Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Bill, 1978: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to make legislative provision for an extension of the range of courses in respect of which higher education grants may be held. Under the Act which established the grants scheme—The Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Act, 1968—grants were tenable only in respect of attendance at university degree courses and courses in other institutions of higher education which were equivalent to university degree courses. This Bill provides for the award of grants to designated courses in institutions such as the colleges of Technology and the regional technical colleges which would not be degree courses or their equivalent. This arrangement was initiated at the commencement of the academic year 1974-75 and, accordingly, the amending legislation provides that the appropriate date from which the amendment should come into operation is 1 August 1974.

The academic attainment standard prescribed for the purpose of a higher education grant is stated in terms of achievement at the leaving certificate examination. The relevant provision in the published grants schemes is that the candidate must have obtained grade C or a higher grade in higher or common level papers in four or more subjects or, alternatively, have obtained grade C or a higher grade in higher or common level papers in Irish and in two other subjects or in mathematices and in two other subjects.

This amending legislation allows candidates who reach the prescribed standard at the leaving certificate examination to choose an approved course of study in the non-university sector in preference to going to university, if they wish to do so. Such approved course must be based on leaving certificate entry standard and be a wholetime course of minimum duration of two years leading to a certificate or diploma validated by an appropriate authority, which would normally, and increasingly so in the future, be the NCEA. These course are provided mainly in the Dublin colleges of technology and in the regional technical colleges. Approved courses in other institutes of third-level education may, however, also be included.

In the circumstances of the provision being allowed by the terms of this Bill, candidates who qualify for higher education grants have, accordingly, available to them an extra option in their choice of course—that of following a third level education course at non-degree level. I am satisfied that it is very desirable that this option should be available as an alternative for the student who desires to pursue a course of study at third-level without commitment, at least at the commencement of the course, to completion of a full degree course.

The inclusion of the regional technical colleges for the purpose of tenure of higher education grants is also a commendable development for many reasons. Their inclusion offers the student a wider choice of course. For some students the convenience of the local college to home will, socially and educationally, be welcome; and the inclusion should enhance the status of those colleges and promote the development of a wide variety of courses of study in them.

As I have already stated these arrangements have been in operation since 1 August 1974 in anticipation of the relevant amending legislation. This is not a practice which I would wish to condone or to take example by. At this stage I merely mention the fact as an introduction to a statement of the number of students who in 1977-78 held higher education grants in non-university institutes. In that year a total of 5,848 students held higher education grants—a lower figure, incidentally, than might be expected if the value of the grants and a revision of the means' conditions had taken place as it should have in the period 1973 to 1976. Of that number 160 held their grants in institutes other than the universities.

In this connection it is also appropriate to point out that a scheme of scholarships is operated by vocational Education committees. The number of students who received such scholarship assistance in the academic year 1977-78 was 1,658. In making comparison with the figure of 5,848 students holding higher education grants it is necessary to bear in mind that the average duration of the courses in the non-university sector is shorter than in the case of the universities and that, for this and other reasons, the total number of students following the designated courses in the regional technical colleges and in the colleges of technology is much less than the number of students in the universities. The VEC scholarship scheme will, accordingly, continue as the principle vehicle by which student aid will be given in the non-degree area of third level education. The means' conditions for these scholarships are the same as for the higher education grants scheme.

In conclusion I may say that I consider that this proposed amendment of the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Act, 1968, provides a bridge by which higher education grant holders may proceed to courses having a technological rather than an academic emphasis and it will in this way contribute to the supply of trained personnel for the country's expanding industrial sector. I confidently commend it to the House for approval.

This Bill is merely an amending Bill to take into account the fact that higher education grants have been given in respect of institutes other than universities and for courses other than degree equivalent courses in non-universities. In 1974 the National coalition Government widened the courses available. This Bill might have been introduced in the House before now to give legal effect to that change in policy. Certainly the 1968 Act should have been amended before now, because it is possible that certain applicants for higher education grants have been inadvertently refused though being eligible. I understand that the Department may possibly be liable to a court action by any such applicant. I had hoped the Minister would introduce a more comprehensive Bill than this but he has been busy in his travels.

The importance of higher education in the overall economy is well recognised. The future development of the economy is linked directly to the availability of higher education, especially in the new forms of higher education we have seen develop in the 1970s, in the colleges of technology, regional colleges and in the National Institute for Higher Education. That is a very welcome and necessary development in an economy which is striving to industrialise and which needs a good reservoir of trained industrial personnel. Therefore it is unfortunate that the qualification for eligibility for the higher education grants is so high. The estimates of participation in higher education are, to a certain extent, frightening. In the Government White Paper on National Development, 1977-1980 it is estimated that overall there will be about 33,000 in higher education, which is expected to increase to 45,000 by 1981. Dr. Sheehan, in a report by the National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin, has estimated that there will be 42,000 people in higher education by 1981, which figure will increase to 50,000 by 1986. In the higher technological sector it was estimated recently that in 1977 there were approximately 7,000, that this figure will increase to 12,000 by 1981 and to 18,000 by 1986, depending on participation ratios.

