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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Dec 1998

Vol. 498 No. 4

Supplementary Estimates, 1998. - Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund (Amendment) Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

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

I thank the Opposition spokespersons and the Whips for facilitating the passage of the Bill today.

Its essential purpose is the amendment and extension of the Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund Act, 1997. It increases payments into the fund for the year 1998 and extends the areas of research and development for which payments out of the fund may be made.

The Bill represents an important route map for future investment in high level research in the third level sector. In many ways it is a logical development to the provisions of the Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund Bill passed by the House this time last year. I say logical but not inevitable because while change is inevitable, progress is not. Progress must be planned and it is the planned approach to investment underlined by the investment fund and other important initiatives which has made this initiative feasible. The original fund was a dramatic statement of the Government's commitment to look outside the normal paradigms for solutions to the ever present problem of funding for major initiatives in the third level sector. It was a bold step which worked.

The investment fund was underpinned by three key objectives. First, we wanted to renew and modernise the infrastructure of third level institutions, particularly in the technological sector and guarantee that they would continue to produce high quality graduates. Second, we wanted to develop new areas of activities in our institutions, especially where emerging skills needs had already been identified. Third, we wanted to invest in promoting the innovation which continues to be so crucial in maintaining and expanding our recent growth.

A key supporting element in all this was the decision to invest in developing the technology and skills base of our first and second level schools. At £250 million, the investment fund continues to represent the largest single capital investment programme ever introduced by a Government. The sectoral allocations alone provide graphic evidence of the scope of the fund. These include £60 million for completion of the programme of skills development announced shortly after the Government took up office; £20 million towards a sustained programme of investment in the provision of hotel and tourism training facilities in the institutes of technology; £20 million for the vocational education sector, particularly post-leaving certificate courses and apprenticeships; £80 million for infrastructural developments, particularly the renewal and rein-vigoration of the technological sector as a crucial and distinct element of our binary system; £30 million for third level equipment renewal grants, which will tackle in a serious and sustained way equipment renewal in our third level colleges; £15 million for research and development and £25 million for the schools IT 2000 project, which affects both primary and second level schools. Deputies will be aware that the fund has already begun to have a major impact on institutions throughout the country. At present, the largest building programme in the history of higher education is under way and facilities are being transformed. The institutes of technology are at various stages of the planning and design of projects which will address infrastructural deficiencies, provide facilities to meet skills needs and increase the provision of hotel and tourism training facilities in line with a programme of investment agreed with CERT.

Projects involving capital expenditure of almost £90 million have already received sanction to proceed in Carlow, Cork, Dún Laoghaire, Limerick, Tallaght, Waterford and Blanchardstown Institutes of Technology. Some £70 million of the cost will be met by the fund, with the balance coming from European Regional Development Fund and Exchequer sources. Project evaluation and consultation with interested parties is continuing and as further proposals are approved, the institutions will be authorised to proceed without delay with the implementation of the project. The ongoing support of the Minister for Finance in this has facilitated the smooth operation of the programme and is greatly appreciated.

In the university sector, during the summer I was delighted to be in a position to allocate £30 million towards the creation of 3,900 additional undergraduate places to meet the skills needs of high technology industry. This was a direct response to the skills needs identified as part of the Government's Action Plan for Skills and involved £4.5 million for phase II of the microcomputer building at UCD, £5 million for the extension to the O'Rahilly building at UCC, £4.5 million for an information technology building at UCG, £3 million for an extension to the Callan science building at St. Patrick's, Maynooth, £5 million for an informatics building at the University of Limerick, £5 million for an information technology building at Trinity College and £3 million towards the new computer science building and library at Dublin City University.

The investment fund is unique because of the sheer scale of the investment and the fact that it has been aimed at skills needs in the science and technology area. It is also unique in that it is parallel and in addition to the normal Estimates process. The £250 million initially envisaged for the fund is subject to Oireachtas control, and my Department will report to both Houses of the Oireachtas in detail before the end of March 1999 on the operation of the fund during the 1998 financial year. However, the insecurity surrounding medium-term investment which comes from the often fraught Estimates process was avoided in this case by establishing the fund over a three year period with £250 million guaranteed. This has underlined the Government's clear commitment to this type of investment and has sent a powerful message to private contributors that private donations to third level institutes would not be a substitute for public moneys but rather additional to an existing State investment which is substantial, visible and secure. This is fundamental to fostering a climate of collaboration between the public sector and private industry in the area of education.

The link between education and the material and social well-being of our people has never been stronger. Private sector business and industry is set to benefit greatly from educational investment. The continued success of the economy we have created is intimately bound up with our capacity to maintain a first class education system. The education level of the national work-force represents the single most important factor in the development of the enterprise sector and in achieving ambitious targets for increases in employment and living standards, together with continued reductions in unemployment.

The Government is determined that Ireland will maintain its place at the forefront of technological and business developments world-wide. It would be wrong for anyone to understate the enormity of this challenge. It would also be wrong to even think that we cannot do it because we have proven that we can. The unprecedented growth in the economy in recent years has made Ireland quite simply the most dynamic economy in the most dynamic economic region in the world. Deputies will know this phenomenon is the subject of admiration and even awe in respected business journals all over the world. What we must now do is prove that we can sustain and build on what we have achieved.

