Dublin Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 1994: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I reiterate my commitment to the philosophy of gender equity. Even though I was critical of the Minister in a number of areas last night, particularly in the area of third level education, I commend her on her diligence in pursuing the notion of gender equity. Unfortunately, the concept of gender equity seems to have become unfashionable. A matter as critical as this should not be seen as a fad but as a human right and that is why I am vehement in my support of gender equity in the Bill.

I am critical of the Minister because she has been tinkering with education instead of dealing with the substantive issues. We should be debating the White Paper on Education. The Minister recently spoke on a radio programme on which she came across as very reasonable. She said that the White Paper would be published in November, to which the broadcaster retorted: "you did not say which November". Unfortunately that view is shared by many people. There is tardiness in respect of the White Paper on Education and that is most unfortunate. The Minister spent too much time on issues relating to structures and battles with bishops rather than dealing with the real issues of education. We should focus on education as it applies to the future of our young people. I realise that structures form part of that debate but they are not the substantive issue.

I specified last night that elements in the Bill need to be clarified and that we would put down amendments on Committee Stage. My party supports the Bill, particularly the notion of gender equity. I look forward to discussing other issues with the Minister, such as the area of curriculum, third level education and the grants system. We should also focus on primary education which lacks funding. Parents in particular are involved in fund raising to support schools. They willingly participate in school life, but it is wrong that education should be funded by cake and bring-and-buy sales. Schools should be funded and children should have the opportunities they deserve. I commend the Minister on introducing these Bills.

My party supports the principle of gender quotas and the recommendations by the Second Commission on the Status of Women on gender quotas on State boards and bodies. When these Bills were before the House in 1992 I supported the principle of gender quotas and argued very strongly that they be specified in the legislation rather than giving a vague, generalised commitment, which subsequently caused the difficulties referred to by the Minister that gave rise to the present legislation.

I will support the general thrust of the Bill in so far as it seeks to establish that there will be a minimum of 40 per cent of either gender on the governing bodies of regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. I am very surprised that, given the Minister's stated commitment to the principle of gender representation and the Government's stated commitment to the principle of enabling women to participate fully in the social and economic life of the country, the Bill is confined solely to regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. Discrimination against women is widespread and a major problem in the education system. With the decline in the number of convent schools and the number of sisters who held principalships and senior positions in convent schools, with the advent of lay principalships and appointments, representation of women at a senior level in the education system has declined.

At third level — throughout the education system — there is an appalling under-representation of women both in the governing bodies of universities and at senior staff level. The latest figures I have for universities — I concede these may vary — indicate that in UCD only three of the 34 members of the governing body are women; in UCC three of the 27 members are women; in UCG two of the 26 members are women; in Trinity College three of the 14 members are women and in the University of Limerick three of the 16 members are women. In each third level institution the president or chairperson of the board and the chief executive or principal, with one exception, is male. In each vocational education committee the chief executive officer is a man.

The Conference of Religious of Ireland in a recent report document the extent to which women are under-represented in the education system. At primary level, for example, while women account for 76 per cent of the total number of teachers they account for only 48 per cent of principalships. At second level the figures are worse; while women account for approximately 50 per cent of the total number of teachers they account for only 11 per cent of principalships in community schools and 4 per cent in the vocational education committees. At third level women account for only 2 per cent of university professors and 14 per cent approximately of the total number of teaching staff. In the Department of Education fewer than one-fifth of the number of senior positions are held by women.

Under this legislation where two people are elected or appointed, for example, by the academic staff or students to the governing body, one must be a man and one a woman. In general I agree with this. When the Minister assumed office she appointed a senior adviser and a programme manager, both of whom were men. The principle of gender balance encompasses far more in the education system than the appointment of members to the governing bodies of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Given that its stated intention is to address gender imbalance in the education system this Bill does not go far enough. If the Minister was serious about tackling the appalling inequalities and discrimination against women in the education system she should have introduced legislation which dealt with this in its totality covering the question of the appointment of principals in schools and the appointment of members to the governing bodies of institutions other than the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. I am told repeatedly that when women present themselves for interview for the post of principal or vice principal they are asked questions about their family commitments and very often about their personal lives. This would not happen in the case of a male applicant. In the education system, therefore, there is strong discrimination against women and this should be addressed. In a field of activity in which women have taken an active interest during the years and are highly represented, the teaching profession, the question of the number of women in senior positions — this also applies to the teacher unions — will have to be addressed. In this regard the Bill does not go far enough.

The Bill, however, goes too far in giving the Minister increased powers over the vocational education committees, the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. While its stated intention is to tackle discrimination against women the real purpose of this Bill is to dig the Minister out of the hole in which she finds herself because of conflict with the vocational education committees. Section 2 (2) places two requirements on vocational education committees. Paragraph (a) places a requirement on a vocational education committee to ensure that in making its recommendation not fewer than seven recommended for appointment to the governing body are women and not fewer than seven are men. Paragraph (b) states that a vocational education committee shall make such recommendations subject to such directives as may be issued by the Minister from time to time. On Committee Stage I will explore this matter in greater detail.

We have to be mindful of the history of the legislation relating to the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. I recall that when the legislation was first introduced to establish the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology as autonomous institutions with their own governing bodies there was a massive row between the then Minister for Education and the vocational education committees on the question of whether the vocational education committees would have any role in the appointment of the members of the governing bodies. The legislation, as originally drafted, provided for the Minister to appoint the members of the governing bodies of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. In discussions between the members of the IVEA who held Fianna Fáil party cards and the then Minister a compromise was cobbled together to allow the vocational education committees to make recommendations in the appointment of members of the governing bodies. Section 2 (2) (b) of this Bill will bring us back to the original position; in other words, the Minister will appoint the members of the governing bodies. The Minister will have free rein to issue whatever directives she wants to the vocational education committees about the recommendations they will make.

The question of student representation is addressed in the Bill. The Minister addresses the duality of student elections as provided for in the original regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology legislation. The original legislation provided for student union elections at one stage of the year and another set of elections to elect two members to the governing body. As often happens the same people need not be elected giving rise to problems of accountability. I attempted to address this problem by way of amendment and I pointed out that students could elect to the students union John X and Mary Y as president and vice-president respectively and then the governing body would make arrangements for the election of two student members of the governing body and two entirely different people might be elected giving rise to a conflict. That problem has been recognised but the solution proposed in the Bill is the most bizarre I have seen in a long time — it is certainly the first time that an electoral problem has been solved by abolishing the election, and this is what the legislation is providing for.

These Bills provide that two students, one of whom will be a man and the other a woman, shall be chosen in accordance with regulations made by the governing body. That does not provide for an election but provides that any governing body — I note the Minister is shaking her head — can make regulations resulting in the selection of students on any basis. I know that the level of conflict between students unions and governing bodies is not very great but a governing body might find itself in conflict with the student union and the regulations it might devise might reflect that conflict.

I read a report in this morning's newspaper that the difficulties with the students union presidency in University College Galway have been resolved but for quite some time there was a problem as to whether the first person elected or the second person elected was the legitimate president of the students union. The president of the students union in Letterkenny Regional College found himself in conflict with the chairman of the governing body. The situation became so out of control that the Minister was required to investigate it but the problem has not yet been resolved. I understand that the person who conducted the inquiry into the matter has reported to the Minister and I would like to know the outcome.

There is no governing body in that college but, apparently, the chairman of the original governing body, a party to the original problem, is still functioning as a sole member of the governing body. This situation has arisen because of a conflict between the students union representatives and the governing body. It is not inconceivable that problems could arise between a students union and a governing body which could give rise to regulations being introduced for the selection of student representatives which might not necessarily reflect the democratic wishes or the students autonomous right to have their own representatives. Why can provision not be made for the students union to nominate one male and one female representatives to the governing body? I will table an amendment on Committee Stage to deal with this.