The provision of these places constitutes an immense problem and is a challenge to any Minister for Education. We all accept that places must be made available and education provided if we hope to meet the challenge of the 1980s in education generally and certainly in technological education in particular. In this respect the recent expansion of some third level places, particularly in regional colleges, is welcomed. The tardiness in respect of the appointment of staff to these colleges is most unfortunate. However, I do not wish to go into that at present. Delays of up to six months have been experienced which in some colleges have hindered the provision of parts of courses. That is most undesirable. The question of regional colleges administering a laid-down policy in respect of staff appointments would constitute a welcome development rather than relying on the present, very narrow sanction system operated by the Department. If we are to have population involvement and participation in higher education, if we are to provide the places necessary, we must ensure also that there is open access to everyone both to universities and colleges of technology. There is reason to believe that, for economic and social reasons this access has not been available to people in the less well-off sectors of the community. I firmly believe that in order to have an equitable policy in relation to participation in third-level education there is need for reassessment of our approach in respect of the giving of grants both by vocational education committees and by the Department in respect of the higher education grants. The recent development of colleges being assisted by money from the EEC Social Fund is a good one. I understand that we are one of the few countries in the EEC utilising this money and I commend the Minister in this respect. I hope this development will be expanded on a permanent basis in the third level sector. The Minister omitted reference to it in his speech. However, I should like him to comment on the possibility of making this EEC money a more permanent part of our educational system. Perhaps the Minister, when replying, would make some comment in that respect.

Access to colleges of technology is far more democratic than that to our universities where the points system is rigidly and inhumanly exercised by university authorities. That is in sharp contrast to the entrance procedures of regional colleges, especially where the entrance requirement is a mere D level in the ordinary leaving certificate, accounting for approximately 50 per cent of the entrance requirement. Then there is an interview conducted by departmental staff, lectures and so on, which equate to about 30 per cent of the requirement. Finally, in certain cases, there is an aptitude test which accounts for about 20 per cent of the overall entrance requirement.

That is a more human and flexible approach in regard to the intake of students to colleges. I appreciate that the large numbers involved in universities makes this more difficult. Nevertheless they have an obligation to implement a more equitable system than their present harsh and impersonal one. They have also the two honours requirement, which will now have to be based on one leaving certificate examination result. This is very harsh. It is undemocratic. After all, we who are interested and involved in education like to encourage participation and here we have an example of our universities discouraging rather than encouraging participation in education.

This is an economy where we are looking for qualified people. It seems to me that the universities are on the wrong track. It has come to my notice that applicants who have a very high points level are doing subjects they never intended to do. Some students, because they have honours, are doing medicine or engineering and they might be more happy doing liberal studies. This is a crazy system. The Minister should involve himself in the evolution of a proper human application system in university education. I am well aware of his sympathy in this matter.

The relation of the higher education grants to entrance requirements is bad. At present one must have four honours in the leaving certificate or one must have Irish, mathematics and two other subjects. I would like to see that being reduced because I feel that participation in education should be encouraged. The higher education grants should be more readily available than they are now and should be based on a lower academic leaving certificate result than is the case at the moment. It would be easy for me to say that we should do away with the four honours requirement but I do not wish to make that kind of politics. I know it is a costly undertaking but I suggest to the Minister that participation in higher level education is something we should encourage. We should reduce the four honours requirement for academic eligibility for the higher education grants. Perhaps over a period of two or three years one honour could be taken off and the second honour could be taken off the next time.

I ask the Minister to look seriously at the case of applicants for higher education grants who, because of income limits, are not eligible in their first year of application but after possibly two or three years the father or the main breadwinner may retire and the income of the family is substantially reduced. On the current income scale that applicant might then be eligible for a grant but the regulations governing the higher education grants scheme state specifically that the income eligibility of that applicant is based on the first year the applicant applies rather than on the current year's income. That is very wrong especially when it is viewed in an inflationary period.

A number of people have not been able to participate in higher education because of this. This seems to be a mechanism to bar people from coming into the scheme rather than one which would encourage them to be eligible for a grant under the scheme. The Minister should have a look at that clause in the higher education scheme which is very undemocratic. It is "civil servicism" in the bad sense because it is designed to keep people out rather than to help people come into the scheme.

The income limit is very narrow. The maximum income is £3,400 for a two-child family. The maintenance disappears when that income is £4,250, that is within a figure of £850 one is entitled to the maximum maintenance grant in an adjacent and a non-adjacent area. One is going from a maximum maintenance grant to zero maintenance grant in that band, which is too narrow. A sum of £850 does not put a family in the position where the full maintenance costs can be borne. A maintenance grant of £500 is not generous. The band should be extended. The minimum parental income to get the grant should be increased and all the other figures should be increased so that the overall band system is increased substantially in respect of eligibility for the maintenance grants and for college fees.

I believe that basically because of the income limit the number eligible for higher education grants has not increased substantially during the past decade. In 1971-72 there were 4,333 higher education grant holders. This figure increased to 6,168 in 1975-76 and has declined to 5,848 for the current year. It must be stated, contrary to what the Minister has said, that the income limits were effective in 1978-79 but the figure has declined substantially. The Minister's much vaunted scheme has not become as effective as the Minister and those on this side of the House would like it to be. We would like to see more people being eligible. The revised scheme, which the Minister brought in with trumpet blowing, has not resulted in a higher number of grant holders. I would like to know the number who got grants for the first time this year, which I believe is a significant figure.