Technological advancement is driving change in all sectors of the global economy at so fast a rate that to a large extent we must plan to cope with the unknowable. This presents us with many challenges but also with enormous opportunities. Education is the key to realising those opportunities but let no one doubt that it will require mobilisation of all resources available to us and applying them together on a partnership basis to put in place the physical and personnel infrastructure necessary for continued success. The successes of the recent past derive in no small way from the support given to the education system by private industry. I appreciate the response of the private sector in supporting and developing this link with the State in providing the most modem facilities in our universities and colleges.

Already it is clear that the issues to be confronted in further developing our education system for the next century will also have to be directly factored into our economic development plans. In such circumstances partnership with the private sector moves beyond the realm of the desirable and becomes a strategic imperative for both parties.

This dimension of partnership is an integral part of the investment fund and the Bill for the fund, as Deputies will know, provides for private contributions. While contributions directly to the fund have not yet been received there is no doubt that the State's investment through the fund has stimulated interest and commitment. It is worth noting that under the provisions of sections 489 and 843 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, private funds in the order of £50 million have been attracted into the third level system either through projects already sanctioned under the terms of the scheme or currently being processed.

This new Bill amending the terms of the investment fund aims to marry the concept of public/private partnership with the largest ever investment in advanced research in Ireland.

Why focus on advanced research? Here, again, the answer is straightforward. Maintaining and building on our recent success depends on our capacity to stay ahead of the competition. This means Ireland's current attractiveness as a base for high-tech industry must be developed to include a high degree of strategic innovation. It is essential that future graduates and post-graduates can continue to meet and even surpass international research standards. High quality research provides the environment for high quality teaching. It also provides a catalyst for the type of innovation which an economy must have to sustain and expand economic growth. It is not enough for us to exploit technologies developed elsewhere, we need to generate these technologies here and this cannot be done without a strong culture of research in higher education. We simply cannot have a cutting-edge economy without cutting-edge research.

In the course of discussions with a wide range of people on this issue the essential point which kept coming through was that the most important thing Government can do is create an environment which enables institutions to develop and implement research strategies. I was particularly impressed by the idea put to me that if Government demonstrated its commitment to significantly developing this area, institutions would be willing and eager to match our contribution. Three core principles arose from these discussions: existing current and capital provisions should be given certainty within a set programme; significant additional funding should be added; and transparent procedures should be established for allocating the funding which will guarantee that quality and strategic planning will be the only bases for decisions. These principles provide the framework for the Bill before the House today.

Under this programme, a total of £180 million will be provided over the next three years on research initiatives in third level institutions. This integrated programme will be made up of £150 million for capital projects and £30 million for current expenditure. The capital component of the programme will in the first instance involve £75 million of State funding to be generated by a mixture of dedicated funding from the investment fund, additional Exchequer funding to be transferred into the fund and tax reliefs. Added to this will be £75 million which will be raised by the third level institutions themselves through donations and gifts relating to individual projects. The current funding side of the programme will include £15 million from the existing allocation for research within my Department's budget. Added to this will be a further £7.5 million direct Exchequer funding and a further £7.5 million to be raised by the universities.

As demonstrated with the research funding programme run earlier this year, my only interest is the quality and strategic importance of research. That is why I am putting in place an objective process for deciding on funding. The assessment process will be carried out by an international group whose membership will reflect the full range of scholarly activity in science, technology, the humanities and the social sciences. To be chaired by the Chairman of the Higher Education Authority, the panel will evaluate proposals on the basis of a rigorous evaluation framework. Particular emphasis will be put on the contribution which the proposals made to promoting the goals and objectives of the research strategy of the institution. The other criteria will be research merit and the contribution of the proposals to the quality of teaching at all levels. The assessment panel will be provided with the additional expert support needed.

The administration of the programme will be carried out by the Higher Education Authority and, to ensure its smooth running, I have agreed to arrange the devolution of various key procedures to the authority. These arrangements are in line with the Government's strategic management approach to capital projects and will be finalised before the end of January.

The amendment Bill before the House contains only two sections. Section 1 provides for an increase in payments into the fund from £100 million to £130 million for the 1998 financial year. This is clear evidence of the State's commitment to a substantial, visible and secure investment in the initiative. The additional £30 million, together with £20 million already in the fund related to research and development and equipment, will provide the State's capital investment in the research initiative and will be supported by tax reliefs and £75 million in private funding. Section 1 also broadens the scope of the Bill to include research in areas other than science and technology while maintaining the focus on these critical areas. The humanities and social sciences fit within the broad approach of this initiative. An intellectual culture, which encourages and supports critical inquiry across a wide diversity of fields, has clear benefits which reach well beyond narrow academic confines, especially in an era when prediction and uniformity are no longer possible. Section 2 provides for an appropriate change in the short title of the Act.

I recommend the terms of this amendment Bill. The necessity for the Bill is testament to our recent successes, but excellence is a journey and not a destination. There is no standing still. We must keep moving forward. The initiative to develop research in higher education, as brought about through this amendment Bill, is the right direction.

In general, I welcome the announcement of the £180 million investment in research in higher education, but there are some disquieting aspects of it to which I want to draw the Minister's attention. The investment fund launched by the Government is intended to cover three years, so it is important that there are no mistakes in the implementation of the policy. That could be disastrous for the Regional Technical College and institute of technology sector, restricting development in technological training which is so necessary for the generation of continuing employment in the areas concerned close to the colleges.