I received correspondence on the issue of staff representation. Staff are concerned that the provision the Minister is making for the staff to elect one man and one woman is denying them their autonomous right to elect whomever they wish. No doubt we will go into this later. A letter I received from a teacher in one of the colleges states:

In issuing the election notice for the current governing body, the governing body stated it was acting on the direction of the Minister in limiting the choice of the electorate. This matter is being challenged in court. A full hearing of the case is due later this month. In introducing her Bill the Minister is attempting to pre-empt any decision of the court.

This raises an issue which the Chair may wish to address. I have always been concerned at the way the Chair interprets the sub judice rule and if I were to attempt to raise questions on matters which are before the court I think the Chair would rule me out of order. If this correspondent is correct then an issue arises as to whether the Minister, in introducing this legislation, is seeking to circumvent a decision of the courts on matters which are currently before them. In particular, I draw the Chair's attention to section 5 which deals with governing bodies. Under subsection (4) of that section the Minister proposes to give retrospective effect to the appointment of the governing bodies. It states:

This section shall be deemed to have come into effect on the 1st day of January, 1994.

I would like to hear the views of the Chair as to whether the Minister is in order in putting before the House legislation which it has been claimed is seeking to circumvent matters which are before the court. It would appear that the Minister is seeking to give retrospective effect to matters which have yet to be decided by the courts.

The Bills have to be put in context. This is the first education legislation which the Minister has brought before the House. I am always glad to see education legislation before the House but I am somewhat surprised that these are the first Bills the Minister has introduced. We have been waiting for quite some time for the substantive education Bill which has been promised time and again not only by this Minister but by her two predecessors. The Green Paper on Education was published early in 1992 and we were told that the educational interests would be consulted within six months with the White Paper being published early in 1993. I accept there was a general election, with the appointment of a new Government and a new Minister and, understandably, a period had to be allowed for the new regime to put its stamp on what was taking place.

I was very pleased at the Minister's initiative in establishing the Education Convention in Dublin Castle with very wide ranging consultation with educational interests on the future of education. I am at a loss to understand what has been happening for the past 12 months because it is over 12 months since the Education Convention met. At that time it appeared there was a converging of views in the education field as to the future of Irish education. I attended several seminars organised by various interest groups where the various educational interests appeared to be moving towards a position where it was possible to work out a new partnership relationship between the various interests in education, the owners and patrons of schools, teachers, parents, the Department of Education and the Government, representing the taxpayers. It is regrettable that initiative seems to have been lost and in the past 12 months the White Paper has not been published — apparently it is to be published some time towards the end of the year. We seem to have moved further away from agreement on education than was possible 12 months ago. It seems also that the Minister has approached some of the more sensitive issues in a confrontational way which has not lent itself to reaching agreement with the education interests and the boat has been missed.

Approximately 12 months ago, at the time of the education convention, the Minister missed an historic opportunity to reach agreement with the various interests in education. That is very regrettable because we are now locked into a sterile conflict about control and ownership of education when the vast majority of people, including those who work in and consume the education service, are more concerned about the questions of cost and quality.

We have had what can only be described as a number of very exceptional decisions by the Minister for Education. There was an announcement on the abolition of university fees for which apparently there was no Government approval and which the Minister has not yet clarified. An expert group on student grants was appointed. Half the outcome of their deliberations was announced and last November the Minister promised she would publish the report of the de Buitléar group, but it has not been published. It was leaked in the public press from which it appears the de Buitléar group has made certain recommendations on equalling the opportunities of children of PAYE workers to the opportunities of farmers and self employed people.

When the Minister is replying to the debate I invite her to state when she intends to publish the report and what she intends to do about its recommendations.

On curriculum reform, for example, a considerable amount of work has been done by the NCCA. The curriculum committees recommended changes in curricula for the leaving certificate and within the past month the Minister announced that despite the work done by the curriculum committees and the fact that they were under orders to produce early reports, she has decided to postpone——

And muzzle them.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Leave the greyhounds out of it.

I do not know about the muzzling, but certainly she has postponed the implementation of curriculum reform and has now appointed another committee to re-do what the curriculum committees were doing in the first place.

I am very surprised that in legislation dealing with regional technical colleges there is no reference to the establishment of new regional technical colleges. Last year, Castlebar regional technical college was an issue in the Mayo by-election. It seems to have obtained some type of an outhouse arrangement from the Galway regional technical college.

That is not fair.

I see no reference to the promised Dún Laoghaire Regional Technical College which surprise me greatly, because I thought the Minister would have been committed to the establishment of that regional technical college. When the original regional technical college and Dublin Institute of Technology Bills were going through this House, I argued strongly that built into the legislation should be a commitment to establish the Dún Laoghaire regional technical college, because the number of regional technical colleges is defined in the original legislation. In amending the regional technical colleges Bill, it would have been appropriate for the Minister to amend the legislation in such a way that the number of regional technical colleges would be increased and, specifically, that the regional technical college long promised for Dún Laoghaire, for which there is a site and for which the Minister occasionally makes a statement to the effect——

The time available to the Deputy is now exhausted. I would be grateful if he would bring his speech to a close.

I will conclude by inviting the Minister, when replying, to state if ever or when the promised regional technical college of Dún Laoghaire will be established and why she did not take the opportunity in this legislation to provide for it.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Pat Gallagher.

That is satisfactory and agreed.

This Bill is a further step on the road to enshrining gender quota and as such it is welcome. I agree with Deputy Gilmore that we should examine the governing bodies of the universities also with a view to ensuring that proper gender balance is introduced to those august bodies. We all agree that there has been major improvement, particularly in the role of women, in the education sector. The role of women in the teaching profession and the number of women participating in various courses in third level colleges has increased significantly. That there will now be a gender quota as part and parcel of management structures within colleges will ensure there is an appropriate thoughtfulness in the attitude of governing bodies towards their students and staff.

On the development of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology, I welcome the use of Structural Funds. The majority of the regional technical colleges have existed for some 20 years and the additional funding has enabled them to move with new impetus towards the second developmental stage. It is interesting to note also that despite the publicity during the summer from the university sector, there are now more applicants for places in regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology than for universities.

The university sector sought increased funding and put pressure on politicians and parents by indicating there will be a 25 per cent increase in the cost of courses. It did not matter to them that more applicants sought places in regional technical colleges and in the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Minister should look at the cost to her Department of a student attending university compared to attending an regional technical college. I compared University College, Cork, with Tralee regional technical college. I based my calculations on the amount of funds given both those excellent institutions and divided that by the number of students attending the colleges. My survey showed a major disparity in the cost to the Department. It cost £4,500 to go through university whereas it appeared to cost £2,500 to go through an regional technical college. That has major cost implications for the Department of Education.

I asked a parliamentary question last year seeking the unit cost comparison between universities and regional technical colleges and was told this information was not available. It is high time now that it was made available. We are all aware that more and more young people seeking access to third level are denied it, not because they have not attained the minimum requirements but because they do not have sufficient points. The Minister is left with the problem of how to provide the best possible third level education while ensuring the highest possible number of places. From my analysis it makes greater economic sense to expand the Regional technical college-DIT sector than to expand the university sector. regional technical college and Dublin Institute of Technology courses are shorter and more flexible than university courses. They can be adapted to meet the needs of the region the college serves. They are more attractive to the lower socio-economic group who tend to apply to them rather than to university. The Minister should keep that in mind when planning for the provision of additional places.

I understand that Cork regional technical college is the most difficult college to which to gain entry. It demands the highest points for entry compared to any other regional technical college or to Dublin Institute of Technology. As a result many students fail to gain entry although they have attained the necessary standards. The Minister should look at that.