If we are serious about a comprehensive grants scheme, both maintenance and fees, we will have to tackle the question of income eligibility. In the present context it is too low and I say this with due respect to people living in university cities. It is very hard on people in other areas to afford the cost of keeping a son or daughter at university or a college of technology. Some figures are available with regard to the cost of keeping a student in a university city. The Union of Students in Ireland have suggested a figure of £900 for an academic year. The greater part of that figure is based on the cost of accommodation, approximately £20 per week. I think the figure of £900, as suggested by the USI, is reasonable. It exceeds only slightly the figure of £875 mentioned in February 1977 by the Minister. He seems to have hit the target with that figure.

The present maximum figure of £500 is too low and it does not give any credit to the previous Government either. I admit freely that they were negligent on the question of the proper development of the grant system for higher education. We should not be complacent about the scheme in operation at present where the maximum maintenance grant is £500. That sum is not sufficient. I am not suggesting any figure and I have merely quoted a figure produced by the USI. If the Minister considers that is too high he is at liberty to give us a figure which his civil servants estimate to be a reasonable one.

Even if we had a maximum grant of £900, the income eligibility requirement would rule out many people because very few would have an income of less than £3,400. Families who are not well off could not afford to send their children to third-level educational institutes and the Minister is aware of that. The widening of higher education to include technical colleges and the National Institute of Higher Education will make it easier for more people to obtain the benefits of third-level education but I do not know to what extent this will happen. The Minister should look at this matter constantly from a positive point of view.

He should give serious thought to the income eligibility limit because many people are being kept out of third-level education even though they may have the necessary academic qualifications. I am presuming that the Government are serious about third-level education. Our current expenditure on education as a percentage if GNP is one of the lowest in Europe——

And it is decreasing.

That is very unfortunate. Our capital expenditure on education as a percentage of GNP is extremely low for a developed country. I accept that national resources are limited but we have access to European funds and I am satisfied we are not getting sufficient funds from Europe to develop our infrastructure, especially our educational institutions. In his reply today the Minister should tell us the volume of financial aid from Europe in respect of education which has been received to date and what is expected to be received in the next five years. We must know what funds will be available from the EEC before we say we will provide extended third-level places and thereby widen the net for such education.

In the Dublin area there is a severe strain on the availability of third-level places because of population increases. The census of population that will be taken next year will point this out very clearly and will tell us something we know already. The delay in providing third level places in the Dublin area is a serious problem and the delay in establishing the NIHE in Dublin on a practical basis is unfortunate. The wrangle between the NIHE in Dublin and the Dublin City Vocational Education Committee is something that I am looking at with a jaundiced eye. I should like the Minister in his reply to explain his attitude in relation to the Dublin Institute of Technology. Why is it necessary for the VEC to announce that institute? Is it that there is such an absence of third-level places that the vocational education committee in Dublin city are obliged to establish their own institute? What is its statutory basis? Has the Minister sanctioned that institute as a last resort? Where will it hold those courses? Where is the finance coming from? Has it the Minister's blessing? Where does it standvis-à-vis Bolton Street or Kevin Street Colleges, University College Dublin or Trinity College? I must confess to being somewhat perplexed on this issue.

That does not detract from the fact that Dublin is crying out for an increased number of third-level places and is not getting them. There was a suggestion of a number of regional colleges circling the greater Dublin area. I would like to hear that serious concept debated in public. I would also like to hear the Minister's views on this subject because the Dublin area is being starved of third-level education and the pressure on existing third-level education is something nobody likes to see. I would ask the Minister to refer to this in his reply.

What will be an approved institution? What will we mean by ministerial approval for a course? Will the Minister extend the present courses he considers suitable for higher education grantees? For instance, the present system does not recognise evening courses for education grant purposes. That is unfortunate because the many people who cannot afford to attend day schools, but who avail of evening classes, should not be penalised for improving themselves. I would ask the Minister to review his attitude to this matter.

What is the position in relation to adult education courses? We do not seem to be getting anywhere on this question of adult education. There has been tremendous enthusiasm about it in vocational education committees and a great response from people who want to participate, but the provision of these courses is being stymied by the Department. The fees paid to teachers for such classes are hopelessly uneconomic. That is appalling. If tackled properly, adult education courses being provided by vocational education committees could be self-financing. The Department's attitude to paying teachers to take these courses is shocking.

There should be a mechanism which would provide adult education courses. Apparently we are not going to have an open university and therefore we must provide courses for the adult population at a number of levels, including certificate and diploma level as well as degree levels.

Is the Deputy advocating grants or additions to evening courses? This is about grants.

I see no reason why the NCEA could not recognise certain adult education evening courses.

Neither do I.

It is relevant that higher education grants be given to people attending such courses. Because of a lack of development on our part these courses are not available here, unlike England where, as the people in the multi-channel areas see, there is an open university of the air in operation. A few months ago I saw a number of people receiving their degrees from that university. We are frightened to tackle these developments in education. My own party were frightened to tackle them when we were in government but I hope this Minister is more courageous and will be prepared to tackle these vast desert areas in education.

