Deputy Derek McDowell was in possession.
Dublin Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 1994: Second Stage (Resumed).
I will offer if nobody is offering. I welcome the opportunity to speak and I will focus on the development of regional technical colleges. I see I am speaking to the converted as my colleague from Waterford, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Deputy O'Shea is present. I am sure he has no argument with the case we are putting forward for the regional college in Waterford. It is a pity the Minister for Education is not here.
The Minister's efforts to achieve gender balance are laudable and we would all like to see it achieved, particularly in the area of education because there is a balance of male and females in the delivery of education. A problem with the vocational education committees which highlights a more fundamental problem is that there are not female members on boards to meet the Minister's criteria of appointing two females to the board of governors of the regional technical colleges. This was certainly the case in the vocational education committee in Waterford.
On the bodies requested by the vocational education committees to put forward nominees, one would hope that female nominees would be put forward by many of these institutes. That did not happen in the past and it highlights the more fundamental issue of the number of women who are active, in the broadest sense in public life and makes it difficult to achieve the Minister's target. This legislation is probably the first stage in getting the structures correct within the governing bodies.
I wish to sound a note of caution at this stage. While in principle everybody agrees that gender balancing is necessary, it is difficult to enforce. I am concerned that some of the women who may be appointed as governors of the various colleges might be seen to be in those positions simply because they are female and filling a necessary quota and not for the true reason which is to make a substantial contribution to the development of the colleges they represent.
In regard to the make up of the governing bodies, the development of the regional colleges has had a significant impact in third level education but, more important, is making a substantial contribution to the economic well-being of the colleges. The increased availability of courses in the colleges has enhanced the opportunities for students from different backgrounds to qualify in subjects that, perhaps, were not easily available in the past. This has resulted in a big increase in the number of students wanting to attend regional colleges. The Waterford Regional Technical College had the highest number of applicants of any third level institution, including universities. Between 28,000 and 29,000 applications to attend the college were received, a clear indication of the quality of the courses being offered there.
The boards of governors of the regional colleges must be competent to make a contribution to the development of the colleges. The Minister should allow the colleges to organise what could be termed "search committees." similar to those in the universities and polytechnics in the UK. The latter were set up to seek out business people interested in establishing direct links with the colleges. Regional colleges should develop such links. They must have the credibility and the ability to appoint to their boards of governors people who are of a standing nationally and internationally to direct the driving forces in the colleges.
That is not covered in the Bill. In the near future the Minister will have to cater for such links by way of further legislation because the world of commerce, as rightly identified in the Minister's statement, must have links with the colleges. The best way to develop those links is to allow the colleges appoint the appropriate people to their boards of governors. I ask the Minister to consider that suggestion. If search committees were established and identified suitable people, either male or female, for appointment to the boards of governors, they could be recommended to the Minister. For that reason the Minister must maintain direct control.
I wish to refer to Waterford Regional Technical College. I do not intend making the arguments that have been made in regard to the inequity in the distribution of resources. It is clear that the south east suffers as a result. Nobody could fail to realise that there is substantial inequity in the distribution of resources and that is a stark fact in the south east. In recent presentations to the Higher Education Authority that argument was recognised and accepted.
I hope in the study being carried out and which will be presented to the Minister by the end of the year that the problem in the south east will be addressed. I am concerned, however, about one aspect. I am not suggesting that Dublin does not need or should not have all the necessary facilities but running through this argument is the premise that everybody who lives in Dublin should have all the third level institutions and those of us who live outside Dublin must send their children to the various institutions around the country. That is not a fair or balanced argument nor one that sustains equity in the distribution or resources. I do not want the problems of the south east to cloud the case being made about the lack of facilities in Dublin. I accept there is a shortage of certificate courses in Dublin. The reverse is the case in the south east where there is a shortage of places on degree courses.
The Minister must be aware of the concern about the shortage of places on degree courses in the south east. It is my view, and that of all interested parties in the south east, that in the distribution of additional degree places, a substantial number, between 2,000 and 2,500 places must be made available to the regional college in Waterford. According to the college, and most interest groups, that is the way to develop a university in the south east. We have an institute in Waterford of the highest standard and recognised nationally — and internationally. The new resourcing of that college is essential if it is to grow and strengthen its position in the market-place. The Minister must realise that the way to solve the problem is to develop the regional college in Waterford into a university. We seek, demand and expect that the number of degree courses will be increased and the number of places increased by 2,500. In that way the regional college in Waterford could claw back the ground lost in terms of equity vis-á-vis other regions and resources would not be diminished.
If the Minister is to have equity, resources must be put into the regional college in Waterford so that the south east will not be deprived of third level educational facilities.
Cuireann sé áthas orm labhairt ar an mBille seo agus cuirim míle fáilte roimh an moladh atá ann go dtabharfar deis do na fóirne páirtaimsireacha a bheith páirteach i dtoghadh daoine ar bhoird stiúrtha na gColáistí. Dul chun cinn é sin agus rud maith é. Déanann na fóirne partaimsireacha go leor ar son na gColáistí agus ar an ábhar sin ba cheart go mbeadh deis acu siúd a bheith istigh ar dhaoine a thoghadh.
Caithfidh mé a rá áfach nach bhfuil mé chomh tógtha leis an smaoineamh go gcuirfear iachall ar dhaoine gnéas cothromas a chleachtadh. Tuigim an smaoineamh atá taobh thiar de ach ní dóigh liomsa gurb é sin an bealach le dul ar aghaidh. Sílim féin gur rud é gnéas cothromas a thabharfaimid chun tosaigh más rud é go bhforbraíonn muid an smaoineamh i measc an phobail. Ach ní dóigh liom go mbeadh glactha ar bith ag an bpobal leis gan sin. Bíonn go leor daoine ag casaoid má leagtar síos go gcaithfear daoine a thoghadh ar an mbealach seo nó ar an mbealach siúd. B'fhearr mar sin go roghnófaí daoine ar na boird de réir a gcumais.
Má dhéantar sin toghfar mná. Má tá fadhb ar bith leis an scéal seo is é nach bhfuil dóthain ban cheana féin ar na coistí ghairmoideachais sna contaethe éagsúla. Sin an áit ar cheart tosú. Ba cheart an nós a fhorbairt go mbeadh mná agus fir ar na coistí seo ar fad. Ach tá mé beagáinín amhrasach i gcomhnaí faoi rialacha daingne a leagadh síos a rá le dream ar bith in áit ar bith go gcaithfidh siad daoine den aicme seo nó den aicme siúd a thoghadh. Creidim in ionannas agus i gcomhionannas fear agus ban. Creidim nach cheart go mbeadh aon deighilt eatorra agus creidim gur mó an deighilt a chothóidh sé ná a réiteoidh sé, rialacha mar seo a chur i bhfeidhm. Ní hé seo an bealach le tabhairt faoi. Ba cheart tabhairt faoi ar leibhéal na gcoistí ghairmoideachais, ar an leibhéal áitiúil ag déanamh cinnte go mbeadh na coistí sin ionadaíoch ó thaobh fear is ban de agus go réiteodh an fhadhb é féin.
Feicim fadhbanna ag éirí amach anseo má roghnaíonn dreamanna éagsúla níos mó fear ná mar atá leagtha amach sa Bhille. Beidh daoine míshasta faoin rud áirithe sin. Maidir le cúrsaí oideachais i gcoitinne de, agus cúrsaí na gColáistí Réigiúnacha caithfimíd breathnú ar chúrsaí tríú leibhéal sa chomhthéacs go bhfuil níos lú airgid á chaitheamh in aghaidh na micléinn sna Coláistí Réigiúnacha ná mar atá á chaitheamh sna hOllscoileanna.