I take issue with Deputy Gilmore, his comments about the Castlebar outhouse were less than circumspect and did great injustice to the staff and students who benefit from that institution. Such people should be lauded rather than treated in such shabby fashion by Deputy Gilmore. It is madness to continue building regional colleges in centres like Castlebar, Thurles or Dún Laoghaire when there is outreach in education. There is no reason we could not create an out-centre in Skibbereen under the direct control of the regional technical college and staffed by lecturers under the aegis of Cork regional technical college. Such an out-centre could serve west Cork and parts of Kerry. Third level education in Cork is extremely costly and many students must travel to Kerry, Waterford, Athlone or abroad to attain such education. This would be a cost effective way of ensuring they have access to third level education. At the end of the day students would be better qualified and capable of being employed.

Rural towns would be more vibrant if courses were held in out-centres. Imagine the difference it would make to a town like Skibbereen if 250 students attended an regional technical college out-centre. That is the way forward. The National Council for Education Awards could ratify courses and regional technical colleges could ensure their standards applied. It would be effective from a cost point of view.

As regards awarding degrees by regional technical colleges, major progress has been made within the vocational sector over the last 20 years. Vocational education committees play a vital role in the board of governors of regional technical colleges. They know exactly what is required and the input from vocational education committee members to the board of governors of regional technical colleges cannot be underestimated. I have seen colleges progress from offering two year certificate courses to offering diploma courses and now, in some instances, they offer degree courses. There is a hands on approach in regional technical colleges and in the Dublin Institute of Technology compared with universities. The feedback from employers is that there is a more practical content in regional technical college courses and the graduate is far more adaptable in the workplace. This aspect is beneficial in enabling students to secure employment. The Minister should reconsider the proposal to put a cap on the number of degrees awarded by regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. There might be a need for some capping in this area but, given the developments in education over the years, colleges should be given flexibility so that they can continue to flourish and develop.

(Laoighis-Offaly): I welcome this Bill, the first legislation to emanate from the Department of Education since the Minister took office. This House has not distinguished itself by the number of education Bills it has considered over the years. I look forward to further legislation in this area, following the publication of the White Paper on Education.

This Bill reflects the significant steps taken by the Government to improve the status of women in positions of authority in institutions which are under public control. The Government's policy in regard to gender balance has been much derided by some commentators and many sections of the media, but I believe that over time it will work and be very effective. I welcome this Bill which will implement that policy in regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

It is important that the question of gender balance in this significant and growing sector of our education system is addressed. As the Minister said, the number of students in this sector has increased significantly from approximately 10,500 in 1980 to approximately 35,000 today. This sector deserves the full attention of the Minister and the Government.

The majority of students in my area attend the regional technical colleges in Athlone and Carlow. Those of us who know students attending regional technical colleges can say without reservation that these colleges promote participation in education, greater accessibility to education and are more affordable in the sense that students can live at home and commute on a daily basis. They also provide great opportunities for progress in that students can take diploma and degree course and then transfer to other colleges within or outside the State.

There is a gender balance in the student population of these colleges. Women make up more than half our population and this should be reflected not only in the student intake but in the number of women on the staff and the governing bodies.

I share the positive views expressed by Deputy O'Keeffe about the extension centres being developed by regional technical colleges. I, too, was disappointed to hear Deputy Gilmore describe the developments in places such as Castlebar as "outhouses". As a former chairman of the County Offaly vocational education committee, I am aware of the excellent work done by the extension centre opened in Edenderry in conjunction with Athlone regional technical college. These centres provide courses for students who because of financial or distance problems, cannot take courses in regional technical colleges. The development could profitably be expanded in many other areas.

The Department of Education is reviewing the level of need in the third level education sector before making any further provision. That review should take account of regional factors. Under the CAO-CAS system students can apply to all regional technical colleges. The inclusion of a regional balance in the system would enable students from my constituency who cannot afford to go to college in Letterkenny, Cork or Tralee to attend college in Athlone or Carlow. This would be a useful development.

I have no doubt that the Bill will be criticised by those who have doubts about the effectiveness of positive discrimination in society. I heard it said that legislative, positive discrimination has not worked well for ethnic groups in America or Britain but this Bill deals with a different matter; it relates to women who make up more than half the population. It is important in the education sector to have positive discrimination in favour of women who make up such a large proportion of the student and staff populations but who hold very few of the top posts in administration and management. As a general principle it is better if we can make progress in this area by way of policy, guidelines and advice. However, in areas where these are not effective legislation is necessary, and I agree wholeheartedly with its introduction to deal with this limited area.

Critics of legislation on positive discrimination say we should have a system based on merit. However, this implies that women do not hold top positions because they do not merit them. This is patently not the case. To date the power and decision-making structures have discriminated in favour of men and it is high time a measure was introduced which gives women greater participation in this area. The Government's policy in regard to gender balance has worked very well in appointments to State boards. This proves that if one looks for women of merit and capability to fill these positions one will find them.

I welcome the decision to put on a statutory basis the gender balance requirement in appointments to the governing bodies. It is ironic that, on the one hand, Deputy Gilmore criticised the Minister for not doing enough and on the other, lent some credence to the arguments put forward by those who oppose change in this area. I commend the Minister on the introduction of this reforming legislation and look forward to the introduction of further legislation which will deal with the changing needs in a fast developing educational sector.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Curim fáilte roimh an Bille seo. Ós rud é gur phós mé bean álainn agus go bhfuil triúr iníon agam agus mac amháin, níl trioblóid ar bith agam ó thaobh áit na mban nó tionchar na mban sa tír seo.

Deputy O'Keeffe regretted the absence of Deputy Gilmore who, if I recall correctly, was leader of the students' union at one stage, as was his very able colleague, Deputy Rabbitte. When St. Paul was riding to Damascus he got a fright, fell off his horse but saw the light and was converted. I hope the Deputy's zeal has not gone altogether overboard. I dare say he would say something I would readily accept, that he was accepted by a majority vote which is democracy at work. If more than half the students are female and vote for a male student, that is fine with me but that there must be a compulsory number of females is the only difficulty I perceive.

I have no difficulty in acknowledging that women can play as good if not a better role than men in any set of circumstances. I was encouraged, having spoken to people in a regional technical college, to discover they were quite happy with the way things were working out, that while it may have proved somewhat difficult for interview boards to obtain qualified women, it was merely a distance difficulty they perceived.

We could end up with people who felt they must perform a task they did not like. A member of the academic staff who may be superb in her field of expertise may have no interest in being elected to a governing body. I suppose most sensible men have no interest in being public representatives given that there are a sufficient number of public representatives. If one is engaged in teaching, there is much to be said for going home after school hours, resting, and being fresh for the following morning rather than travelling to meetings undertaking tasks for others. If sufficient women have that inclination the two preferred candidates in any vote could transpire to be women. I do not see why any students' union could not elect two women student leaders. The provisions of this Bill could be a barrier to two women who were very keen to represent the students' union. One of them would be debarred from so doing because a male would have to be automatically elected.

It is very difficult to get this gender balance right. For example, does one prevent a person coming forward for election or does one ensure that somebody comes forward for election? If somebody wants to put themselves forward for election and is elected, that is fine but, if they are forced to put themselves forward as candidates because a female has to be elected, it might not weigh altogether to the advantage of women. We must remember that there are many female teachers at primary level. When I taught there were six women out of a total of eight teachers in my school. I was principal because I was older than them, but I experienced no difficulty with them. I found them marvellous and they continue to be so, but I predict that a difficulty will arise if we push this gender balance.