The whole question of adult education recognised by the NCEA needs to be looked at. The NCEA document on adult education is interesting and deserves more attention than it received to date. Why not have a comprehensive adult education course which would be recognised up to certificate or diploma level? Why not have properly developed evening courses for people who want to participate in higher education?

It is we who are lax. We are the politicians. We are supposed to be laying down policies in relation to education. We do not do our work properly because we tend to react and look at the scene as it is now. Because of the paucity of financial input into education from successive Governments, our education is not as developed as that in other western European countries. That is the major fault. Our attitude is one of defence. We seem to be happy with what we have and shy off from any new developments. That is the wrong attitude. It is not an attitude that is prevalent in Europe. It is not an attitude that should be prevalent in this House and it is not an attitude that should be adopted by a Minister for Education in a party which has a majority of 20 votes in this House. It is most unfortunate that we have this negative attitude to further developments in education.

I will be putting down amendments on he question of ministerial approval. I do not see why the Minister should retain he right to approve or disapprove of any course for higher education purposes, if the university have a course which is acknowledged to be of academic significance and for which there is an academic award or if the NCEA, when it is established as a statutory authority, recognises courses to certificate, diploma and degree levels.

The NCEA will be charged with the responsibility of setting down academic standards and recognising academic achievements. Other professional bodies which might not have a statutory basis, for instance, the Institute of Chartered Accountants might run courses but we will leave them aside and deal only with those courses which are recognised and awarded by universities and the NCEA. If they are courses which are worthy of recognition by the NCEA or the universities and are of two years' duration, then they should be approved for higher education grant purposes. I do not know why the Minister is retaining unto himself the requirement of approval. It is unnecessary and will take from the standing of the NCEA in particular. Why not let the NCEA approve the courses? Perhaps the NCEA or the universities, having consulted the Minister, might declare courses to be approved for the purpose of higher education grants. I will be moving an amendment to the effect that this should be left to the universities or the NCEA or perhaps some other professional bodies.

I wish to raise a question in relation to the administration of the scheme. The 1968 Act was based on finances being available from local authorities to the extent that they were in 1968. Of course, they have become smaller because of inflation. The administration of the scheme should be left to local authorities under the overall guidance of a scheme as laid down by the Minister and approved each year by him. In relation to the renewal of grants, the delays which occur in having to deal with Dublin are completely unnecessary. Why not establish a scheme and leave it to be operated by the local authorities? The present scheme is cumbersome in the extreme.

Perhaps the Minister will explain the position in respect of applicants who were refused grants and who, under this Bill, are entitled to grants. I should like to have the Minister's views on this and also on courses which are recognised now in respect of the higher education grants scheme. I should like to know whether he has under consideration the widening of the number of courses to be included in the scheme. I feel that the number of courses should be increased to take into account the academic requirements of a number of professional bodies and institutes which are not presently covered by the scheme, where courses are of two years' duration. We must encourage by way of grants participation in higher technological fields, including business administration. The Minister must review the scheme and include a number of courses which are now on offer in some regional colleges. Such courses may not be recognised by the NCEA but may have been established by colleges in response to regional needs. I have in mind one such course in a particular regional college. Such a course can be just as important an educational undertaking for the participant as a national certificate course or degree course in a university. We may have to widen the scheme to include these regional courses which are not available on a national scale.

Income bands within the present scheme are not sufficiently wide. The participation rate in grants is not high enough and the problem of the lack of third level places is not being tackled. I freely admit that my own party in government have not much to be proud of in relation to the development of the higher education grants scheme. I say that in the context of what is now acknowledged, even by Fianna Fáil experts, as a period in which there was a severe economic recession generated by the oil crisis and the budget was seriously out of balance because of that recession. I am not bringing that up as an excuse but it indicates the difficulties of the period when the Coalition Government were in office. It is a reasonable but not a full explanation for the lack of development of the educational grants scheme, apart from a minor improvement during the last year of the Coalition's term of office.

I hope that the Minister will be more involved and more courageous in reviewing and widening this scheme, in making it more attractive and encouraging more involvement. I would hope that the increase to £500 in the maintenance grant will not be the last. Perhaps it should be reviewed in line with inflation, although this would not remedy the present low maintenance grants. It needs to be raised before being linked to the inflation rate. We need a more courageous third level education policy. We cannot afford delays in providing third level places if we are to succeed in the eighties in making Ireland a more complex industrial society. If we are to have the expected higher participation, we must provide the places. This Government are not spending the money, either current or capital, which is needed for this national priority. The challenge ahead of the Minister and the House is a complex one which is not now being met. The slowness in getting the NIHE in Dublin off the ground and in developing third level courses in the Dublin area, particularly in the universities but also in colleges of technology, is very serious indeed.

The Minister can be assured he will have our full support in any measures he takes to provide these extra places. However, today I am disappointed because it seems to me his commitment falls short. He will have my support in any positive measures he brings before the House and I shall deal with them in a constructive way from a merit point of view. The Bill before us is not enough. It does not make higher education attractive or give the impression of wishing to involve more people in higher education It merely extends an inefficient system. Let us hope the approach over the next three years will be more constructive.

