Third Level Curriculum Reform: Discussion

I welcome our guests. I ask that they make their presentations in the order in which I introduce them. With us are the following: Mr. Tom Boland, chief executive, and Mr. Muiris O'Connor, head of policy and planning, from the Higher Education Authority, HEA; Mr. Ned Costello, chief executive, from the Irish Universities Association, IUA; Professor Bairbre Redmond, deputy registrar - teaching and learning, from University College Dublin, UCD; Mr. Gerry Murray, chief executive, and Dr. Richard Thorn from Institutes of Technology Ireland, IOTI; Dr. Joseph Ryan, academic registrar, Athlone Institute of Technology, AIT; Mr. Tony Donohoe, head of education and social policy, from the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC; Mr. Gary Redmond, president, and Mr. Colm Murphy, education officer, from the Union of Students in Ireland, USI; Mr. Mike Jennings from the Irish Federation of University Teachers, IFUT; and Ms Bernie Ruane and Mr. John MacGabhann from the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI. Mr. Jennings is obliged to attend another meeting and will be leaving at 1 p.m. I thank our guests for attending. In view of the bad weather, I hope they were all able to travel safely. The format of the meeting will be that we will take brief presentations from our guests in respect of their findings and a question-and-answer session with members will follow.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I call Mr. Boland.

Mr. Tom Boland

I thank the committee for the invitation to attend. A copy of my statement has been circulated to members. With the permission of the Chair and in view of the time constraints, I will edit it as I proceed rather than reading it into the record in its entirety.

Preparing citizens for life in the 21st century will require a renewed emphasis on core skills. In the context of future skill needs, the emphasis has moved away from over-specialisation towards deeper and broader disciplinary foundations, accompanied by learning objectives which explicitly seek to nurture creativity in students, and an appreciation of the importance of continual engagement with learning. As pointed out in my statement, this approach very much reflects the report of the innovation task force. In our submission in respect of the national higher education strategy, the HEA stated that the key characteristic we desire of graduates and of the system is responsiveness or adaptability to change in the future.

Investing in and improving people's knowledge, skills and creativity lies at the heart of Ireland's current strategy for sustainable economic renewal. This point is made in Building Ireland's Smart Economy - A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal. The most direct contribution the higher education system can make is in the supply of skilled graduates and in the advancement of knowledge through research.

Significant advances are being made in teaching and learning in the Irish higher education system. The Comptroller and Auditor General noted this fact approvingly in his recent report, Irish Universities - Resource Management and Performance. I will not detail the list of improvements as I perceive them because my colleagues from the IOTI and the IUA will undoubtedly wish to do so. A key challenge for us now is to convert the many good examples of excellent practice within the higher education system into standard practice across the sector as a whole.

On the importance of academic preparedness, while the many benefits of the leaving certificate are recognised, there is also a growing concern that it does not adequately prepare students for the challenges of higher education or, perhaps, the workplace. There is a growing sense within the higher education sector that new entrants who come directly from school lack the critical thinking, problem solving and independent learning skills required for successful engagement at third level. Particular concerns have been expressed with regard to students entering higher education without the necessary skills and knowledge to engage effectively with learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, subjects.

As members will be aware, these challenges are core to the ongoing work of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, in respect of curriculum review and reform at first and second level. However, it would be wrong to place the responsibility at those levels, because for their part, higher education providers need to focus on refreshing and redesigning the induction and preparation courses for first year students to enable them to engage successfully in higher education. A positive first year student experience is crucial to achieving the goals of higher education and failure to address these challenges contributes to high drop out and failure rates, with personal and systemwide implications. A recent HEA study on student progression in Irish higher education highlighted the shortcomings in mathematical skills which persist among entrants to science and engineering programmes. It is clear that continuing development of foundational mathematical competences must remain a central part of the first year curriculum in higher education in relevant disciplines.

In our submission to the national strategy group on higher education, we raised concerns about inflexibility and excessively early specialisation in curriculum in higher education. There is an opportunity and it would be timely for higher education institutions to undertake a review and reform of the curriculum in higher education. There is also a need to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship to a much greater extent in higher education. It is vital that we move beyond the conceptualisation of education as the simple acquisition of knowledge to one which equally emphasises innovation and expertise in the utilisation and application of knowledge. This emphasis on the application of knowledge applies at all levels and underpins very much the HEA's work on the development of structured PhD education in higher education. We welcome the renewed focus on experiential and problem-based learning that is evident within the Irish higher education system. Many students benefit from work experience opportunities during their undergraduate studies. The HEA strongly supports this kind of approach or, broadly speaking, internship.

With regard to supporting systemwide excellence and innovation, there are exciting and dynamic teaching and learning initiatives in many higher education institutions and the Comptroller and Auditor General's report has approved of these. Many of the initiatives have been supported by the Strategic Innovation Fund, SIF, and by the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions, PRTLI. The latter has strongly emphasised the connection between teaching and research, which has helped to keep the core undergraduate curriculum in higher education up to date with leading edge research. The National Academy for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning, NAIRTL, is a very good example of a group that fosters the connection between education and research.

The HEA is very supportive of the great deal that is happening in the system. While much of what is happening is in silos currently, it needs to be broadened out systematically and the system needs to continue to work in a collaborative and co-ordinated way.

I thank Mr. Boland for being so brief. We will now move on to Mr. Ned Costello of the Irish Universities Association.

Mr. Ned Costello

We have made a fairly detailed submission to the committee so I too will be brief and just summarise our main points. Given the diversity of disciplines in today's universities, curriculum issues in higher education are wide-ranging. They are made even more so by the growing interlinkages between research, teaching and the interconnectedness of the universities to the economy and society in general. The past decade has been one of enormous change in the academic activities of institutions, both in how they are structured and in how teaching and learning take place. Student numbers in our universities increased by approximately 20% over the past decade. This continues a long trend in the increased "massification", as it is called, of higher education. The Department of Education and Skills predicts that this process will continue. This will come about largely through increases in mature, part-time and international student numbers, along with the organic growth of school leavers. Fortunately, many of the recent developments in the design and delivery of higher education will assist in catering to this increasingly diverse student mix.

With regard to structural change issues, the implementation of the national framework of qualifications was a seminal development in education overall, not just higher education. It has brought a greatly enhanced structure and transparency to the educational offering. This is further built upon by the Bologna process and the European credit transfer system. These have been given practical effect in the mooted semesterisation and modularisation on the part of the universities and the associated development of learning outcomes for courses. As a result, students have greater clarity about what they will learn and on what they will be assessed. In the latter context, there has been a substantial move away from a sole reliance on terminal examinations to more continuous assessment, more emphasis on project work and the splitting of the terminal exam over two semesters. Modularisation has also allowed greater student choice and interdisciplinarity. Our submission looks at the UCD horizons programme and how it works out in practice.

On the question of developments in teaching, there is now much greater emphasis on pedagogy and the practice of teaching. This is reflected in new structures such as the National Academy for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning and other centres for teaching and learning, such as the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at NUIG. These centres have both raised the profile of teaching and learning and made a significant input into the development of policy and practice in this area. Our submission provides a list of some of the publications of NAIRTL that reflect this. There has also been a concerted effort on the part of academic staff to acquire accredited professional qualifications in the specific area of teaching, and teaching practice has become much more structured through the development of teaching portfolios. We gave an example in our submission of what goes into a teaching portfolio and on what someone going for promotion would be assessed.

How content is delivered and absorbed has also changed, with the development of virtual learning environments and the application of technology. These have progressed rapidly from being simple content repositories to being much more interactive, through the use of things like blogs, discussion forums and so on. These approaches to blended learning aim to leverage technology to enhance the student experience. However, I stress that they are not a substitute for direct contact between students and staff. Interestingly, a survey of virtual learning environments found that the biggest factor in the take-up of them by students was if the lecturers themselves used the virtual learning environment.

