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.