Estimates, 1992. - Vote 29: Third-Level and Further Education (Revised Estimate).

I move:

That a sum not exceeding £274,505,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1992, for the payment of sundry grants and grants-in-aid and in respect of Third-level and Further Education.

This Government are committed to encouraging all our youth to benefit to the maximum from the opportunities that are open to them in our schools and colleges. We are proud of our success in this regard. Out of a population of some 3.5 million, there are almost one million participants in full time education. This represents the highest proportion in education among the OECD group of countries.

Ireland, along with other countries in the European Community, has been undergoing rapid change due to scientific and technological progress, advances in telecommunications and international competitive trading in goods and services. Indeed the rapid rate of advance made in science and technology in all areas is bringing about a complete transformation in the conditions of modern life and affects every individual in society. We live in an age of continuing generation of new knowledge and of scientific discoveries. The discoveries of yesterday are closely followed by innovations which have significant impact on industry, business and education.

During the last decade we have witnessed many significant changes and developments in the Irish education system and our society in general, the pace of change has transformed in many ways the living patterns and expectations that society had at the beginning of the eighties. The rapid pace of contemporary change due to advancement of scientific knowledge and technological progress during the nineties will provide us with a greater and more complex range of challenges and opportunities.

Pervasive technological developments will continue to have a dominant impact and will influence greatly economic growth and social progress. Educators and trainers will need to constantly question and define relevant knowledge, skills and competencies and make appropriate changes in the curricula of the various programmes.

In the context of the Maastricht Treaty, with its political, economic and educational dimensions, it is imperative that our young people be given the appropriate knowledge, skills and information values in our schools and colleges. They must develop their critical analytical capacities and be encouraged to participate fully in a world of rapidly evolving interdependence which has major environmental, social and health problems to tackle and resolve.

The education system in Ireland must ensure by a process of continuing review, reform and curriculum innovation that individuals during their period of compulsory schooling are equipped not only with basic knowledge and competencies but are also equipped with learning skills to enable them to update themselves and acquire new knowledge and skills during their adult life.

While Irish people can be proud of their education system which has served this country so well, no education system can remain static. If it is to continue to deliver relevant programmes, it must be dynamic, adaptive and responsive to changing educational needs and to changes in the world it serves.

The Green Paper on Education, which will be published in the near future, will put forward a radical new vision for our education system. It will be a comprehensive document and will invite all concerned interests to engage in a major national debate with a view to establishing a framework within which educational developments will take place into the next century.

Many individual changes are envisaged in the Green Paper — changes in the curriculum area, changes in how we manage the considerable national resources devoted to education, changes in how we train teachers, changes in how we approach education at second level and so on. I sincerely hope, however, that this debate will not just be about picking and choosing from a menu of detailed proposals. We need a coherent philosophy to underpin our education system, not a rag-bag of miscellaneous changes. The Green Paper puts forward such a philosophy and I hope that the ensuing debate will produce a consensus.

The central aims of the Green Paper, which I believe should be the cornerstone of our approach, will be: (1) to establish greater equity in education, particularly for those who are disadvantaged socially and economically; (2) to broaden Irish education so as to equip students more effectively for life, for work in an enterprise culture and for citizenship of Europe; (3) to make the best use of education resources by radically devolving administration, introducing the best management practice and strengthening policy making; (4) to train and develop teachers so as to equip them for a constantly-changing environment; (5) to create a system of effective quality assurance; (6) to ensure greater openness and accountability throughout the system and maximise parent involement and choice.

These are the six national aims that I am suggesting we adopt. Detailed proposals that will be in the Green Paper are geared towards them. Finding out whether we all agree on them will be the objective in the debate. Only after we have reached a clear view of what we are trying to achieve will it make any sense to discuss the detail of how we are going to achieve it.

The total gross provision for the four Education Votes is nearly £1,600 million, which includes almost £174 million as appropriations in aid. The comparable gross outturn figure in 1991 is £1,484 million approximately. The amount being provided in 1992 represents an increase of over £114 million or 7.7 per cent over the 1991 provisional outturn.

This £1,600 million is a very substantial outlay on education. It is the highest ever provided by the State and at 6.4 per cent of GNP is one of the highest in the EC. This provision will help me to continue the vital work of promoting and implementing various educational reform measures and strategies which will ensure that the programmes provided in our schools and colleges are not only of relevance to the immediate needs of pupils today but also will prepare them for living in the world beyond the year 2000.

The net provision by the State for all Non-Capital Supply Services for 1992 is approximately £6,855 million and of this amount some £1,343 million is being allocated to fund services in the education sector. This amount represents almost 20 per cent of Exchequer current expenditure on the supply services. Such a significant provision for the education sector is a clear and unequivocal indication by this Government of their commitment to maintain and develop the nature and quality of the Irish education system.

The education process is of its very nature a labour intensive one, and this is reflected in the Estimates. The provision for pay and pensions is £1,254 million approximately, which represents 83 per cent of the gross non-capital provision. The overall provision also includes over £81 million for capital expenditure, an increase of nearly £13 million or 18 per cent on the 1991 outturn.

The 1992 allocation provides an additional £2.735 million for improvements in the pupil/teacher ratio at primary and post-primary levels. At primary level, teaching posts which would otherwise decline in number by 300 in the 1992/93 school year, due to falling rolls, will be retained at existing numbers. This will improve the pupil/teacher ratio to 25.2/1. At post primary level the ratio will be improved to 19.25 for appointment purposes in the 1992/93 school year. This will involve an increase of 143 in the number of existing posts.

A phased programme, starting in 1992/93, will be introduced to provide for the recognition of vice principals and guidance teachers on an ex-quota basis as outlined in the Programme for Economic and Social Progess. This will mean that from September next 87 vice principals will be recognised as ex-quota, thereby giving rise to a similar number of new teaching posts, and 62 schools will benefit directly from an increase in the number of approved guidance teacher posts.

An extra £500,000 is being provided for the introduction in the 1992/93 school year on a phased basis of a programme to expand the provision for caretaking and clerical services to all national schools with 100 pupils upwards and to second level schools with 200 pupils upwards. The phasing of the programme will be on the basis of school size, starting with the larger schools.

The 1992 provision for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is being increased by 31 per cent to £425,000. This very significant increase will enable the council to proceed with their tasks in relation to the primary and post primary curricula. Given the wide range of ability levels and aptitudes of students who now proceed to post compulsory education, it is necessary to ensure that provision at this level is relevant and suited to the needs of those students. In their work the NCCA will take into account the curriculum needs and requirements of all pupils and will give particular consideration to the needs of underachievers and low achievers.

I am also pleased to have been able to provide for a significant increase in the provision for publications in Irish. The 1992 provision of £771,000 represents an increase of £248,000, or 47 per cent on the 1991 outturn. This provision will enable An Gúm to provide Irish language text books for a range of Junior and Senior Certificate subjects for which there are no suitable texts available at the moment. This in turn will greatly facilitate all-Irish schools in their efforts to foster and promote the use of Irish.

A policy priority in the education area is the raising of the quality of basic schooling for all our children. In the past many young people, especially those from disadvantaged areas, left school ill equipped and poorly prepared to play their part in modern society. The Department of Education and I are fully committed to addressing social equity issues relating to education and are implementing and developing many strategies in this area. Indeed, as I have already stated, it is one of the six central aims of the Green Paper.

Resources are being, and will continue to be, targeted and initiatives developed which give special attention to the needs of the disadvantaged in our society, with the specific intent to promote their personal development. The provision for disadvantage was increased under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress by £1 million in 1991. The 1992 allocation provides a further increase of £250,000 to assist in various areas of disadvantage at all levels of the education system. These funds are additional to those being provided in other ways, including the £1.5 million ongoing provision for the primary area and the special funding arrangements for supplying extra teachers in schools in disadvantaged areas at post primary level.

I am particularly pleased to be able to make provision for the further expansion of the vocational training opportunities scheme in 1992. The establishment of a further 25 groups in September next will increase the total number of places provided on the programme by 500 to 1,560. VTOS provides second chance education and training to long term unemployed trainees over 21 years of age. A training allowance is paid in lieu of social welfare entitlements and trainees receive free books and travel and meal allowances. The programme has been expanded with support from the European Social Fund from a pilot project for three groups in 1989 to a planned total of 78 groups by the end of 1992.

The growth in the number of places provided under the vocational training opportunities scheme will be accompanied by a continuation of the scheme introduced by the Minister for Social Welfare whereby long term unemployed adults may avail of third level education while continuing their social welfare entitlements. A similar scheme operates to facilitate re-entry to education/training at second level. In order to ensure that there are no financial barrier to participation on these schemes, a special fund has been included for the first time in this year's Estimates to cover the cost of books, travel and meal allowances, registration fees etc. for long term unemployed trainees availing of education/training across a range of programmes outside the VTOS.

The 1992 Estimates include £503,000 for the running costs of the National Council for Vocational Awards (NCVA). The council was launched on an ad hoc basis on 29 October 1991 to initiate a comprehensive system of certification for students on vocational training programmes outside the third level sector. The objectives are to ensure that: trainees receive certification which is performance based; certification issued will have a national status which will have credibility in the labour market; courses conform to objective and common standards within an overall framework which sets out clearly the relationships between the various levels of qualification; course provision is relevant to labour market needs in terms both of the content and of the numbers of trainees in the different disciplines.

It is intended that all vocational training programmes will be developed and structured on a modular basis. National arrangements are being planned which will enhance the opportunities for young people to develop their vocational skills in a coherent and effective way. The Green Paper will contain proposals for future developments and initiatives in this area.

The allocation for the capital building programme in the 1992 Estimates is, as stated earlier, some £81 million, which represents an increase of nearly 19 per cent on the 1991 provisional outturn.

The national school capital allocation of £14 million will be used to fund a number of major school building projects and on school buildings, mainly in rural areas, which are in poor condition and in need of improvements, extensions or replacement.