One of the questions that must be asked is why the per capita cost in university is so much greater than in an regional technical college. This begs many questions which perhaps are not asked through fear or because the power of third level institutions tends to be so great that productivity is not questioned. From the point of view of the State it costs £12,000 per annum to keep a student at university. If one looks at the direct access to resources which the student has one must wonder where the money goes.
My memory of college is my basic contact with lecturers was at lectures where there were 300 or 400 people, tutorials tended to be given by PhD students and there were two practical sessions per week if one took a practical subject. I often wonder at the high cost of university education. We need to examine all expenditure within the State to see if we get value for money. Such an analysis must be carried out independently and not through self-regulation or examination. We spend a huge amount of money on education but we do not offer third level education to all those who qualify for it. We must look at productivity as the resources given to this sector are astronomical.
RTCs provide an alternative third level structure and give value for money. They have regionalised third level education, an important factor. I would like to see regional technical colleges in areas such as Mayo where they do not exist at present. The regional technical college structure provides regional third level education in Donegal, Sligo, Waterford and Athlone which was not provided by the university structure.
I welcome the Bill. I have reservations about some sections but I welcome the provision that part-time staff who work a certain number of hours will have a say on a par with full-time staff in selecting people for the governing bodies. Ba mhaith liom an Bille seo a mholadh ar an mbealach sin.
I compliment the Minister for bringing the amendments before the House. They are minor but significant. By increasing the ratio of women to men on regional technical college boards the Minister has effectively enhanced the status and commitment of women to education. There is need to encourage women to seek higher and more responsible positions across the educational spectrum. Too few seek the position of principal at primary, post-primary or regional college level. This may be for traditional reasons, a keen sense of family responsibility or lack of encouragement but whatever the cause this amendment has opened a window of opportunity and I welcome it with qualifications which will be reflected in the Fine Gael amendments on Committee Stage.
Sadly — I say this with a great sense of weariness — it is the thin end of the wedge and the fudging of an issue which is of great importance to myself and my constituents. This is a failed opportunity. A window is opened for women but a huge door is closed to the youth of the midlands. It is a recognition of one section of the community but a rejection of another. Why did the Minister not avail of this golden opportunity to approve the TRBDI for Thurles and County Tipperary? The Minister had an ideal opportunity to declare her intentions in regard to this college and to provide hope and a future for young people in the south midlands.
I have asked this question on numerous occasions. Ministers have come and gone but my priorities have not changed. Unlike successive Governments, I have not shifted the goalposts on this issue at any time; rather I have tirelessly, and with conviction, put forward the argument that the future prosperity of Thurles and County Tipperary lies in the establishment of a third level institute in Thurles. I have asked a simple question which requires an equally simple answer. The Minister and the Cabinet have turned their backs on rural Ireland. Approval for the establishment of a third level institute in Thurles at this stage could have opened the way for the immediate implementation of the college agenda. Why did the Minister not seek Cabinet support for a college in Thurles prior to the introduction of this Bill?
My criticisms are born out of disappointment and disillusionment. My disappointment arises from the fact that the junior partners in Government and the Labour Minister for Education have failed to live up to the principles and ideals of the Labour Party philosophy. The founding father of Labour politics in Ireland, James Connolly, was committed to education as a means of emancipating people from the shackles of ignorance. He sought to decentralise education and place it in the hands of the people who need it most, our youth. The present flag bearers of the Labour tradition have lost sight of this concept, or maybe they have simply been engulfed by the narrow minded, piecemeal and ad hoc policies of their senior partners in Government.
I feel disillusioned because of the hours of creative energies put in by many people in Tipperary in developing this college concept, which now seems to count for nothing. Approval for the college at this time could have opened the way for it to be incorporated into the financial estimates for 1995. If the Minister continues to procrastinate I can only come to the conclusion that the Members of the Cabinet have become like the characters in Alice in Wonderland, divorced from reality and nurturing self-delusion and fantasy.
The TRBDI is not simply a regional technical college, it is an advancement of the concept of regional education. Not only will it provide an educational service for mainstream students but it will also offer the option of continuing education and re-education for members of a community which has lost touch with education and training. The TRBDI has developed the concept of integrated education using out centres as locations for learning and incorporating the skills and expertise of local businessmen and professionals. The human resources element has opened up the opportunity for adult education in both a full-time and part-time capacity.
The TRBDI concept meets all the criteria necessary to receive European funding. A site has been purchased and is ready for development. The structures and procedures have been laid down and the feasibility and costings have been worked out. I am sure the House understands my disillusionment and the need to ask what more needs to be done by the people of Tipperary to gain recognition and to be given a very necessary educational opportunity.
I want to refer to the position of the TRBDI in terms of the language used by the Government. The Government talks of commitment to the Programme for a Partnership Government. In Tipperary the word "commitment" means seeing something through to the end. The TRBDI proposal recommends that the college should be open for 14 hours per day, 360 days of the year; its courses should be flexible and client orientated; the staff should have a continuing education commitment written into their contracts and they would go into the rural community, assess rural development needs and make changes to existing programmes and develop new ones where required. The only commitment I see coming from the Cabinet is one not to make a decision on this document.
The Government talks about employment and putting people back to work. However, its solution is to take people off the dole and place them on social employment schemes, to reduce State involvement in large public sector companies and to cut labour forces in companies by up to a half. This is what I meant by short term and ad hoc policies.
The TRBDI will bring much needed employment to Thurles, both directly and indirectly. Directly it will provide staff in the college, ancillary employment in the town and develop the necessary infrastructure for the employment of young people in the longer term. Experience in other towns which have third level colleges demonstrates clearly that regional technical colleges attract business and industry. The TRBDI concept places special emphasis on rural development, science and technology and business education. These areas will generate self-employment, allow for the redevelopment of Greencore activities in Thurles through links with Erin Foods and act as a source of training and development for the proposed mining industry at Lisheen Moyne, Thurles. These valid long term objectives will create sustained employment and a skills base which will give Tipperary a competitive edge in a difficult European market.
The Government refers to foreign investment in Ireland. In the past this usually meant fly-by-night chancers who came in for a quick kill and departed rapidly. The Government seems intent on continuing this policy. The TRBDI concept envisages a more realistic base for foreign investment. The college would provide long term opportunities for foreign investment, capital projects developed through curricular disciplines would provide realistic opportunities for people to create real and lasting employment and there would be training programmes for foreign students financed by foreign grants. The TRBDI proposes to specialise in the development of agri-business which is the main-stay of the Irish economy. No other college proposes such an extensive education in rural and agri-business development. The college also proposes to develop expertise which can be sold abroad and which will provide income at home. Such expertise is a financial asset and should not be underestimated. Bord na Móna discovered this during the 1980s when it began selling bog technology to the east Europeans but unfortunately not enough advantage was taken of this and the gap was subsequently filled by others.
The Government constantly refers to the need to develop the local economy, encourage small businesses and nurture enterprise. At the same time the Taoiseach invites selected members of big USA multinational corporations to come here and advise us on economic development. Their agenda does not favour small business or the sole trader. The establishment of a college in Thurles will have both short and long term effects on the local economy. Benefits such as rents, small business, transport, clothing, entertainment, food, industrial research facilities, agri-related business and changes in morale and self-esteem within the local community would be guaranteed by establishing a college in Thurles. We want to keep our young people in Tipperary and to allow them decide their future through education and local opportunities.