On curricula or what is taught in universities, this area is in a constant state of flux as the world of knowledge changes, but sometimes this is not fully understood. There are two major influences on the curriculum. The first is new knowledge, which is generated from research both within the institutions themselves and within the broader global environment. Participating in and maintaining currency with this development is an essential part of the academic's role. The second area of influence is the developments in the broader enterprise and professional environment. Feedback from students also has an influence. While it may not be fully recognised, most academics update their modules on a regular, if not annual, basis to reflect these kinds of developments.

Learning does not just take place within the university environment. It can be broadened through work placements and service learning. Work placements are common across the universities. Leaving aside areas where work placements are mandatory, such as clinical placements, they are not confined to the engineering and science areas. There are significant numbers of work placements in the arts and humanities areas also. However, we recognise there is more to be done in this area. There are difficulties in this regard due to the vicissitudes of the economic climate and whether companies can take on students. Therefore, universities are also focusing on service learning, which encourages students to learn and explore issues vital to society and to do that in the context of the community and voluntary sector, for example.

Fourth level education is extremely important. The term "third level" is often used to refer to higher education, but higher education comprises third and fourth level. Again, there has been significant change in this area, both in the increase in student numbers under the strategy for science, technology and innovation and through the development of the structured PhD, which brings a structure to the PhD which includes transferable skills, a graduate skill statement that has the support of employers and takes the PhD away from purely being a piece of research done on an apprentice-master type model.

Quality assurance is an important issue. This operates on a twin prong system, locally at institution level and then with the quality assurance processes of the institutions validated by the Irish Universities Quality Board, IUQB. All of the reviews are made public and local and thematic reviews are available on the IUQB website. They make for useful reading. Student feedback is an important part of the quality improvement process. Our detailed submission refers to the Irish universities study, the first major cross-university study and one that could usefully be repeated. We are interested to see what the higher education strategy says about that.

A number of strategic issues have an impact on development in this area. I refer to the continuing "massification" of the system and in this context the employment control framework, the impact this is having on student-staff ratios and the inevitable impact on the capacity to deliver small group teaching. I refer to the resourcing of the system overall and the matter of student contributions against the backdrop of "massification" and the current financial crisis. There is potential tension between the development of broad skills and highly specialised and vocational qualifications. Others will talk about the impact of second level education on third level education and whether the former encourages highly instrumentalist learning that has an impact on the capacity of people to engage in self-directed learning. Our detailed submission discusses the relationship and balance between teaching and research and the achievement of transparency in this regard. We also refer to mathematics attainment, how this can be raised and the overall structure of higher education.

I thank Mr. Costello for being brief. We will take one speaker from each organisation but other representatives may become involved in the question and answer session. We will now hear from Mr. Gerry Murray, chief executive of the Institutes of Technology in Ireland.

Mr. Gerry Murray

Dr. Joseph Ryan, the registrar at the Athlone Institute of Technology will speak on our behalf.

Dr. Joseph Ryan

I thank the Chair for the clarification. We are joined by several colleagues from the Institutes of Technology of Ireland and we have apologies from the chair of the council of registrars, Dr. Annie Doonan, who is unable to attend because of snow in the Wicklow Mountains. I thank you for the invitation to make this submission on behalf of the institutes of technology. The 14 institutes of technology provide higher education and training from levels 6 to 10 on the national framework of qualifications and all institutes of technology awards are fully integrated into that framework. Somewhat more than 50% of those who enter higher education through the Central Applications Office pursue studies in an institute of technology.

The OECD review of higher education in Ireland advocates the retention here of a binary or diversified system of higher education provision. It is anticipated that the as yet unpublished national strategy for higher education will maintain this position. This supports the contention that there is perceived value in the distinctive contribution and the regional impact of the institutes. While institutes have modified their provision to respond to regional and national requirements, they share a focus on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM, subjects with a corresponding emphasis on business and enterprise. In addition, there is specific attention afforded to the applied and creative arts. The programmes offered promote creativity, technical efficiency, self-management, critical analysis, digital competence, decision making and entrepreneurial skills. The latter is increasingly being emphasised as our current national difficulties remind us of the importance of building a stronger and broader indigenous enterprise base.

Institutes are microcosms of the society they serve. Within a learning community they embrace the delivery of education and skills with a practical focus from foundation level to post-doctoral research. It is the very richness of the breadth of provision within a defined number of disciplines that affords an institute the character that attracts students of ambition. This role complements that of our universities with which we have ever-closer relations. The second section of our longer written submission sets out the context on process and I will pass over that.

Given the broader context of our discussions, the key is integrating the curriculum. The publication at the close of October of an important study on progression in Irish higher education by the Higher Education Authority in conjunction with the Economic and Social Research Institute raises a number of important points. While an overall completion rate at the close of the first year in higher education of 85% compares well internationally, those who do not progress represent a significant cost in terms of impact upon the expectations of those individuals and in respect of financing. The headline figure conceals the underlying detail that proposes that we, as a society, have significant matters to address. While the report points to the link between prior educational attainment and successful progression, one key finding is that mathematical ability is the strongest such predictor. Our average national performance in mathematics occasions considerable difficulty at third level and reduces the number of candidates eligible for the very programmes that are critical to the country's economic strategy. An analysis of the HEA report suggests the continuity of education between first, second and third levels is essential for improving not only our progression statistics but the standards of our education and training. That learners, in many cases, find the acclimatisation to third level such a challenge, says something about the need to calibrate our levels better. That echoes the points made by the IOA in terms of the excessively instrumentalist approach of second level leaving certificate. The leaving certificate, for all its undoubted strengths, is more a portal toward, than a preparation for, higher education. Its value as an award in its own right has diminished in recent decades. The leaving certificate's currency is measured now not on its substantive value but rather on its translation into CAO points.

Such consideration raises two points. It would be advisable to take a more inclusive view of curriculum development, one that affords the greatest continuity between the educational levels. We must continue to attend to the commendable advances in learning and teaching mentioned by Mr. Tom Boland of the HEA.

Flexibility is essential. The young student commencing education this year will likely retire in 2070 at the earliest. She or he will need to be adaptable and will operate in a world that is yet to be realised. This poses challenges for planning curriculum reform now to meet the rapidly changing economic, social and political contexts. Generic, transferable skills, along with creativity will be in demand. An education that is too specialised, particularly at levels 6-8 on the framework, might no longer confer advantage. As the rate of change quickens in industry, an adaptable mind and capacity for independent thought is more likely to win favour.

Anticipating what my colleague from IBEC may say, the focus is now on work and recovery. The institutes of technology will contribute and have close links with local employers and the necessary agencies. This informs teaching and research, and the sector has a strong record in the translational space.

Much is written about the notion of lifelong learning. In principle, it is a good thing and the institutes have experienced a remarkable increase in the intake of mature students. A recent exercise at my college shows that 23% of our students are more than 30 years of age. Such students add enormously to class and group dynamic, bringing with them a variety of experience and perspective. However, our funding structures do not adequately support the lifelong learner. The written submission we have made cites a European study that lists eight competencies and how they might be addressed.

Regarding learning, teaching and assessment, I do not wish to attribute blame to any educational level but rather to address co-ordination of focus. It is about fostering a learning that is open to creativity, that is technologically enhanced, and that allows the learner to take risks and to make mistakes. There are already valued links between institutes and the second level and with local vocational education colleges and post leaving certificate colleges. Policy might advisedly facilitate and further encourage this dialogue. Students of all ages might be afforded pathways that offer more seamless progression through the levels. This will not come about without co-ordination. The amalgamation of some of the education committees offers the opportunity to re-examine the translation between further and higher education. The extended debate over the potential progression options for apprentices evidences this requirement. This might include whether second level schools and further education can overlap more in respect of those studying at levels 4 and 5 of the framework. We could ease the path of the learner by adopting a common educational language. As an example, the national framework for qualifications provides an opportunity to apply a common language to learning, teaching and assessment at all levels. Using the framework explicitly at second level might be as transformative as it has been shown to be in the institute of technology sector since its implementation there in 2004. Employing the framework strands and sub-strands to review curriculum and justify assessment strategies has focused attention on developing valid, authentic, fair and consistent assessment.

