radical amendment of these proposals, are we to have them amended so that the dental hospital in Cork is going to be taken out?

The Minister is playing the old political fiddle now.

The Minister knows well that Fianna Fáil were going to build a dental hospital in Cork.

Order. The Minister has less than five minutes to conclude. Please allow him to conclude without interruption.


Mr. R. Burke

Whatever the Opposition may say about the moratorium —perhaps that is the kindest word we can use—if they did not intend to kill the idea of a dental hospital in Cork, we have decided——

When are you starting to build?

Mr. R. Burke

——to allow that dental hospital to continue.

Deputy Wilson ought to desist from interrupting. The Minister has only a few minutes to conclude. Deputy Wilson spoke for 40 minutes without a single interruption.

The Minister is inviting interruptions.

Mr. R. Burke

As Deputy Liam Burke rightly says, and I acknowledge his interest in the matter, we are giving you the Cork dental hospital.

In further reference to devolution of authority I may say that it is a major part of the overall policy of the Government of which I am a member that the decision-making process should be decentralised as much as possible. The National Coalition Government hold it as a priority that power must be vested in the people, and that they must have a voice in the formulation of policy in relation to their needs.

Perhaps the next speaker would let us know whether Fianna Fáil would have taken the RTCs from under the authority of the VECs. We have decided to leave the RTCs under the VECs for the very reasons I am stating: that we wish the people to have a voice in the formulation of policy in these areas and also because such a substantial proportion of the work of these RTCs is post-compulsory— apprenticeship, technician and adult education.

I intervene to advise the Minister he has about one minute left.

Mr. R. Burke

This is as true in the field of education as it is in other areas. Education is an important part of the fabric of society and should be responsive to local needs and aspirations as well as fulfilling its other requirements. Our decisions, I am confident, will ensure the necessary responsiveness to local needs.

I am now concluding and I look forward eagerly to an exposition of the philosophy of the Opposition in regard to higher education. I call on the House to vote down with disregard the motion which is before us calling for radical amendment of the Government's policies on higher education.

The matter under discussion is a very serious one. I regret the Minister adopted the attitude he did in his statement. He had an opportunity to throw some light on the confusion which followed the announcement of his proposals but he evidently took the line that the best means of defence is to attack, especially when he did not propose to say anything in relation to his own proposals or to throw any light on them.

He appears to be particularly anxious to know what the Fianna Fáil policy is in relation to third level education. The actual position is that the Opposition and the country are very anxious to know what the Minister's proposals are. He was well aware of the fact, when he announced his proposals, that there was a considerable amount of confusion. Nobody really knew what was involved and when the Minister got an opportunity, in replying to questions in the Dáil, he refused to take it. Tonight he refused again to take that opportunity. He treated the whole matter in a very light manner.

Last weekThe Education Times published a document which purported to be a study carried out at the request of the Minister for Education by a committee in his Department with regard to the future of third level education in this country. Its publication just a few days before this debate on the Private Members' motion in Deputy John Wilson's name placed me in a bit of a quandary because some of the conclusions I had reached as to the manner in which the Government decisions on higher education came about are very similar to the conclusions which most people who have studied the document and with it the Government's decisions have reached in relation to this matter since the publication of the document.

I simply want to point out, apart from what I have already said, that the notes I prepared for this debate were prepared shortly after the Minister's proposals were made known. When he refused to answer individually the very important questions on third level education put to him in this House by Deputy Wilson I had no doubt in my mind as to why he adopted this attitude. The reason was he simply had not got the answers or he had only a very vague idea of them. Let me refer to the published document again. Obviously, the divergence between what he proposed and what was later on decided by the Government was too great to be easily digested.

When I heard some time ago that the Government proposed to set up a Cabinet sub-committee to examine the merger proposals and to make recommendations to the Government and that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs were to be members of the committee, but very particularly when I saw that the Minister for Foreign Affairs was to be a member of the committee, I had not any great difficulty in identifying the likely line along which his fertile imagination would take him, nor for that matter the institution which was most likely to find itself in the most favoured category. I was long enough dealing with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, when he was spokesman on Education, to read the signs. I would even go so far as to say possibly at some stage during the discussions by the sub-committee the Minister for Foreign Affairs took it on himself to write the document.