In recent years at least three senior Ministers have come from Tipperary, North and South. All Tipperary has experienced during this time is the closure of the sugar factory in Thurles, the closure of the Digital factory in Clonmel and many other closures and redundancies. There has also been constant indecision about the establishment of a third level institute in Tipperary. This does nothing to inspire confidence. Fianna Fáil has for seven years adopted a negative policy to this issue and the Labour Party now seems intent on imitating this policy.
As Members can see, my feelings of disappointment and disillusionment are justified. If approval for the establishment of a college in Thurles is not to be given under this legislation, how will the decision be made? What procedure will be applied and what is the relationship between the Minister and her Cabinet colleagues regarding this project? It was suggested that a decision would be taken when the Minister's interim report entitled "Third Level Educational Needs" was presented in September. Now we are told we must await the end of the year report and that, when it has been assessed, a decision will be taken. Is the Minister willing to give such a guarantee? In view of all previous commitments and broken promises the House will understand my paranoia, the result of constant stone-walling and evasion.
The present impasse leads to further questions. It is a sad reflection on the clarity of Government policy that, having promoted this cause over 15 years, I still seek answers to inane bureaucratic questions. For example, the Department of Education carried out an analysis of the proposal. What is the outcome? When will the Department steering committee report on the provision of third-level colleges? The financial questions are of greater significance. For example, what effect will revised European Union funds have on the Tipperary Rural Business Development Institute? In the report of January this year £9.5 million was targeted to be made available for facilities. Is this money still available or has it been promised to Tralee and Cork regional technical colleges and other educational institutions?
The people of Tipperary want answers to these questions and are entitled to them. Never before has an entire county been so united on a single educational issue. The amount of time, effort and expertise devoted to this project has been enormous and the motivation behind it is very simple, a large, young population in Tipperary being forced to leave every year as there are no opportunities available to them. At the same time many cannot afford to travel 40 miles to the nearest regional technical college. Statistics clearly show that 80 per cent of students who attend regional technical colleges come from within that region and that 50 per cent of enrolments annually are in the non-university sector. The problem in Tipperary is simple — the youth are there but lack the skill to comprise an effective workforce. Education and jobs are interdependent. The Tipperary Rural Business Development Institute, by its very existence, could solve that problem. In Tipperary there is a great desire to learn. One glance at the adult education programme in the county will confirm this fact. However, the programme is piecemeal and lacks integration. The Tipperary Rural Business Development Institute would encompass this programme and create the links needed to co-ordinate a more effective one.
In the areas surrounding Tipperary there are a number of regional technical colleges and colleges but they lack the necessary cohesion and integration. The Thurles college would link those colleges, geographically and educationally, building from certificate to degree courses and ensure that there was no overlapping or duplication in the process. What more needs to be said to convince the Government side of the House of the values of and necessity for this college? We must remember that education is a constantly changing facet of our society. The development of the regional technical colleges in the late 1960s and 1970s was a tremendous innovation, opening up opportunities, affording education and providing skills to a wide range of people. Now the 21st century beckons with educational demands changing at an even faster pace than most of us had anticipated 20 years ago. The regional technical college model is there and we must develop its potential. The Tipperary Rural Business Development Institute constitutes a further expansion of that model. The European Union is helping to provide resources to finance the requisite change. If we wish to avoid industrial disasters such as those in Irish Steel and the Irish Sugar Company then the TRBDI model is the road to follow, diversifying its activities in different communities, where necessary. Its educational philosophy is sound and rooted firmly in experience, making use of all local resources, encouraging constant development and re-evaluation. I emphasise to the Minister, a former teacher who has shown a commitment to educational development on other areas — remedial, civic, social and political — that Tipperary needs this input and that Thurles has the necessary expertise and facilities to support it.
I posed a number of questions today and in recent weeks to members of the Cabinet. It is fitting to conclude with one further question. If the Minister and her Department reject the concept and TRBDI model as constituting an appropriate educational solution to a very real need, from where can they provide an alternative that is as well thought out, costed and evaluated educationally? I do not believe there is such an alternative. Indeed if this educational facility is not provided one wonders who will answer to our children for the destruction of rural Ireland.
I welcome the introduction of these two Bills. I wholeheartedly endorse the Minister's emphasis on appointing women to the governing bodies of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology colleges which is the object of the provisions of these two Bills and proves that the Government is intent on fulfilling the commitments contained in the Programme for a Partnership Government, to create greater equality throughout our society.
The Government has always had the clearly stated objective of increasing women's participation in public life. As we all know, this will not occur overnight but will be enormously facilitated by establishing a practice of providing role models at governance level for students of third-level institutions. In the case of educational institutions, gender balance assumes particular significance bearing in mind their role in educating young people in all aspects of life.
This is a positive, necessary legislative step which will halt the traditional, self-perpetuating dominance of public life by men. As a teacher, I am delighted at the introduction of these Bills because, in the past, many women, faithful servants of our educational system, experienced enormous difficulty in breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling to rise through the ranks. Therefore, it is crucial that this Government is active in promoting the issue of gender equity. Of course, there will be those who will carp and belittle what the Minister for Education is attempting to do in the provisions of these Bills but those who oppose them are sexist and anti-women.
We must always remember that students attending third-level educational institutions are at a crucial stage in their development. Very often their educational experiences at primary and second-level has taught them that, while three-quarters of the teaching staff may be female, generally the principal is a male. They will have noticed that usually school inspectors are male. They may even have been aware that management boards often are comprised largely of men but that school cleaning staff are usually women. It is high time this cycle was broken. Only through taking positive steps such as these, and as quickly as possible, can we bring about that gender equity. Very often women comprise in excess of 50 per cent of student numbers in our colleges and should have a commensurate representation at board level.
The development of regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology colleges has been an undoubted success in recent years. For example, in the past 15 years wholetime student numbers attending regional technical colleges have increased by almost 300 per cent, from 6,500 to 25,000 at present. Similarly, the numbers of students attending Dublin Institute of Technology colleges have increased 150 per cent, from 4,000 to in excess of 10,000. The 1992 Acts governing these two bodies allowed for expansion of the range of activities provided by them, for example, in industry-supported research, transfer of technology, industrial training and the incubation of new industry, welcome developments which have made a huge contribution to broadening educational opportunity and access here. One very important aspect of this development is the facility afforded to continue to higher studies on the completion of regional technical college and Dublin Institute of Technology courses. Two projects for women are run by the regional technical college-DIT sector in association with the NOW programme sponsored by the European Union, further welcome developments, under which pre-training courses in science and technology are organised and week-long taster courses in engineering and technology, sectors in which traditionally there has been a low proportion of women. Such initiatives encourage women to think of a broader range of options available to them.
The great success to date of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology colleges is acknowledged but regrettably it is necessary to introduce this legislation. When we look back at the experience during the past year or so we see the reason. In the case of governing bodies in the regional technical colleges, the vocational educational committees effectively nominate 11 of the 17 ordinary members. One member each is elected or nominated by the non-academic staff and the ICTU. Two members each are elected by academic staff and students. The position is broadly similar in the case of the Dublin Institute of Technology colleges.