A capital allocation of £2.5 million is being provided in 1992 to allow for further development of special facilities for young offenders. It includes £2.2 million towards the costs of a new development at Finglas. The remaining £300,000 is required to meet the ongoing maintenance and development costs of the existing facilities for young offenders.

The provision of £17.225 million for second level capital will be used to maintain the ongoing building programme, which has the following priority areas: areas where there is local agreement on rationalisation of existing resources and schools which are sole providers in their respective areas in need of accommodation.

The provision for third level capital projects in 1992 is nearly £42 million, an increase of £18.7 million or 81 per cent on the 1991 outturn. Some £33 million of this allocation will be provided to enhance the capability of the third level education sector to support industry in bridging the technological gap that exists between Ireland and the more advanced regions of the European Community. This expenditure will attract support from the European Regional Development Fund.

The Department of Education will continue in their implementation of a series of measures in key areas where serious deficiencies in equipment and accommodation have been identified in universities, regional technical colleges and colleges of technology.

The 1992 allocation for the Higher Education Authority sector includes provision for major building projects at Dublin City University, University College, Galway, St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, and University College, Cork. It also includes £3 million for the creation of an additional 3,600 places in the universities in line with a Government undertaking to provide £15 million over a five-year period from 1990 for this purpose.

In the vocational education committee sector the 1992 allocation includes provision for the completion of phase 1 of Tallaght RTC which will assist in making third level education more accessible in an area noted for its low participation. Provision is also being made for phase 1 of a new college at Bishop Street, a major extension to the College of Catering, Cathal Brugha Street and new facilities and upgrading of laboratories in a number of RTCs.

In the third level education area there have been very significant developments in recent years. Over the last decade enrolments in this sector have dramatically increased by over 66 per cent with a consequential substantially increased output of well qualified graduates. At present there are some 75,000 students enrolled in higher education programmes and this corresponds to a transfer rate of almost 40 per cent for the relevant age cohort. This transfer rate is projected to increase still further as a result of the Government policy to encourage those who have the aptitudes and talents to pursue third level education programmes. Indeed total enrolment is projected to increase to 100,000 students approximately by the end of the nineties. Recent initiatives have also resulted in a greater degree of harmonisation and co-ordination in the entry procedures to third level colleges generally through the joint CAO/CAS system.

I mentioned earlier that the education system makes an important contribution to economic, social and cultural development. This is particularly so as regards the higher education sector. The achievement of economic and social advancement is dependent to a high degree on the availability of a pool of highly qualified personnel who possess the requisite technical and managerial knowledge, skills and competencies.

Of course the availability of suitable, skilled personnel is in itself totally dependent on the efficiency and effectiveness of the education and training system. The Government are committed to expanding the third level sector to meet increasing demand for places and to increase the competitive advantage which this country has by virtue of having a highly skilled, intelligent and flexible workforce.

The gross third level non-capital allocation in the 1992 Estimates is £309 million which corresponds to an increase of over 7 per cent on the 1991 provisional outturn of £288 million.

It is firmly intended to follow through on the Government's commitment to provide about 9,000 third level places over the next few years. In fact, considerable progress has been made already towards meeting this target. The arrangements initiated by the Government with the universities under the 1990 budget, whereby the universities will provide no fewer than an extra 3,600 undergraduate places over a three to four year period, is currently running above the annual target of 1,200 additional places.

As a result of the transfer of students to Carysfort College the UCD authorities have been able to make available an additional 1,200 undergraduate places at the Belfield campus. Carysfort itself will have a capacity of 1,500 places when fully operational.

A programme for the utilisation of spare capacity in the colleges of education is well under way. The amalgamation of Thomond College with the University of Limerick will provide an extra 600 places and the agreed institutional linkages between that University and Mary Immaculate College will provide a futher 600 undergraduate places. This agreement with Mary Immaculate College will result in the sharing of staff and resources between the two institutions. All programmes will be accredited and all awards will be made by the University of Limerick.

In this context too discussions are ongoing between the authorities of Dublin City University and St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, regarding similar institutional linkages between their two institutions and I look forward to a fruitful outcome.

The provision of the new RTC in Tallaght will provide 1,200 places and a new building to be provided at the University of Limerick with private sector financial participation will provide a further 1,000 places. Additional places, with the total numbers not yet fully determined, will also arise under the overall programme supported by EC Structural Funds.

The 1992 provision for higher education grants is over £32 million, an increase of 8 per cent, to provide for the increase in student numbers eligible for grant aid arising from the increased provision of third level places.

A range of major improvements in the higher education grants and related student support schemes will take effect in the autumn. The principal improvements being introduced for new entrants to third level this year are: (a) The income eligibility ceiling for families will be increased by £2,000 for each child after the first child attending third level education; (b) Income eligibility will be assessed on current income rather than as heretofore, on the income in the year in which the student sat the leaving certificate; (c) Mature students who secure a place in a third level institution will automatically be considered to meet the academic requirements for the award of a grant; (d) Mature students may be assessed on the basis of their own incomes (and, if married, their spouses' incomes) rather than on their parents' income which has been the case up to now; (e) Lone parent's welfare payments under the lone parent's allowance scheme will be excluded from the assessment of income for grant eligibility; and (f) Income limits and maintenance grants will be index-linked in 1992.

The Minister for Education also has initiated a full review of all aspects of third-level student support schemes with the overall aim of ensuring equity within and between the different schemes. The review includes examining the income eligibility limits generally and the income assessment criteria and procedures with a view to: removing any outstanding barriers which may militate against students from disadvantaged backgrounds; and addressing, to the extent that it is practicable and affordable, the particular financial pressures on students from the lower to middle-income families. The review is now well advanced and the Minister expects to be in a position to bring proposals to Government shortly with a view to introducing major changes in student support schemes.

The 1992 provision for educational services is a clear indication of the importance that this Government place on the role of the education sector in our society. I commend these Estimates to the House.

Over the past few weeks I repeatedly asked the office of the Government Chief Whip for a copy of the Estimate for Education but we were not apprised of the amount involved until the Minister for Finance read out the figure. This is not good enough; it is part of a constantly recurring practice. Last Wednesday, as we were about to enter the House to debate Committee Stage of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, we were presented with 40 Government amendments which butchered vocational education committees, virtually banished them from the RTCs and materially changed the Bill. The Department of Education should get their act together in this regard.

The recent cuts in education run counter to what should be a new, forward phase in education as we embark into post-Maastricht Europe. Instead of constructing and entering a new development stage the Minister for Education, Deputy Brennan, has implemented a series of very damaging and illogical selective cuts.

The Minister of State referred to the fact that the Government programme over three to four years envisaged 3,600 additional places in higher education and outlined the targets to be reached for successive years. How can he square that with the decision announced three weeks ago to reduce to 500 the number of people entering the five education departments in the various universities? I am totally opposed to this proposal which from next September will affect students who wish to pursue the higher diploma in education, which is an essential qualification for a secondary teacher.

While we accept there is an oversupply of teachers at present at second level I contend that if somebody does a B.A., B.Comm, B.Sc or B.Ag.Sc. and wishes to pursue a teaching career, irrespective of the job opportunities available, that person has a right to receive a year's training and obtain the higher diploma in order to qualify them. They should be trained and allowed ply their wares either in the United Kingdom where it is recognised, in another European Community country where; by and large, it has received recognition, or, indeed, in the United States where, again, it is looked upon as a recognised teaching qualification. We should at least qualify these people as teachers and give them the opportunity and the necessary academic passport to seek employment elsewhere.

Instead of using a Bachelor of Arts degree as a launching pad to some other career or some other course of study the Minister has to accept that essentially it is a teaching qualification. Teachers of English, Irish, French, German, Spanish, Mathematics, History, Geography — the range of general subjects — must have a B.A. degree. It is most unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory, without any warning, to cut the option for hundreds of people who are now sitting their final degree examinations of entering the five educational Departments next year to pursue the higher diploma.

It is obvious that the decision is based on economic considerations and has not been thought through. I ask the Minister to tell us how the select 500 are to be chosen or called. Will they, for example, be called on the basis of the merits of their degree? Will a person with a first class honours degree take precedence over somebody with a second class honours degree or will a person with an honours degree take precedence over somebody with a general or pass degree? Will interviews be held to determine and decide who has an aptitude for teaching? Will there be a certain ratio for each faculty with a certain percentage of places being held for persons with Arts degrees, Commerce degrees, Science and Agricultural Science degrees? This is impractical, unfair and unworkable and the Minister should reverse the throttle immediately.

The Minister made great play of the fact that he is providing a substantial amount of money for higher education grants but it was announced recently that university fees are going to be increased by between 9 per cent and 15 per cent. Again, this is a step in the wrong direction because what we should be talking about is providing greater access to education and encouraging more people to follow through from second level to third level and trying to reduce the burden on the hard pressed middle income PAYE family who cannot support a son or daughter in college because of the cost involved. Each year that passes third level education is going further and further beyond the reach and range of the average family. Alternatively, if a middle income family decide to make the supreme sacrifice and borrow heavily to send a son or daughter, or indeed a few simultaneously, to third level education they will have to put their entire life on hold and make major sacrifices not alone during the period the son or daughter is in college but for many years afterwards when they have to repay the mortgage or loan.

When one takes this fee increase in conjunction with the Minister's persistence, in that he is going ahead to means test European Social Fund grants from September, it would seem there is a definite anti-PAYE bias in the approach of the Minister for Education. I would go so far as to say that the Minister, Deputy Brennan, seems to have little or no feel for this portfolio.

Last Thursday week I attended a meeting at a venue less than 300 yards from here convened by the National Parents Council and attended by representatives of SIPTU, IMPACT, the IFA, the ICMSA, the ICA, the Teachers Union of Ireland and the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland. We had the collective voice of people representing middle income families and education all speaking in concert about the extremely serious consequences for middle income families if European Social Fund grants are means tested, as envisaged, from next September.