The past decade has seen a welcome shift from an instructional to a learning paradigm at higher level. It would be beneficial to see this spread across the educational levels. The institutes are a resource that might be utilised in this as they might be in assisting competence in critical areas such as mathematics. This has a resource implication but the advantages could be significant. The institutes would also be prepared to share their learning in respect of assessment. The third level system in Ireland has made great strides in the introduction of learning outcomes and in employing these as the basis for assessment. The learning outcomes approach lends itself to more innovative delivery methods and to a much wider range of assessment. Not all learners respond in like manner to traditional assessment. A variety of authentic approaches has been shown to be advantageous and can be formative for the learner. Better sharing between the educational levels will work to the advantage of all, but most especially to the advantage of the learner. The view proposed here is that with good support and training, changes in the curriculum and in assessment can free up the classroom to become a place for more interaction, and more inquiry-based learning.

The challenges and opportunities that will face us in the coming decades require education and training that cross traditional subject and discipline lines, and require a reappraisal of how we prepare learners for entry to third level. With greater coherence and shared ownership of the debate, we can ease the progress of the learner and ultimately increase access, retention and successful completion in our higher education system.

Mr. Tony Donohoe

I thank the Chairman for the invitation and opportunity to address the committee. Like previous speakers I have provided a more detailed submission and I am happy to clarify any issue that may arise therein.

My comments are based broadly on a recent IBEC survey, published two weeks ago, of almost 340 companies employing 115,000 staff. It is quite a significant survey. A total of 75% of respondents stated they had no difficulty in recruiting suitable graduates from Irish education institutions and this is a significant point given some of the reportage earlier in the year. However, lest we get complacent, when we drill deeper into the data the survey reveals that employers had specific difficulties recruiting graduates from engineering and technology disciplines. This is important given our policy aspirations. They also want higher education institutions to embed generic or employability skills more fully into their curricula. A previous speaker already spoke about these generic skills.

While they are very much part of the discourse on education, I will outline some of the reasons for their significance from a business perspective. Business operates in a connected, technology-driven, interdependent, fast-changing and very complex environment, largely shaped by globalisation which has had a number of far-reaching consequences. I will highlight five trends.

The rapid and unexpected change with which business copes requires a capacity to adapt quickly to changes in the nature of work and to take responsibility for self-managing subsequent career shifts. Many graduates will have multiple careers and their adaptability will be important for their success in the workplace. The decline of US global economic dominance will be significant. We have been quite lucky. Apart from our links with the US, the fact that we share some elements of a common culture and a language has helped to underpin our economic success in the export area. If this dominance no longer exists, the importance of foreign language skills and a deeper understanding of world cultures will become more important for indigenous exporting companies and foreign-owned firms engaged in international service activities.

We already heard about the pervasiveness of technology. Obviously, this creates a demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates, but it also requires a deeper understanding of the socioeconomic impact of technological advances and the impact of society and human behaviour on the adaption and dissemination of new technologies. This has implications for arts, humanities and social science faculties. As technologies proliferate and sectors converge, we also have to think increasingly about how various disciplines at third level can complement one another rather than consider them as in competition with each other; this concept of interdisciplinarity becomes important.

Another trend is the growth of services and a story that has not received much emphasis is the phenomenal success of Ireland's internationally traded services sector. Services transactions generally involve a high level of human interaction which requires the sophisticated communication skills to which previous speakers alluded.

While business has never been insulated from social or political expectations, the interdependence of business and society has intensified and we are examining not only economic sustainability but also social and environmental sustainability as concerns for business.

Based on the above, I would argue that business and higher education have a shared objective of developing adaptable, well-rounded, creative, cultured and ethically minded citizens who have an appetite for learning. I make this point because sometimes there is a view that business has an overly utilitarian view of the output from the education sector but this is not the case as we have moved into this post-industrialised and globalised environment.

Translating these shared aspirations into something more tangible is the major challenge for the curriculum. As I stated, much attention has been paid by business and higher education to what are variously called generic skills, core skills, basic skills or, more recently, employability skills. It is a fairly formidable list which includes: thinking skills such as logical and analytical reasoning; problem solving and intellectual curiosity; the effective communication skills I just mentioned; teamwork skills; capacities to identify, access and manage knowledge and information; personal attributes such as imagination, creativity and intellectual rigour; and values such as ethical practice, persistence, integrity and tolerance. This is a fairly formidable list which is largely aspirational.

There also needs to be a certain realism about what higher education can do to affect what has been ingrained in the years prior to people becoming undergraduates. For this reason, IBEC has always acknowledged the cumulative nature of educational success. The origins of, for example, an effective national skills strategy or a plentiful supply of fourth level researchers are traceable as far back as the quality of early childhood education and the inculcation of an appetite for learning at second level. I realise this is an area the committee covered in its earlier deliberations but I took the liberty of giving the clerk a copy of IBEC's views on the proposed reform of the junior cycle at second level. We regard this as a very important policy development which could have a profound impact on education outcomes including the development of critical thinking and moving away from the dominance of rote learning which appears to dominate the leaving certificate, and this was alluded to earlier. However, in acknowledging this, we also argue that higher education has a critical role and if business and education hope to develop a genuine partnership, we need to develop a new construct for what we mean by employability. This should be a richer construct than the skills wish-list I gave earlier. It should meet corporate expectations and support the values of citizenship, and it should not be inimical to the traditional values and practices of the academy.

We need to start with a working definition of employability. I have included one in the documentation: a set of achievements, skills, understandings, and personal attributes that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, and which benefit themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy. The four most important words in this definition are "skills", "understandings", and "personal attributes". We then need to write employability into programme specifications and help students translate their achievements into employer-friendly language. Many students and undergraduates across all disciplines do not know that what they know is of value or how it can be translated into the workplace.

Employability of graduates has become an aim that Governments around the world have to varying degrees required from their higher education systems. The key proposition underpinning this submission is that there is a considerable degree of alignment between education for employment and good student learning in terms of teaching, assessment and curriculums. Employability can be embedded in any academic subject in higher education without compromising the core academic freedoms. We need a strategy for curriculum change which is sensitive to both corporate expectations and traditional academic values and which is relatively easy to use.

We will now move on to the Union of Students in Ireland. Mr. Colm Murphy, education officer, will address the committee.

Mr. Colm Murphy

On behalf of the USI I thank the Chairman and the committee for the invitation to speak today. I would like to raise a number of points, which are mostly addressed in our submission, but I will go into some further detail on them, although I promise to be brief. As previous speakers mentioned, there are some excellent initiatives in third level institutions across the country; however, there is simply no incentive to take the best of these and roll them out nationally. As an example, NUI Galway has created an excellent relationship with businesses in the locality - and, indeed, nationally - to facilitate students in obtaining workplace internships, advice and mentoring. One of its programmes involves 100 students who have been assigned to small groups, and each group has a mentor in the business community who is responsible in part for teaching the students soft skills, which can be of major benefit, and giving them real-world experience after they graduate.

Some universities and institutes of technology recognise the importance of learning through experience. The University of Limerick is a particularly good example of this. Almost all of its programmes, if not all, include a co-operative educational work placement, which can vary between five and seven months. Students either go to another university or take up a work placement either in Ireland or somewhere else in Europe. This is of major benefit for students in terms of improving their language skills, if they are going abroad, but even if the work placement is in Ireland or another English-speaking country, there is a benefit in picking up practical skills and real-world experience that they can apply after they graduate.