In implementing the Government's gender policy, the Minister required colleges to make regulations for the election of one woman and one man in the case of the academic staff and students. The Minister also requested the vocational education committees to make nominations reflecting a gender balance. The vocational education committees failed to do so and pointed to the fact that the legislation imposed no obligation on them to have any regard to gender balance or to the Government's policy on gender balance when making recommendations. I regret that this was the attitude adopted by the vocational education committees. It would have been preferable if the vocational education committees had wholeheartedly adopted a proactive policy to ensure gender balance. This regressive action on the part of the vocational education committees has necessitated this legislation.
I look forward to the day when the principle of equal opportunity is respected fully by all members of society and, more importantly, when full support is given for equal representation of women in all areas of public life. An opportunity was given to the vocational education committees to nominate women to reflect the Government's commitment to ensuring a gender balance on a voluntary basis but it was not taken up. I welcome the fact that the Minister has moved so quickly in introducing the legislation.
I welcome this legislation. This debate affords me an opportunity to express appreciation for what has already been achieved regarding third level education in Mayo. It also gives me a chance to lay down a marker as to what should be provided in the future. I say bluntly and clearly that I and the people I represent will be satisfied with nothing less, in the long term, than a fully fledged regional technical college. It would be bad manners if I did not pay tribute to the Minister for what has already been achieved. My constituency colleague, Deputy Enda Kenny, also deserves credit for fighting this cause when all seemed lost.
Last week the first students commenced classes in the newly renovated west wing of St. Mary's psychiatric hospital in Castlebar. More than 100 pupils were enrolled. It was a great day for the west, for Mayo and for Castlebar. Looking around the Castlebar campus on enrolment day I saw tutors anxious to set about the important task of imparting knowledge to their young charges. More important the youngsters were, as they say in my part of the country, just raring to go. I have no doubt when the results of the final examinations are available this group of boys and girls will have done themselves and their parents proud.
The facilities provided at St. Mary's are a credit to the authorities who worked against the clock to have the building ready on time. The head of the college, Mr. Richard Thorne, and his staff are also deserving of the highest praise for the spirit and commitment they have shown in the early days of this important project.
I was disappointed to read that the centre is officially known, not as Mayo Regional Technical College, but as the Castlebar campus of the Galway Regional Technical College. We in Mayo want and deserve a regional technical college that stands on its own feet. We want a fully independent third level college, whose facilities and status are equal to Galway, Sligo, Letterkenny, Limerick and Waterford. One of my priorities as a Member of this Dáil will be to help achieve this. The knockers have had a field day as regards third level facilities in Mayo. I do not propose to join them but there is a genuine concern that what we have in Mayo is not a third level college but third level classes. There is simply no guarantee, contrary to what others claim, that the commencement of third level classes will automatically lead to a fully fledged college. I want the courses which began in Castlebar last week to be the forerunner of a fully autonomous independent regional technical college in Mayo. In the past figures and statistics have been quoted to show the tremendous exodus from Mayo every Sunday evening to attend third level classes elsewhere. The case has already been made for a fully fledged college.
Much has been said about developing the west. Unfortunately, there has been more words that actions. Ways must be found of keeping our youth at home, both in the school going years and later when they need to earn a living. The Church recognises the importance of a fully fledged regional technical college in Mayo and has supported the campaign for such a facility. The Government, if it is serious about saving the west, cannot fail to provide such an important educational infrastructure. Let the historic happenings in Castlebar last week be the beginning, the front runner of even greater things educationally in my native county. A fully fledged regional technical college in Mayo would benefit an entire region. As well as producing badly needed third level graduates it would help correct one of the major imbalances in modern Ireland, i.e. the over-concentration of population facilities and infrastructure on the eastern seaboard.
I hope the hospital patients and staff affected by the educational developments at St. Mary's will be well looked after. I compliment the Minister on what has been achieved in Castlebar. As she begins to prepare the Estimates, I appeal to her to sanction a fully fledged regional technical college for next year which would be a major boost to the economy of Mayo. The Minister has done a good job and I am not afraid to compliment her but I am asking her to finish the job.
My party has no problem with gender equity and would support it in any sphere of the public service. My party's record on this issue has stood up over the years. The Fine Gael Party has more female representatives than any other party and we have a high percentage of females in all prominent positions. From the point of view of gender equity the actual input of Fine Gael is unquestionable.
I am disappointed that this Bill refers only to gender equity and does not refer to other critical changes in independent nominating bodies and in establishing voting rights for a range of persons in part-time employment. This issue was referred to in detail by the Fine Gael spokesperson, Deputy Paul McGrath. Neither the Minister's Second Stage speech nor the Bill refer to other significant difficulties encountered in operating the 1992 Act. The most significant difficulty is whether this Bill is constitutional. Deputy McGrath spoke at length on this and has posed several questions to the Minister in this respect which I hope she will answer when replying.
What is the motivation for introducing this Bill with such haste, just one week after publication? Is it timed to pre-empt the forthcoming court action by the Dublin Institute of Technology academic staff association? Is this the reason it is backdated to take effect from January 1994? If so, it is a matter for concern. The Bill was published a week ago. The next day The Irish Times reported groups welcoming the Bill. Indeed, as Deputy McGrath pointed out, there was not a great deal of reaction from the colleges. Was there proper communication with them before the Bill was published? Were they consulted in regard to its contents?
I support the concept of a gender balance in public bodies, but will this Bill ensure it? Will the President have to refer it to the Supreme Court? If that is the case, a gender balance in public bodies could suffer a severe setback? The bottom line should be that, regardless of gender, those who are best qualified for a position on a committee should be appointed. However, if a 50:50 gender balance is required those appointed should be the best qualified and if properly qualified people cannot be provided, there is nothing wrong in extending representation to other groups. In County Kerry — where tourism is fundamental — apart from members of local authorities, those who participate in development groups could play a vital role in running regional technical colleges and should be given an opportunity to do so. In ensuring a gender balance on public bodies, we must also ensure that those appointed are adequately qualified for the position, which I am sure is the Minister's intention.
My party supported the Second Stages of the 1992 Bills, we are committed to the development of regional technical colleges and institutes of technology. Those institutions accepted the challenge posed by the 1992 Act and in most cases implemented its provisions with enthusiasm. At that time I spoke strongly in their favour and so far they have confirmed the confidence that Oireachtas representatives placed in them. Those colleges have developed into institutions of higher education which are second to none in the European Union and this House should compliment those running them for the way they have dealt with the additional students, the higher level courses, the European Union programmes and, above all, the public funds voted by this House. Deputy Ó Cuív questioned the amount per capita spent on university as opposed to college students and the value for money we get from our regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology.
Two issues are not addressed in the Bill, namely, title and budgets. The issue of title is an important one. As business and the humanities form a significant part of the work of regional technical colleges, the word "technical" should be dropped from their title, they should be described simply as regional colleges. In discussing the regional colleges Bill two years ago, some Members said they should be referred to as polytechnics, but the title "regional colleges" would be acceptable. The title "director" is not used to describe the chief officer of higher education institutions in the European Union, it is used as a subsidiary title for the director of building and student services. I propose that the title of this office should be changed to that of president.
The national diploma course in the humanities which was to be initiated in the Tralee Regional Technical College last September aroused considerable interest locally because, for the first time, this would have combined the workings of Siamsa Tíre and the regional technical college in Tralee. I am sure the Minister would agree that this is the way forward for regional technical colleges, they must be seen as a dynamic force in the communities and regions they serve. As a member of the Kerry County Enterprise Board, I proposed that the regional technical college should carry out our development plan for the next three years, a proposal which was taken up by the monitoring committee of the enterprise board who has produced a comprehensive report with the help of the regional technical college in the county. That demonstrates the expertise available in regional technical colleges and the value communities can gain from them.