Has the Minister considered imposing a 40 per cent intake of male students in the teacher training college because there the gender balance has gone utterly out of control? I do not know what will happen in schools where discipline appears to be a major problem. That is not to say women cannot impose discipline, they can but, as male students become older, the presence of a male teacher who will not take any nonsense is essential. In my many years teaching I found it was invariably the bullies who whinged most whenever they had to suffer. In the age of corporal punishment within which I spent most of my teaching years, its threat was a marvellous steadying influence on students who wanted to render life miserable for others. My philosophy was that children should be free to come to school, remain there and return home unhindered. I do not know how schools continue to function without any punishment level because, taking a student aside and talking to him, will have no effect if he decides to kick another student the minute he leaves. It is very difficult to manage such students. While I know there are plans to implement suspension and so on, one must ask one-self what suspension means to a child at primary level? It means nothing whatsoever. A student on the eve of sitting his leaving certificate will be worried about results whereas, suspension to a child at primary level, will make him think all his Christmases have come together. Of course, that depends on the attitude of the parents, who could make life miserable for such a pupil but, conversely, if the parents were so inclined, probably that child would behave properly in school. Without proper teacher/parent relations one cannot have discipline in schools. Equally, if a teacher cannot contact parents and talk to them on a friendly basis life will be miserable for teacher and pupil alike.

The overall question of gender balance should be addressed seriously at primary level also. While it might be unfair to females who might not attain a higher academic level, if we achieved gender balance in other sectors, there is a case for some such balance at the primary level, if not by raising the level of male teachers to 40 per cent perhaps by endeavouring to encourage greater numbers of male students to engage in the teaching profession.

The regional technical colleges have played a major role and have expanded rapidly since their establishment. We must remember that they are third-level colleges and we should always compare them with universities. They should award degrees; diplomas alone are not sufficient. While they can award certain degrees, a system should be devised to enable them award a degree on completion of most of their courses so that students who participate in them would not be perceived as second-class third-level graduates. The regional technical colleges are not second-class, third-level institutions, they conduct very practical courses and students emerging from them generally are very well qualified but, invariably universities have a monopoly when it comes to availing of resources or funding. If we are serious about encouraging regional technical colleges we should ensure that they obtain their fair share of European Union or other funds available for research and so on.

The vocational education committees did a marvellous job in vocational education, when they were familiar with circumstances obtaining in their respective counties and so on. Despite what others have said, I am not so sure that they are as well equipped to deal with regional technical colleges as they were in the past in dealing with their own schools. While their role appears to have been diminished somewhat, they appear to be given powers about which I will speak later. For example if Carlow regional technical college was influenced in its operation only by the vocational education committee we would omit neighbouring counties from which many students come, such as Kilkenny, Wexford, Laois, Wicklow and Kildare. There must be a wider network of contacts.

I note the Minister has introduced powers to enable vocational education committees to seek nominations from any number of organisations. Would she consider, for example, extracting a list from the regional technical colleges? In the long run the management boards of regional technical colleges will be fully aware of the areas from which their students come, where they need to have influence and which might be the best nominating organisations. From that list, thereafter, the vocational education committees could determine which nominating bodies they would choose. We must remember that, for example, Carlow must compete with Waterford, Athlone and Limerick so that it might be very important that they have a considerable influence on neighbouring counties. I know the nominating bodies do not have to be located in Carlow, Waterford or other neighbouring counties but, bearing in mind the old system under which vocational education committees dealt with their county only, it would appear the practice obtains that the county in which the regional technical college is located appears to have greatest representation. The Minister might review the overall system of nominations, perhaps allowing the principal of a college or the management board decide which nominating bodies would be of greatest benefit to them and allowing the vocational education committees choose from that same list.

There has been an expansion of student numbers in regional technical colleges from approximately 6,000 to 25,000, which is to be welcomed and is a sign of the success of those institutions. Unless we have an extension of the buildings there will be difficulties. Since the founding of these colleges there has been a lack of proper library facilities. This problem has existed for so long that the Minister will have to take a bold step and, despite public spending, come to the assistance of these colleges. Seating accommodation for 70 students of the 2,300 students is certainly not putting the regional technical colleges in a position to compete with universities. At university level students are expected to use the facilities. If library facilities are not available in the regional technical colleges it may give the impression that research and study is not that important in them and that they are not really third level education institutions. The lack of library facilities in regional technical colleges should be tackled immediately because we must get students into libraries to carry out research. If only 70 places are available for over 2,000 students that suggests that they cannot work.

Canteen facilities must be expanded. It follows that if there is an increase in the number of students there is a need to expand canteen facilities. There is no point in people walking along corridors on their way to the canteen to eat sardines when they are being crushed like sardines on the way or thinking they are leaving Croke Park every day they walk the corridor. In a sense it is good to have such a difficulty because it means student numbers have increased. The numbers will increase only because there is success in regional technical colleges. The authorities, and the Department of Education, should provide the money to increase the necessary facilities.

I wish to refer to the operational report sent to the vocational education committees in March. During the summer I was surprised to see advertisements for lecturers in regional technical colleges. Some of the vacancies may have arisen because some lecturers left. From what I can gather, the clearance for new courses arrives too late for the regional colleges. It has been suggested to me that at the time the vocational education committees get the report the Minister should also get a copy so that she can anticipate the request for new courses that will later be recommended by the vocational education committees. The Department would then be in a position to give clearance in good time so that extra lecturers can be employed and the course set up. The Minister should think carefully about this because those involved in the regional technical colleges do not have the freedom to prepare courses sufficiently early in the year. Perhaps the Minister could change the date for receipt of the operational report from March to February or even January. The vocational education committees may think they are being by-passed but I am merely suggesting that the Minister receive a copy at the same time to allow her to deal with the expansion of courses. On the other report, the Minister can wait for vocational education committee approval and suggestions.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the 40 per cent gender balance does not apply to political elections because I could be fighting for the last seat in the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. I would hate to survive and receive a note saying that because there were not 40 per cent women TDs in the constituency I would have to step down. Although I have the utmost respect for women I would hate to have to step down.

I welcome the opportunity that the introduction of these Bills gives the House to comment on the development and future of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. I am happy to acknowledge the excellent work being done by the regional technical colleges and by the Dublin Institute of Technology and the wonderful education being provided for our young people. It can be seen from the growth in figures that they are well supported by young people. Since 1980 student numbers have increased from 6,500 to 25,000 in the regional technical colleges and from 4,000 to 10,000 in the institute. There is a thirst for knowledge and third level education among our young people and that is something we should strive to satisfy.

The 1969 report, which formed the basis for the establishment of the colleges, related the colleges to economic growth both nationally and in their regions. It is interesting to note the Minister's comment:

In their continuing adaptation over a period of almost 25 years since then the colleges have continued to stimulate demand for skills which the economy needs.

It is interesting to see how the colleges have evolved over the years. They are now dealing with more than the educational area. Activities such as applied industry-supported research, technology transfer, services to regional industry, industrial training, product development technology centres and new industry incubation are now an ever increasing feature of the regional technical colleges sector. An expansion should be encouraged not only of the number of colleges and the number of places but the role of the regional technical colleges. In regard to the regional technical colleges and their future development I wonder whether the title regional technical colleges, with the emphasis on technical, is too restrictive because they cover a much wider area at this stage. I ask the Minister to consider the title of the colleges which play a much greater role now in our third level education than in the past as can be seen from the growth figures.

Our bright young people coming from primary and second level are rightly demanding more places in third level education. We should speak of the colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology as third level institutions. When I refer to the demand for places at third level I must refer to the iniquitous points system. It appears to be the fairest of systems but it is a very tough and difficult one. As a parent of two daughters who have gone through it, I know how difficult it is for parents and children when leaving certificate results are announced. There is the question of how many points have been obtained and if this represents a cut-off point in their education or as far as career opportunities are concerned. If they do not get the break from second level into third level it may affect their career paths and their life.