The area which would concern me is the matching funds requirement for the capital element. This means that colleges must find private sources for 50 per cent of the project costs. Universities, for whom raising such funding is the norm, have until June 1999 to convince the Higher Education Authority that funds can be raised. However, new colleges must provide convincing evidence by February 1999 and they have no track record in raising funds. This means these colleges will have greater difficulty in raising funds as greater recognition is given to universities. Institutes of technology who are new to raising funds will find it more difficult. The timescale is shorter for institutes, blocking them from receiving the funding they need to develop research and development facilities.

Only 50 per cent of third level students attend universities. These students will have the majority of resources for capital research and development investment. This will perpetuate the social imbalance in the system. The institutes of technology will find it hard to catch up with universities as they are new to raising funds from private investors. Many universities have people whose sole role is to raise funds. Institutes of technology need more time to raise the matching funds. The time allowed should equal that given to universities.

The Bill uses the term "research and development" in an area of education, including scientific and technological research and development. The Taoiseach constantly uses the phrase "research and development" which indicates the Government's view. However, this includes applied as well a pure research. The Higher Education Authority excludes research which might be regarded as close to commercialisation or the market. There is a major difference. The term "research and development" is not used by the HEA, demonstrating a difference in opinion from the Government and indicating a bias towards universities.

The Minister alluded to our economic success having been built on the availability of skilled manpower. Many industrialists who have come to Ireland have been influenced by the availability of graduates from Regional Technical Colleges and institutes of technology. However, the guidelines are written for universities. Too much trust may have been placed in the HEA. To achieve a balance between institutes and universities it is important that this fund is equally and fairly distributed.

The Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation is mentioned in the guidelines as being a technology think tank. However, institutes of technology have been excluded from this body. This means that the 50 per cent of third level students who attend institutes of technology are being excluded. Many of these institutes feel that they may have difficulty accessing this fund. Everyone welcomes the additional spending on research. The Exchequer is offering an additional £75 million in capital spending but we are only voting on £30 million in the House. Much of what was announced with such a fanfare is existing spending.

On the current side, spending of £30 million was announced. However, only £2.5 million of this figure is new money. The committee for selecting projects should be given statutory expression in the Bill. There should also be strong industrial representation on the committee. It is critical that the chairperson should be a prominent international business person. Why is the Vote being rushed through in 1998 when no projects are awaiting funding and when no funding has been drawn down?

Is the £100 million already allocated in 1998 trying to create a misleading picture of the true Exchequer spending? It is disappointing that no private money has been contributed to the fund. Obtaining private money was a key element of this fund but it is proving difficult to secure this money. The fund is very large and will do much for the education system over three years. When will the money be spent? Will the spending be higher in the final year?

We have sanctioned a number of projects but it takes times to plan. Over the three years I am allowed to sanction £200 million.

I accept that. Why were the promised procedures of the Higher Education Authority not circulated before the Bill was introduced? This would have helped. Where are the promised guidelines for spending projects? The commercialisation of research is very important for research and development. Does the Minister intend to broaden the format for science and technology? Will the research money be spent only on universities and institutes of technology or, for instance, can a private professor apply for funding?

The Business Education Forum recently reported to the Minister. The forum has forecast that the demand in the technology sector for professionals and technicians will be in excess of 8,100 people per annum in the period 1999-2003. The estimated current supply is 6,100 — a shortfall of 2,200 per annum.

The former chairman of the IDA, Kieran McGowan, indicated that in the future Ireland will be trying to attract highly-geared companies. These companies will need highly-educated graduates and we must ensure we have the supply to meet the demand. We will be more selective in the companies we try to attract to Ireland. Fruit of the Loom came to Ireland at a time when costs were lower. We are now a high-cost economy and we are looking for highly-qualified graduates who can take these jobs.

The supply estimate includes not only graduates, but returning emigrants and immigrants with the required skills, and the up-skilling of existing employees through concentrated, in-company and part-release training. The shortfall of 2,200 per annum is based on a high-demand scenario. If Ireland's economic growth remains positive, expansion in the technology sector will continue at the pace of recent years. The recommended actions are needed to ease the skills constraints in this sector.

The 2,220 shortfall is an average for the period 1997-2003. Output has fallen behind this requirement in the initial two years of the period. Even the increased intake in degree courses in 1998 will not result in an increased output until 2002. Meeting the output target will be difficult. Additional funding has been allocated to universities and institutes and matching funds are being sought for research and development. Companies will go to where there is a well-managed university or institute with a good research and development facility. Technology companies need that reassurance. Ireland has a high standard of education. Detailed forecasting of skill requirements for some sectors of the economy is a very difficult exercise and there are significant margins of error. The supply will not come fully on stream for up to four years for degree graduates. In contrast, most businesses would have difficulty in forecasting their demand for labour any further than two years into the future. This is particularly true of the technology sector, given the rapid pace of innovation. Research and development is changing, particularly in the food sector. Ireland is a growing economy. To ensure future growth in employment and create jobs in each area the Minister must ensure that the colleges and universities look to the year 2005. From that point of view, the Minister is looking into a crystal ball.