Previous speakers mentioned the enormous growth in student numbers in recent years. A lecturer who may previously have been lecturing 50 students may now be lecturing 500 students, which is an entirely different situation. I am not convinced that institutions have recognised the necessity of a fundamental shift in structures. We are still operating a 19th century model of one lecturer and many students in a traditional lecture theatre. World-class universities around the world are trying to get away from this and create a more student-centred learning environment in which lecturers are seen not just as teachers but as facilitators of learning, to enable students to learn for themselves. There should be more interaction with the staff. If there are 500 students in a classroom, no student will raise his or her hand, but the students must be able to raise their hands and ask questions while feeling safe and confident, even if the question might turn out to be a foolish one. There are no stupid questions; students must be able to ask anything.

On the subject of entrepreneurship - I am speaking not just from a business and commerce perspective, but also from the point of view of social entrepreneurship - real soft skills are required by graduates, whether they have studied business, agricultural science, engineering or law. For any business, including Ireland Inc., to invest in a graduate who is not able to sell or market his or her skills is pointless. Graduates need to be able to sell their skills and sell themselves after they leave college.

Soft skills can include, for example, not just written skills but also teamwork and IT literacy. It is often said that this is the most IT-literate generation in Irish history, but there are alarming numbers of students who are unable to use Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Access or spreadsheets. Leadership skills should also be practised, as well as public speaking, administrative skills and project management. These are often things that students are not taught in college.

If I can interrupt Mr. Murphy for a moment, the reason we are fussing over here is that there is a vote in the Dáil, so I will ask Senator Cecilia Keaveney to take the Chair while we go to vote, and we will be back in a few minutes.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney took the Chair.

We will hear the rest of Mr. Murphy's presentation and then we will have a couple of questions, so that nobody will miss the later presentations. This will keep the process moving on.

Mr. Colm Murphy

Thank you. To give one example of what I am talking about, a student may graduate with a first-class honours degree in commerce and may have studied micro- and macroeconomics and different forms of accountancy, but may not have any salesmanship skills. For a graduate who will be going out to try to sell on behalf of the company, salesmanship and negotiation skills are absolutely critical. While the student may have all the theoretical knowledge in the world, salesmanship may be lacking.

On the subject of feedback for students, there are still many students in third level institutions across the country who get back a piece of continuous assessment work or a final examination with a percentage mark and no more information than that. That is an unfortunate reality for thousands of students across the country, although it is improving. This is the case for many of the points I have made; the situation, while it may not be excellent at the moment, is improving, and things are moving in the right direction. However, we are not where we should be. Individual students who know or have a working relationship with their lecturer can go up and ask for more information, but some students are not encouraged to do so. Even if a student gets a very high mark in an exam, if he or she does not know where he or she did well and where he or she did not, how can he or she learn for the future?

As I mentioned, there are many good things happening in individual institutions, but risk-taking is not incentivised. It is almost a cliché in the current environment, but we must incentivise the taking of risks. Lecturers should be encouraged to take a chance on designing new modules to deliver subjects. For example, in Waterford Institute of Technology there is a course in land management which includes an entrepreneurship module, and the lecturer has designed a new module in which students are taught how to create a business plan and develop a product. It brings them through the whole development of a business idea. As a form of assessment, people from Enterprise Ireland, the county development board and a number of other investment organisations are invited in to hear pitches from the students. It is almost like "Dragon's Den".

Having spoken to a number of students who have done that module, I know they are delighted with it and have learned a lot. In fact, some of the ideas that have come along in recent years have been so good that people have given the students money to proceed with them. If that was rolled out nationally, how many hundreds of companies would be starting off each year? Some universities, particularly University of Limerick, have a business incubation centre as have others as well. That is something every institute of technology and university should have to ensure that the university or the institute of technology continues to support the graduates when they leave and allow them to start up a business. That concludes our presentation.

I invite Senator Healy Eames to put questions or make comments. I will make some comments also, following which the representatives may come back in again.

I welcome the representatives and thank them for their fine presentations. I am delighted to get this opportunity to ask them questions. My questions relate to each of them and I invite them to comment on my particular question from their perspective.

We live in the real world and we are all aware of the challenges it is presenting to us. As a strategy, in terms of delivering jobs, how wise is it to rely exclusively on the smart economy? I say that because the smart economy takes time and a major investment in education.

I attended a meeting on behalf of this committee representing Ireland at the OECD. Our topic was enhancing growth, in particular, education as a driver of growth. In the OECD's briefing about Ireland it is clear that our elite students, the top 10%, are not performing high enough. That is a challenge for business, industry, the universities and the institutes of technology but particularly the universities because we are not up there, so to speak, in mathematics and the sciences to produce the researchers etc. Dr. Joseph Ryan spoke about mathematical performance being that indicator. I have seen that reported. What are the representatives doing about that? What are the institutes of technology and the universities doing about that? What are the students' views on that?

I was struck by Mr. Colm Murphy's presentation. I presume he is a university student.

Mr. Colm Murphy

I studied at University of Limerick and Waterford Institute of Technology.

This may be controversial but is there an argument to suggest that ITs are better equipped to respond more quickly? There is applied research, a focus on creativity, adaptability, and entrepreneurship and in everything Mr. Murphy spoke about he emphasised entrepreneurial skills, including salesmanship risk taking. IBEC did that also. It referred to adaptability and critical thinking. We must get real in that regard because a big piece of the puzzle is missing. Would Mr. Murphy agree with me that over-relying on the smart economy is dangerous? It is an important policy plank but it will take time to educate and to deliver out of the smart economy.

Why are we not enlisting the advice of entrepreneurs? For example, Denis Brosnan of Kerry Group has personally created 59,000 jobs worldwide. Where is his input in the universities or the ITs? Our home grown company, Supermac, is another example. A total of 17%, or one in every six of our children drop out of school before they do their leaving certificate. Nobody here has mentioned that. The two problems the OECD highlighted for me was the top 10% and the bottom 17%. Almost one third of our students are under-achieving. Those in the middle category are doing fairly well. How can a higher education facility, including universities, develop innovation and enterprise and the application of knowledge more efficiently? I understand about PhDs, and they are very important, but have the representatives any other strategies in that regard?

I have a question for the students. Mr. Murphy spoke at length about a teacher being a facilitator of learning. I agree, but we have gone around the bush too much for too long in that regard. We talk about halls with 500 students. That is a reality. In this environment, with the cut in higher education funding, how will we change that?

I have been in American universities where one can see thousands of students in lecture halls, and lectures being delivered remotely. Reference was made to a change in structures that would be relatively cost effective and cost neutral, if that is possible, but I ask the representatives to tell us about that. In some areas I have seen feedback pads - I do not know if the representatives are familiar with that - which allows the students interact with the lecturer. The lecturer knows that a question is coming from somewhere in the hall, and it can be responded to, although I do not know how costly that would be. If it is possible I would like each contributor to respond to the questions I asked on their area.

Rather than write down the questions I have taken notes as we go along. We are concerned about the low standard of mathematics, critical thinking and creativity. I wrote a report for the Council of Europe on how to teach history in areas of recent conflict and the area of critical thinking came into that in a major way. The Soviet style was to say this is the single truth, learn it and spit it out, so to speak, but we were not doing much different here in Ireland. We presented the facts. We told the students that if they learned them and spat them out, so to speak, they would get a good result in their examinations.

As technology has moved on everybody is moving closer to the screen be it the Nintendo DSs, the BlackBerry or whatever. How do we get people away from the screen? I am biased in that regard because my background is as a musician. I was the one who stood up in the hall of 500 when we were doing our teaching qualification because we were with the physical education students, the domestic students and all the other students and asked what would happen in a classroom when this happens. The lecturer told me that would not happen, but the lecturer was more than 15 years out of the classroom. I had done teaching in a school the previous year.

