I move amendment No. 1:
In page 2, line 24, after "Awards" to insert ",by a university in the State or by an equivalent degree awarding authority of international repute".
This amendment is simply to make clear the difference in approach by the Minister and this side of the House to the awarding of degrees. The Bill as drafted means that the NCEA will be the only award-granting body. I regard that as being wrong educationally. It is potentially dangerous for the Limerick Institute, and it will also be applied to the Institute in Dublin.
The Limerick Institute will be constrained unnaturally in its approach to the giving of awards to undergraduates. In regard to certificates and diplomas, though I accept that the NCEA are the proper award-giving body, I say that the Minister was wrong when he drafted the Bill in such a way that the door has been closed to the institute in relation to awarding certificates and diplomas, which should have been left to the discretion of the governing body to which award-giving body they would apply in regard to certificates and diplomas, but particularly to degrees.
It is wrong to force the institute to seek awards from the NCEA alone because it could be dangerous. In order to ensure standards, it is important that there should be a certain amount of competition so that degrees awarded to the institute will be comparable with those granted by the universities. That is not the position under the Bill because there is a danger that degrees awarded by the NCEA may not be acceptable internationally. I know the Minister does not want that any more than I or anybody else in the House. We have an obligation to ensure that the standards to be set will be unquestionably high, and because of that I feel there is a need to allow the institute to seek their degree awards not only from the NCEA but from equivalent degree-awarding authorities.
An any rate, I doubt if the NCEA are competent to grant all the degrees which the institute will be offering to undergraduates. I am open to correction on that but I fear that the NCEA may be in that position. If the institute should wish to introduce a degree level course, the time it will take the NCEA to validate and recognise such a course for degree awarding may be such as to hinder the institute in its establishment of that course.
Having listened to the debate here, I feel the Minister is being pig-headed about that. Looking back on the various debates in this House and the Seanad on higher education it seems clear that the Minister has not been in favour of a comprehensive system of higher education in the short term. Perhaps he favours such an approach in the long term but in the short term he is supporting a division between the higher education authorities and that is unfortunate for a small nation like this. It would have been far more realistic and progressive if he had opted for a comprehensive system of third level education and allowed for the proper development of the HEA and the institute in Limerick in the context of a unified higher education system. He has not done that, he has not grasped the opportunity to ensure openness in the third level sector and he has closed the door on a unified system in that sector of education.
In his approach the Minister has displayed a narrow-minded attitude in regard to the Bill. When the matter of transferability and degree recognition arises we will be depending on vertical and horizontal mobility but very little recognition is being given to that necessity in the third level sector. That is the basic difference between my party and the Government on this Bill.
I will be forcing a division on this amendment in an effort to spell out the need for a unified approach which would be educationally sound, understandable and progressive. My object in pressing the amendment is to show clearly our opposition to the Bill, which has been drafted very badly. The large number of amendments which the Minister himself introduced indicates that he knows this. My amendment shows our opposition to the composition of the Bill and to the negative manner in which the Minister has approached the debate on the Bill.