The report recommends meeting the potential skills demand of the high-growth scenario, based on argument that the economic costs of potential inadequate supply are less than the costs of potential excess supply. There is a world-wide skills shortage in the technology industry and if we can supply the required skills in sufficient quantity, this would give Ireland a significant competitive advantage in attracting investment from multinationals. We need to encourage people to go from second level to third level education in universities and institutes of technology. The problem is that people are dropping out after the first or second year, attracted by employment. It is important to sell the message that there is a guaranteed job for people who finish their courses. People who go to college, particularly the institutes of technology, become disillusioned and drop out after a year and a half or two years because they have been offered a job at £300 a week. If they could be encouraged to obtain their degree, even over a longer period, as a part-time student, in time they could avail of the high-tech jobs that I have no doubt will come on stream if we can say that we have educated youth coming on stream.

Expanding the education infrastructure will be expensive. What the Minister is starting here today is critical for Ireland's success in the future. For every science and engineering graduate qualifying annually, the number of places in third level establishments needs to be increased by a factor in excess of four. Most courses take four years to complete and the completion rate — those entering first year who graduate with a degree — is just 80 per cent. The report estimates that an extra output of 500 professional graduates from third level institutes is required to meet the shortfall of 900 professionals. The remaining 400 will come from employee up-skilling and conversion courses. This will require the provision of an extra 2,120 university and institute of technology places. Similarly, an extra 1,700 places are needed at technician level.

The policy recommendations in the report focus on the need to ensure that resources allocated to education and training provide a maximum return. To this end, the training programmes should be demand-led, with a significant input from business. We have a unique opportunity to get the £75 million in respect of private business, and every encouragement should be given to these businesses.

The report also states that 85 per cent of the technical and 50 per cent of the professional skills shortfall will need to be provided by industry-led initiatives. In the context of research and development within companies it is important that while institutes are given research and development facilities, companies should be invited into the universities because the partnership of business and education is the way forward to ensure that companies coming into Ireland can retain jobs by developing employee skills.

To achieve this, there will need to be greater integration between business and the education and training sector. The Business, Education and Training Forum is one part of this process. Already there have been a number of initiatives where business is training its own people at local educational establishments. Companies that are recognised by educational establishments locally should be encouraged to promote business by allowing people to be involved in education while they work. The Expert Skills Group sees these developments as models for extending the integration of business and education. The right incentive to business people to invest money in educating their employees will ensure that there are sustainable jobs that will remain here. That is where the real growth is. This applies particularly to Irish products in the context of the development of own brands.

The facility of an institute to develop skills is crucial because many companies have fantastic products but do not have the facilities or the cash to appoint a researcher. If integration of the business community with the educational sector within an area could be achieved, working on research in the context of any product, an unbelievable number of sustainable jobs could be created. The technological sector is a huge growth area, but research and development is important to Ireland's success in the future. We have seen the success of small companies from humble beginnings producing very successful product ranges solely as a result of working in partnership with an educational institution which was prepared to help.

It is good to see this money being allocated. I welcome the fund. From the turn of the millennium and beyond Ireland will be rightly recognised as having a very good education system. The fund will enhance that considerably but I have one concern. I was informed by the institute in Sligo that the closing date that applies to is February and that the universities have until the end of the year to qualify for capital allowance in respect of raising capital funding. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that. It is important that the Minister should encourage institutes of technology because much of this is quite new to them whereas the leading universities have been fund-raising for a considerable period. If the institutes of technology are treated similarly to the universities the scheme would be much more successful. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to speak on this. I thank Deputy Bruton for giving me the opportunity. There is huge potential for development in this area.

On a different note, the Minister's announcement on Carrowreagh School on the Adjournment last week, which has averted a boycott of the school, was very welcome in south Sligo and deserves to be acknowledged.

Ba mháith liom cead an Tígh a fháil mo cuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Gilmore. Cúig nóiméid atá i gceist.

Táimid lán-tsásta.

An bhfuil sin rite? Tá sé rite.

Tá áthas orm seans a fháil labhairt sa díospóireacht tábhachtach seo, cé go bhfuil an Bille um an gCiste Oideachais Eolaíochta agus Teicneolaíochta (Infheistíocht) (Leasú), 1998, gearr a dhóthain. Beidh Pairtí an Lucht Oibre ag tabhairt tacaíocht don Bhille agus níl sé ar intinn againn ag an nóiméad leasú a chur síos.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which, although a small one, relates to a very important area surrounding not only our education system but the entire economic system. The Bill deals with three areas. I am pleased with the citation. It is a good idea that we put Bills together as it makes it easier for everyone when trying to research legislation.

I am pleased that the wording refers to "any area of education" in which research and development can be carried out. The education system has a fundamental difficulty at present. Last week I was shocked and surprised to hear the agricultural sector is encountering some difficulties as regards qualifications because of literacy problems. These problems are becoming evident in many areas. When we cite the figure of 25 per cent illiteracy among the population, that does not mean that 25 per cent of the population cannot read or write. However, it does mean they do not have sufficient literacy skills to cope with employment.

There is a need for educational institutions to focus more research on literacy, the psychology of education, and a number of conditions which I have raised on many occasions but which continue to concern me — dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD and ADHD. The research which needs to be carried out may require involvement with other Departments in properly exploring and identifying trends.

Nowadays, there are also a number of families with what is called "dysfunction". This area requires a great deal of examination. Going hand in hand with that is a changing social order. Single parent families are becoming more of a factor in our society. We need to monitor social change as it affects our educational system. This needs to be done on a contemporary basis and not retrospectively. We need to measure and track what is happening and identify best practice in dealing with the difficulties which now arise more in our schools.