Despite the fact that a number of applicants applied for the diploma course in the humanities, because of various constraints and bureaucracy the course did not go ahead. I appeal to the Minister to ensure the course is initiated next year. Culture is becoming an important aspect of the tourism industry and, therefore, further development and refinement of music, and other aspects of our culture and heritage is essential. It is important that such a course is provided in regional technical colleges so that we can give our visitors a high quality product. People were disappointed that the diploma course did not go ahead this year. In addition to achieving a B in Irish in a pass paper, those who wished to take up the course were required to successfully complete auditions in ear, voice and dance movement. It was not possible to obtain approval for the course from the Department prior to 1 May because of section 13 (4) of the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, and because the artistic assessment auditions could not appropriately be held in the days immediately prior to the leaving certificate examination, they were deferred until 17 to 24 June 1994. Applicants who attended the artistic auditions sought a guarantee that a course would be run in September 1994 and as such a guarantee could not be given, a significant number changed course preference prior to 1 July.
Verbal approval for this course was given to the director of the college on 25 July and confirmed in writing on 7 September. When first round offers were made by the CAO-CAS in Galway on 18 August 1994 the director considered there were insufficient remaining applicants to form a viable class group and two options were available. Those options were to re-advertise the course with a likely commencement date of January 1995 or to defer intake until September 1995 and assume the letter of 8 September gave approval for course commencement in September 1995. At the meeting of 28 September the governing body adopted the second option as did the professional staff of Siamsa Tire, the colleges' partners. Because of a provision in the Regional Colleges Act, 1992, and the delay in communication between the college and the Department it is necessary to amend that Act to avoid a future logjam. Section 3 (4) states that the vocational education committees shall on or before 1 May each year submit to the Minister for approval the programmes and budget submitted by the governing body together with such modifications as may have been made by the committee. Obviously, in this case that provision prevented the course from proceeding. Will the Minister address this problem and ensure that the course proceeds in 1995? It represents an important departure, its content is innovative and it is the type of course that will become popular throughout the country.
Members on this side support the introduction of gender equity. It is vitally important that as many women as possible should be involved in decision making at all levels. Deputy Browne said that primary school education, where up to 90 per cent of staff is female, must be given priority as it has implications, particularly in the provision of physical education. For example, it may be difficult for some female teachers to bear the elements in taking physical education classes outdoors, be it Gaelic football, hurling, soccer or whatever. I understand Finland has a similar problem. If that imbalance continues it will lead to major repercussions in physical education.
Gender equity at all levels of education must be considered. The Government faces a challenge in respect of the very small number of women in senior positions in local authorities. In Kerry County Council it is noticeable that very few women attend council meetings despite there being many capable women on its staff. The provisions are a start in dealing with the problem of gender equity, but difficulties will arise. This area should be given a good deal of consideration and initiatives should be taken. Despite some reservations and the questions I raised for the right reasons, I welcome the Bill.
I welcome the generally positive thrust of the Bill, but it is regrettable that legislation must be introduced to obtain gender balance among governing bodies. That balance should occur naturally but the Minister believes it will not happen without the introduction of legislation. While there is a general welcome for this legislation once it is on the Statute Book her problems will not be over. Implementing its provisions will be much more than an academic exercise. I hope the blueprint will work out but there will be problems.
Sligo Regional Technical College is in the heart of my constituency. When a Bill which deals with the governing bodies of regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology is introduced it is right that a person representing an area in which a college is located should pay tribute to the staff of that college for their good work. Since Sligo Regional Technical College was established in the 1970s it has flourished and has had a major impact on the north west region. Each year it turned out well qualified and, probably because of the spirit in the college, highly motivated graduates. Admittedly, as usual many graduates had to emigrate, but those who did were at least equal, if not better equipped than, their peers in the host country to which they emigrated and were able to command excellent jobs. Indeed, many gained valuable experience and subsequently returned home. Anything that helps to maintain employment in that area or ensures that people who have to emigrate are well equipped to do so is extremely valuable.
The Sligo Regional Technical College is the main reason for the success of the industrial sector of that area and it is fitting that tribute should be paid to its staff. Many multinationals have located there and great progress has been made in tool making. Indeed that area has become the centre of tool making here.
It is regrettable that ESF grants have now been means tested. Those grants influenced the growth of Sligo regional technical college which was very sucessful in attracting students from farming, manual workers and professional backgrounds and which gave rise to a well balanced socio-economic student body profile. Unfortunately, I fear that the introduction of the means test, for reasons of which the Minister is well aware, puts that balance at risk. Unfortunately, that battle has been fought and lost as far as we are concerned. I know of the Minister's interest in the technological stream of education provided by regional technical colleges and her emphasis on that area is correct. We look forward to more resources in terms of buildings and staff being put into the regional technical colleges. The crowds that gather in the corridors of such colleges could be compared to the crowds that will gather in Lansdowne Road tonight. The college buildings were built to cater for students in a particular period but they are inadequate for the present needs. They need investment to provide for expansion.
The Minister should consider retraining staff. Most of the staff in the regional technical colleges were recruited in the 1970s. They are now in their forties or fifties and many of them are operating in a rapidly changing technological area. It is essential that teachers should be informed ahead of the new developments. It is universally accepted by teachers that major investment in retraining is needed in the technological area where there has been massive developments.
This should be a concern of the boards and I am sure that when they are gender balanced there will be an extra touch to meet this precise concern. The Minister should have a serious look at the need for retraining and lecturers, professors and teachers will given her the strongest possible backing. I am glad of the ability to be involved in research and development and to become commercial in that area.
Sligo Regional Technical College, Letterkenny Regional Technical College, Magee College and the University of Ulster at Coleraine are in the north-west section of the country. There are others along the line — I have no doubt Deputy Boylan will speak about his in Cavan. In the spirit of peace at present we should be looking for stronger cross-Border ties in education. Letterkenny and Derry are not too far apart but Fermanagh, for example, is in the hinterland of Sligo. Rosses Point golf club in Sligo would have had up to one-third of its members from Fermanagh until the troubles broke out. There was cross-Border activity prior to and subsequent to the Border being put in place which continued until the troubles began. Now that there is a cessation of violence, which it is hoped will be on a continuing basis, the Minister should look at how we can forge stronger links between, say, Sligo Regional Technical College and the University of Ulster. This could be carried to accreditation, something in which the academics in those areas have a particular interest. I have been in the University of Coleraine in recent times and met the excellent people there. They, in turn, have a great interest in the people in Sligo and Donegal. I know of some classes in Sligo where perhaps a quarter of the students have opted for the University of Coleraine as their first choice — these are students going on to the university as distinct from the regional technical college. I would be grateful if the Minister would consider what might be done, perhaps at no cost, to the advantage of everyone and the furtherance of education which we all desire.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill but I question the necessity for it. Is this not an insult to women in 1994? Surely modern day woman is capable of taking her place in any walk of life, on any committee or in any board room. We have prime examples of women leading in various fields in this country. Surely the Minister is not saying it is necessary to make places available for them, that they cannot compete? I do not accept that. Our first citizen does a fine job. She is a marvellous example of 1994 womanhood, presenting the image of this country in a very positive manner internationally. When the President is abroad and speaking on behalf of the nation one does not worry about what she will say next as in the case of some leaders, one listens with anticipation.