I should like to make just one very brief comment on one of the remarks in the interesting and, if I may say so, wide-ranging contribution by Deputy Collins. It is in reference to his complaint about the apparent unwillingness of the EEC to give us sufficient funds to build up our educational infrastructure. In all conscience is it not surprising that they are not giving us any extra money for our educational infrastructure when they look at what we are doing with the money we have got? The chief sufferer from the policy pursued is, of course, the Minister for Education and he will be even more so in the years that stretch from this point out to the next general election. I believe he is already feeling the bite so far as he and his Department are concerned and things will probably get worse before they get better.

I welcome the Bill, but with some bewilderment, and this for two reasons. The first is that it is such an insignificant thing in itself. If I might comment in the language the Minister appears to prefer from time to time:Laborant montes et parturiunt ridiculus muis.

Sorry for the pedantry, but it isLabórant.

I am sure the Minister will understand as, indeed the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will understand, that a slight mispronounciation does not appear as a mistake in the Official Report.

The second reason why I greet the Bill with some bewilderment is that its appearance at this time is in direct contradiction to the Minister's, his party's and the Government's own declared scheme of priorities for educational legislation. At page 41 of the manifesto, paragraph No. 9 of the section dealing with education reads:

Will immediately establish NCEA by statute and introduce legislation for the new universities.

The Minister, speaking at the Union of Students in Ireland Annual Congress in Wexford on 14 January last, said:

Beginning with the legislation for the NCEA, which I hope to introduce at the earliest possible date, I propose to introduce Bills for the NIHE, Thomond college and the new universities in turn.

The prospect of any of this legislation, including legislation promised immediately more than 18 months ago, is receding with the speed of the jumbo jet that carries the Minister to any one of his numerous foreign destinations. We all know of a time honoured political practice whereby factories are opened by different Ministers of different administrations twice, but I have rarely heard of the same exhibition being opened by the same Minister three times.

That hardly arises on this Bill.

It also shows an ignorance of aesthetics.

Deputy Horgan on the Bill.

It was really a parenthesis.

I accept that, but that still does not make it relevant. Deputy Horgan is quite in order in mentioning the other matters but Ministers' trips abroad and the opening of exhibitions do not arise on this Bill.

The Deputy was referring to the NCEA. We were promised this legislation at the end of the last session and we understand the Minister's travels are causing the delay. We understand that but we regret it.

Deputy Collins may or may not be right but we are dealing here with a one section Bill.

On a point of order, I promised the Bill for the month of November and the Bill will be before the House.

Fair enough. That disposes of that.

Will the Minister accept that an undertaking was also given at the end of the last session that the Bill would be ready for the beginning of this session?

What does the Deputy think this is.

Deputy Horgan now on the Bill.

I would only comment that, unless the Minister's pronounced sense of aesthetics is overtaken by his sense of politics and economics, we cannot hope for a great deal of action in the administration of the educational area. It is true this Bill is needed and the reason why it is needed is because of a fundamental deficiency in the Higher Education Grants Act of 1968 introduced by a Fianna Fáil administration. That fundamental deficiency confined effectively the award of higher education grants to students pursuing courses at degree level in universities and other institutions. As there were in 1968 relatively few institutions outside the universities providing courses to degree level it was inevitable that one of the major effects of legislation should have been to increase the already somewhat over-inflated public appreciation of what precisely the universities were doing and inevitably should have increased the tendency of post-primary students to opt for university degree level courses rather than other courses, regardless of whether these courses matched their real individual qualifications or capabilities or, indeed, the economic and social needs of the country as a whole. It is a matter of some importance that this situation was changed in 1974 and the Minister is, I believe, unwise, to put it mildly, to refer in somewhat sanctimonious tones to the delay in introducing the necessary amending legislation. To give the exact words he used, he said: "These arrangements have been in operation since 1 August 1974 in anticipation of the relevant amending legislation. This is not a practice which I would wish to condone or to take example by". The Minister ended that sentence with a preposition.

Something up with which the Deputy will not put.

Apart from ending a sentence with a preposition, the fact is that the practice of establishing things without statutory authority and allowing them to continue for years before the necessary statutory instruments are enacted was pioneered, was followed and was condoned by successive Fianna Fáil Governments. This practice has already been referred to in the course of this debate especially in relation to the NCEA. I am glad of the Minister's assurance about a timetable for the NCEA, because one would have thought that the graduates of that institution would be grandfathers by the time the thing finally arrived. I do not say that this is altogether a bad thing. It is much better that we should have had the NCEA even on a non-statutory basis than that we should not have had it. But there is no call for the Minister to make this point about this amending legislation in the light of the record of his party in this area.

The reference in the Minister's speech to the regional technical colleges somewhat misrepresents the situation. The Minister said:

The inclusion of the regional technical colleges for the purpose of tenure of higher education grants is also a commendable development for many reasons.

So far as degree level courses are concerned the regional technical colleges have always been included under the terms of the original Act. There is nothing particularly new about this Bill in relation to their inclusion for degree level course purposes. Section 1, the definition section, in the original Act says that grants would be tenable for courses at

... any other institution of higher education for the time being approved by the Minister for the purposes of this Act, either generally or in relation to any particular grant or class of grants under section 2 of this Act, in so far as that institution provides courses which in the opinion of the Minister are equivalent to university degree courses.

If any Minister decided after the passage of the 1968 Act to recognise a degree course in a third-level college such as a regional technical college, he did not need this amending legislation.