The position is that European Social Fund grants are enjoyed by 27,000 students in the nine regional technical colleges and the six Dublin Institute of Technology colleges. They represent the only hope the vast majority of middle income families have of gaining access to third level education. Since they were introduced in the early eighties by the former Minister for Education, Gemma Hussey, they have brought about a huge influx of top quality students into these colleges. They have energised the colleges and the regions in which they are located. The children of many middle income PAYE families who were debarred from qualifying for university grants because of the ridiculously restrictive higher education grants scheme operated by the local authorities were able to pursue certificate, diploma and degree courses in these colleges.

The Minister is now proposing to introduce the same inequitable higher education grants scheme code and regulations to the European Social Fund grants scheme. In other words, he is introducing all the warts, flaws, and anti-middle income features of the higher education grants scheme into the European Social Fund grants scheme. He is not, as he protests, levelling the playing field; he is making it more uneven and unplayable for all concerned.

I fail to understand, given that 90 per cent of the funds for this grants scheme come from Europe, why the Minister should go down this road. I also fail to understand, given that there will be a new tranche of Structural Funds in one year's time and that the Minister claims to be optimistic that there will be a substantial increase, why he should persist in means-testing these grants from next September, a mere 12 months before the additional funds are due to come on-stream. In the context of the recognition that the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology colleges are the catalysts for growth within the various regions why does the Minister willingly and knowingly pursue a deliberate policy of damaging the colleges because that is exactly what will happen?

If we remove the main funding element, European Social Fund grants, from the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology colleges they will inevitably suffer, as we will be removing one of their cornerstones. Based on projections and surveys carried out by expert bodies and the colleges, 70 per cent of the 27,000 students attending these colleges will lose their grant or some part thereof. When one considers that it has been estimated that a regional technical college in a region is worth approximately £7 million per annum to the local economy one can appreciate the devastation that will be caused if one cuts across the existing funding arrangements.

The previous Minister for Education, Deputy Davern, promised a review by an interdepartmental body consisting of officials from the Departments of Education, Finance, Health, and Social Welfare. The Minister of State alluded to it in his address to the House today but we have not heard the results to date. When I tabled a motion in the House on 18 and 19 February I received an assurance from the present Minister that a review would be carried out and that we would be given the results within a short time. However, we have still not been appraised of the results of that review.

An interdepartmental review is not required in this case. The Culliton report clearly said that vocational and technological education must get special emphasis while it is recommended in the Maastricht Treaty that vocational and technical education should form a key element in the economic resurgence of a united Europe and from the point of view of eliminating regional disparities.

We must discriminate positively in favour of technological education. Therefore, what is needed is an expert, objective, independent, comprehensive analysis of the entire area of higher education, a thorough, comprehensive appraisal of the existing higher education grants scheme operated by local authorities and a similar analysis, on a one-to-one basis, of the merits of the European Social Fund grants. I contend that only an agency outside Government Departments is in a position to properly assess the pros and cons of the different schemes, to examine the entire higher education grants scene, its funding arrangements in their totality, and prepare the type of definitive documents and recommendations required. I suggest therefore that the entire matter be referred to the National Economic and Social Council or to the ESRI. In the meantime, in view of the fact that the matter is being objectively analysed, I suggest that the meanstesting of the ESF grants be put on hold.

Education and training represent the greatest single instrument for social cohesion and economic development in post-Maastricht Europe. I was disappointed that the Minister in his introductory remarks did not sketch out an educational vision of the challenges and opportunities as we face, hopefully, into post-Maastricht Europe. Education is not only the social cement to keep the developed European mosaic together but is the greatest single energiser of a thriving European Community, a Community proud of its corporate European identity. Maastricht is about people and the creation of a people's Europe. Just as we accept that education is the key to unlocking an individual's potential and personality, likewise on the national and international scene within Europe education is the greatest single instrument for developing our greatest resource, human capital, so essential to the development of Community policies.

Education, therefore in all its facets, is elementary and vital to the future of Europe, and should have a distinctive European brand mark. That is the reason it is vital that, apart from normal educational systems, strategies and qualifications, there should be an extra European dimension and input at every level. Above all, education is vital in assisting us, subconsciously or unconsciously, to think European. I and my party believe that in order for the Community to grow in strength and confidence, with its unity and identity enhanced, we must be prepared to invest more in education since that is the most cost-effective and efficient way of solving collective Community problems by unleashing the Community's vast resources.

While the single, consolidated European market opens up great opportunities for the Community, in particular for Ireland, in terms of access to a huge market, on the other hand it offers considerable challenges, in particular to education. For example, the modern European workforce will have to learn and relearn continuously. Over 50 per cent of the population will change occupation during their lifetimes. A large majority will have to pursue multiple careers. Qualifications will become obsolete under pressure from new, rapidly-changing technology and new communication and information techniques. There will be no such thing as any one course or apprenticeship equipping somebody for a lifetime single career. Training and retraining at intervals of ten years will become the norm, which is a good thing. There will be little place in the new Europe for the unqualified or underqualified person. Special emphasis must be placed on eliminating the under-representation of certain social class in the workforce and on the elimination of discrimination in employment and, indeed, in education. It is very important that we perceive the poverty trap on a national and international basis, as being a "skilled trap" rather than a poverty trap.

The Fine Gael Party welcome the sections in the Treaty on European Union dealing with education, training and culture. Indeed, we would commend the Government on having insisted on those insertions. While it is fine to have aspirations, definitive programmes of action must be introduced. That is why I would envisage that any future Government — and certainly Fine Gael in Government — must ensure that we introduce a European language in all primary schools without exception. Second, we must ensure that all post primary schools offer at least two Community languages, that we move away from the rigid adherence to French only. Third, we must assist foreign language teachers to spend a significant part of their teacher training period in the country of origin of the language they propose teaching. Fourth, we must make the necessary resources available for the most modern, effective methodology in language teaching, including audio-visual, audio-lingual equipment and language laboratories. We deserve and demand the best. We must also render it possible for serving teachers to undertake regular refresher courses in the country whose language they currently teach. That does not happen at present except in very rare instances. In addition, we must place special emphasis on classroom technique and on examinations in language as a vehicle of oral communication, the spoken before the written. Here, the example of what we have done in regard to the Irish language speaks for itself.

Fine Gael see student mobility as a major element in combating the Irish psychology of insularity and in neutralising our peripherality. My party want to promote student mobility by means of the following: (1) endeavouring to ensure that all students, without exception, during the period of their compulsory education, should have the benefit of at least one visit to another member state; (2) promoting school twinning schemes from the point of view of human and cultural links. Such exchanges which have taken place in the past, when towns have been interlinked, particularly on an inter-family basis, have had a tremendous influence from the point of view of having been culturally valuable and cost-effective; (3) the establishment of a special unit within the Department of Education to advise, promote and monitor such exchange programmes.

If one recognises that education is the greatest single treatment for dismantling barriers, particularly those to understanding, then one must organise youth and promote student and youth mobility. I contend that voluntary work camps involving young people from within and without the Community should be actively encouraged and promoted. I am very committed to projects involving young people, particularly those which involve them in community or social affairs, in the preservation or restoration of our heritage and or of buildings and artefacts of cultural interest. Again, from the point of view of promoting youth leadership within Europe, such work camps offer an excellent opportunity.

I contend that higher education will be a growing requirement within the developing Europe. I believe also that technical, vocational and higher education and training are priorities which have not been allocated the finance they deserve. A good example of that has been the cutbacks effected in the ESF grants for higher education. It is vital that an increasing percentage of young people participate in courses with strong technological orientation. It is also vital that we recognise that research has shown conclusively that there is a strong correlation between vocational training at all levels of the education system and productivity, innovativeness and entrepreneurial vitality. Our economy never needed those qualities more than at present.

I do not regard the provision for education as sufficient. Neither do I regard the Minister of State, acting in lieu of the Minister himself, as sufficient or appropriate in sketching out the vision required in Ireland's role in education within the new Europe. I do not think that the recent moves in education have done anything other than irreparable damage to what has been a reasonably successful educational code to date.

This has been a week within which there has been much debate on education in this House. Indeed, it appears we will have the same level of debate on the subject next week.

First, I should like to refer to something that is of particular relevance to the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1991, discussed at length this week, the Committee Stage of which will be concluded on Wednesday next. It has been clearly established now — not through the Regional Technical Colleges Bill but rather by means of a letter recently circulated by the Department of Education — that the prospect of regional technical colleges developing into regional universities is being removed. I perceive that as a very serious matter. The whole question of inequality of access to education, based on socio-economic or geographical factors, must be readdressed urgently in another way since it is quite clear that the Department of Education are not alone determined to limit the degree provision in the case of regional technical colleges but are equally determined to divert students from the RTC sector in the direction of the universities.

The completely indefensible decision to means test ESF maintenance grants in line with higher education grants is the vehicle for redirecting those marginal students who would opt for a place at a regional technical college if they were to receive ESF maintenance funding but who in the absence of that will opt more and more to go to university. This trend will substantially augment the very large drain of resources from the regions to the university cities. This is at total variance with the policy of subsidiarily which is such an important element of the Maastricht Treaty. In general terms we have fought our case at Community level along the lines that we are a developing peripheral nation and therefore entitled to favourable consideration when Structural and Cohesion Funds are being dispensed. We have a valid and just case, but the principle of subsidiarity and discrimination in favour of less advantaged regions does not stop there. The Government may make the case in Europe for the principal of subsidiarity but that principle must be applied throughout the whole country and, in the context of this debate it is particularly important in the education field.

It cannot be denied that the provision of the full range of educational services within a region is of great benefit to industrial and commercial development. The interface of third level institutions with industry across the wide area of research, development and consultancy is an essential dynamic for economic and educational development. Under the terms of the new Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1991, the scope for regional technical colleges to become involved in this work has been widened but the centralisation of authority in the Minister will ensure that the vast bulk of the best research and developmental projects and consultancy work will rest with the universities, which are located in Galway, Limerick, Cork and Dublin.