In my part of the country in the field of engineering in which it was unheard of for women to be involved many years ago, one of the finest engineering firms, Moffat Engineering, is led by a woman, Carol Martin, who has put many of the men in that field in the shade. There are many more positive examples. When the Government has serious problems such as at present and in the recent past, it is not Minister Cowen or Minister McCreevy who are pushed out front but Minister O'Rourke, to present the image. Those examples show that women can play their part. This measure is not necessary and could be taken as an insult.
Having said that, most people agree that there is a necessity for gender equity. Let us turn to primary schools for a moment. I understand that 80 per cent of primary school teachers are female. Whether that is a good trend can be questioned. The male influence will always be important. The household we see as good and proper consists of a mother and father, both having an influence, the father with the sons if he is blessed with them, daughters to look up to him and the mother there to care for them all. That is the proper balance. In our national schools where there is an all female staff boys must feel left out. If teachers' duties do not conclude at 3 p.m., if they are involved in sports and boys must be taken for hurling, football, soccer, rugby etc., and girls for camogie and other sports, there is a necessity for balance. With an 80 per cent female teaching staff I worry how the next generation of young men in this country will turn out. I hope they will be as good as in the past.
This debate has developed into a discussion on third level education and everybody has put down a marker for their own area. I will be doing the same and the Minister can hardly blame me for that. There are other aspects to this discussion, the first is that education is vitally important. When talking to young people in groups having met them on the road thumbing lifts as they have to do because of the cost of travel to and from college — I will come to that aspect in a moment — I always tell them to get all the education they can, that it is a golden opportunity; and, broadly speaking, the opportunities are there. Without a good grounding in education one will not be able to get a meaningful job. That was not the case 20 or 25 years ago. Someone with the leaving certificate could become a bank clerk and eventually a bank manager. Previous to that even the primary certificate from national school was a passport to advancement. That day is gone. Although there are exceptions qualifications, certificates, diplomas or degrees are essential if one is to have a chance. The primary schools are outstanding in turning out young people although conditions are not as we would like them to be. However, that is a debate for another day.
I am a strong supporter of the vocational school system. My children have gone through it and I fully realise what they have to offer, a marvellous system of education which complements the private colleges. People can choose. There was an attitude that the vocational schools were for a certain section of the community but that is nonsense. Children from all walks of life have gone to the vocational schools. People with airy fairy notions of sending their children to private colleges now realise that they made a mistake, that in the vocational schools there is a wide choice of classes — woodwork, metalwork etc., and cookery classes, etc., for the girls. There is a mix, children will find that this is what suits them and will then progress to the regional colleges or the universities. The regional colleges present a marvellous opportunity for young people to subsequently advance to a degree course. They do it in slow stages but they will make it if they get the initial grounding.
There are difficulties in regard to cost and location. The case has been made for Castlebar, Sligo and Waterford. People have said that everything is centred in Dublin. Dublin is well facilitated with universities and regional colleges. I have sons in Dublin so I speak from experience. A major problem relates to the availability of places which are not freely available and it is difficult to get into colleges. The Minister says we cannot make places for everybody but we must — all the children must be cherished equally. It is not good enough to have a certain cut off level and to tell the rest they cannot get in. Likewise it is terrible for children to have to drop out if they fail after the first year as it can have a serious effect on them. The Minister may disagree but I believe many of the faculties decide how many students will pass their examinations in a certain year. There is a cut off point because it is undesirable to have too many doctors, architects, solicitors and so on. There may be many young boys and girls with the required ability but only those at the top of the scale get through, and that is unacceptable. Everybody should be given the opportunity to get into the jobs market if they have the relevant qualification. The system does not provide for equal opportunities for all qualified people.
It is almost impossible to find suitable accommodation in the city of Dublin. The Minister has an obligation to ensure that suitable accommodation is available for young boys and girls from the country. There are marvellous bedsitters and flats in the city but some of the accommodation is not of the required standard. Many children are tempted to take such accommodation because their parents cannot afford to pay for suitable accommodation. I query the health conditions in many flats and bedsitters. There are many responsible people who offer excellent flats and digs but there are others who rip off their tenants and in many cases flats are not suitable for habitation. This underlines the necessity for regional colleges which would allow students to live at home.
In Cavan there is a college of further studies, a marvellous development of recent years. It is a new college but already the results are showing. The principal subjects taught in that college are office and computer skills. It has also developed a pre-nursing course which is extremely popular. The college is linked to the regional technical college in Athlone but further development is necessary. Since Cavan is 75 miles from Dublin, students attending college in Dublin must find accommodation there. There is no direct transport system from Cavan to Dundalk and therefore students attending college in Dundalk must find accommodation there. The same applies in regard to Sligo and Galway. The cost of accommodation is all these areas is very high.
Deputy Deenihan referred to means testing of the ESF grant, which is unacceptable as it puts many people under great strain. The income limit for this grant is £16,000 and there is a clause relating to families with eight or more children. There are very few families nowadays with eight or more children. Let us be realistic about this matter. I know of cases where the husband works, for example, as a postman and his wife takes part-time work to supplement the income. In those cases the wife's earnings are taken into account in the means assessment, thereby debarring the children from receiving a grant. Because of these people's initiative in earning extra money for their families they are being denied a grant to which they should be entitled. The ESF grant should not be means tested.
Likewise, students seeking local authority grants for university should not be penalised as a result of a parent taking on extra work to supplement the family income. The money earned in this way is simply pocket money which is spent on extra items for the family rather than on luxuries and people should not be penalised as a result. Means tests should be assessed on the income of the head of the household. If both parents have full-time jobs that is a different matter but where the husband is the main income earner and the wife works part-time, her income should not be taken into account.
There should be closer co-operation between colleges North and South. There is a marvellous university in Coleraine in Derry. it is within reach of those in the north-east and north-west region and some arrangement should be made whereby students in those areas could attend that college. Perhaps the Minister would consider those points. The ESF grant should be considered. Universities and colleges should be required to inspect accommodation to ensure it is suitable for students. That would be one way of overcoming the accommodation problem. We should ensure that our children have every comfort and are given every possible opportunity. I look forward to the Minister's comments on these matters.
I am probably right in saying that this is the first Bill that has come before the House that specifically sets out to achieve a particular objective in terms of gender balance and the Minister is to be congratulated on that. However I hope the Minister will not consider me curmudgeonly or begrudging when I say I am not particularly impressed by the legislation. I know I am venturing into an area in which it is very easy to be misunderstood, but I do not think the Minister would disagree when I say that her success in bringing forward this Bill is probably due in no small part to the fact that she is a woman and this has been very much a woman's cause. That is underlined by the fact that in other Bills that have come before this House since the Government came to office, the Government failed to take the opportunity to provide specifically or explicitly for gender balance on other boards. Maybe part of the reason is that the Ministers concerned are men.
I do not know whether the Minister has spent much time — I suspect she has — arguing about gender balance, but I would like an objective reason for this legislation. I am not going to speak about the educational aspects of the Bill. I simply want to sound a note of, at least, scepticism to show that the House may not be entirely convinced by this politically correct and fashionable urge to bring about a particular level of gender balance. It has been notable in this debate that, although the Bill is principally about the objective of gender balance, there has been very little talk about it. It has become a matter of faith in certain quarters in politics that 40 per cent of the people occupying positions deemed to be important should be women. I would like the Minister to reflect a little on where that 40 per cent came from. There is no justification whatsoever for 40 per cent, or indeed for 30 per cent, 50 per cent, 65 per cent or any other percentage.