One of my questions is whether we are doing enough to link the second level with the third level. That would allow us be aware of what is going on in second level in terms of who is coming to us from what sort of system to allow us deal with some sort of reality. Perhaps what is needed is a point system between the second and third level teaching systems, or perhaps exchanges. I am not sure but something must be done at that point.

I do not know if I heard it correctly but the fancy phrase "very instrumentalised teaching" was used, which is the new in word for rote learning. I would have thought if more instruments were being taught we would have few problems. That instrumental teaching should start in preschool, with the children clapping in rhythm. What is personal development other than the skills in music? When I talk about music people think I am talking about all the musicians coming out at the end of the process and becoming orchestral players. That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about using music as a tool for learning - critical thinking and creativity.

International studies are screaming to the effect that that process is successful. Very many engineers, including my brother, are involved. When I ask engineers if they have done music many engineers have done music of some sort. That is anecdotal evidence but statistically the link between music and mathematics is well documented yet we are not doing anything to enhance that, particularly in preschool. We then try to change everybody once they get to university or they come out of university and then we try to teach them to be salespeople. We cannot turn somebody into a salesperson if his or her whole life has been geared towards BlackBerrys, Nintendos, computers and pre-programmed answers to questions.

I was interested in the idea of the structured PhD. We have gone from unstructured primary education to structured secondary education. We throw them into third level, so to speak, decide there is no structure at that level and we should all experiment and learn, and then go back into structured PhD process. I may be adding the word "structure" to lack of creativity. Perhaps I have misunderstood that particular process.

The trimming of the history curriculum began with the leaving certificate. If it was up to me I would have started with the junior certificate because by the time the students have got to the leaving certificate level the cohort of people one is trying to use history as a tool for as opposed to history as a learning experience is already lost. When I delved into that subject I got the impression that because we have done history for the leaving certificate it will be some years before we go into that area again. I hope that is not the case.

A total of 65% of the current history teaching cohort across Europe will be retired in the next eight or nine years. What are we doing to create a different cohort of teachers coming through to deal with a different cohort of students, not casting aspersions on the others who in their time did what was expected of them?

I have already mentioned the push-button life that we seem to be in at present. Again, I come back to the music and the teamwork. One can force people to group perform in music in a varied way and they learn about teamwork. What is teamwork when one goes into the world of work?

My brother never believed in psychology until he did his master's recently. He realised that if one is in a workplace, how one makes people work for one is more important than how good one is at one's work, if one is a project manager. Returning to music, what does the delegation think of the role of music?

Perhaps the delegates could respond because I have to leave and I am really keen to hear some of the responses.

There is also the Bologna process. I have small problems with visas for students going to other countries and students coming to Ireland. Do we have a profile of who are our fourth level students? Senator Healy Eames mentioned the non-academic person. There are many people who would be geniuses in their own field but sometimes they are scared by the business aspect, they want to be out and doing things. I was talking to representatives of Business in the Community. There is a great deal of discussion at the moment about looking at one's business and identifying one's weakest point - which might be recruitment. If one's weakest point is the business acumen of "the business", is it crazy to think that someone would be the business head for a number of people who just want to do - the people who are staying in the black economy because they do not want the business end of it? What are we doing to encourage them to go on with their dream and have someone help them with the parts they cannot deal with? There are a lot of questions there already but they might lead to a good deal of information. The delegation may take those points in any order.

Mr. Tom Boland

I will start with Senator Healy Eames's first question on whether we are relying excessively or exclusively on the smart economy. Of course, we will not rely exclusively on the smart economy, there will always be jobs which are called non-smart - I do not mean that in any pejorative sense. I think we have no choice. I am not an economist but lots of economic studies would indicate that we have two choices. We can drive our economy towards high level, high value jobs and activity, including manufacturing, or we can drive it towards low-cost manufacturing, low wages and low cost of living. Notwithstanding current economic conditions, I do not think anybody would propose we go in that direction. There would appear to be only one way to go.

I would not be disheartened by the idea that it requires huge investment and, therefore, an implication almost that we cannot make it, particularly in existing circumstances.

Mr. Tom Boland

We have made huge investment already.

Mr. Tom Boland

Bear in mind that something in the order of 70% of school leavers, people who do the leaving certificate, go on to higher education.

Mr. Tom Boland

We have increased the number of postgraduates in the order of a fifth and that has been going on for quite some time. We already have a huge pool of highly educated people, apart altogether from any future investment that needs to be made. One could argue that by losing faith with the smart economy - an expression that many people do not like - one is throwing that investment away.

There is no argument there. Given that we have such a long investment in it and given that we have 60% participation rates in third level, are we adequately capitalising on it? We still have huge gaps - that is the issue.

Let us hear some of the answers and then the Senator can come back in again.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

Mr. Tom Boland

I will be brief. To some extent we are and some excellent work has been done by the IDA in bringing in companies. What may not be working well enough is that indigenous Irish companies are not taking up some of the benefits of that huge investment in education and research. I will pass on the baton.

Mr. Ned Costello

The Senator asked about the smart economy. Interestingly, IBEC's annual careers guidance conference last week was substantially devoted to the smart economy, or at least one session in which I participated. There were industry people on the panel as well as higher education people and other educationalists. The point I made is that there is some confusion, because a smart economy tends to be read as a synonym for high tech. Certainly that is not my view or our view of what is the smart economy. At the conclusion of the session I said that we do not know exactly what it is, because times are so turbulent, but we know that the public sector in Ireland will be much smaller. The multinational sector is very important but has limits to its growth. Therefore, there will be much more emphasis on enterprise and on people's own indigenous skills. What we need is a higher level of skills and a higher level of entrepreneurship applying in every occupation and in every industry in the country. To my mind that is what the smart economy is and that is the challenge for us.

That is a component that is not inserted everywhere.

Mr. Ned Costello

I agree with that. We need to broaden that understanding. The Senator asked if we are listening to the entrepreneurs. The most recent example of that was the innovation task force. While it had a public sector component to it, it had a very strong private sector component to it, including some of the more successful entrepreneurs from Ireland in the indigenous tax base. The innovation task force said we have to create an innovation ecosystem, an environment and a combination of policies that drive entrepreneurship. It is not all about tech - it is about the supply of capital, fostering entrepreneurship at second level and at third level as USI has said. There is a listening taking place.

The top end issue is an interesting observation. As I said in my statement we have built a very "massified" higher education system. There are some inevitable consequences of that and possibly, as Senator Healy Eames asserts, we are suffering at the top end. A number of universities, including University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, have recently established elite academies that are precisely designed to cater for that potential deficit at the top end. It is there but we are in a cost constraint system.

On the fourth level side, it is interesting to note that just yesterday Accenture Analytics announced it would hire 100 PhDs over the next four years which is a reflection of faith on the part of the enterprise sector that we are getting some of it right. May I respond briefly to the Chair's question on a structured PhD? The view the education system and the enterprise system formed was that a PhD simply focused on doing a piece of research work on a master or apprentice basis, did not adequately prepare people for the world of work. It is much the same as education preparing people for employability. When the decision was taken under the SSTI to double the output of PhDs, it is abundantly clear that was not just as a stream of people to go into academia - it is very much as a stream of people to go into industry. The structured PhD is about giving people the competencies along with their research capability to be able to take up those jobs, such as those that have just been announced.

Has anybody looked at a profile of the fourth level student?

Mr. Ned Costello

The Irish university study includes a complete module on who are PhDs, their socioeconomic backgrounds, gender balance, career expectations, earning expectations, and so on. Clearly, there is a strong link between high attainment and PhDs.

Does Dr. Ryan wish to comment?