If we are to maximise our economic output and raise the skills level in our economy, which every Deputy supports, something substantial needs to be done about adult education and literacy in particular. I compliment the Minister on recent steps taken in that regard and I welcome the publication of the recent report. However, we need to find the root causes and discover why there is such a high rate of incompetence in these areas.

This did not happen overnight and we are not in the business of trying to apportion blame. However, there is a problem. A high level of quality research needs to be carried out on problems such as literacy, especially on the scale we seem to be encountering . First, we need to identify the reasons and then ascertain the causes. Some research suggests that up to 10 per cent of the population should be tested for conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD etc.

I do not have the answer to this problem. However, we do not seem to have the repository of expert knowledge of these conditions in the State. We need to develop this rapidly. It seems that young people with these conditions, ADD in particular, fail at school, their behaviour can become quite challenging and they can fall out of the system. It is not recognised that the problem relates to an inherent difficulty. Their conduct is often put down to the child being bold or uncooperative. This is a real crisis.

Investment in research and development and science and technology is welcome. As the Minister said, if we have a cutting edge economy we also need cutting edge research and development. However, we cannot and should never ignore the social problems which exist. Many people are emerging from our educational system unable to participate in the full range of benefits of the tiger economy. The Minister should develop this area to a maximum so that those who are failing are helped and that we also begin to identify where they start to go wrong so that the necessary remedial action can be taken early.

I seek clarification on some provisions. Section 4(5) of the principal Act mentions guidelines. The Minister, to the best of my knowledge, has not yet provided any guidelines on the disbursement of funds. On the question of patents, for example, if an institute makes an important discovery which requires a patent on which substantial royalties could accrue, to whom will those royalties be paid under present legislation? I raised this question last year on the earlier legislation. My problem is with what happens when a campus company carries out the research and development and makes an important discovery. This company is a limited liability company, for good reasons, because if something goes wrong, the main institution will not have to pick up the tab in the event of a substantial loss. Have the legal issues been worked out? I hope research will produce worthwhile and unique results and break new frontiers. Who benefits when new discoveries are made?

When I was responsible for the food industry as a Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, it was clear to me we have a substantial amount of "plant" in terms of research and development. Funding was the problem and in that context I welcome this Bill. For example, the dairy science faculty in UCC has come up with products which were marketable. The two major products of agriculture are milk and beef. Beef is at its most valuable in its raw state, with its value added side arising from cheaper cuts. It is very different from milk which is probably at its least valuable in its raw state.

We are still not developing a sufficient number of value added products. We are still commodity producers. When one examines the background to the problems currently being experienced by agriculture a clear pattern emerges. The type of holding which will be viable in the future will be larger. If certain levels of holdings are to survive there must be off-farm income which must be gained through the manufacture of value added products which introduce a new dimension and means of wealth generation.

There are areas in the economy which must be targeted. Sometimes when we talk of science and technology people get the wrong idea and think we are talking about information technology and engineering. We should not lose sight of the fact that we produce basic agricultural materials to a very high standard and we must capitalise on them. When I was in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry my view was that very little real research and development was being undertaken, that perhaps there was some research and development which touched up products close to the market, but that the fundamental research which brings about new products which break new markets was not being undertaken to a sufficient extent. Good work was being undertaken, but not to a sufficient extent. Research and development is very important.

The social side of research is very important and should be developed. We should very much focus on rural areas in terms of the type of research and development being carried out. More especially we should look at research and development which can lead to more consumer and value added products which will open new markets and opportunities for employment. This will also help arrest the current situation which is dismal enough in terms of the future of people in rural Ireland. There are many ways in which we can look at this issue.

I support the Bill and wish the Minister well with the implementation of the fund. It is a very important area and one which requires our best efforts and all possible resourcing.

I thank Deputy O'Shea for sharing time with me. I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on the initiatives he has taken in this area. I have no hesitation in supporting the Bill as the provision of additional funding for scientific and technological education is important both for the education system and the economy.

In his speech the Minister stated "the Government is determined that Ireland will maintain its place at the forefront of technological and business developments worldwide. It would be wrong for anyone to understate the enormity of this challenge." I certainly agree with the Minister in this. To some extent we have developed a degree of self assurance and almost cockiness about our position at the leading edge of technology, skills, etc. We have developed a self image that we are very technologically advanced and capable of attracting the most highly sophisticated employment and economic initiatives, particularly in the information technology sector. We must reflect a little on the requirement that we are going to have to keep up with the race, that it is necessary to continue a process of research, innovation, investment and education. If we do not do this the pre-eminent position we like to think we have achieved can slip away very quickly, with dramatic and speedy consequences in terms of economic activity and employment.