There is one development in this Bill to which the Minister did not refer in his opening speech, and I would be grateful if he would refer to it when concluding. There is a major change in principle between the provisions of the 1968 Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Act and this Bill in relation to universities. In the 1968 Act an approved institution means:

... a university or university college in respect of its courses which are of degree standard,

The present legislation reads:

"approved institution" means a university, university college, or other institution of higher education in so far as it provides a course or courses of not less than two years duration, being a course or courses of which the Minister approves for the time being, for the purposes of section 2 of this Act.

The logic of that is that under the 1968 Act universities were automatically included in respect of any courses which they can which they declared to be of degree standard. The implication in this Bill is that the Minister will have to make a positive administrative decision in respect of every university degree course which he wishes to designate for grant purposes. Is that an accurate interpretation of the Bill? Does the Minister intend to automatically designate every course which every university says is of degree level, or will he reserve the right not to designate such courses in any particular situation? I do not know if the Minister will be attending the annual dinner of the Irish Federation of University Teachers this Saturday, but I shall be there and I shall be canvassing opinion on this proposition. If the Minister would like the result of such a mini-survey I will give it to him in due course.

A third reason why the Bill as introduced is inadequate to some extent is that it does not effectively deal with the problems of the students at diploma and to some extent at degree level in the institutions concerned. The size of this problem was graphically illustrated by the Chairman of the Higher Education Authority, Mr. Seán O'Connor, when he spoke at the conference on the financing of higher education last September. Mr. O'Connor said that at present there were approximately 33,000 full-time higher education places in the Republic and that to achieve parity of participation with our European neighbours we would require not 60,000 places but between 70,000 and 90,000 places over the next five to ten years.

Another way of looking at the problem is to look at the participation rates for third level education in various countries in the western world. The Irish participation rate in 1975 was 7.9 per cent, by far the lowest participation rate of any of the major countries, including countries which are about the same size and have more or less the same population as ourselves. The next lowest participation rate, that of Austria, was double the Irish rate. The highest participation rate, that of Denmark, a country with virtually the same population as us, was almost three times that of Ireland. That is the size of the problem. The problem will not be met purely by housekeeping legislation of this kind, however necessary it may be.

The numbers of students in different categories of third level institutions have shown very interesting changes over the last four or five years. In 1973 there were 20,500 students in our universities and in 1977 there were just under 22,000, a rise of only 2,000. In the regional technical colleges, where as the Minister says courses are generally of shorter duration, there were 1,200 students in 1973 and 3,500 in 1977. The expansion is taking place in the regional colleges not least because the savage realities of the employment situation are forcing more and more students and their parents into an acceptance of the fact that by and large many of the courses in these institutions provide a better chance for employment than many of the courses in what were traditionally more prestigious university institutions.

The proof of that, if proof is needed, is contained in a paper on engineering education which was read by a former member of the staff of the NCEA in Belfast in September. In the course of that paper he pointed out, in relation to engineering awards, that in general the holders of these awards were securing employment which was directly related to their fields of study and that national certificates and diplomas in engineering were regarded by students and employers as ends in themselves and not merely as stepping stones on the road to higher rewards.

We are dealing with the enormous pressure on third level places in the regional technical colleges at a time when the arts faculties in virtually all our universities have empty places this autumn. We should be doing more to try to turn around the pattern of participation in third-level education. It is a matter for regret that the Bill makes no significant attempt, nor any attempt at all beyond legalising a certain situation, to do this thing. The Bill does not make any attempt to cope with some of the anomalies in the grant system which have been referred to before now and which the Minister must be familiar with. It is a simple obvious and antisocial fact that as between two children who are entitled to admission for a particular course—for example in a regional technical college—one with lower academic qualifications will be able to take up a place on that course for the simple reason that his parents can afford to pay while another student whose academic qualifications are higher but below the level on which a higher education grant becomes payable may find himself unable to continue his studies because of this basic anomaly in the grants system.

I should like to deal with a number of other anomalies, and they do not all concern the regional technical colleges. In the course of his speech the Minister stated:

The relevant provision in the published grants schemes is that the candidate must have obtained grade C or a higher grade in higher or common level papers in four or more subjects or, alternatively, have obtained grade C or a higher grade in higher or common level papers in Irish and in two other subjects or in mathematics and in two other subjects.

Have we heard anything from the Minister since he took office about the disgraceful anomaly whereby the universities treat all the common level papers, with one exception, music, as papers which are not fit for the award of honours points for their points entrance system? The Minister may not have direct control over this but he has substantial indirect control and influence. I would like to see a positive statement of policy from him on this matter.

In relation to the scholarship schemes referred to by the Minister today. I should like to ask him whether it is the case, as has been alleged to me to be the case of one local authority, the North Tipparary Vocational Education Committee, that they have not been allocated enough funds by the Department to allow them to award first-year scholarships this year. They have to effectively allocate all their resource allocation from the Department to the continuation of scholarships which are already in train. If the Department are going to rely to this extent on the scholarship scheme as an alternative to the higher grants scheme they will have to ensure that it is adequately financed at all levels.