This brings me to a fundamental and vital point. Four of the five county boroughs in the country have a university. Waterford city, which I represent, is the fifth and we do not have a university. We had a teacher training college up to 1938 and now have a regional technical college but this does not meet the educational requirements of the region. Galway is comparable in size and population with Waterford and we see the great impact the university has had on the development of Galway over the years. This reinforces the point I wish to make here. We need to do something very serious to address this problem of the region. I therfore make the point that urgent steps must be taken to establish a university in Waterford, the regional capital, to service the needs of the southeast region. I ask the Minister if funds are available under either the Structural funds or the Cohesion Fund to further develop this project and if not what immediate steps the Department propose to take to see that such provision is made. I will return to this point when we have the opportunity to put questions to the Minister before his concluding speech.

Under the provisions of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress a Green Paper on Education was to be published in September last. Indeed if it had been published on time, I am sure that we would be almost at the White Paper stage now and a great deal closer to an education Act. The Minister has provided us with a document Introduction to the Green Paper. In essence it is aspirational, vague and does not go to the core of the issues that we are all very concerned about. In particular I note that there is very little in this document on the Irish language and I hope this is not indicative of the place of Irish in the Green Paper.

We invest a great deal of our resources in the Irish language. I am committed to the Irish language and believe the language should be reviewed and be used more widely. Even though we put a great deal of our educational resources into the language and students reach a good standard at school, the environment outside the school is not conducive to the development or use of the Irish language. Our language has a very important role to play in our participation in European union. Our language embodies our philosophical development, heritage and culture. In modern times we find ourselves identifying more and more with an Anglo-American culture instead of developing our own image as a separate, unique and special nation.

I believe the Green Paper would promote a national debate on our language, and it is vital that we do so. We must, first, ask ourselves whether we should revive the Irish language and continue to put our resources into it and, second, if so, why? If this debate is conducted openly and honestly and not dominated by the various vested interests, people will come to appreciate the value of the language not alone for its role in our culture but as an element of our heritage and national self-image which will be reflected in our personal self-image. Many people have a knee-jerk reaction when questioned on the Irish language. They say we should revive the language but their commitment to the language does not go beyond that simple statement. Unless the people at large are committed in a real sense to the revival of the Irish language I believe the deteriorating position of Irish will continue. Time is running out for us. When we reach our conclusions we must implement a policy to achieve them. I believe if the debate is carried out openly and honestly, people will see the value of our language and will be a lot more enthusiastic about it.

The Government decision to means-test the maintenance portion of the ESF grant from September next is an extremely retrograde step. If the means test were equitable and applied fairly, that would be one thing but what is happening is that our grossly inequitable system of means testing which applies to higher education grants will be applied now to ESF grants. People other than those who are in the PAYE tax category do very well under the present means testing system. I believe the time has long since passed for the Department to carry out a full and thorough review of all those parents whose children are eligible for higher education grants. There should be a sectoral breakdown of the categories of parents whose children benefit from third level grants. Too many self-employed families benefit from this grant scheme as against families in the PAYE sector. I put it very strongly to the Minister that the Government have time to pull back from this ruinous and inequitable decision which will have a detrimental effect on the intake of students to regional colleges and which will prevent many students who otherwise could have availed of third-level education from doing so. Many people will have to pay for this mistake. The Government have time to reverse this decision.

I should like to refer to an area of educational disadvantage, that is, children who enter the educational system not fully prepared for it due to environmental factors totally beyond their control. Some children who have not sufficiently developed in their homes are not ready to enter the formal education system. It is absolutely essential, urgent and vital that the State provides a properly structured pre-school educational system with fully trained teachers in disadvantaged areas. Some children who enter the formal education system do not have fully developed verbal and social skills. I wish to make a very important point in relation to verbal skills. Psychology has shown that the development of language skills is in decline from the age of five years onwards. If the vital years before children enter the formal education system at the age of four years onwards are wasted or not fully utilised in terms of development, children will have to pay a very big price for the rest of their lives; the productive time lost will never be made up afterwards. Resources released as a result of demographic trends over a period should be diverted towards the establishment of a proper pre-school system in disadvantaged areas.

I wish to refer to the broader agenda in the area of educational disadvantage. It is long past the time when at least one school welfare officer was appointed in each vocational education area. These officers should have the task of identifying at an early stage children who are failing under the present educational system. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, for example, difficult disciplinary problems which have a major effect on the efficiency and output of schools on the one hand and which contribute in a major way to stress and burn out in teachers on the other.

The sooner educational problems are diagnosed in children the sooner something can be done about them. The problems which give rise to educational disadvantage and unsocial conduct by children in our schools cannot be rectified by the schools on their own. Some problems may be caused by parents who are not in control of their own lives. Families in disadvantaged areas have to deal with many problems, for example, legal and illegal moneylenders, the payment of rents to local authorities, ESB bills and so on. Parents who cannot cope and are under stess cannot make the necessary input into their children's development.

School welfare officers would be able to co-ordinate the various statutory agencies in an area, for example, the health board, the Department of Social Welfare, the Garda authorities and the Department of Justice, and liaise with the local voluntary agencies. At present these agencies are working independently and their services are not properly co-ordinated. As a result they are not achieving full value from the resources available. Resources have to be targeted towards certain families and parents have to be guided on how to gain control of their lives and budget properly. For example, they have to be taught the best joints of meat to buy and where they can get the best value for money. This would ensure that proper food and nutrition is provided for children. Some voluntary agencies provide marriage counselling services. The St. Vincent de Paul Society try to help people not by throwing money at them but by trying to get them back on the track so that they can gain control of their lives. If parents are in control of their lives they will have a bigger input into the development of their children.

I raised the concept of the introduction of a European language in national schools with the Minister and the previous Minister on a number of occasions. A child's ability to absorb a new language is in decline from the age of five years onwards. The European experience would seem to suggest that a language other than the mother tongue should be taught to children of ten years when the thought process has been set up in the native tongue and the new language can be absorbed without confusion. This new language provision would not be of benefit only to students who go on to third-level education. It would also be of benefit to many young people who take up manual jobs in, for example, Spain. Unfortunately, people are beginning to move further afield in order to get work. That is fine for people who want to travel and gain experience. In order that all our citizens can avail of the opportunities which will exist in Europe the sooner a European language is introduced in national schools the better.

My brief contribution to this debate will focus primarily on the link between education and employment and unemployment. One could hardly overstate the crucial bearing which the educational system of a country has on its economic development and, consequently, on its ability to provide worthwhile employment for its citizens. Therefore, I welcome the real consensus which now exists throughout Irish society that neither education nor our unemployment problem can in future be discussed in isolation from each other.

I would like to clarify how I see that interrelationship. Tackling unemployment will involve a mixture of strategies, some of which will be long term. Parallel with these it will be necessary to identify ways in which there will be an immediate reduction of the numbers on the live register. All of us here have first hand knowledge from contact with our constituents of how demoralising unemployment can be. We realise it is not good enough to say to people that there will be a job some years from now. That is why the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment, which I chair, are fully committed to seeing what more can be done to create a sense of real hope and, much more importantly, that real jobs for those who are unemployed or those seeking a job for the first time will be provided.

The strategies for reducing unemployment will, of necessity, involve some relation to the education system. If a person is to succeed in getting a job he or she must first be equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to perform that job. That is perhaps stating the obvious, but the right education and training systems are central to tackling unemployment and to job creation. The education system must, therefore, equip our young people for their search for employment, knowing that their combination of knowledge and skills are usable and marketable in Ireland, Europe or elsewhere.

This emphasis on usable skills is a matter of debate and contention and, indeed, was highlighted in the Culliton report. This is not an either/or situation. I do not see education as solely for the marketplace or solely for the pursuit of academic subjects. Education should be concerned with both work and life. The best form of education, especially at second level, is a flexible, integrated education where young people continue to aquire a good general education which is our essential preparation for life. In addition, there should be a sharper focus on the provision of technical and vocational subjects and greater incentives to pursue them.

A general education has merit in itself, but surveys of employers show that communications skills are a top criterion in selecting people for jobs. That underlines the value of a general education, even in the job context alone. It is important also, through the education system, to bring all students into contact with the world of work, through establishing relationships at local level between schools and firms. This approach does not imply a narrow, rigid focus on technical and vocational skills but recognises the need for giving our young people a real understanding of the world of work and equipping them to participate confidently in it.

The Minister referred to the expansion of third level places, the importance of industry links with third level and the importance of managerial skills. For many years in UCD — I have first-hand knowledge of this because I have taught in their courses — the curricula for engineers and scientists, for example, have long since been broadened to include a wide range of business or management subjects — personnel, finance, marketing and so on — the idea being to better equip students for the posts they take on graduation. That practice needs to be extended, particularly in our third level institutions.

In addition, there is the key importance of linking universities and regional technical colleges to industry. Progress has also been made in this area. The development of this partnership between third level institutions and industry is all the more urgent to better equip the graduates of our educational system who, by international standards, have reached a very high standard indeed. In our case the knowledge and skills that students will get in a broader curriculum, together with industrial links, will better equip them to exploit our economic potential and to enhance our competitiveness, which is so important in a small, open economy like ours.

I would turn again to second level education. If we are to refocus the objectives of second level education it must go hand in hand with a shift in the perception of different kinds of education in Irish society. We must learn to have real respect and esteem, as have the Germans and Swiss, for technical and vocational skills, which are incorporated into their school curricula. We must engender in those possessing these skills a sense of real pride in their abilities. The changes in the education curricula I am talking about here would obviously take some time to produce tangible results, but they would make a valuable contribution to wealth and job creation, as is the case in Germany and Switzerland.