I might add that the nod towards the technical and technological side of education and the pretence that it was being upgraded was simply a sop to the attitude of the Labour Party Conference in Galway to the general education policy of the Minister for Education. It is now seen to be the meaningless gesture it really is. In my view it is very much worse than that because the effect of the proposals is to downgrade the technical and technological education in a manner which could only have been expected from the Cabinet academics who formed the sub-committee and for whom university education is the be-all and end-all of existence.

The suggestion that these proposals will result in third level comprehensive education is nonsense. In fact they show every indication of handing over technical and technological education to the control of the universities at a very vital level, that is, at third level. When I was Minister for Education, I never tired of pointing out that our educational system was lopsided and also that if we were to make progress as a people we had to get away from the heavy, and I might add historical, emphasis on the academic side.

We took very positive action to do this. At one stage the only course available in the technical schools was the group certificate two year course. We introduced the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations to vocational schools. We established the regional technical colleges to provide some third level education on the technical side. We established the National Institute of Higher Education in Limerick to give further and more advanced third level education. We proposed to build a further national institute of higher education in Ballymun. It was not called an NIHE at that particular time but it is the same proposal the Minister has put forward. We established the National Council of Education Awards to concern itself with courses and qualifications up to degree level on the technical side.

It is accepted throughout the country, perhaps not by the present Government, that exceptional progress was made in a very short time in the technical and technological sides of education. Nevertheless, I think we will have to accept that the growth is a relatively new one. Our aim was to give equality of status and equality of esteem to all aspects of education. When we established and developed the community schools, which I am glad to say, despite any efforts by the Government, are not only accepted but are being called for by the people of the country at the present time, we did not hand over technical education to secondary education. Again, we gave equality of status to all forms of education at post primary level in these schools.

We had an aim. These are just some of the practical steps which we took to achieve that aim. In my view it is quite different from a situation where to all intents and purposes at a vital level technical and technological education is being handed over to the universities. These new proposals were dumped on the Minister for Education. I accept the statement that the proposals are Government proposals. They certainly did not emanate from the Department of Education. I had knowledge over a number of years of the senior officers of that Department and I would not for one moment accuse them of putting forward such proposals. However, they are now saddled with them and I have no doubt they are at present trying to extract from them some kind of answers to Deputy Wilson's questions, which I suppose will be the substance of the White Paper when we get one. I do not envy them their task.

I regret very much the Minister for Education allowed himself to be saddled with these proposals. He has only himself to blame if he must now try to defend them with all kinds of meaningless special pleadings. It is quite clear from the number of times the Minister contradicted himself when replying to supplementary questions asked by Deputy Wilson that he had no real idea of what was involved in the proposals and his question to us as to whether we were aware of such a thing as collective responsibility rang somewhat hollow. The Minister boasted, as he boasted again today, that he had within two years produced decisions on third level education which the former Administration had been unable to do in the previous 16 years. I ignore the considerable inaccuracy in the number of years since the merger was first announced, but surely the Minister will agree that whether he is to be commended or otherwise on such decisions depends on the quality of the decisions. If the proposals are of poor quality and unacceptable to the general body involved and therefore unworkable the fact that the Minister produces them in two years is not worthy of any commendation.

It is appropriate at this stage to draw attention to the fact that this Government, after the merger situation, made decisions which altered radically not only the previous Government's proposals but also the UCD-TCD agreement and the final proposal of the Higher Education Authority all of which had been discussed, debated and considered over a very long period. The Minister may say, as he did say, that we were demanding that he should introduce his proposals quickly but we did not for one moment assume that, when he would introduce them, they would be totally changed from the original proposals which were being discussed and considered by the various bodies concerned.

If the sub-committee were to come to a reasonable conclusion in regard to this exceptionally important and involved matter it would have been necessary for it to concern itself not only with a synoposis of the various proposals which, I would assume, the sub-committee had before it but also to get a real feeling of the situation and, perhaps most important of all, to approach the matter objectively. Quite obviously the committee did not approach the matter objectively. Candidly, I doubt if some of its members were capable of so doing.

When one remembers the Government's 14-point plan election promises, which were referred to earlier by Deputy Wilson, and takes note of the stress laid on consultation, particularly in educational matters, it is interesting to note the take it or leave it presentation of these proposals. We were originally promised by the Government, as Deputy Wilson pointed out, a Green Paper to be followed by a White Paper on the subject of third level education. Neither materialised and belatedly we are now once again promised a White Paper and this only because of the pressure of public opinion and this White Paper will simply attempt to clarify the proposals put forward by the Government.