Dr. Joseph Ryan

I welcome the sharing that has followed from the discussion. The questions are a catalyst to focus on curricular reform at third level. In forming a balanced society one must have a mixture of skills. The national framework of qualification and the type of education structure we have allows us an opportunity to address that. The whole idea of a smart economy is a much broader concept and I echo what has been said. It is not just about technology but a whole range of resources. Forfás published a Green Paper in recent days that looks at the potential for jobs in the green economy, which is linked into the smart economy.

I am very interested in looking at how well we serve those at the top and the bottom of academic attainment and the Acting Chairman's comment on the need for the institutes to be flexible in responding to them. It is the intention of the institutes to be as flexible as possible and the purpose of today's meeting is to highlight that no single sector can address all these issues in isolation. The theme of our presentation is connectivity and continuity of education. Equally that goes the other way. I am delighted to hear that IBEC raised the question of working together to address these issues. That is a big part of the outcome. We are engaging with technological support for learners. We talked earlier about different assessment types to address different talents and different skills. The same applies in the way one presents material to learners and that technological method has advanced apace. There might be more synergy between the different levels in respect of that. What we are offering today is more sharing and more dialogue around that topic.

Speaking also as a musician I echo the points made by the Acting Chairman.

Deputy Mary Wallace resumed the Chair.

I understand from Senator Keaveney that the questions and answers have been enlightening. Will Mr. Donohoe respond to some of the questions raised?

Mr. Tony Donohoe

I echo the remarks of some of the previous speakers on the smart economy. It is a very broad concept. I remember listening to a presentation by the author of that document and I think he already had misgivings at having dubbed it the ‘smart economy'. It is actually the productive economy and the question is how to increase productivity in the economy. It is not just about PhDs. We have a smart economy in Ireland - we have eight of the top ten global medical-technical companies; eight of the top ten pharmaceutical companies; nine of the ten international ICT companies. Our exports are performing quite well. What we call the real economy, and which accounts for 80% of economic activity is performing well in spite of the gloom and doom we are hearing about the place. It is important to a remember that. For the economy to continue performing, it will need continued investment in human capital.

When I consider the deficiencies at the top and bottom of the performance scale, I think there is a gap in the science technology and engineering skills at the top level. It is very specific but I do not think we should use that to talk down the higher education system. The HEA produced a report about two weeks ago showing that 27% of students doing a degree in computer science and 20% of engineering students dropped out within the first year of study. The origins of this failure go back to the second level system. I know that Project Maths was discussed at the previous meeting but it is an incredibly important project. The discussion today is on curriculum reform but arguably more important is the quality of teaching. That 48% of maths teachers are out-of-field teachers means they need to have their skills developed. We need to invest in the continuous professional development of teachers but Ireland performs very badly in this regard. An education system is only as good as the people who deliver it; what they deliver and how they deliver it. The continuous professional development of teachers is far more important than classroom size, as far as IBEC is concerned. For those at the bottom level of attainment, the ESRI has pointed to the way students disconnect with the curriculum in second year of secondary school. The primary curriculum is reasonably holistic and a great deal of good work has been done to make it work, but at a time when young people experience a great deal of change in their interior lives, they proceed to second level where classes are organised by subject, placing the student in a subject straitjacket where he or she learns by rote. By second year, the disconnect with the curriculum is apparent and these problems can be traced back to the second level system.

Mr. O'Donohoe, may I interrupt? There may be another vote in the Dáil in 30 minutes, so will delegates delay commenting until the remainder of the presentations are made, and then I will allow them to comment? Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome Mr. Mike Jennings from the Irish Federation of University Teachers.

Mr. Mike Jennings

We are very grateful for the opportunity to speak to the committee. I thank the Chair for alerting members that I must leave at 1 p.m. as I have been summoned to a Rights Commissioner hearing.

This morning I am joined by two delegates from the Irish Federation of University Teachers, Dr. Marie Clarke, our incoming president and the head of the school of education at University College Dublin, and Mr. David McKeon who is an executive member and a senior lecturer in education in the Church of Ireland College of Education, Dublin.

It is interesting to hear the contributions to date. We were told quite explicitly by the committee secretariat that the committee was interested in hearing our views on the curriculum at primary and secondary level. Obviously our submission will deal with that in the main, but we would like to comment on everything that has been said and if there is time, I would be quite happy to respond to questions from Senator Healy Eames and Senator Keaveney.

We would be interested in the views of the Irish Federation of University Teachers as to how primary and post-primary schools prepare people for third level.

Mr. Mike Jennings

The Irish Federation of University Teachers, IFUT is the main trade union and professional body for academic research and professional staff in the universities, but it also has members in the colleges of education and some of the other higher education institutions. It might be assumed because of whom IFUT represents that the entire focus with regard to the curricular issues at first and second level would be only in so far as they impact upon the quality and preparedness of people coming to higher education. It is important that we have a much wider brief than that and take a much wider perspective because it is significant that IFUT represents those who teach in the colleges of education, those who teach students who become primary teachers and also in the departments in the universities, our members teach those who become secondary school teachers. We also represent people who engage in research in the entire field of education. We believe we are not speaking from the perspective of outsiders on first and second level education but have an intimate knowledge of the issues. It is very important and perhaps slightly surprising that I should say that we do not believe that the sole purpose of second level education is the preparation of students for higher education. That needs to be said in terms of evaluating the priorities and the resources allocation in primary and secondary schools. This may echo with what Senator Healy Eames said about the smart economy. I am trying to interpret what she said about exclusivity of ambition. We have had an encouraging increase in participation in higher education, and long may it continue. We hope to continue to drive that, notwithstanding the challenges we face. We will never get to the stage where every second level student goes on to higher education. It is important that we understand that the role and mission of secondary education must be inclusive. We must not leave this cohort behind. That might be a slightly surprising perspective coming from me, but it is important to set it out.

Like previous speakers, I will not go into detail. We have provided a written submission and an executive summary. I would like to take the committee through it in summary form. We have divided it into four areas: first, the inclusive curriculum issue; second, developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which has been touched upon almost universally this morning; third, adequate resourcing of the curriculum; and fourth, education for personal, economic and societal development.

On the first issue, the inclusive curriculum, we have strong views on the need to cater for students with special educational needs. State policy in this area is governed by a number of Acts and other legislative instruments, including the Education Act 1998, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 and the Equal Status Act 2000. We have signed up to a number of international conventions, such as the Salamanca Agreement. The State is not delivering on what it has committed itself to. People with special educational needs can be excluded simply because different definitions are used in various Acts. If one falls outside one of the definitions, there is a danger that one will fall outside the focus of attention inspired by the spirit of the legislation.

The most blatant and obvious example of this problem is the number of students at primary level whose first language is not English. That creates challenges and disadvantages in terms of surviving and thriving in the education system. There is disturbing evidence, starting at second level, of a shallow appreciation of the effect on such people of withdrawing resources. The drastic cuts that were made to the programme of English as an additional language are barely credible at a time when there has been an obvious, notable and dramatic increase in the number of such students in our system.

We have failed to deliver on the special educational needs agenda. The previous Minister for Education and Science declined to implement the system of individual education plans, under which each student would be entitled to a guarantee that his or her needs would be provided for. We have to examine whether we are bringing all the children of the nation with us in the education system. We are not devoting the attention to those with special needs to which we have verbally committed ourselves. The Development and InterCultural Education project, DICE, which is funded by Irish Aid, is struggling to survive in the absence of support being provided to it.

Despite the success of programmes such as the junior certificate schools programme and the leaving certificate applied programme, and the obvious need for them, neither programme is available universally in all schools, which is incredible. It is now practically impossible to gain entry to the junior certificate schools programme. We must ask what the effect of that will be. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is working on an initiative, Innovation and Identity, which it hopes will have an effect on the junior cycle curriculum. The current curriculum does not address the needs of those with low-mild to high-moderate general learning disabilities. At the risk of sounding somewhat partisan, I hope the Department will be more responsive to the recommendations of agencies under its aegis in this regard. That is the point I wanted to make on the inclusive curriculum.