Of all the examinations our young people sit, the one which has the greatest impact on their careers is the leaving certificate. That examination is a traumatic experience for them. We cannot change the points system, but we can make more places available so that more young people have an opportunity to avail of third level education. Thousands of boys and girls succeed in getting sufficient marks in their leaving certificate to enable them to obtain places in third level colleges. They would be well qualified to pursue courses and careers of their choice, but due to the restricted number of places at third level they are denied that opportunity. I encourage the Minister to continue her battle with the mandarins in the Department of Finance in regard to the number of places at third level.

If the newspaper report last weekend is correct, officials in the Department of Finance are of the view that the demand for places at third level will drop and, consequently, there is no need to increase the number of regional technical colleges. I reject that view and I am glad to note from the report that the Minister is fighting a case for the establishment of more regional technical colleges. A higher percentage of young people will be seeking a third level education in the future. There will be an ever-increasing demand for places, not only from those completing second level but also from those who want to further their education at a later stage. The Minister will have my support in her battle for the establishment of additional regional technical colleges. We as a society should not fail our young people by depriving them of the opportunity of a third level education if that is their wish.

In referring to the number of third level places nationally, I make special plea to the Minister, in respect of the Fingal area of north County Dublin, an area which I have represented in this House for many years. In the Balbriggan, Swords and Malahide electoral areas there are more than 10,000 young people attending second level education, 8,000 of whom do so in Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush, Swords, Malahide and Portmarnock, not to mention the numbers attending second level in Howth, Castleknock, Blanchardstown and other areas of Fingal County. There is a demand for the establishment of a regional technical college in the area and I take this opportunity to ask the Minister seriously to consider the matter. I am not being parochial on this issue. I am merely stating a case which has been made by the local authority in its development plan. It is vital that those 10,000 young people be given an opportunity to avail of third level education.

We are fortunate that the Dublin City University is located on the fringes of the Fingal area and that UCD, Trinity College, the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology are located in the city. They are all very important institutions. There is a growing demand for third level education and we should not deprive our young people of that opportunity. In regard to the location of a third level institution in the Fingal area, a site in the Swords-Malahide-Portmarnock area or in the Balbriggan-Skerries area would be acceptable.

There is a growing demand for particular skills. The IDA is concerned about the level of language skills. Telesales and telemarketing is a growth industry and the only restriction in that regard in the future will be the ability to provide workers with adequate language skills for that industry. A college in Fingal concentrating on language skills would fill the gap. In the early 1980s there was an urgent need for qualified engineers and the shortage of engineering college places was a drawback to the IDA's promotional efforts to attract investment. The problem was tackled with the co-operation of the Departments of Education and Industry and Commerce and colleges and universities throughout the country. A similar problem will arise in the future in regard to language skills and we should make plans to address it now. I encourage the Minister to consider seriously the possibility of establishing a college designated as a centre of excellence for language skills.

In considering the establishment of a college in Fingal, the Minister should take into account the tourism industry. A college dedicated to language skills with an emphasis on tourism would be a welcome development. With a greater emphasis on tourism in the future, there will be potential for additional jobs. As particular skills are necessary in that industry such a college located in Fingal would be an asset to the national infrastructure and a considerable advantage to the young people I have the honour to represent in this House.

A Government has a responsibility to its citizens, especially the young and elderly. It is incumbent on us as public representatives to speak up for those two sections of society in particular. Short term financial restrictions should not limit the development path of a young person who wishes to advance to a third level college. I appeal to the Minister and the Government to ensure that in the years ahead our young will be given the reassurance that on completing their leaving certificate a third level place will be provided for them if they have the ability and desire to follow that path. That would be preferable to the present system where the choices, future careers and development of our young people are restricted, not because of ability but because of economic factors that control the number of places available.

The present system is wrong and should be tackled. Given the thirst for knowledge, advancement and development among our young people there will be an increased demand for places in third level institutes in the future. We should not restrict the number of places, rather we should encourage our young people by giving them every opportunity to advance in life on the path they choose. That will result in an increased demand for places and we must provide them.

I reiterate the need for a third level college in Fingal and I strongly urge the Minister to favourably consider the case I made for it.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss these two Bills. I do not object to the proposals in the legislation to increase the number of women appointed to the boards of regional technical colleges. The Minister referred to this matter as gender equity. I hope we do not take this matter too far by pursuing the 40 per cent model put forward for elections in some countries, including Ireland, by various pressure groups. People in any walk of life should be elected on merit. However, I recognise there is a bias against women, probably built on tradition, and it is difficult to overcome. I agree that encouragement should be given to increasing the number of women appointed to various boards and elected to Parliament, but not on the basis of a formula which would bring in people who would not be up to the mark. People may say there are many males in the Assembly who are not up to the mark and they may be correct.

I did not say that.

It would be an erroneous and foolish path to follow that people should be elected substantially on the basis of their sex; ability and capabilities should be the main priorities in this case.

I represent the area of Waterford where we have a wonderful regional technical college which is packed to capacity, probably considerably overcrowded. One of the most burning issues in Waterford at present is that the regional technical college has not been upgraded to the status of a university. There is considerable discontent about that issue about which I am sure the Minister is aware. She may put forward arguments regarding population decline resulting from a fall in the birth rate in the coming years. There has been a decline in births since the 1980s which will result in a noticeable population decline in the next few years.

Third level institutions, regional technical colleges or universities, throughout the land are grossly overcrowded. In recent weeks I heard Dr. Mitchell, President of Trinity College and Professor Michael Mortell, President of University College, Cork, complain about the overcrowded conditions under which they and their staff work. Third level institutes are bulging at the seams and that trend will continue despite demographic factors such as the decline in the birth rate. As pointed out in a report last week, in certain areas, particularly in north Dublin, people are discriminated against on a significant scale because of the lack of provision of a third level institute in their locality. Finglas, probably the most deprived area in Dublin, was singled out.

The south east, particularly Waterford, is seriously discriminated against in the matter of third level education. It needs a university and its case is irrefutable. I ask the Minister to upgrade the regional technical college in Waterford, which has a significant number of degree courses, to the status of university as was the former National Institute of Higher Education in Limerick about ten years ago. It is recognised that the upgrading of the institute in Limerick has been a huge success. Members who visited the new Limerick University have been impressed by the improvement brought about by its upgrading. It is a marvel. That upgrading was in no small measure due to the magnificent work of the president of that university and formerly of that National Institute of Higher Education, namely, Professor Ed Walsh.

What has been achieved in Limerick can be achieved in Waterford with a little political commitment and will. The Limerick experiment was a massive success, the same can be done in Waterford and I do not understand why it is not being done. Waterford has the best regional technical college in the country but it is grossly overcrowded and cannot meet the demand for places so why can it not be upgraded? It is not fair to the people of that region, who number about half a million, that their children should have to travel to Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Galway to obtain university degrees of significance.

We quite understand that subjects like dentistry, medicine and veterinary medicine demand such huge expenditure that they can be available only in one or two institutions. However, we want to see a university where the humanities can be taught and degrees in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering can be granted.

Discrimination is blatant. It costs in the region of £5,000 to £6,000 to send a child to a university away from home. Some families have to send two, three or four children, sometimes simultaneously, to such a university. The cost is crippling because these people generally do not get grants. Their outlay could be £25,000 a year. Imagine a PAYE worker trying to exist when he is paying £25,000 a year with no income tax relief and no grant or maintenance allowance. How could anybody justify that?

Waterford is a city of 40,000 people. The south east region, including Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny, south Tipperary and Waterford county and city comprises half a million people. How can the Government justify discriminating against people to such a degree? We are 100 miles from Dublin and over 80 miles from Cork so it is not feasible to travel to and fro each day.