There is one special category of student to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. One of the basic ideas behind the foundation of the regional technical college system, and the foundation of the NCEA, was to create a system whereby students, virtually regardless of where they entered the third-level educational system, would be able to transfer between courses and levels until they found one which was appropriate to their own intellectual, academic, practical or technological abilities. There is a real problem in relation to students who may, at the age of 15, 16 or 17, have gone into apprenticeships or trade or technical-type courses and who discover at the age of 20 when they achieve the level of qualification appropriate to that course that they are unable for very real financial reasons to transfer into continuation courses for which they feel suited and in which intellectually they are entitled to take part. For young people of that age the choice—when I explain what the choice is the House will see that it is not a choice at all—is between a wage of £50 per week which they will get if they abandon their education and go out into employment or a maximum grant of £500 per year. That is not a choice for these people. There are very few of them and their loss to the educational system is a loss to the country, our economy and, of course, a personal loss to the people concerned.

The Minister should look as favourably as he can at this special category of students in need. The problem to which this Bill seems at first reading to address itself is not one with which it really copes, and that is the problem of devising now, after a decade of experience, a radical alternative to the present system of student financing. The Minister has already informed me in the course of a reply to a Dail question that such a study is under way and has virtually been completed by the HEA. If we give this Bill a relatively speedy passage, as I imagine we will, it is not because we believe that it will make any difference to the problems I have spoken about. It is in the hope that this radical overhaul and reappraisal of the system which is due after a decade will be carried out by the Minister and will have action taken on it by him in the period of his administration.

I want to thank Deputy Collins for his reception of the Bill and for his helpful comments on a wide range of third-level topics. He mentioned the fact that the Ministers of the National Coalition had not come into the House with a Bill to get this power to spend money on grants for non-university courses. I would emphasise "courses" more than anything else, because what we are really trying to do with this Bill is legalise the payment of grants to two-year courses with particular reference to regional technical colleges. I know the reason they did not come with such a Bill—there was not one single piece of education legislation put on the Statute Book from 1973 to 1977—the unfortunate Ministers could not face the House because their colleagues in government, neither in the Fine Gael nor Labour Party, had a commitment to education; they just could not come in with one hand as long as the other with this Bill, and that was that. They were ashamed to come in with this little Bill when they had no news for the students by way of improvement of grants or of eligibility limits.

Deputy Collins quite correctly said we have a serious task ahead to cope with the provision of sufficient places for third-level education. He used the word "frightening". I do not know whom it is supposed to be frightening, because it does not frighten the Government. The Government know it is a very heavy task and are quite confident they will be able to deal with it and provide the necessary places. The whole thrust of the Fianna Fail policy with regard to education was to increase opportunities for participation particularly for those at the lower end of the social scale, and we can be proud of our record in this regard.

Deputy Collins mentioned also the European Social Fund grants. They are grants for training. I did not mention them in my speech because there is a clear distinction between scholarship and this type of grant. I want to put on record in the House that, in the technological sector—using the word in its widest sense—there is aid to over 40 per cent of the people whether from the Department of Education or the Social Fund. With regard to the strong emphasis laid on the idea of four honours—or three if one of the three is Irish or honours mathematics—that, in so far as the scheme on scholarships applies to regional technical colleges, or other technological colleges the scholarships may be enjoyed by a pupil without any honour at all, in certain cases, again depending on the area chosen by the student concerned.

I was rather surprised at any mention of grants and income limits. Deputy Collins did say that the National Coalition Government were remiss in this regard. In all fairness to myself, I must say that I have not been remiss and that, at maximum, I have increased those grants, in a time of falling inflation, by 66 and two-thirds per cent. That is a substantial increase; I paid 66 and two-thirds per cent at maximum more than my predecessors were paying. I want to point out also that, with regard to the eligibility limits —and I will give the figures—at the lower end of the scale I increased it by 29.5 per cent and, at the upper end of the scale, I made an increase of 21.4 per cent. I am not doing this by way of buaileam sciath—in fact I would not have mentioned it—had not both Deputies who spoke referred to this aspect of third-level education. I want to put on the record that I paid 66 and two-thirds per cent more at maximum for higher education grants and increased the eligibility, at the lower limit, by 29.5 per cent—which is the important end of it really—and 21.4 per cent, again a substantial increase at the other end of the scale. I might point out to the House that, as a result of this, there is an estimated increase of grant holders from 1,380 to 1,600—again a substantial increase—as between the academic years 1977-78 and 1978-79. I should emphasise that it is estimated in so far as the academic year 1978-79 is concerned.

To continue to take up some of the points Deputy Collins mentioned—I have referred already to the European element—I think that the Social Fund people are very chary about the education label being attached to whatever aid they are giving in the technological sector. I think they insist that the important word is "training". I know Deputy Collins is chairman of Waterford Regional Technical College, that he is aware of these delicate nuances, and we do not want to upset any inflow of funds——

By referring to them as educational scholarships or educational subventions. They are in effect being used by us, and to good account. I just wanted to make that point clear. Deputy Collins probably has done more for education by helping to administer that college than did the two previous Ministers for Education in four and a quarter years.

I doubt that.