I could almost skip over the second issue, the need for the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, if it were not so important. There has been unanimous agreement on it this morning. Everybody has mentioned it. Preparing people for higher education is not the exclusive function of secondary education. We see evidence of the unpreparedness which arises primarily from the concentration on rote learning and terminal examinations and the overcrowding of the curriculum. There is not enough focus on basic learning and problem-solving skills.

Some of the students we welcome to university at the beginning of the academic year have achieved extraordinary points in their leaving certificate examinations. Their results may have been covered in the media. One would imagine they are guaranteed a bright future in higher education. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see many of them struggling, and possibly failing their first year university examinations, simply because they have not been given problem-solving skills. There is too much emphasis on taking in facts. As Senator Keaveney said, students are encouraged to believe they will get high marks if they regurgitate a single truth. That will get one so far, but it will not get one through life or through higher education.

It is appropriate that a large concentration of resources and staff time should be required in the universities, particularly for first-year students, as part of what we refer to as managing the tradition. It is crucially important that our colleagues, including Mr. Costello of the Irish Universities Association, are engaged in such initiatives. It is absolutely appropriate that we should do that. It would be better if it were more targeted, or if it were not required in the stark way it is. It is somewhat disappointing that the effort made in higher education to manage the transition is almost overlooked. The leaked version of the national strategy for higher education, which will be published soon, calls for such initiatives to be pursued. It seems oblivious to the fact that a great deal of work is already being done in that area. Perhaps people should pay more attention to it.

We live in a blame culture or environment, unfortunately. We are not saying the deficiencies that exist are the fault of the teachers. It is a structural thing. Teachers do not have enough time. They are doing what society expects them to do. They teach to the test because of things like the school ranking system and the league tables. It is all about the number of points that can be got by people in the leaving certificate. It is not a viable option for teachers to concentrate on the sort of delivery of the curriculum that is provided for in legislation.

On the third issue, adequate resourcing, I suggest it is pointless to talk about curriculum reform while ignoring the issue of access to the curriculum. The points I have made in our written submissions are self-evident and do not require any elaboration other than to note them. We still have overcrowded classrooms at all levels. It seems we will have even more of them. We have an overcrowded curriculum at all levels. We have substandard accommodation at all levels. I am including accessibility issues in that regard. We are reducing the number of special needs assistants. I again refer to my earlier comment and ask whether this is a credible strategy. Adequate training for special needs assistants is not being provided. The National Educational Psychological Service has never achieved its goal of having 200 psychologists within the system. There is a lack of speech and learning therapy and cuts are being applied to continuous professional development for teachers, particularly in the area of special educational needs. There have been cuts to the counselling service and cuts to the provision of additional supports for ICT.

In answer to the Senator's point, in education, probably more than in anything else, theory and practice are combined. There is no point in having a theory about education unless one recognises that this theory is reflected in what happens. There is a phrase that we are where we are, but in education, our policy is what our policy does. A small example of this is that although we talk about innovative ways of teaching, we refuse to recognise that the chances are that more innovation will require more resources. Unless we provide more resources, we should not use shibboleths such as "encouraging innovation" because we are not doing it. We must be honest about whether we are doing it or whether we will provide resources to it.

One issue that has been controversial recently is the question of mathematics and whether we are substandard or the reason we are substandard or at disappointing levels and so on. It is very important to state that such problems as we have in Ireland with regard to mathematical competence, as well as competence in the other STEM areas, do not suddenly develop out of the blue after the junior certificate but go right back to the primary curriculum. We must have a more systemic approach to it and I refer to initiatives such as the increased bonus points for mathematics, in which IFUT members in their professional capacity were deeply involved. Consequently, we share much of the input that was made by the university management, if I can put it that way, about coming to that decision. However, it is terribly important that we do not do what we so often do, namely, state that we have introduced a structural response to an ongoing problem which we consider to be a panacea and therefore we can ignore it. The additional bonus points for mathematics initiative will be useless unless it is backed up with all the other requisite inputs.

I will make a general point that again reflects the comments made previously to an extent. I was encouraged by the comments of Mr. Tony Donohoe from IBEC on preparing for education by personal development and how responsiveness must come into it. On phrases such as the smart economy, I agree with Mr. Ned Costello's statement that the smart economy does not necessarily confine itself to the technological sphere, as it requires an openness or smartness of mind and critical ability. I will provide two quick examples. When Albert Einstein published the theory of relativity, it was stated at the time that probably only three people in the world understood him. As the person who made that statement was drawing attention to the fact that he was one of them, it was somewhat self-serving but it is a fact. I am very fond of quoting another good example because it alludes to the idea of the damage that can be done if one adopts an overly structural or overly short or medium-term approach and may be relevant to the higher education curriculum. A famous statement was made by the most recent Dane to win the Nobel prize for science and physics who, when he was being lauded by his university rector about the credit he had brought upon his university through his efforts, stunned and embarrassed the entire university by stating that had the current university policy of only funding research that was targeted at the economy been in place at the time when he did the work that led to the Nobel prize, he would have been precluded and forbidden from doing it. Consequently, we must allow for such work. While no one will state that we can get into what often is referred to as ivory tower elitism, which is airy fairy and so on, there must be a balance. Space must be left there because ultimately, one can educate for the jobs that one sees but one must educate for the jobs one does not yet envisage.

I refer to a bullet point in my summary stating that the medium is the message. I mean by this that it is all very well to state that we want our children to grow up to be citizens who will understand teamwork, collaboration, collegiality, co-operation, sharing of ideas, sharing of talent and so on. However, we insist on resourcing the system at all levels in such a way that the idea of competition pertains to the cheapest and most cost effective in its own narrow terms. This results in an authority figure, sitting in rows or being told what to do because of the lack of resources for such as what was referred to by the USI delegation. In that sense, the medium is the message. There is no point in telling students that one values co-operation, or innovation, if one only funds an education system that must be conducted in a highly straitened, structured and narrow way.

Thank you, Mr. Jennings. While members will have questions for Mr. Jennings before he leaves, I would like to hear from the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, next. Is that all right? Thereafter we may have a wider question and answer session. I understand that Mr. Jennings has time to remain for a while longer. I welcome Ms Bernie Ruane and Mr. John MacGabhann of the TUI and invite Ms Ruane to make a presentation.

Ms Bernie Ruane

The TUI represents teachers and lecturers in post-primary, further and third level education. The union has a deep commitment to supporting the design and delivery of appropriate curriculum at post-primary and third level. Our presentation today seeks to address the post-primary curriculum with specific reference to how it prepares people for participation in third level education.

The TUI welcomes the opportunity to comment on the matter. However, it is most important to recognise from the outset that the essential purpose of the post-primary curriculum and the leaving certificate as an instrument of assessment is to prepare young people for adult life and active citizenship. This point already has been referred to by Senator Healy Eames and by Mr. Mike Jennings in his presentation. It is vital to keep in mind this point and that more than 40% of those who sit the leaving certificate do not proceed to higher education and that we have within our system other programmes that retain people in school and benefit young people greatly. I refer to programmes such as the leaving certificate applied, which I believe was mentioned briefly by Mr. Jennings, and the junior schools programme. In particular, the leaving certificate applied programme, which started as a pilot project in 1995 and has been in existence since then, has kept people in the system who were at risk of leaving it. Senator Healy Eames referred earlier to the fact that we must face the reality that not everyone wishes to progress to third level. However, such people desire an education that will enable them to use their skills and to contribute hugely to society. One must bear in mind that the post-primary sector also must deliver such an education.