A number of warning signs are beginning to emerge that we are not quite as good at keeping up with scientific and technological developments and education as we like to think. A number of indicators are coming from employers and employer organisations regarding the shortage of skills and the difficulty experienced by new industries in securing sufficient numbers and sufficiently trained employees. Perhaps the most worrying development in the education system for some time is the decline in the number of pupils at second level taking science subjects at leaving certificate level. Earlier in the year the Minister commented on the decline in the numbers taking chemistry, physics and other science subjects. We must examine this area as a matter of urgency to find out the causes of this. Is it a problem with the curriculum? Is there a problem in relation to examinations and the perceived difficulty of science examinations? Is there a problem with the way in which science subjects are being taught? In saying this I am not casting a reflection on the quality of teaching or the commitment of science teachers. Is there a problem in the number of people with science degrees who are taking up teaching? Obviously, given the changes and advances in the economy, there are attractions and opportunities open to science graduates outside teaching which may now be attracting many who otherwise and in different times would pursue a career in teaching. Is there a problem in the provision of resources, equipment and laboratory facilities in second level schools? These issues must be urgently addressed as otherwise the provision of money for research and innovation at third level will not make up for the loss at second level.

In this context a report was produced this year by Forfás in relation to science in primary schools and I urge the Minister to implement it recommendations. Clearly, if pupils are introduced to science at primary level they will have a grounding in it on going into second level. Perhaps that may in turn be reflected in the numbers taking science subjects and the interest in such subjects as pupils go through the second level system.

The Minister mentioned the PLC area in passing. Earlier in the year he promised that grants to PLC students would be paid in January. Many PLC students are from low income backgrounds and are already under severe strain financially and I urge him not to delay in the payment of PLC grants in January.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo. It is straightforward but very important in that it enhances the Government's and the Minister's commitment to investment in scientific and technological education by allowing an increase in the fund from £100 million to £130 million in the 1998 financial year. This fund when seen in conjunction with the £250 million allocated over three years to the education and technology investment fund represents an unprecedented investment in developing a crucially important area of education. It has begun to fund new facilities in institutions and will keep Irish education at the cutting edge of international developments.

It is also worth noting that the Government recently announced a package of £180 million over a three year investment programme for scientific and other research in universities and third level colleges. These funds will be spent on capital and current investment with £75 million of the funds being raised privately by the colleges. This private-public initiative is most welcome and I give credit to the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy and the Taoiseach for launching this fund. The specific funding for research and development in third level institutions is most important. Funding is also being provided for a major programme of equipment renewal in colleges. This year there will be more research and development activity in Ireland than ever before.

This Bill should also be viewed in the context of the information technology 2000 programme which is up and running and has trained 9,000 teachers. It is an excellent example of the private sector joining the Government in crucial areas of investment. For example, Telecom Éireann is investing in excess of £15 million in the project while a pilot project is in operation with IBM.

I stress the importance of giving priority to training remedial and resource teachers in scientific and technological education. It is certainly welcome that extra teachers are appointed for children with special needs. Last week 16 schools in County Galway were approved to share resource teachers and there will be extra hours for some students. Some of the schools involved already had resource teachers which is most welcome. I stress the importance of computer skills for resource and remedial teachers. It is not good enough to say there is a teacher on the panel who has been appointed as resource or remedial teacher, when computer skills are most important for the teacher to be appointed as well as the desire to be the special needs teacher.

I also mention the need for more equipment for special needs children. Many of the children in my constituency have been approved for this equipment but there is still a delay in providing it. That should not be the case because the Minister provided £400,000 for the purchase of equipment for special needs children. Indeed, a point made to me recently by the Galway branch of the INTO related to the need to give priority to special education. It stressed the need to reduce the pupil teacher ratio where there were special needs pupils. That is very relevant in the context of using new technology.

Some Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science saw the benefit of a favourable pupil teacher ratio when they visited Norway last October. We also saw technology used for special education. In a particular state school for the deaf which Deputy Naughten, Deputy O'Shea and I visited, we saw that each child had a personal camera and video on which to practice sign language. That is the type of education to which we would like to aspire. In Norway up to 7.6 per cent of gross domestic product is allocated to education compared to the OECD average of 4.9 per cent. I hope the Minister is pushing up our average GDP spend on education with the money he is able to get from the Department of Finance.

One of the cornerstones of this Government's approach to the education system has been investment in technology and technological development. The schools information technology 2000 programme which will run over three years with public investment of £40 million is being run as a national partnership involving schools, parents, local communities, third level colleges and public and private sector organisations. I understand that by the year 2001 some 60,000 multimedia computers will be provided to schools and Internet access to every school will be completed. At least 20,000 teachers will receive training with a curriculum support structure based on a national network which will be in place.

The National Policy Advisory and Development Committee, the NPADC, has been set up to oversee this project and it directly advises the Minister, who is in the process of recruiting 20 ICT advisers. The commitment to ensuring that every child is given the opportunity to experience and use information technology in the class room is becoming a reality under this Government.

In welcoming this Bill, I am glad the Minister also announced an initiative to promote reading in schools. He recently announced £6.5 million for school library books. That will certainly improve reading levels in schools and it is something about which we should not forget with all the talk of technology. Each primary school will receive a minimum of £1,000 each and second level schools will receive £2,500. Increased grants for first and second level schools will be paid where there is a designated disadvantaged area scheme.

Scientific and technological investment in education is vital if this country is to continue its increased economic success, which this Bill will certainly enhance. The Minister should look at the situation of buildings in third level institutions. Many lectures in our universities, institutes and third level colleges are still held in prefabricated buildings. An example of this is the NUI in Galway where new buildings are badly needed. Will the Minister investigate colleges like Galway which are in need of new buildings? We have seen demonstrations and sit-ins in many of our colleges, particularly as regards library facilities. If we are to increase payments to the scientific and technological education fund, we also need to provide buildings for the new equipment and technology about which the Minister spoke.