As a general rule 51 per cent of the population is female and 49 per cent is male — there tends to be a slight majority of females over males. The argument about gender balance in politics has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with the objective fact that women have been discriminated against in most western societies for most of our known history. Because of the way our society has been organised it has been made extremely difficult for women to take up certain positions which we believe, culturally, are important. I fully support the contention that this should change, discrimination brought to an end and actions and attitudes which give rise to it — I will not say rooted out because that is far too violent a phrase — modified so that we have a more natural emergence and participation by women on the basis of their abilities overcoming the discrimination.
I do not believe that Bills such as this are the right instruments to use. This will emerge clearly when the Minister begins to put the gender balance provisions of this Bill into effect. I have a shrewd suspicion — I think the Minister shares it — that it will be difficult in some cases to bring this about. The Minister will have to wangle and manoeuvre to achieve this objective. Part of the reason for this is that no percentage, 40 per cent, 45 per cent or 50 per cent, can be objectively justified; there is no rational reason for it in terms of the abilities of the people concerned.
It is ironic that the Minister for Education is the first to put this measure forward given that she has by far the biggest role to play in Government in providing the means with which we can influence the attitudes and practices which give rise to the dissatisfaction rightly felt by women at their low level of participation in areas which we think are important in our culture, economy and so on. It is in the way we educate people that we see the most deep seated influences which give rise to the situation with which the Minister is trying to deal.
I do not think the Minister paid particular attention to that area. I do not say that as a criticism because after 21 months in office no Minister for Education can hope to have fundamentally altered the shape or direction of our education system; it would take much longer than that but the Government is not doing anything substantial in our schools to change this. We have had some cosmetic exercises in the past; action has been taken on the question of gender stereotyping, some of which has been worthwhile and some ludicrous. This reminds me of what they tried to do to Enid Blyton.
The Deputy should be specific.
No real action has been taken in terms of the direction of the education system and the content of the school programme that will, in the medium to long term, bring about a fundamental change. This may be a recognition of the fact that it takes much longer to do this than a couple of years which the campaigners would like and, second, it is happening anyway because society as a whole has become, more conscious of the injustice it perpetrates on over half the population.
I am not surprised that a Labour Party Minister introduced legislation of this kind because the Labour Party, like its counterparts in many other countries, is a believer in the "nanny state" whereby the State decides what we should do and in what we should believe. Whenever a problem arises or whenever a need is perceived in society the first instinct of the Labour Party — it is not alone in this in Irish political culture — is to ask itself what the State should do about this to shape our minds and hearts, if it can ever get that far, to eradicate this evil in our midst. In terms of this Bill the "nanny state" is at it again; it will make us and all these boards more egalitarian whether we or they like it or not and, above all, it will do this regardless of whether it is appropriate.
I will not refer to the old stances that can easily be labelled "chauvinist" or the circumstances in which this balance will produce the wrong people. I am aware there are cases where the imbalance has produced the wrong people but this is not the way to correct it; the State should not get involved and legislate for the way we think. I bet the Minister cannot give me one good reason for believing that the figure of 40 per cent is right. It may well be that in some part of the country the natural process of selection, based on ability and suitability, will produce a board of the vocational education committee of which 70 per cent of the members will be women. In theory that may happen under the Bill. It may also be the case that in an adjoining area the natural process of selection will produce a board of which 70 per cent of the members will be men but this will not be allowed to happen and we do not know why. Why should the position be the same in two areas — people are not the same?
A friend of mine, a farmer, who has long since passed to his reward, used to tell me when I worked for a major farming organisation that he hated listening to me when I used terms such as "in general" or "on average". He used to say that he did not like averages because if one's head is in the oven and one's feet in the fridge, on average, one is at a comfortable temperature. In relation to some of these boards the Minister will have her head in the oven and her feet in the fridge but whatever else happens there will be a general balance regardless of whether we will have the best possible board in a particular region. This is the wrong way to go about it.
I sound that note in the House because it is evident from the debate that, in general, Members have been intimidated by this deadening fad of political correctness and the rush to fit in with what is popularly perceived to be the respectable liberal thing to say, do and believe in politics. The self-righteous Labour Party — it has not been as self-righteous in the past few days — has all the wisdom about what is politically correct and the politically sexy ideas. We will have unnecessary bureaucracy to bring about a result which will look fine on the outside but which will be purely cosmetic and you should not take that, Sir, as a chauvinist or sexist remark. I cannot see how this will do anything for education. It may in some cases bring people into the loop of involvement but in others it will keep people out. The Minister will have a headache in making sure that this balance will be properly respected because it seems to be the respectable thing to do.
I do not know if it is worthwhile spending time in going through this pofaced procedure of legislating for this when it will not do anything worthwhile for education. In the meantime there are other developments in the education sector which will have a far more intimate effect on the way the system serves people, and which we are not discussing, although some of these issues have been touched on in this debate. Although it is not strictly relevant to the Bill I am sure, Sir, you will allow a passing reference to the Minister's apparent intention — supported for once by Democratic Left, which I find very ominous — to take account of assets in determining eligibility for third level education grants. It is one of the most dangerous proposals I have ever seen. I wonder if the Minister will follow the logic of that proposal and look perhaps at PAYE workers in a high technology firm and include not only the physical assets of the firm but the intellectual property rights that attach to the firm. The assets of a good firm involved in computer-aided design employing ten or 12 people might be distributed among the workers. Would the Minister be happy to do that? Logically she should, because if she is to value and take account of assets owned by a farmer, publican or shopkeeper in assessing eligibility for third level education grants, she is valuing the tools they have at their disposal to make a living. She will not do that to PAYE workers, not because she has made any intellectual examination of it but because in the dead doctrine of the Labour Party people who own assets are not entitled to the same kind of service from the "nanny" State as people who do not own assets or who cannot be shown to own assets or have an individual title to them. That will be much more important for our education system than the question of gender balance.
I would love to see the day — and I do not think the Minister will hasten it — when we would not comment on the gender balance of any board, business or committee because it would be irrelevant. We would simply know that we had a system in place that produces the best people for the job and we would not care about their gender. What the Minister is doing will not have a constructive effect on the deep-seated reasons for the problem. Society will get on with it without reference to the "nanny" State interference that the Minister is proposing. This Bill is mis-conceived and will not achieve the objective the Minister has set.
I thank those Deputies who have supported the Bills, which seek to promote a gender balance in the governance of higher education institutions in the non-university sector, thus ensuring that these very important institutions can draw on expertise representative of the whole population. I welcome the commendation of Deputies Keogh, Gilmore, O'Keeffe, Gallagher, Browne, Costello, Shortall and many others for my initiative in trying to place this on a statutory basis. Deputy McGrath raised the issue of delaying the Bills until after the publication of the White Paper on education. I see no connection between the White Paper and these Bills. There are many reforms that cannot await the publication of the White Paper. Examples include——
Would the Minister give way on that?
I have no intention of giving way. Examples include——
That is not what I said.
I indicated I would listen on Committee Stage. May I finish so that I may respond to the many Deputies who made points?
The Minister should answer the points that were made, and that was not one of them.
Examples include the amending legislation that is under consideration today and ongoing reform of the structure of second level senior cycle education and the agreement with second level schools on selection procedures. Similar action with regard to other urgent issues will be taken should the need arise before the publication of the White Paper. The process of finalising the White Paper is well advanced. Taking account of the comprehensive consultation process which has taken place to date, the White Paper will be an important document which will outline the framework for the development of education into the next century.