In the meantime, however, our education and training system will need, as a matter or urgency, to provide meaningful and relevant courses for the unemployed, particularly for the long term unemployed. In this context the vocational teaching opportunities scheme, the VTOS, is very much a step in the right direction. This scheme caters for adults of 21 years and older and provides second chance education for those who have been unemployed for at least a year. In the present year 1,000 trainees are participating in this scheme. The European Social Fund provides two-thirds of the cost of the training which covers topics such as enterprise training, which is so important at all levels in Ireland, general studies and new vocational and technological skills. A training allowance takes the place of social welfare entitlements under the scheme.

Recent official statistics show that 50 per cent of males on the live register have a primary level of education only. I am glad to say that the position in respect of females is somewhat better. The vocational teaching opportunities scheme, providing relevant second chance education and training, may well prove an important vehicle for improving the chances of the long term unemployed to enter or re-enter the workforce. The expansion of that scheme needs careful attention.

I have just mentioned the valuable support from the Social Fund for the VTOS, and this brings to mind the huge contribution to training made over many years by the EC through the Social Fund. In addition, the Social Fund supports several educational schemes, including diploma and degree courses at regional technical colleges and, latterly, at universities. Education and training, unlike the position 20 years ago when we joined the EC, are not firmly on the EC agenda. This country has greatly benefited from huge funds in the training area under the Social Fund. In the context of the Treaty on European Union, which is on our minds at present, it is worthy of note that education is now firmly on the EC agenda. In the Maastricht Treaty a whole section is devoted to education. Since we are part of the European labour market it is interesting that the National Economic and Social Council have suggested that education generally should be grant-aided from Brussels. This opens up a possibility that will require careful attention in the period ahead.

In the course of this short contribution I have underlined the link between education and employment and unemployment. Given the scale of our unemployment problem, we have to be realistic in terms of what can be done. No quick fix will solve the problem; it will not be solved overnight, but by no means should we remain in a state of frozen inactivity, regarding the unemployment problem as insoluble. Education and training make a valuable contribution to job creation. Our task is to see what further contribution education and training can make towards alleviating the unemployment problem.

In conclusion, the country is in a healthy financial position, with low inflation and expanding exports. When there is a pick-up in the international economy, especially in the economies of the UK and the US, we will be very well placed to avail of tha economic recovery. There is evidence already that we are moving in the right direction.

There are many positive aspects of our education system — good standards, and relatively high participation rates to end of post-primary. But these are achieved despite gross neglect and under-funding and there are many casualties of the system. Our class sizes, the biggest in the EC mean that individual children's needs are not adequately met, the lack of funding forces parents into paying an education tax through cake sales, school walks and raffles, and there are clear class inequalities in the system.

These Estimates are not good enough. Where is the extra capitation funding? Where is the plan to develop the education system? Why is it that the great number of children in national schools have less than one-third of the per capita funding of those at third level where the level and structure of funding itself ensures that higher education is out of reach for many students of PAYE and unemployed parents?

My constituency Dublin South-West, illustrates many of the urgent needs in education. Dublin South-West is probably the youngest region, in terms of age profile, in the State. Education is a central issue for parents and students in the area. Education in Dublin South-West highlights especially the lack of planning in the Department of Education. In Tallaght we will have a regional technical college which is clearly needed, and was built after a concerted local campaign. It is essential that this be a truly regional college, that the local transfer rate to third level be raised, that degree status for the RTC be confirmed and phase two be built.

None of these matters has been addressed by the Minister despite questions from me in the House. This issue of the college being a truly regional one is very important and I would like to hear the Minister address it. Those of us who recall the early days of the regional colleges in Letterkenny, Sligo, Carlow and Waterford know that they were indeed truly regional colleges and made a significant contribution in their immediate catchment areas not only as regards investment in education but as regards the development of skills that are important for economic development. How does that regional content apply in the case of Tallaght? Many parents in Tallaght are concerned that under the existing clearing house system the regional technical college in Tallaght will become a college for students from the rest of the country or at least from the greater Dublin area and that participation levels from students within the Tallaght area embracing Tallaght, Clondalkin, Walkinstown and the Rathcoole region will not be significantly enhanced. We are finding it very difficult to get any reply from the Minister on that.

Hand-in-glove with the regional technical colleges opening this coming September, the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Coalition have means-tested the European Social Fund grants. This will exclude from the regional technical colleges many students from PAYE families. The whole anti-PAYE bias is a blot on the grants system.

Our primary schools in Dublin South-West are filled with talented young people, but the physical state of large schools without caretakers will soon deteriorate. What a false economy, to deny caretakers to large schools like St. Thomas's Senior School in Jobstown and Social Maelruain Junior School in Old Bawn? At second level, we have had a disgraceful breaking of promises to provide a local school for Kilnamanagh/ Kingswood. The need for this school will not go away, and I ask the Minister to give a clear commitment on this and on phase two of Jobstown Community College. There is also an urgent need for a post-primary all-Irish school in Tallaght.

I would draw the attention of the Minister to the success of the Scoil lán-Ghaeilge in Clondalkin and Rathcoole.

Tá níos mó ná seacht gcéad daltaí ag freastal ar bhun-scoileanna lán-Ghaeilge i dTamhlacht faoi láthair. Mar is eol don Aire tá na tuismuitheoirí agus Coiste Gairmoideachais ar aon intinn faoin ghá atá ann iarbhunscoil lán-Ghaeilge a chur ar fáil. Is fada anois atá an t-iarratas ón Choiste Gairmoideachais ag an Aire.

Anois tá cáipéis shuntasach aige freisin ó Chumann Gaelach Thamhlachta. Iarraim anois ar an Aire a chinntiú don Chumann Gaelach go gcuirfear iarbhunscoil ar fáil.

One other gap between policy and practice needs to be highlighted. In his Green Paper introduction, the Minister stressed the role of physical education in the "health-promoting school". Fine words, but there is a Community College — St. Mac Dara's in Willington — with 900 local students, where the Minister has refused to provide even a physical education hall. I have raised this, and the lack of general purpose rooms in many primary schools, previously, and I promise the Minister I will return to it again and again.

The issues I have raised here are very basic ones — second level places, a fair grants system, PE facilities, the maintenance of buildings. They must be addressed. A national education debate will be sterile unless these basic resource questions are dealt with in Dublin South-West and nationally in the near future.

I would refer now to the new scheme to grant-aid mature students in third level education. I welcome this initiative by the Department. I regret that so far the Department have not been able to clarify whether this will apply to existing mature students. A small number of mature students, mainly women in Maynooth College who attend my advice centres, have been campaigning for this facility for some time. It is the opportunity of a lifetime for people to get a second chance to enjoy third level education. Now that the Minister has decided to introduce this grants scheme it would be a small step to provide for those people who are struggling to attend third level education as mature students. Will the Minister look again at whether or not provision could be made for them.

In conclusion, I raise again this question of the decision to means test ESF grants. This means-testing of grants for those attending universities has resulted in a disproportionately high number of students from farming, professional and self-employed backgrounds and a lower number of students from PAYE families. This as borne out in the Clancy report. The self-employed, farming and professional sectors can artificially deflate their incomes in a manner that is not open to those on PAYE tax. The vocational sector has been an important source of third level places for those on middle to lower incomes. If this means test is introduced it will mean a reduction in student numbers from the PAYE sector. The income thresholds for university grants, for example, have been disgracefully low. A family of four on the average industrial wage, £13,500 per annum, does not qualify for a university grant. If the same income limits are applied to the vocational sector the consequences will be very serious indeed.

At the outset I wish to congratulate the newly-appointed Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Aylward, and wish him well. Though he is still a very young man, he has spent many years in this House and brings to his new portfolio a vast amount of experience as a parliamentarian and public representative. I have no doubt that he will make his mark in the fields of education, youth and sport. On a personal note I thank him for his already proven co-operation. He has visited my constituency to walk the land and consider what progress can be made in specific areas of education and with regard to facilities for youth and sport. I look forward to working with him in future.

The Government are continuing to demonstrate their total commitment to the improvement of education. Major progress has been made since 1987. The interests of the disadvantaged and less well off have been paramount and Government policy has reflected this. Total commitment to uplifting those who have been and are economically deprived is the policy. The aspiration is to continue to offer equal opportunity to all so that their potential can be allowed to develop. The education system, in order to achieve this equality, must improve the lot of the disadvantaged rather than give additional advantage to those who are already privileged. Facile access to education is most important and in this regard there has been a substantial improvement. The level of growth in numbers of pupils attending schools has been huge. It is particularly gratifying to note the growth in numbers of pupils from the less well off socio-economic group who are involved in post-primary education.

Fianna Fáil policy over the years has been geared to the ongoing improvement of the education system. I compliment the present incumbent in the Department on his determination to contribute hugely to this progressive thrust. I owe Deputy Davern a great deal of gratitude because in February last he provided the funding for a badly-needed second level school in Wicklow. After years of dithering, refusals, reversals and mind changing, Deputy Davern recognised the outdated and unacceptable conditions which the children and teachers of Blessington were putting up with. He reacted positively and approved the building of a new vocational school for that generally deprived west Wicklow area. I am most grateful for that.

I wish to comment on school transport. Generally speaking, this is an excellent service but has its drawbacks. There are inflexibilities which are often difficult to cope with. Cases of genuine hardship are brought by public representatives to the Department but there is a great reluctance on the part of officialdom to depart from the established line. There are instances of children arriving in towns and villages an hour or more before the school doors are opened. This happens in winter when children have to wander unsupervised through the streets, often in cold and wet conditions, prior to the opening of the school. This is not general but there are a number of cases which I have brought to the attention of officialdom. I ask for a review of the strict rules which apply.

There should be greater flexibility when meritorious cases are brought by public representatives to the attention of the authorities, together with recommendations as to how these matters could be rectified without great cost. Unfortunately it is impossible to get this message across. Half empty school buses pass children walking on the roads in rural areas simply because those children live a few yards outside the stipulated distance from the school. This makes no sense and there is no practicality in it. I wish to draw the attention of the appropriate Department personnel to this nonsense and ask them to address it. Action should be taken, particularly in instances of hardship.