During the summer the Minister allocated £30 million towards the creation of 3,900 addition undergraduate places in the university sector. That was done to meet the skill needs of the high technology industry. Obviously, if extra places are being provided, we need buildings for equipment.

I welcome the fact that under section 4, funding is provided for areas other than scientific and technological research. For example, the humanities and the social sciences were mentioned by the Minister. I very much welcome that part of the Bill which shows that the Minister is keen to make progress in this area and is not confining the Bill to scientific and technological education. I welcome the increase in funding and commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the principle of the Bill. I have a vested interest in this as I am theoretically still a postgraduate research student.

I take issue with Deputy Kitt's point about the Minister providing funding for the humanities and social sciences. The Minister should visit UCC where the arts faculty does not even have rooms to hold tutorials, an integral part of any undergraduate arts course. He should open his eyes to that.

The Minister spoke of providing for investment in equipment. Many third level colleges have glass pipettes in teaching labs for undergraduate courses, and these cause numerous accidents each year. Colleges cannot afford plastic pipettes because they cannot be reused. Accidents occur every week in third level colleges because of the lack of a basic piece of equipment for which there is no funding. I have experience of it, having spent four hours in surgery receiving 18 stitches in my hand because I ended up on the wrong side of a glass pipette. The Minister should ensure basic funding is provided for small pieces of equipment.

I hope both he and the Minister of State present will ensure more funding is provided for the Institute of Technology in Athlone, an institution which is close to the Minister of State's heart.

While I welcome the principle of the Bill, I am critical of the manner in which the funds are allocated. The investment provides for applied research, but current State investment fails to recognise the need for basic research which has been the backbone of developing applied research. For example, research in the area of genetics has allowed the cheese industry to work more efficiently. Funding must be provided for basic research to develop new products and services. The Government has failed to realise this and is only providing funding for applied research. That is all well and good for today but the future must be considered. The Government has no idea how it will plan research in future.

With the agreement of the House, I wish to share my time with Deputy Enright.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The current economic boom is partly based on basic research conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It encouraged many multinational companies to locate here. Areas of scientific expertise have now been developed in many universities. For example, UCC has specialised in the food area, UCD in agriculture and veterinary medicine, Trinity College in genetics, especially human genetics, and UCG in identifying new diseases. While huge developments have occurred, the standard of expertise will fall if adequate funding for basic research is not guaranteed. New areas of expertise cannot be developed without funding and this has been refused. The State is failing to provide funding for the development of projects in their infancy, even though they may be the science of the future and may provide employment. The software and information technology industries exist today because of investment made a number of years ago. The allocation of funds for the future must be examined. Concentration on day-to-day research is not enough; it must be long-term. Sadly, this fund fails to do that.

It is pointless to speak of scientific investment if students are not encouraged to study science at second level. The courses are obsolete. The biology course is almost 20 years old. On my first day in UCD, in October 1991, my biology lecturer looked at the book I had studied for two years previously and threw it in the bin. She told me to forget anything I had learned from it. Seven years later, students are stilll studying this outdated baloney. It is very difficult to encourage students to study science when what they learn in second level is obsolete by the time they enter third level. Nothing is being done about this, although the Minister spoke of introducing a new curriculum. How long more must we wait for it? It should have been introduced years ago.

The science subjects of biology, chemistry and physics are all practical, yet students are not assessed on the practical element but on the theory. Science is not a theoretical subject. Once students enter first year in college, they must undertake the practical element which accounts for 40 per cent of marks on a continuous assessment basis. However, when they sit the leaving certificate, it is all theoretical and no marks are allocated to the practical element. Laboratory facilities in our schools are a joke. Chemicals are not stored correctly and there are no facilities and no laboratory space. How can young people be encouraged to study science when they are expected to learn it from a book without practical work. I spent two years studying biology and physics in secondary school without any practical work. It is difficult to encourage young people to study a so-called practical subject when it is not taught as such at second level.

There is a serious problem in third level colleges in trying to encourage graduates to conduct research, especially at doctorate level. This is because they are paid a paltry £65 per week for four years. They would receive more signing on for social welfare payments than conducting research which is supposed to be the backbone of the economy and which the Minister claims is badly needed. There is a skills shortage and research must be conducted to develop new products.

People then wonder why, when post graduate students receive their degrees, they emigrate. What would one expect them to do? They should be properly paid and recognised because they can obtain better paid jobs outside third level institutions. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Such students should be given the basic minimum wage. The Minister has no intention of paying it to them.

The Bill provides for 50 per cent of projects to come from private sources. Will the Minister explain why private industry should provide funding for scientific investment when it has never done so in the past and has never had any intention of so doing? Irish industry has the worst record of developed countries in providing funding for research. It will never invest in basic research but rely on EU funds. The Minister should examine these issues.

I thank Deputy Naughten for sharing his time with me. I welcome this important Bill. It is essential that greater emphasis is placed by the Department of Education and Science on ensuring a science subject is taught in primary schools. More senior people than the Minister of State will recall that science was taught in primary schools in Ireland in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. I regret that no longer is the case. I am saddened at the lack of facilities for teaching science in post-primary schools. Deputy Naughten rightly criticised the appalling lack of facilities for practical experiments. It is essential that science rooms are upgraded and modernised and meet fire and safety standards.