The Minister stated on a number of occasions, and again here today, since his proposals were issued that there had been over the years long consultations on the subject of the merger and that many interested bodies had contributed their views orally and in writing and all this consultation had been sufficient and the decision of the Government had now been made and therefore nobody could accuse him or the Government of lack of consultation. The Minister must be aware that beginning at the time when the original proposal to merge the two Dublin universities was announced and down the years since then, not only until we left office but, I would say, of necessity for quite a time afterwards, the matter was pursued along certain well-defined lines between the Department and the various interests involved and, indeed, between some of the interests themselves—for example, the NUI and TCD discussions—and everybody concerned was aware of each step taken, all recognised the road travelled and all were coming by degrees to accept, I think, that a reasonably worthwhile solution was in sight and then, in a relatively short space of time, the new Government issued their proposals which, in some instances, were completely at variance with the painstaking progress which had been made up to then. Those involved were offered a package out of the blue without any prior consultation on a much changed content, and I want to emphasise that aspect, and they were told the package was not negotiable. To suggest that an effective comprehensive higher education system for the whole country could possibly be created in this way is absolutely ridiculous and it underlines the amateur approach of the Government's concept of consultation. Consultation means not simply discussing the matter concerned with those interested and then coming to a decision but also, particularly in a matter so important as this one, bringing the various groupings involved with you so that the final decision will be recognised by and accepted by those concerned even though they may not agree with everything.

The Minister has stated that the whole matter will be discussed when legislation comes before the Dáil. It is quite obvious basic considerations will not be affected with the passage of a Bill through the Dáil and we will end up with an Act setting up a system unacceptable to a large section of the interests involved, a system which will, I am afraid, remain a source of conflict for years to come. In an aspect of such national importance as higher education this is disastrous. The Minister may claim that were he to discuss the proposals beforehand with those concerned he would simply have further wrangling and much time would be lost before a final decision was reached. I agree this could be so but in the event of such radical changes made by the Cabinet sub-committee and the Minister in relation to all the previous proposals, whether those of the former Government or of the NUI-TCD agreement or of the final recommendations of the Higher Education Authority, the intelligent and sensible thing to do would have been to allow all concerned to continue the discussions so as to reach a reasonably amicable agreement which would then be worked out by all concerned. The Minister may force the legislation through the Dáil and Seanad but where will that leave the higher education system and the students involved in it if institutions are forced to work a system which to many of them is unworkable and unacceptable?

I can say from my experience of dealing with this matter for quite a considerable time that everyone, even the most intransigent, had come to recognise reform was needed: that universities could not remain in splendid isolation, unaffected by changing times, that money was not as plentiful as we would wish, that the greatest use had to be made of the limited resources available and I had come to the conclusion we were approaching a point where a reasonably amicable agreement was possible. I was not averse to forcing the issue to some extent to speed up the process, but I would never have dreamt of suddenly producing something so different from that which had been so carefully, patiently and even painfully charted over a number of years. The main body of educated opinion is opposed to the proposals put forward and I have no doubt that the lack of understanding as to why some basic changes were made without any attempt at consultation is partly the cause of the opposition. I found that after the initial problems and perhaps confrontations the univertsities and the other higher level institutions gave reasonable co-operation along a course they had come to understand, if not to accept altogether. They now find themselves suddenly, and by their own admission, faced with changes without any reference to them.

It is proposed that the National University of Ireland as it exists should be dissolved but should be resurrected in a truncated form with the resulting rump consisting of University College, Cork, University College, Galway, and the National Institute of Higher Education in Limerick. I might add the National Institute of Higher Education would be foolish to join in the depressed institution which will be created. I find it particularly difficult to understand the decision to join UCC and UCG together to form one university considering they are 150 miles apart whereas the universities in Dublin, as Deputy Wilson pointed out, are both situated in the same city and they are being retained as two separate universities. What makes it more difficult for me and possibly for others to understand is the fact that while many complex problems were discussed over a long period relating to the new structure for higher education never once did anybody suggest, let alone propose, that these colleges should be united to form one university. From the beginning the proposal was that the colleges would each form a separate university. This was the original proposal of the previous Government, it was accepted in the UCD-TCD agreement and was fully accepted in the final proposals of the Higher Education Authority.

Debate adjourned.