I am very pleased at the progress of the school building programme, particularly since 1987. We have made great strides in my constituency and I am grateful to the Government and to successive Ministers for Education. In Rathdrum we have an excellent new vocational education committee school which serves a wide hinterland. As Deputy Hillery said, this will result in greater attendance from that rural area and improve the job creating prospects of those young people. I mentioned the much-needed school in Blessington which has been approved. We are counting on the building contract being signed this month. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be pleased to hear that news since he has a soft spot for that area. Today I travelled to Nuns Cross near Ashford in County Wicklow where a new Church of Ireland primary school will be officially blessed and opened by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Donal Caird. I look forward to being present on that occasion. There are many positive aspects within our education system.

With thoughts flowing as gently as the Avoca I must interrupt the Deputy and remind him go bhfuil an t-am istigh.

I will draw the line there.

I wish the people of Cavan and Monaghan were as happy as the people of Wicklow. I wish the Minister of State well in his new portfolio and send my best wishes to the Minister who is in hospital and is unable to be with us today. I wish him a speedy recovery. It is a pity he is not present for this important debate. Perhaps during his recuperation he will cross the t's and dot the i's of the long-awaited Green Paper.

The Government have been dithering on the production of the Green Paper. Because of the frequent changes of Minister since autumn there are three green papers rather than one which we should be examining and discussing at this stage. That does not give a good impression of what is happening in Government circles. One would have expected some corporate thinking would be involved and that the Government would have their basic principles and philosophy worked out and that, regardless of what Minister was in charge, that would not change. Every time a Minister is appointed — this has happened three times — we should not have to go through the process of writing the paper again. In effect that seems to be what has happened. This leads one to ask whether there is any Government philosophy or whether individual Ministers have their own views about different things and make all the decisions about what goes into the Green Paper. At present there are two in the bin and the final draft is awaited. I hope when we do get it the Government will have established a strong sense of direction in education.

I wonder why the decision to means-test ESF grants was taken in the first place. My view is that it was thoughtless, that a new Minister for Education decided he wanted his name in lights and knew that such a decision would give rise to certain controversy, as it did. When he moved on, the decision remained. Why were ESF grants introduced? My view is that they were introduced in order to get students to follow certain courses which were thought to be desirable for the economy and the nation as a whole. It was recognised that Irish education was too academic. The introduction of these grants was intended to move people in a more vocational direction. Practical training in science and technology was thought to be desirable. Is that need fulfilled today? Having examined the Culliton report it is clear that is not the case.

The Culliton report clearly states that Irish education is still over-academic. Things have not changed in that respect. One would suspect that the Minister who made the decision in respect of ESF grants did not take that into account or was not aware of it. Had he been aware of it he would not have interfered with the operation of those grants. It is likely, because of the changes he has made, that some people will decide not to go to third level and that others will decide to go to university because the cost will be similar. Therefore, it is likely that the change in ESF grants will not be beneficial. The objective for which they were set up initially still remains but it has been sidelined and we have to wait and see whether the Minister will change his mind before the next term commences. Perhaps he will decide that the correct course of action is to revert to the old system and continue to offer an incentive to students to follow more vocational-oriented courses.

The present educational system is broadly the same as it was 40 years ago. Next week students will sit the leaving certificate examination which is similar to what it was when the State was founded. There have been beneficial changes in the meantime but broadly speaking it is still the same. One would have to question whether the present system is capable of offering the kind of response required to the needs of the nation today. The points system is still firmly embedded in every student's mind. Those who will sit the leaving certificate examination next year have their minds transfixed on having as many points as possible. Those of us who have experience of the education system would agree with that view. Because of the points system our education system is lopsided. What has been provided to leaving certificate students in classrooms for the past 12 months could be vaguely described as education.

All our resources are geared in the direction of the few students who need points. Naturally weaker students who are not as highly motivated and whose direction is different are not getting a fair crack of the whip. It is obvious that the system needs to be changed; the difficulty is that the Government have not decided how they wish to proceed. We are still awaiting those changes. The unions will take a particular view of whatever changes are proposed. We have to face matters head on and ask whether the system whereby, after five years, the two and half hours to three hours examination which decides a student's future is adequate for today's world? Does it allow a student develop in the way the modern world requires? I believe it does not. It is clear we need flexibile students nowadays, students who are capable of being innovative and of using their initiative. The days when one got a job which lasted for a lifetime are gone. We need people who will be able to respond to what will happen to them when they go out into the world. We certainly must break the old mould that we have built around ourselves since the State was founded.

I suggest a system of continuous assessment with students working towards the leaving certificate from the first day they enter post primary school. If we introduced that kind of system we would be doing ourselves and the nation a great service. Those who have been involved in continous assessment at third level speak very favourably of it. There is motivation from day one and students have to pay attention through the full term of their course because, as they go along, they can gather marks which will be taken into account at the end of the year. Continuous assessment must form the heart of whatever education system we develop in the future. We need students who are researchers, people who are able to gain knowledge and use it. There is not so much need nowadays for students to memorise a great deal of information. Information is essentially stored. Therefore, we need people who are able to find the information and use the knowledge they can gain from various sources. It is a pity we did not have more time to discuss this but we will be able to do so and the basic aspects of education in the next month or so. Hopefully we will have the Green Paper to guide us along that path.

First, I welcome the Estimate. Like the previous speaker, I wish the Minister a speedy recovery and commend his Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, on the excellent way he filled the position on the Committee Stage of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill yesterday.

It is disappointing to hear the constant negative approach from Opposition Deputies. No one mentioned that this year we will spend £1,600 million on education which represents 6.4 per cent of GNP and is one of the highest expenditures on education in the EC. That represents 20 per cent of current Exchequer expenditure on supply services and underlines the commitment of the Government to education. The Minister might consider sending a copy of this Estimate speech to the principals of every school and heads of all education authorities in Ireland. It is important that they realise what is being done in education.

My own criticism of the Green Paper is that there is no mention of music. Music is as important as any of the three Rs. Irish people are foremost in the world not just in rock music but in classical and Irish music. I have yet to meet a person who does not like music but this was not mentioned in the Green Paper. I hope when the White Paper is produced there will be some reference to music because it is very important. We are the only country that does not have a conservatory of music and that is a tragedy. I hope that when the White Paper is published all Deputies will support the introduction of music as a major subject in schools. Music is an industry and provides a living for many people as well as much pleasure. That cannot be stressed too much.

It has been said that the eligibility limits for ESF grants are too low. I agree that £12,000 is too low; it is below the average industrial wage. I understand that the Government are reviewing that and I hope that by the autumn, or sooner, the limit will be raised to a more realistic figure. I know how hard the people of this country work to give their children an education and what they deprive themselves of. I speak of the lower and middle income groups. I am in favour of means-testing people of wealth. For example, a very wealthy farmer with a considerable income does not need State aid or grants from the European Social Fund to send his children to university. He is able to stand on his own and should do so. People in lower and middle income groups who pay for everything and get nothing free should be encouraged to send their children to third level education.

We are not doing enough for the disadvantaged children in our society. The Department of Education will say that schools in disadvantaged areas are getting an extra teacher or two. However, there are certain areas which are even more disadvantaged than others. In Basin Lane in my constituency the Sisters of Charity, who do a wonderful job running the schools, have been looking for an extra teacher from the Department of Education as they are now educating 15 travelling children from a site that was placed recently in that area. I know the Department are sympathetic but these nuns should not be kept wondering what is going to happen. The people of the area gladly welcomed these children into their midst and the Department of Education have a responsibility to provide the extra teachers. No Member would disagree with that.

There was a certain misunderstanding in relation to the higher diploma courses. I understand that the Higher Education Authority notified the universities in October 1991 that, in the light of anticipated need, the number of entrants for the higher diploma course would be reduced to 500. However, the intake in 1990 was set at 600 but was increased to 730. It transpired that the information regarding the reduced intake was not notified by the universities to the students until January of this year causing a big problem, as those of us who were approached by students and their parents know. I understand that in view of the effect on students of the late notification the Higher Education Authority are considering the postponement of the reduction in intake until 1993 so that there will be plenty of advance warning. That is the way it should be and I commend the Minister, and his Department, on their action.

I should like to mention the amount of money contributed by the State to education. The provision for pay and pensions alone represents 83 per cent of the gross non-capital provision. Education is a very labour intensive area. I am glad that in Ireland we pay our teachers more than their opposite numbers in the UK and certainly more than their opposite numbers in the United States. We want the right people teaching our children who are entitled to the best education. We also want people teaching our children who are dedicated and we want to make their jobs easier, which can be done by reducing the pupil-teacher ratio. I am pleased that the pupil-teacher ratio is improving and hope it will continue to improve. There has certainly been an improvement on the ratio of four or five years ago.

I consider that no party in the State have a greater commitment to education than the Fianna Fáil Party and we have shown that in Government. Every time there has been a change of Government from Fianna Fáil the first cut back was in education. I remember when remedial teachers were stopped as one of the——

I appreciate the fact that the Deputy is assuming there is always a need for cutbacks when a Fianna Fáil Government go out of power.

I am saying that the first Department to get the axe under a Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government was always the Department of Education. That is a fact. When Fianna Fáil are returned to office, even though——

Fine Gael always have to tidy up the mess.

The Deputy has only a short time remaining so I ask that there be no interruptions.

I do not mind the interruptions, they are well intentioned. Even though the state of the public finances was difficult when Fianna Fáil returned to office in 1987, we reintroduced remedical teaching. We recognised that the most disadvantaged people in our community were the handicapped and we have done everything we can to help them.

In conclusions, I suggest to the Minister that he consider sending a copy of his Estimates speech to the principals of our schools. The speech is a succinct policy statement of what the Department intend to do this year. The document is very worth while and I commend the Minister for presenting it.

On behalf of the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, I wish to state that I am profoundly disappointed at the priorities singled out by the Minister for the further development of the education system.