I am not impressed by the demographic factors mentioned or by the leaks from the working party set up by the Minister to study the future of third level education. The Waterford and South East University Action Group considers it important to comment on some of the leaks to the media in recent weeks. That the south east region has been unfairly treated is accepted in some of the references that were leaked. The Clancy report, which some people like to forget, clearly states that there is a bias against children living a distance from a university. A report published last week shows that that basis exists in places as close to here as Finglas with reference to the need for a regional technical college.

The suggestion that the supply of graduates would exceed the demand in the region is unacceptable. The important question is which comes first, the graduates or the industries that would employ those graduates. Industries will be attracted if there are graduates. Arguments to the contrary are spurious. Because we do not have a university we have only one high technology industry in the locality. Compare that with Galway, Cork or Dublin. There is a massive imbalance. There is the almost perverse view that Waterford and the south east are so wealthy that they do not need assistance or subvention from the Government. We got less money proportionately in the National Plan than any other region in the State. Now we are being discriminated against in the most basic of areas, education. Decent hard-working people are being victimised by not being allowed to upgrade a very successful regional technical college into a university.

Recently the Waterford university action group handed in a petition to the Taoiseach with 20,000 signatures demanding a university for Waterford. That speaks for itself. I am not looking for the impossible. I know that a new university on a green field site would cost an arm and a leg, probably in excess of £100 million. As a university graduate and secondary school teacher I have some knowledge of the situation. I am not asking for that. It is said that I am more forceful than the other Dáil Deputies in my constituency, but I am still very polite. We are known as the gentle county. However, when we get annoyed we really do get annoyed, and people are getting very annoyed about this subject. We are merely looking for an upgrading for the regional technical college in Waterford to university status, just as the NIHE in Limerick was upgraded ten or 12 years ago. When I walk or drive through the campus that is Limerick University nowadays, I am in awe of the situation there in contrast to that in the comparable city of Waterford. It is magnificent, and all credit is due to the people responsible, Dr. Walsh in particular. I am looking for something similar in my own city and constituency and I do not think it is too much to ask. We want facilities and courses. We want playing facilities and library facilities, the type of facilities that children are entitled to.

I do not know if the Minister has any sympathy with the situation or if she will go back to the birth rate figures for the last 14 years and make a mathematical decision rather than a human one, which is all we are asking for. We can refute the inspired leaks that appeared in recent weeks from the working party on third level education set up by the Minister. It is as if we are being softened up for the blow that is to come, that there is to be no university for Waterford. I will not accept that, nor will the Waterford action group. I do not think my three colleagues who are members of one of the Government parties will accept it either. I am trying to be as reasonable as possible, but we have an irrefutable case.

The Minister will say that these Bills deal primarily with gender equity for the boards of regional technical colleges but I do want her to reflect on the points I have made. It is not good enough to say there is no demand. A university with engineering and science graduates will result in two spin-offs. The first is that graduates will be available to supply any high technology industry that wishes to come to the area. The second is almost as important. Middle-aged executives who have children growing up will look on Waterford as a good location if it has university facilities. That is a major inducement to people in management who want the facility to educate their children. There are many plusses that are not being taken into account. The most damning indictment of the present policy is that despite the downward trend in population the universities and regional technical colleges are bulging to capacity because more and more people want their children to go to university. That trend is increasing. The Minister can provide all the stastistics in the world but she will not convince me or the action group in Waterford to the contrary.

I wish the Minister the best of luck with the two Bills. There is nothing radical in them. They are rather mundane but necessary. There should be more academics represented on governing bodies — the word "academic" is a little off-putting for many people who consider academics to be people who do not have their feet on the ground. Academics are the salt of the earth and the backbone of the nation. They educate us and keep us sane and those with gumption write pertinent, penetrating articles and tell the truth in an articulate way.

The Deputy was never afraid of that.

They are not only necessary but vital in any society. More women are needed, not necessarily well-heeled, articulate women as a previous Member of this House once said, but women with common sense and a contribution to make. Nobody would object to the Minister's proposal. I ask her to bear in mind the point I make.

It was a pleasure to listen to Deputy Deasy's impassioned plea for a university in Waterford, an old Viking city. No doubt we are moving down the ages from plunder to culture.

I hope we are moving forward, not backward.

I welcome this legislation. For the first time we are enshrining in legislation the principle of gender equity in terms of boards over which the Government has control. The 1992 legislation provided that there should be a gender balance. In this legislation we are enshrining the strategy and method by which vocational education committees will be enabled to ensure that important balance. The legislation sets out the level of part-time and whole-time members of academic staff who may participate in election to boards. This gave rise to litigation in the past in the Dublin Institute of Technology and I am glad the Minister is making provision for the matter in this legislation.

In the Programme for Government there is a commitment to a 40 per cent gender balance in areas of public life over which the Government has control, specifically semi-State bodies and boards to which the Government makes appointments. The purpose is to ensure a greater level of participation by women in public life. That is an important principle and I am sure nobody would disagree with it, but in bringing that about we must determine whether there is need for positive discrimination. In the short term we should commit ourselves to a policy of positive discrimination. Over the years it was accepted that the public arena was male dominated and I welcome the provisions in the Bill to redress that imbalance.

It is welcome that we are initiating this principle in the education area. Our educational institutions are most important in that they provide for the education, training and development of young people. It is important that there is a gender balance on the governing bodies of our third level institutions. This applies equally to the boards of management of primary and second level schools.

This legislation arises from an anomaly in the 1992 legislation in that no structure was provided to ensure the implementation of the gender balance. As chairman of the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee I encountered this difficulty last year in attempting to ensure equity on the governing body of the Dublin Institute of Technology. The vocational education committee has authority to nominate six members, and two of those nominated are women. However we found ourselves in an invidious position when we sought a gender balance from the five organisations who are represented on the body. Even though we pointed out to them the Government's policy on gender equity, in most cases a male candidate was chosen, to the dissatisfaction of the Minister, and we had no say in the matter.

Since then this problem has been resolved and two of the five nominations are female. As the Minister acknowledged in her speech, we are achieving our targets in terms of gender equity. The anomaly that existed has been eliminated. Under this legislation not only can we seek nominations from more than five bodies but we can ensure gender equity is achieved.

The Minister has specified that in future there must be a gender balance on the governing bodies of regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. There are two members of the academic staff and two student representatives on those bodies, and in each case one member must be male and one female. I welcome the fact that the Minister established the governing bodies on a preliminary basis for 12 months, from March 1994 to March 1995, and thereafter they will be established on a five year basis.

A further anomaly in the 1992 legislation was the requirement that agriculture be one of the professions from which a person was nominated. This was an oversight as, unlike the regional technical colleges, the Dublin Institute of Technology does not provide agriculture related courses. It would have been reasonable to include it as an option but agriculture is not of central importance to any of the colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology. This presented us with a difficulty in making recommendations. There was also a delay due to the disagreement with the Department of Education about the way in which this provision was to be interpreted. This anomaly has now been rectified. Under the amendment we will be able to choose our nominees from a number of organisations.

A third anomaly related to the question of which members of the academic staff — full-time, part-time, EPT or wholetime — should be entitled to vote. The Minister wisely decided that all permanent staff — and temporary staff who work a minimum of 50 per cent of the hours worked by wholetime staff — should be allowed to vote. This is reasonable and will ensure that only those staff who have set down firm roots in the institution will be allowed to vote.

For all those reasons I heartily welcome this legislation. I wish to address the question of the role of the Dublin Institute of Technology and the regional technical colleges which were established under the auspices of the vocational education committees which, since their establishment in the 1930, have been concerned with the provision of vocational education. Because their remit is flexible the vocational education committees have been able to meet the needs of the community and the market-place in terms of education and training. They have been able to do this extraordinarily well. Initially they were able to meet the need for technical education which was not being met fully by the universities. This was done through the establishment of the regional technical colleges and the consolidation of the six colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology in the 1970s. To meet a need within the community the vocational education committees now provide post leaving certificate courses which are attended by 16,000 students. Likewise they are meeting the needs of the large number of unemployed by providing vocational training opportunities and an adult education programme.