Deputy McGrath acknowledged the comprehensiveness of that consultation but sought to draw a distinction between the White Paper consultative process and what we saw as the lack of consultation on the Bills. I am very happy to inform the House of the consultative process put in place since the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992 and the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, 1992 were passed. We have formalised a process of consultation between my Department and the directors of the regional technical colleges through the regional technical college management services, for which a full-time officer and secretarial support staff have been sanctioned. Consultation on all sorts of issues relevant to the sector is ongoing on a regular basis since the legislation came into effect. This, of course, is a vast improvement on the old system where the contact between the Minister was through the chief executive officer of the vocational education committee, who until December 1992 was the accounting officer for the colleges. With regard to these Bills specifically, I can confirm that consultation took place with the regional technical college management services and directors were aware since last March of my intention to bring amending legislation before the House. I have to refer to the difficulty of consultation on gender balance as the representation at that level is of one sex only.
The question of an appropriate title for the colleges to reflect their particular expertise has been raised by a number of Deputies. It is one previously discussed during the debate on the Principal Acts. The regional technical college and Dublin Institute of Technology Acts clearly indicate the breadth of the educational services to be provided by the colleges as follows:
To provide vocational and technical education and training for the economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial, social and cultural development of the State with particular reference to the region served by the college.
Once again I am sorry to say we have heard arguments that taking compensatory action at statutory level to reduce under-representation of women is somehow insulting and demeaning to women. I refer in particular to the contribution made by Deputy Dukes. To be accused of being concerned about equal treatment because of experiencing a fashionable urge is not worthy of members of his party. He might look like a new man but he certainly does not sound like a new man. Deputy McGrath has contributed a great deal to the recognition and acceptance of the need for gender representation and positive action.
The experience of that part of the population that is underrepresented is that without a statutory requirement the ratio seldom changes. Deputy McDowell usefully outlined to the House how legislation of this kind had a positive effect when implemented in the Nordic countries.
A number of Deputies put forward the case for additional higher education facilities in the greater Dublin area and in Cork, Thurles, Waterford and other areas. I welcome the fact that Deputies Enda Kenny, Gallagher, Browne, Ring and others disassociated themselves from the derogatory term of "outhouse" used by Deputy Gilmore to describe the Castlebar campus. The provision in Castlebar is significant and is making a very worthwhile contribution to higher education services in the region. I draw the Deputies' attention to the fact that the steering committee on the future development of the higher education sector is making an in-depth analysis of this question including the case for Waterford, Castlebar, Thurles and Dublin, so ably put by Deputies in the past two days. Despite reports in the media no report has yet been drawn up. An interim report will be submitted to me in November. When I receive that interim report I will be in a position to consider that matter further.
Some Deputies have criticised these Bills because they do not address what they see as a wider range of problems in the colleges and institutes. These Bills are brought forward to address the very specific problems which have arisen in the appointment of governing bodies, principally the issues of who should vote in staff elections and gender balance. It would not be possible for the institutions to operate effectively and within the 1992 legislation unless these issues were clarified. In all other respects the new statutory basis of the institutions has been a notable success, a fact referred to by many speakers in this debate. I have no doubt that the institutions, like all complex organisations, have day to day problems. Most of these can be and are resolved in a spirit of co-operation between the various interests involved. It must be borne in mind that the legislation governing these institutions is only two years old. It is unnecessary and would be unreasonable to embark upon any widespread review of the Acts when they are still in a settling in period.
Questions have been raised as to the constitutionality and democratic credentials of some of the Bills' provisions. Deputies McGrath and Gilmore referred in particular to the provisions requiring that academic staff elect one man and one women as their representatives on the governing body and to the pending High Court action on this matter. These Bills are not unconstitutional or undemocratic. Insofar as the legal action is concerned, I do not wish to comment on it except to say there is nothing in the Bills which would affect the proper jurisdiction of the courts. The aim of the Bills is to bring forward certainty to matters which are at present inadequately provided for in legislation.
Why was it retrospective?
Deputy McGrath argued that a system of a male and female panel for academic staff elections distorted the democratic process. These Bills do not impose any requirement that there should be such panels. The Bills allow the governing bodies of the institutions to decide how the staff members are to be elected to the governing bodies while ensuring that in the case of academic staff, one is a man and the other a woman. This can be done following consultation with staff interests in a reasonable and fair way. In that regard I consider the two panel system employed by the institutions in the most recent elections to be both fair and reasonable.
Deputy McGrath referred to the threshold of 280 teaching hours which would be required before a staff member could take part in elections as a legislative tablet of stone. This is not the intention or the effect of the provision. The aim is to provide that academic staff who work a minimum of 50 per cent of the current workload of full-time staff can take part in these elections. If the number of hours worked by full-time staff were to vary the Minister could, as provided in this provision, vary the threshold for part-time staff accordingly. Far from being inflexible tablets of stone, the provisions give the utmost flexibility to a Minister to respond as circumstances warrant so as to maintain the spirit of this legislation. I would also point out that these provisions relating to part-time staff are specific to the election process only. Their aim is to bring certainty to the issue of the electorate. They have no implications for any other aspect of the employment of staff.
Deputy O'Keeffe raised the question of degree provision in the regional technical colleges. It is important that a balance be maintained in the education sector in the levels of terminal qualifications which students attain in order to provide a balanced workforce for the economy. In recent years there has been an increase in the degree and higher provisions in the regional technical colleges. It is now approximately 10 per cent, which is a significant output. Any further development must take account of national development needs.
In the recognition of new courses it would be the general wish of all involved in the sector that the quality of educational provision be safeguarded for all incoming students to the colleges. Part of that safeguard lies in the insistence by the Department of Education on an appropriate preparation and lead in time for the development of new courses. There is a responsibility on the Minister to ensure that this preparation and lead in time is observed and compliance with the 1992 Acts will guarantee this. There have been difficulties with colleges where the necessary preparation has not taken place and this obviously has to be monitored by the Department.
Deputy Gilmore criticised the approach to the method of appointment of students to the governing bodies. The aim of the Bills' provisions is to ensure that the interests of students in the colleges and the institute are effectively represented. Representations were made to me by the management of the institutions and the Union of Students in Ireland that the present system of selecting student representatives should be changed. The procedures applying to the University of Limerick and Dublin City University were put forward as models worth adopting. Those provisions enable the governing bodies to make whatever arrangements are appropriate in the circumstances. They have invariably resulted in officers of the students' union being appointed to the governing bodies. This has contributed to a unified system of representation for students at various levels in the colleges. I would like to encourage this development in the case of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. I have every confidence that the colleges and the students can work together to devise a system of representation in the interests of all.
Deputies Cullen, McGrath and Browne raised the question of allowing the institutions themselves to put forward organisations from which nominations to the governing bodies can be made. This proposal is an interesting one which I would be prepared to consider and I will ask my officials to consider how it might be implemented. Deputy McGrath and I will meet again on Committee Stage to discuss the proposal.
I thank all those Deputies who supported the Bills, including Deputies Deenihan, Nealon, Boylan and even Deputy Dukes for raising the temperature. I found most of the comments to be constructive. I anticipate that the Bills will greatly assist in the continuing development of the regional technical colleges and the institute in a spirit of co-operation and inclusiveness. The system of governance then achieved will provide a commendable model to other institutions.