The first priority in the education system is that it should be tailor-made to the needs of the planet. However, there is no sign of that. There is no sign of anything in the education policy to show that the Government are reassessing the need for encouraging a completely different kind of society, which will be much less consumerist-based than the present society. The education system is basically geared towards perpetuation of our present industrial society, which is clearly non-sustainable.

The "Green Revolution" is not a political revolution with educational implications. It is an educational revolution with political implications and is at heart an educational revolution. It is about putting new things on the world's agenda. It is not restricted to textbooks. If we are to save the world, not just politicians and captains of industry must be convinced but millions of ordinary people must be brought to change the way in which they live. It is a remarkable project and its lifeblood is knowledge.

"Green" thinking on education reflects concerns that underlie "Green" thinking on systems in general and the need to develop increasingly democratic ways of organising and running society, the need to free people from dependency on professional elites and political ideologies that undermine their ability to act independently, the need to create a radically less wasteful and less destructive economic order and the need to reduce our dependence on aggression and exploitation and to instill in the peoples of the world the self-confidence to work cooperatively and harmoniously for the benefit of all.

We want to see education fundamentally democratised. We want to see people believing in their own powers of learning and action, acknowledging the worth of self-acquired, traditional and craft knowledge and the knowledge held by women. We want to see a radical transformation in the ways in which we allocate and use valuable educational resources. We want to see the selective, exclusivist mentality of educational systems replaced by a sharing, inclusivist one.

What is currently meant by education is too often little more than a form of social and material investment. Young people study in order to get what is called a good job. The destructive consumerist assumption, "you are what you have", is inculcated from an early age. In this environment, education has become another consumer product; something purchased from a range on offer, something which someone else has done for you or does to you. It is a potent training in consumerism, teaching people to be passive and aggressive at the same time. It opens the gateway to ideological manipulation.

As it stands, our education system is the product of our industrial society. Schools are organised and run along factory lines. The structures, the timetable, the scale and the principles of organisation of our educational system are leftovers from a rapidly passing industrial age. A respect for human individuality and values, meaningful organisation of our time, flexibility and variety of provision are hallmarks of the most advanced and forward-seeing economies in every sphere. Education should be to the forefront of these developments.

Psychologically, education is the effect of learning, and learning is a process in which we discover ways to do the things we want to do. The organisation of learning should therefore be directed towards the pursuit of individual, shared and cooperative aspirations. The principles of human sharing and co-operation are pro-fundly undermined by the competitive, exam-oriented structures of our current educational system, which seek to compare and select rather than to facilitate and encourage, and are a major source of aggression in society. It is more important for the process of education that a learner be given the means for creative discovery and be excited by the amount of progress they are making than that they should achieve any particular goal.

It is ironic that while many young people are obliged to spend hours in school and want instead to do meaningful work, many adults want to return to learning and are still obliged to spend long hours in work. No structural changes are workable without commitment to personal change on the part of those in the system.

In asking for a redefinition of educational goals, we are asking all those involved in education to partake in an ongoing redefinition of their roles. This applies as much to learners as to teachers, managers, churches, administrators and parents alike. We hope to open up the systems available to allow wider access to educational achievement and at the same time to encourage creative initiatives, individual and social, within and outside of traditional schools.

The introduction of certain key measures will enable valuable alternatives to emerge within and alongside current systems. The Green Party anticipate that those systems will improve organically in this more open climate.

With the current decline in the birth rate, it should be possible in significant measure to finance these measures simply by maintaining the education budget at its current level, with due regard for inflation. The universal provision of a basic income will free parents and young people from financial pressures which often limit their commitment to learning both inside and outside academic structures. Our present economic circumstances make this difficult for many parents. A central policy of the Greens is the provision of an individual basic income. Considerable organisational freedom would be given to students, teachers and schools to develop new approaches to curriculum, with a view to increasing democratisation of all levels of decision making and Government.

The Green objective of removing much of the elements of competition and economic necessity will reduce in importance the forms of extrinsic motivation, dominant in most of our education today. These supports will be replaced by the introduction of radical new freedoms in the design and choice of courses of study, a new emphasis on the development of each student's natural interest and, once a field has been chosen, by motivation to the highest levels of self-challenge. We need to restore the decision-making power over learning to those involved: to the learner, the teacher, the school, the community. The system needs flexibility and local responsibility in the management of learning, to allow people to make their own use of a wide variety of teaching and learning styles and techniques.

The Green Party call on the Government to stop spending such huge amounts of taxpayers' money on an already outdated education which no longer serves the needs of our people and the needs of our planet either now or in the future.

I wish to share my time with the next Government speaker.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on the Vote before the House of £1,600 million for Education. The last speaker referred to the vast amount of money being spent; I am sure he is aware of the proposed Green Paper on Education which will give us all an opportunity — and indeed encouragement has been given to all involved in the delivery of the education system — to develop the changing educational challenges to adapt to meet the needs.

I am a product of our free national and secondary school system, which is second to none. We recognise the importance of education. The Department is the third highest spender, which shows the priority given by this House to education. Of course questions are asked about value for money in relation to spending and there will always be suggestions from Members of the House on how we can improve the system and get better value for money. That should be encouraged to ensure that we get the optimum return on the money spent.

The last Government speaker referred to the position of students in relation to the higher diploma in education courses. I am aware that the Higher Education Authority notified universities in October 1989 regarding the anticipated need and the numbers which should be identified for that year. However, without justification, the numbers were increased to 730 people in 1991 instead of the identified 500 which means that 230 students are in the twilight zone. I have been told that, in view of the late notification and its effects on students, the Higher Education Authority are considering — I emphasise "considering"— the question of postponing any reduction in intake until 1993. It us unacceptable that we have allowed 230 pupils to fall between two stools. I ask the Minister to ensure that those students are accommodated.

I wish to refer to the Green Paper on Education, in particular to the central aims to which the former Minister referred as the cornerstone of her approach to the Green Paper. I welcome the six aims: first, of which is greater equity in education, particularly for those who are disadvantaged, socially and economically; second, to broaden our educational system in order to equip students more effectively for life, work and enterprise culture and, in particular, as citizens of Europe; third, to make the best possible use of our educational resources; fourth, to train and develop teachers to meet the constant change in environment; fifth, to create a system of effective quality assurance; and sixth, to ensure greater openness and accountability throughout the system. I particularly welcome the reference to maximising parental involvement and choice, indeed only recently, I tabled a parliamentary question to ask the Minister for Education what his intentions were in relation to greater parental involvement because it is very important, particularly to students throughout their early training years.

It has been brought to my attention that a number of mentally handicapped children require education but that they are not being accommodated. Perhaps the Minister will indicate the Departmental policy in relation to providing the necessary classes, teaching posts and support services to ensure that each and every child who requires education is accommodated. I have been told that mentally handicapped children over four and a half years of age are not being accommodated. Is the Minister aware of this? Will he give a breakdown of the number of children in this catchment group?

A number of principals in my constituency, in Clontarf, Donnycarney, Beaumont and Fairview, have raised with me the matter of how teacher allocations are determined. I welcome the Minister of State's remarks in relation to the retention of teaching posts, which otherwise would have been lost due to falling numbers, to improve the pupil-teacher ratio. This is in line with the commitment contained in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress but ahead of time. Given that the teacher allocation is determined on the basis of the number enrolled in September each year, is the Minister aware that schools may experience difficulties and find themselves down one or two teachers during the school year? We should adopt a hands-on approach to address this difficulty.

I firmly believe also that schools require the services of caretakers and clerical staff. Finally, before I conclude, I would like to refer to the Youthreach programme. What evaluation has been carried out and is the Minister of State satisfied that we are getting value for money with regard to the funds that we are spending in this area?

I always welcome an opportunity of giving my few thoughts on anything connected with education. It gives each Member an opportunity to come into the House to indicate his philosophy and outlook on education and what it should be about. Straightaway, I want to say it is not about what people say it is; education as I see it, in the true sense, that philosophy which spoke of a healthy mind and body, is unfortunately, no longer relevant. It has become nothing more than the new capitalism.

Education is not what we claim it to be; there is no equality and there are no equal opportunities. The Department would say that there are equal opportunities because all students are exposed to the same conditions and that, ipso facto, it is equal but that is nonsense as we know it is not. The attitude towards education today is worse than ever it was. The prevailing thought is that education is about technological advances but I would demonstrate that technological advances are the worst thing that could happen perhaps and that is wrong to equate it with a healthy mind and body. Technology has no regard for the human person. People would claim that it has all been done with a view to progress but who benefits from progress? The answer is a small number of people.

What benefits have accrued to my constituents because there has been in recent times this great so-called advance in technology? It has led to the vast majority of them losing their employment and that social commitment which every man and woman is entitled to have. People who have been endowed with great intelligence and who are supposed to have equal rights find themselves every morning waiting for the post and wondering what they can do. They are frustrated because there is no demand on their talents largely because of what are called technological advances.

This is not peculiar to Ireland, but also affects other countries. We can see the ever-increasing growth in unemployment and if we examine it for what it is we will see that it is attributable, to a large extent, to so-called technological advances. What benefit is it to the vast majority of the people that some small group of people can fly in five hours from Shannon to New York and that what are called the great nations have savaged the Third World and taken wealth from it so that they can invest in armaments? What use is technology to the vast majority of people?

We also talk about making education relevant as if making it relevant would lead to the provision of a job. We know that times change —tempora mutant— day in, day out, and that the one aspect of education that is eternally irrelevant is the humanities, the pursuit and study of human nature so that whether in good times or bad man and woman can be composed in whatever situation exists. We are abusing education if we say it refers to providing for a job that arises because of some technological advance. As I said earlier, the great advantage is that we can pool our thoughts in the hope that by the time we leave the Chamber we will be more enlightened.