Under the legislation introduced in 1992 the regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology were separated from the vocational education committees which were given the right to make recommendations on who should be appointed to the governing bodies. Rather than break the educational links we should strengthen them. I am glad the Minister is now placing the emphasis on pre-school education through to primary and second level and on to PLCs and the enhanced points system which was devised by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee. Under this system those who come from a disadvantaged background are given an opportunity to attend third level. Places should be reserved in third level institutions, universities, the Dublin Institute of Technology or regional technical colleges, to allow us plot a course. The route through education must be kept open at all levels.

Like other vocational education committees, the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee provides post leaving certificate courses and has sought accreditation by British universities, polytechnics and institutions, including some private and professional institutions. It has, however, encountered an obstacle in seeking accreditation by third level institutions in this country as the universities have refused to become involved. Because these courses have been recognised and accreditation granted by British institutions, students who have attended courses in colleges in Dublin and throughout the country will be accepted in Britain. I ask the Minister to address this matter. The reason I emphasise this point is that it brings us back to the aim of the vocational education committees which was to plot a route through education whereby one could proceed step by step.

Deputy Burke referred to what he described as the iniquitous points system. While I agree it is rigid it is probably the fairest system we could come up with. Because of its nature, however, it is automatically inflexible. We have to recognise that society is complex and we should not respond by having a rigid system but by allowing people to plot their route to educational success. As we are all aware, there is a strong link between educational attainment and job prospects and it is clear that those who go furthest along the path of education are more likely to obtain a job.

My vision is that Dublin should be a centre of learning. In Dublin there are three universities, UCD, Trinity College and DCU as well as six colleges of education providing for a huge range of professional attainment, a regional technical college in Tallaght and a host of private educational institutions sprouting up. Young Europeans see it as an ideal place in which to learn English. I think we could market Dublin in particular and Ireland in general as a centre of educational excellence. This tradition goes back to the times when we were known as the island of saints and scholars. We are recognised as a cultured and educated people and this could be a central part of the promotion of ourselves. In this legislation we present ourselves as enlightened in the manner in which our educational institutions function.

I am happy to contribute to this debate. These Bills are being introduced for a specific purpose, that is to introduce gender balance into the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Nobody objects in principle to the implementation of gender balance. Having listened to speakers from different parties it is perfectly obvious everybody accepts that women who make up more than 50 per cent of the population should be represented on these boards and throughout every organisation. Nobody wants taken representation and in my view people should be appointed only on merit. Nobody wants token women or token men on a board. Given the level of representation of males on boards, obviously a number could be considered as token representatives.

Education is no burden to carry. The Minister and her Minister of State are the guardians of education opportunity not only for this generation but also for future generations, as they create the base and the foundation on which future generations will be educated to make their way in life. There is an enormous responsibility vested in the Minister for Education and the Minister of State at her Department. Often the Department of Education is maligned. It has been in existence for over 100 years and its civil servants have seen Governments come and go. While it has been slow to adapt to many of the changes in modern society, the fundamental structure is very sound and when it has adapted it has been for the better.

Regional technical colleges are modern universities in their own right. The growth of towns such as Letterkenny, Carlow, Dundalk, Tralee and Athlone, to mention some non-university towns, shows how regional technical colleges contribute to the economic and social development of the town as well as providing educational facilities for students. The Minister states:

New industry incubation, co-operation with and assistance to indigenous industry and the attraction to the region of investment in development are and will continue to be major functions of the sector.

That sentence contains the fundamental point on regional technical colleges.

It has been Government policy over the past 25 years to spread industry throughout the country in order to give every locality a measure of economic growth. The IDA and now Forbairt are charged with attracting industry to a locality. Generally the emphasis is on metropolitan areas with large populations and easy access to markets and better infrastructure generally. It is extremely difficulty to attract competitive industries to areas outside the major metropolis. This can often be compounded by the fact that the managing director of a firm which decides to locate in Ireland may well be offered a choice of location and it really boils down to the opportunities he sees in the different areas. Choosing to site in an area can depend on the location of a regional technical college or a third level education facility. Given the level of expertise and the capacity to change, invent and adapt that competitive industry from abroad wishes to have at its disposal the facilities and the culture that grow from regional technical colleges and universities are crucial.

Castlebar has long sought the provision of a third level education facility. The quest for an independent regional technical college which began over 20 years ago continues to the present day. As a Deputy resident in the town let me express my appreciation to the Government and to the Minister for Education for seeing through in part a deal which was worked out between the vocational education committee and the Department of Education to provide third level courses in Castlebar as an outreach campus of Galway Regional Technical College. Since the courses began last week a number of industries and younger manufacturers have indicated an interest in locating engineering and construction facilities in the general locality.

There are over 100 students on the campus and congratulations are due to Mr. Thorn, the principal. It is projected that there will be 1,000 students by the year 2000. That gives life and substance to a rural town. Grants will be paid to students, hopefully on time, and this will give a general boost to the economic life of the area. It means that lecturers, tutors and other academics will live in the locality and give of their best to it. The people of Castlebar and of County Mayo have been given an opportunity and they have to seize it and prove to this Government or the next that the ability exists to warrant status as an independent regional technical college in due course. This cannot be approved overnight.

When my party was in Government between 1982 and 1987 it was our intention to provide a greenfield independent regional technical college in Castlebar. That did not see the light of day but I am happy that through the aegis of the vocational education committee, the Department of Education and Galway Regional Technical College, third level courses are now being held in the town. I genuinely believe this presents a unique opportunity for our county — filling in the gap between Sligo and Galway — to achieve independent status within a few years. I assure the Department of Education that every effort will be made in terms of a quality of courses, the attractiveness of the location and the general circumstances in which the students find themselves to ensure that there will be a sufficient number of queries to take up the courses in Castlebar.

We are only a short number of years from the turn of the century. I genuinely hope that by the year 2000 there will be a strong, vibrant and independent regional technical college in Castlebar for the people of Mayo and students outside the county. When one reads through the educational magazines it is very heartening to see the extent of education, from Japan in the Far East, where people return to school in their 80s, to other international countries where huge resources are allocated to the educational sphere.

We have always been justly proud of our system and credit is due to the teachers and staff who laboured for many years with very inadequate facilities. Despite that those institutions turned out young men and women who have been a credit to this country wherever they have travelled in the world. Many Japanese, American and German firms are happy to take on Irish apprentices. They employ young Irish technologically competent students and this is a measure of how far we have advanced in this area. The only limit to our progress in the technological area is our imagination.

This Bill is necessary, and I do not have a problem in regard to ensuring gender balance on these boards. The more fundamental point, however, is the right of our students to the best quality and broadest education they can obtain. The extent of courses and the depth of the educational involvement in the regional technical colleges is very encouraging. I invite the Minister and her Minister of State to visit the third level facility in Castlebar. I hope, as these courses expand, the remainder of the unit there can be acquired as a fully fledged campus when independent status has been granted. When the Minister visits the facility, she and her Minister of State will be encouraged by a newborn regional technical college which, with careful nurturing, will grow strong and vibrant and play an important part in the educational development of students in the west.

I take this opportunity to express my thoughts in regard to the provision of a third level facility in my native town. I assure the Minister of State that this facility is welcomed by everybody and, while it had a tortuous birth, all that is behind us. We must now look to the future which is one of hope and enthusiasm, we will all work as a cohesive team from all corners of the political divide to ensure that that hope never dims but strengthens in kind and in facility. I hope the Minister will ensure that we are granted our final aspiration and that we achieve independent status in the shortest possible time.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Derek McDowell.