That is my opinion; I am fallible. Deputy Collins was wide ranging at that stage—mentioning the National Institute for Higher Education Dublin—and asked me to say something about it. The House knows already that I am committed to the establishment of the National Institute for Higher Education in Dublin, that we are proceeding with stage one of the building programme and that the other stages will follow thereafter. He referred also to the Dublin Institute of Technology in terms that puzzled me—in fact I expressed that opinion while he was speaking-when he asked what statutory basis it had. I understand that it is the work of the Dublin City Vocational Education Committee. I see no conflict between that and the idea of a National Institute for Higher Education. I understood the Dublin Institute of Technology was organised in order to rationalise and better organise vocational education in the city of Dublin. That is my understanding of it. I am not aware of any conflict in that particular field.

With regard to the provision of third level places in Dublin, which was referred to by the Deputy, I can assure him, the House and the country that the Government are quite confident that we will be able to provide enough third level places at university and technological levels and we are in no way frightened by the prospect. We are not at this moment admitting that we will have any problem in meeting the demand. It is very bad to talk of impossibility and our task being overwhelming because that kind of attitude does not make for creativity. If the Deputy examines carefully the percentage of GNP spent on education, to which he made a passing reference, he will find that we are very much within the same band as the other members of the European Economic Community.

McNamara's band.

That word isparturiunt not laborant, “the mountains are in labour”. The mountains are entitled to choose their company. “Montes nascetur ridiculus must” is the rest of it. That little tuition is free.

It is about the only thing that is.

Deputy Collins referred to the NCEA and to my retention of the power to designate courses in the Bill. When the NCEA approve a course that will be taken as a good indication by the Minister that this is a course which should attract a grant for a properly qualified student. If I have time I will read a list of some of the courses that have been approved for grants. There are other institutions, such as the Incorporated Law Society. There has been a great outcry about increased expenses for people who want to study and qualify as solicitors. That is one but that is not in NCEA territory. There are other examining bodies and we have to retain some power in that regard.

I am a little puzzled about the reference by Deputy Collins to students who did not get the grant because this Bill was not introduced and passed into law in 1974. As far as I know, there are no such students but if the Deputy knows of any cases and brings them to my notice I will see if something can be done about them. In regard to the question of new courses, as the Deputy rightly said, if the NCEA approve of a course that is a very strong indication to the Minister and the Department that that is one which should be approved of for grant purposes if a student chooses it. I agree with the concluding words of the Deputy that there is a challenge but I also want to reiterate that it is one we are prepared to take up and deal with.

Deputy Horgan referred to a defect in the 1968 Act and said that that is what takes us before the House today. I would like to remind him that this was the Act which for the first time brought a grants system into the country. It was an Act in accordance with the social and educational principles on which our party have acted since its foundation. The Minister for Social Welfare referred to this at the end of the previous debate. It was out of that same philosophy and the desire to extend technician and technological education that the regional technical colleges were established by a Fianna Fail Government and it was their establishment which caused the amendment to this Act. It is as well to put that on the record. I am not particularly keen on the buaileam sciath bit but it is important to put it on the record when some of those principles are challenged. I would like to say, as far as Deputy Horgan is concerned—I have told him this already—that he had a period in Seanad Eireann when many educational problems could have been brought to the notice of Ministers and between 1973 and the middle of 1977 not one single motion to improve grants and to improve eligibility limits came from him in the other House.

I may deal with the participation rates in various countries later on. I have not the exact document from which Deputy Horgan quoted but when it is available to me I am prepared to comment. I want to reiterate that if the Members of the House want any kind of firm information on this, if they examine the percentage of GNP spent by me on education and the percentage of GNP spent by the other members of the EEC they will see that we are not all that much out of line.

Deputy Horgan said that he was informed that the Tipperary North Riding Council did not have enough money for those who qualified for first year scholarships in that area. This is piffle because any local authority get the full amount of the money they require to pay such scholarships or such grants. I do not know if it was grants or scholarships the Deputy was referring to.


It is the Vocational Education Committee who give the scholarships. I repeat that that is nonsense and that there was no such shortage of money in my department. I think it would be ungracious of me not to thank Deputy Horgan for his contribution.

I did not make a big thing out of this matter. I was constrained to bring this Bill before the House because there was a legal lacuna. I do not think that I could be accused of resembling a mountain in labour about it. I brought it in in low key and I did not attach any particular importance to it. Both Deputies made a reference to the NCEA Bill. I should like to tell the House that the Bill will come before the House as promised.

For the sake of clarity, will the Minister accept that his predecessor, who happened to be a Fine Gael Minister, widened the scope of the courses to take account of courses available in colleges of technology and that the money was provided by the previous Government?

I accept that.

I think it proper that this clarification should be made because I think the Minister implied that in bringing in this amending Bill he was making the money available. The money was made available by the previous Government.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage? Is the House agreeable to take it now?

It is not agreed. Deputy Collins has indicated his intention of putting down an amendment.

I cannot comment on the amendment. I know the Deputy suggested he would put forward an amendment.

The amendment would involve courses being recognised by universities, by the NCEA and other recognised professional bodies as beingde facto acceptable for higher education grants without the necessity of the Minister sanctioning them.

I think it would be simpler if we left the Committee Stage for a week so that the Whips may deal with the matter. I do not anticipate any great difficulty, but I think a week would give us time to reflect on the matter.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 14 November 1978.