I have to say, in all honesty, that I regret and resent very much that what is called education seems to refer to a situation where professional people, who enjoy a certain status at the expense of the rest of the community, find themselves in a position where they can impose themselves and, because of the scarcity and fewness of numbers, demand fees in the order of £2,000 per day because of what they say is education. Is it right that any one person who belongs to a certain profession and is blessed that he rather than someone else — invariably because of the economic situation in their home — can demand from the people of this country, who initially made the education available in so far as nine-tenths of the cost of the professional qualification that they received was paid for by the rest of the community, such a huge amount for their services? This does not apply only to lawyers or accountants but to medical people and teachers also.

We can say that there are equal opportunities and hope to contain the antagonism of the people by repeating this to them, but there are not, and education is not what it should be. It should be about creating a sense of values which are just, fair and reasonable but, unfortunately, education today is nearer exploitation than enlightenment and, when we examine it through to the bitter end, nearer blackmail than to contributing to the wellbeing of one's neighbours, the understanding that other people exist and that they, too, are entitled to the satisfaction of knowing that they have a contribution to make while they are here on this earth.

People may contend that I am a Luddite or am anti-progress. The industrial revolution was very welcome because it elevated man from slavery, relieved him of the need to labour for some few years, at the end of which he expired. Nowadays, when slavery has been eliminated, there is nothing more healthy or desirable than that man should have a commitment to or be given an opportunity to contribute to society in the times in which he lives. By accepting that technological advances can be equalised or balanced with true education we are perpetuating that nonsense, fallacy and delusion. Indeed, the sooner we question that the better; the sooner we realise that man's happiness ultimately is not about technological progress or advances but rather about giving him the satisfaction of living a worthwhile life, a feeling that he has made some contribution to the life and times in which he lives.

I know there will be comments to the effect that Deputy Tunney wants to go backwards. In other areas in which anything takes place which is injurious to mankind there is an amnesty announced. I will not refer to the obscenity of armaments. Let us look at the technological advances made in armaments. In earlier generations when man was subjected to incredible injustice and deprivation, whether through slavery, apartheid or communism, brave, visionary people challenged those practices heralding their ultimate downfall. That cannot happen in the matter of technological advancement in armaments, because if such is halted, everybody will have been brought down with it and there will be nobody who will survive to say, "I told you so".

Acting Chairman

There are five minutes available to allow Members ask the Minister to clarify certain issues raised in the course of his reply.

As Deputies Callely and Briscoe seem to have an insight into the restriction on numbers allowed participate in the higher diploma in education course from September next, will the Minister elaborate on the selection procedures that will be adopted to fill the golden 500 places? What dialogue is taking place with the colleges in that respect? Would the Minister agree that the present mood is a hang over from a proposal last year to reduce the number of departments of education in the universities from five to two and that following resistance from the colleges that so-called innovation was introduced?

Would the Minister say What developments have taken place in relation to the establishment of an Education secretariat in Brussels? The Minister said in the House on 18 February that he would be appointing a full-time official to that secretariat. Will the Minister say whether it has been decided what rank of official will be appointed? Is there any truth in the rumour that considerable difficulty is being experienced within the Department in finding a suitable appointee to that post?

Last, but not least, would the Minister please remove the shroud of mystery surrounding the Green Paper on Education, which is nothing other than a discussion document providing a stimulus for the broad education debate eagerly awaited and which has been kept under wraps for so long?

Would the Minister say what he has to offer in terms of a university for Waterford? Would he say whether funds are available from the Structural Funds or the Cohesion Fund for the assistance of such a project? If that is not the case would he say what urgent action he proceses taking in that regard?

Would the Minister say what is the position with regard to the provision of a State pre-school system, involving trained teachers in disadvantaged areas, so that children from those areas will have developed their verbal communication and social skills to a level that will allow them properly participate in the educational system from inception?

With regard to educational disadvantage and the problems of discipline obtaining in our schools — the fact that these problems cannot be resolved by the schools only but must be tackled within families — what is the Minister's response to the proposal to have a school welfare officer located in each vocational education committee area to co-ordinate the efforts of statutory and voluntary bodies to tackle these problems within a family context?

I have two brief questions to put to the Minister. First, I would hope the Minister might indicate that there will be progress made in the matter of the appointment of full-time caretakers in schools whose enrolment exceeds certain numbers. Second — this is a slightly political point but on the other hand is fact — I agree with the case made by Deputy Rabbitte in respect of adult education and courses. Would the Minister confirm whether the money available at present might not be available if people do not respond by means of a "yes" vote to the Maastricht Treaty referendum?

First, I should like to thank Members who contributed to this debate. I will respond to the questions in the order in which they were presented to me.

Deputy Higgins referred to the intake into education departments in universities. That question for the purpose of higher diploma in education course is under review. In the context of that review consultations are taking place with the Higher Education Authority, the appropriate body. It is hoped to have a decision thereon in the not too distant future. It is not a question of what system or method may be used.

The Deputy asked when the new representative was expected to be appointed to the Education secretariat in Brussels. Since it is vital that the interests of our educational system be fully represented in the forthcoming negotiations vis-á-vis Structural Funds, the Minister has decided to establish a permanent Department of Education presence in Brussels. The appointment of a representative will be made in the near future. Through our representation in Brussels we will seek to get a clearer view of the thinking of the Commission, as it develops, both on the overall size of the new funds and the underlying principles which will govern the allocation of those increased funds. This will be of immeasurable help in planning the development of education and training in the future.

I have no doubt but that there will be a substantial increase in support available to this country from 1994 onwards. This could result in a higher level of support for existing programmes. It is intended to explore all possibilities to enhance the level and extent of student support within the context of extra resources. I can confirm to the Deputy that there is no difficulty being encountered with regard to the rank of the person who may be appointed to Brussels. The Deputy will be aware that all Departments are experiencing staffing difficulties at present. We want to find the most suitable person to send to Brussels. We hope that position will be resolved very soon.

Deputy Higgins's third question had to do with the present position in relation to the Green Paper on Education. I can appreciate a certain amount of frustration being felt about the publication of that paper, the subject of debate for quite some time. Unfortunately, since some three Ministes have been involved its publication has been delayed somewhat. The present Minister concentrated in the first 12 to 14 weeks following his appointment, on reviewing and revising drafts of that Green Paper. Deputy Higgins was critical of the fact that, on occasion, the Minister was not present in the House. Indeed, the Minister's absence was occasioned by his interest in that Green Paper—

Does the Minister of State really believe that?

As the Green Paper on Education, when published, will be seen to be the work of the present Minister, the House will appreciate that he must be totally familiar with it and in agreement with its proposals. In the first week in April last the Minister published an introduction to the Green Paper outlining the main themes, issues and general direction of its contents. The Green Paper has now been completed and would have been published today but for the unfortunate illness of the Minister for Education. Let me emphasise there has been no deliberate or selective leaks by the Minister or his Department of the contents of the Green Paper.

Deputy O'Shea referred to the provision of a university for Waterford, and as I come from the neighbouring county I have a personal interest in it. However I would not like to think that the motivation behind the demand for a university for Waterford — and I know this is not the case — is in any way a criticism of Waterford Regional Technical College. Waterford Regional Technical College is an excellent and innovative third level institution which offers a comprehensive range of courses from certificate to degree level. Its status as a regional technical college has not inhibited its development in any way. However, the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1991, currently being debated seeks to introduce statutory changes that will facilitate the greater involvement of Waterford RTC and other regional technical colleges in research and development and work particularly related to business and industry. In this regard Waterford Regional Technical College has provided an excellent service to the south-eastern region, of which I am well aware. Under the provisions of the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, Waterford RTC will have greater freedom and autonomy to further develop services to business and industry and to the people in the south-east region. Waterford Regional Technical College is the largest regional technical college in the country and in excess of 40 per cent of its students are following degree level courses. Its status as a regional technical college and not a university has not inhibited its development to date and will not inhibit its future development.

Deputy O'Shea raised the question of State pre-school education in disadvantaged areas and I wish to point out that compared with other education services in Europe, our primary education system already has significant provision for the age groups that would be regarded as being in the pre-school category. Children are eligible for enrolment in primary schools in Ireland from the age of four, whereas in other countries the age of enrolment is five or over. My Department make provision for pre-school education in the case of one innercity project and for 47 pre-schools for travellers. In the latter case the Department meet 98 per cent of tuition and transport costs. The main innovative development for the disadvantaged is the home-help liaison project which caters for 80 primary schools. Through the employment of 45 full time teachers as home-school liaison officers, parents are being encouraged to become actively involved in their children's education at primary school and in the establishment of pre-school groups which are facilitated with accommodation and other assistance. There are over 20,000 children involved in these projects in disadvantaged areas.

The provision of school welfare officers in vocational education committee areas to co-ordinate various services both voluntary and statutory was raised by Deputy O'Shea. The need to co-ordinate voluntary and statutory services in the educational interests of children from disadvantaged areas has been recognised in the home-school liaison project established by the Department. A national steering committee oversees the project at primary and post-primary level. The committee consists of representatives from the Departments of Education and Health, the Garda Síochána as well as the relevant educational interests. There are also local committees who advise and support the local co-ordinators. Again these local committees are representative of relevant voluntary and statutory organisations and groups. These projects are working extremely well and will form the basis for the development of further initiatives in advancing and co-ordinating services which can support the education of children in disadvantaged areas.

Deputy Tunney asked about the provision of caretaker and clerical services in schools. I dealt with this in my opening address. Under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress funds will be provided for caretaking and clerical services from September next on a phased basis in all national schools with 100 pupils and upwards and at second level schools with 200 pupils or more. I think he answered his final question in the course of his remarks.

During our wide-ranging discussions many important issues were raised and addressed. The Government recognise the key contribution that education makes towards achieving economic, social and cultural goals. In the Programme for Economic and Social Progress the Government have reiterated their commitment in line with their economic and social policies towards achieving equity, equality and effectiveness in education. The overall strategy is to provide opportunities for everybody to develop to the full their talents and potential.

I wish to thank all Members who have contributed to this debate and I now commend the Estimates to the House.

Vote put.
A division being demanded, the taking of the division was postponed until 6.20 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 June 1992, in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day.