Carlow-Kilkenny): Agreed.

I welcome this Bill on gender equity but I wonder are we getting a little carried away with this issue. The first consideration in choosing a candidate for any particular post is whether that person has the ability to do the job.

I wish to refer to the development of third level education. I listened to my constituency colleague, Deputy Deasy, speaking earlier. I may reiterate some of the points he made but they are worth repeating. I am disappointed that the Minister for Education is not present to hear my contribution. I know my good friend, the Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, lives only a few miles from Waterford city, he is well aware of the need for university status in the area and will not have to be convinced about what is needed there.

I wish to refer to some recent media reports regarding an alleged report of a working group which is preparing the ground for a steering committee reporting on the future development of higher education. It has since emerged that no such report exists but that a discussion document has been prepared for the working group, which has not yet been considered. I have every confidence in the integrity and the capacity of that working group and I have no doubt that it will produce a report based on solid fact and valid argument. While I have no information regarding the authenticity of the statements which appeared in the media, some of them are unacceptable and must be countered lest they influence those who will make various decisions.

There are four points in question. First, there is a suggestion that, historically, there has been no great demand in the south east for a university. Second, it is suggested that the supply of graduates exceeds the demand in the region. Third, there is a suggestion that the problem could be solved through the medium of grants and, fourth, it is suggested that the lower rate of manufacturing start-ups in the south east is due to geographical location and the level of transport infrastructure.

I will deal with these points individually. The suggestion that there is no great demand for a university in the south east is utter nonsense. Until quite recently the south east would have been seen as perhaps the most prosperous area in the country and because of that the people in the region were, to a certain extent, unversed in the art of lobbying compared with other regions. In several respects Government investment indicates that less money is being invested in that region compared to others and the facts bear that out. That unfair discrimination, however unintentional, against students from the south east regarding access to university places has only become clearly apparent with the overall increase in both demand and supply nationally. The correlation between the existence of a university in the region and industrial and economic development generally has only lately been realised in the south east. Perhaps we were not sufficiently focused in the past. Limerick is a great example in the way it went about achieving university status.

Over the past number of years the Waterford University Action Group has undertaken tremendous work in highlighting the need in the area. There is great anger in Waterford about the lack of facilities in the region. Deputy Enda Kenny referred to the situation in Castlebar. I visited May for a few days during the recent by-election and I was aware of how angry people were about the provision of a new regional technical college for their region. This was evident by the putting forward of an regional technical college candidate in the by-election. I assure the Minister that that same anger exists in Waterford.

Recently I brought members of the Waterford University Action Group to meet the Taoiseach. They presented him with a petition signed by 20,000 people demanding university status in the south-east. Those 20,000 signatures were not obtained by people going from door to door demanding that people sign the petition. They were obtained in various locations in Waterford city over several days. People wanted to sign the petition and that number could have been doubled or trebled if necessary. There is no reason to doubt that if the facility was available the demand would be any less than it is in other regions. Part of the problem is the supply of graduates exceeding the demand. Almost all the industry in the region is traditional. As Deputy Deasy said, there is only one firm which could be classified as hi-tech and the IDA can verify that.

We constantly hear of hi-tech firms locating in other regions. These announcements are usually accompanied by a statement to the effect that the presence of a university was a key factor in the location. The absence of a university has handicapped industrial development in the south-east region. This has been enunciated publicly by the IDA and repeated by industrialists when queried about their unwillingness to set up in the region notwithstanding other advantageous factors.

Industrial and economic development in the 1990s will be based more and more on knowledge and expertise, the availability of scientists, engineers, researchers and technological development. A university in the region is vital if these sciences are to be available. This must be provided as early as possible. Other regions are moving ahead of the south-east and that must be arrested. Conversely the absence of a university would portend a bleak economic future for the region.

Some years ago I read a report which placed Ireland at the bottom of the technological development league table compared to our EU partners. The south-east is at the bottom of such a table within Ireland. It is ridiculous to say the problem could be solved through the provision of grants. That is to fob off the region and make us second class citizens. The long existence of an injustice is no justification for its continuance. Grants, in the absence of a university, would not solve the handicap to the industrial and general economic development of the region.

It was stated that it costs in the region of £5,000 to send a student to university for a year. As students who leave the south-east are paid grants why not use that money to develop proper facilities in the region? Even with grants, where can students go as existing universities are drastically overcrowded? We have a lower participation rate in university education than many of our EU partners and there is a great need for additional university places.

The south-east was seen traditionally as a prosperous region. It has a long history of industrialisation and is the most urban of all regions. Its previous comparative prosperity was based on two factors: It was the best equipped in natural resources and it is a great location vis-à-vis Britain and Europe than any other region. It is also nearer to the capital city than many other regions. When one considers that areas which face 3,000 miles of grey Atlantic are doing better than the south-east it is clear that geographic location is not a factor. The south-east is magnificently equipped with port facilities, both container based and roll-on roll-off.

I was amused to hear Deputy Molloy state there was need for a second river crossing in Waterford. I am well aware of that as is everyone who lives in the area. It is a pity the Deputy was not so concerned about it when he was Minister for the Environment. It is easy to talk about it now but he did not do anything about it then. There is need for a second bridge and to improve the approach roads to the city and upgrading of the roads.

The case for a university in the south-east rests on two main factors — the right of its citizens to be treated equally and the economic factor. It is not a case of discriminating against the region, but the negative effects of this are aggravated with the passage of time. Given the regions tremendous natural resources and its location the provision of a university would put it well on the way to solving its economic problems.

We need a dramatic increase in the number of university places. This was the finding in the Department's report. The need cannot be met by existing institutions. I do not understand why a new university cannot be provided in Waterford. A university is not just built with bricks and mortar but on its reputation. The regional college in Waterford has a tremendous reputation and built on that a university can be located in the area.

The Bill deals with gender equity and I look for equity for both genders in the south-east and want university status to be given to the region.

There has always been a difference between those who espouse gender equality and those prepared to take concrete measures to support it. It is easy to pay lip service to equality while not making any decisions which would challenge vested interests. In that context I congratulate the Minister for introducing the Bill and putting flesh on the commitment given by the Government in March 1993 to ensure gender balance on State boards.

The argument against gender quotas which some Members put is well known. They can, in certain circumstances, discriminate against suitably qualified and able men. However, the historical discrimination against women and the damage to society caused by the exclusion of over 50 per cent of the population from positions of power must override that objection. Countries which have been most successful in overcoming discrimination and its legacy such as Scandanavian countries have openly and successfully used gender quotas as a means of doing so.

It is not enough to say that structural barriers against the advancement of women have been removed and they should compete on the same basis as men. More and more women are doing this successfully and obviously the trend will continue but, having said that, barriers to women's advancement in a society dominated by men are often as much invisible as visible. I hope the process whereby women successfully compete will be greatly encouraged by the type of measure we are discussing today. Whatever the reason, be it the old school tie or simple prejudice, women have been and continue to be excluded from positions to which they would be entitled if judged solely on merit. In no other area is this as significant as in the field of education. In many instances, women represent over 50 per cent of the student population and this must be reflected in the control and management of colleges. We cannot and must not exclude, either intentionally or through neglect, one gender from the college governing bodies. To do so would be to limit the range of experience available to such bodies in their service of the college student population and society generally. It is worth pointing out that the Government's gender quota applies in reverse. This is relevant in education where the participation of men in the teaching profession is less than 40 per cent.

The practical implementation of the Bill will cause some difficulty. No doubt some people's life long membership of an regional technical college will be endangered but I see this more as a reason to proceed with the Bill rather than to hold back from it.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.