The results in leaving certificate honours mathematics examinations are unsatisfactory. A more positive approach is needed towards the teaching of mathematics and science subjects in the leaving certificate. We are speaking about the Celtic tiger, the progress of our economy and jobs. We should examine what we are talking about. To a considerable extent the booming economy has been heavily dependent on Structural Funds and on how our taxes are organised. Structural Funding is easing off. The German Finance Minister, and a number of our European partners, are looking to Ireland and considering the possibility of introducing changes. If and when Ireland has tax harmonisation we may suddenly realise we have a problem on our hands.

I felt a shiver down my spine when I heard what was happening at Fruit of the Loom. The company is not unique. Companies come here, get what they can as fast as they can, make whatever profits are possible, and depart. That is particularly true in the clothing sector.

In the computer and software industry we have very highly skilled workers. However, much of what they do is dependent on tax breaks and so on. It is important to be aware of this. Therefore, we need to expand our horizons. We have failed to make inroads into the food and many other sectors. Money should be invested in science and research.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of a Bill that will help copperfasten the State's success in the field of high technology.

The proposed amendment to the Science and Technological Education (Investment) Fund, will ensure our educational institutions have the resources to deepen their role in research and development. Their work has helped Ireland to build an international profile as a centre of excellence in high technology. They have shown us the development of our intellectual resources is vital to the preservation of our economic strength.

In the past, the State did not have the where-withal to support research and development to the extent it merited. That we have managed to achieve so much, without those resources, is a tribute to the ability, the determination and the vision of all working in these sectors. However, even vision and determination have their limits. Eventually the availability of funding becomes a vital factor if development is to be sustained. We have reached that point and for that reason I am pleased to speak in support of the Bill.

We are all aware that research and development have assumed an importance of ever increasing magnitude in the modern era. Through it, the technological revolution has been responsible for transforming and improving the lives of millions of people in Ireland and elsewhere.

Technology has transformed the State and the economic benefits it has brought mean that today, on the cusp of the 21st century, Ireland has one of the strongest economies in the world. The opportunities created by that economic strength are beginning to open up to all sectors of society. Unemployment, once a seemingly intractable problem, is finally beginning to diminish. For the first time ever people are coming to Ireland to find work. Our emigrants are returning. Our young people are able to stay at home without sacrificing the hope of a prosperous future. This is as a result of our unprecedented economic growth; growth which is based on technology, research and development.

It is essential for future prosperity to support all those working to develop our technological expertise. These are the people who will keep us ahead of our competitors and ensure Ireland's international reputation and success are maintained. Initiatives such as this Bill will ensure our future graduates and post-graduates can continue to meet high international standards.

We are at a critical point in our efforts to ensure our research and development base is wide enough to allow for the continuing development of the national economy. We have already moved to address this demand, through the setting up of the £250 million Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund, after returning to office last year. This has provided the necessary funding to modernise our third-level institutions and meet emerging skills needs. This amendment to that fund will build on the success it has already achieved and ensure that researchers working in the third level sector are supported with the most up to date resources available.

The proposed amendment to the Bill facilitates the immediate payment into the fund of a further £30 million for capital purposes, bringing the Government's commitment to the fund to £280 million. The £30 million additional capital will be supported by a three year programme of current funding of which £7.5 million will be provided by the private sector.

The key to the development of funding for research and development, has been the united approach of the Departments of Education and Science and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, in both of which I have the privilege of serving. They have worked closely to ensure a clear and focused approach to funding in this area. That co-ordination will continue to ensure we are well served by the efficient and judicious allocation of finance. The Higher Education Authority will continue to play an important role in the assignment of funds to individual and group projects. The peer review system for individual basic research projects will continue to be operated by the National Research Support Fund Board, under the aegis of Enterprise Ireland.

Europe has a vision — a vision of what the future will be — a Europe of the 21st century with a thriving industrial sector, a healthy environment and a greater well-being for all EU citizens. This vision is encapsulated in the proposal for an EU fifth research framework programme. Next week, research ministers of the EU will make final decisions on this programme which will make available almost £12 billion to researchers in the next four years.

The aim of the programme is to harness the power of science and technology and the resources and knowledge that reside within the EU to create the Europe of tomorrow. We are part of that vision. Irish researchers have had considerable success in past framework programmes. The return to Ireland under the fourth framework programme has been in the region of £140 million.

The Scientific and Technological Education Fund will enhance the potential for Irish researchers to participate in the fifth framework programme through an enhanced research capability within the third level sector. The third level sector is central to the national system of innovation. Equally, industry is central. Industry, through collaboration with academic researchers will benefit from the enhanced third level infrastructure provided by these funds. This combination will maximise the impact of the investment the Government is making and will help to ensure that knowledge creation adds to the economic and social prosperity of Ireland.

The Minister of State must conclude.

I regret that because I could spend a further 30 minutes responding to the points raised by Deputies.

The Government has made clear its intention to promote research and development in the State to a level commensurate with our economic ambitions. During the past 18 months we have succeeded in raising the profile of this important area to a level never before achieved in the history of the State. The Bill will raise that profile even further, ensuring that the momentum we have built up in recent years is maintained and increased. By investing in research and development we are investing in the foundations of future prosperity and for that reason I commend the Bill to the House for its ratification.

As it is now 6.30 p.m. I am obliged to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day:

"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 16 December 1998.