I refer to other influences of the senior cycle curriculum and how the manner in which it encourages young people to engage effectively with third level studies varies and is dependent on a wide range of factors. For example, it depends on a student's own socioeconomic status, the educational background of parents, the level of prior educational attainment within the family. Moreover, one should never forget that it always depends on a student's personal commitment and effort. All these factors together must be taken into account when one considers how people cope when progressing from post-primary to third level.

The TUI has made some other observations on coping skills, having discussed the matter with some people in third level. As has been mentioned previously at this meeting, there is a problem with literacy skills that is showing up at third level. Many students entering higher education exhibit serious deficiencies in basic literacy. They do not have any technical command of the language. Across the post-primary sector, the responsibility for literacy is often left with the English teacher. This should not be the case. Responsibility for literacy, if it is to be addressed effectively, is every teacher's problem. That has been neglected, to the detriment of students. In respect of a student with literacy problems, one might hear a question about the kind of English teacher he or she has, but that is not what it is about. Everybody needs to be conscious about literacy. Every teacher needs to take responsibility for it, and responsibility needs to be taken in the home as well. It is one of the greatest hindrances to students in third level education. Unless we all face up to it, nothing will change in that area.

More priority must be given to oral skills in all languages at junior cycle. The current system is not effective. At the moment, there is only a tiny percentage of schools - mainly private schools with extra resources - availing of the junior cycle oral exam. We would like a system put in place so that all students would be able to avail of this. We would also like to see a greater choice of modern languages. I do not wish to promote one language over another, but we have often been asked why Chinese is not available on the leaving certificate examination. We have made accommodation for immigrants' languages, but if we want to talk about a smart economy and investing in third and fourth level education, we should look at going outside the normal offering of modern languages at post-primary level, where we tend to offer just French, German and Spanish.

We need to look at mathematical and science competences, but that is not everything. We have great hopes for Project Maths. It will enhance mathematical understanding, but we cannot get away from the idea that basic principles and formulae will still need to be learned. This is a problem in post-primary education, in literacy and mathematics. We are not learning the basics and we feel it is like trying to build a house without a solid foundation. For example, we question the use of calculators in junior certificate level mathematics. If somebody has shaky foundations, he or she can only make very little progress before everything comes tumbling down. We acknowledge the need to upgrade in science and mathematics, but again we need more laboratory facilities for practical experimental learning in science. We will need technical support for that. There is no getting away from resources. Somebody said that resources or the pupil-teacher ratio do not matter, but rather the quality of the teacher. I would disagree with that because the pupil-teacher ratio matters if we want to have active methodologies used in classrooms, activity in science labs and language labs. We cannot have group or experience learning in an overcrowded classroom.

We need to develop problem solving, critical thinking, and analytical skills. We cannot just teach people to do the exam, even though there is a tendency to do that. We have students with very high marks who have certain skill sets and sometimes they have no critical or analytical skills. We do not want to create a generation who cannot perform certain tasks if they are not in the manual. We need to develop investigative, critical and analytical skills.

The points system has not been helpful to the post-primary curriculum. Students sometimes opt for subjects because of a possible urban myth that it is easy to score high marks. They might study such subjects even though it might have no bearing on what they intend to study in college, but because the story has been put out there that these subjects are easy. Statistics will show students that this is the case. We need to have a look at the points system. The leaving certificate should be able to stand as an exam on its own, and not just be totally geared towards the points system. We also question the widening of the grade bands at leaving certificate level. We do not feel that has been very helpful.

Mr. Jennings spoke about special educational needs. This needs to be addressed. We need to have a more inclusive curriculum. We will have to look at whether we can afford teacher allocations, the psychological service materials, and teacher professional development.

There needs to be a transition between the leaving certificate and third level. There are many skills that students do not possess. One of the students mentioned this morning that sometimes one does not get feedback. Meeting students on the street and asking them how they are getting on, they might say that they got 80% in a third level examination but do not know where the other 20% went. Students feel that it is not helping their learning if they cannot find out where that 20% went. We would like to see more development in feedback.

More time needs to be spent on learning basic concepts in physics, chemistry and biology. Students often select a science programme but have only followed biology up to leaving certificate level and are starting everything else from scratch, in a class where other students have studied the other science subjects. The post-primary curriculum objectives and content are primarily not at issue when it comes to the perceived lack of preparedness at third level. A far more important issue is the lack of congruence between curriculum objectives and the assessment processes at post-primary level, and the lack of structured coherence and continuity at the various transition points in public education provision.

To achieve the necessary structural coherence and to optimise the benefit of the curriculum to students, we need the political will to invest in high quality public education provision. We are all tired at this stage from hearing that the country cannot afford to invest in education, but we certainly cannot afford not to.

I thank all our guests for assisting us in moving through the agenda. The Minister is on his feet in the Dáil, so I will go quickly to Deputy Quinn and Deputy Clune.

I thank the delegates for their papers. There is a great deal of meat in them and I hope we have the capacity to digest it all and get back to them.

This country has been put into receivership. I ask the delegates to look at the correspondence in today's newspapers and try to think how they would answer the following three questions in six months. With 3,200 primary schools, why is it that we have more primary schools per pupil than any other country in the OECD? Why is it that the biggest single policy failure in this State since 1922 has been the teaching of the Irish language? Why does the Book of Estimates not tell us how much it costs each year? How much time do we spend teaching faith formation in our primary schools? Why do we have five primary school colleges that are controlled by religious orders? Dr. Joseph Ryan said that the kid starting school today will work until 2070 and I agree with the remarks of Mr. Mike Jennings. However, we have changed. We are now in receivership and must give a quarterly report to the IMF and Brussels. Whoever comes back after the general election must ask these questions and I hope we have some answers.

Unfortunately there will be a vote soon but I would love this committee to be at the forefront of this and would start to ask these questions. If we cannot ask the big questions, we will not solve the small ones.

I wanted to talk about mathematics. I agree that our education system must provide for a rounded individual with social and literacy skills and a broad education. We have adopted the smart economy and the innovation task force is up and running. We have targets and an ambition for where we want to be. There must be a balance and we must all move forward.

Finland identified the need for up-skilling in science subjects, engineering and mathematics and did it by focusing on the education system. We have seen in enrolment at third level that there is recognition that these are important. The bonus points for mathematics are an important step because it means the State recognises the importance of maths to science and to financial services, which is where jobs will be in future. That is the bottom line for parents and students, where employment opportunities will exist. Project Maths is very important.

I am concerned that there are not enough mathematics teachers in the system and we do not have the quality of mathematics teachers. We regularly hear that those teaching mathematics only took it in the first year of their degrees. Suddenly they are teaching mathematics. Can we focus on this? This area is very important.

I have been reading the reports from the expert group on future skills needs on the biopharma sector, medical services, financial services and the ICT sector and the group continually recommends industry involvement in education and training. There should be a structure for this but are there any formal structures? Would any of the delegates care to comment on the recommendations of these reports? Industry must engage with academia and it is happening on anad hoc basis so, do we need formal structures? Being from Cork, I am aware of connections between UCC and CIT and industry and the same goes for Dublin and Galway but should more formal structures be put in place? The time for theorising is past, we are in a difficult situation and must move this issue forward.

What are the implications of cutbacks on student connection time? We hear much about tutorials not happening. There is an international focus on the product from our third level education system. We have heard comments that we are average, not top of the range, but I think we are very good in many areas.

There is a vote in the House. Is the Deputy happy to resume in possession after the vote?

Yes. There is a lot of information here.

This is an opportunity for our guests to take a break. We have only one Senator present, so we will suspend and return after the vote.

Sitting suspended at 12.20 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.

We will resume the meeting.

Mr. Colm Murphy

Senator Healy Eames asked how higher education could integrate more with business. I do not believe we have to re-invent the wheel in this case. Some colleges are already doing an excellent job of it. National University of Ireland, Galway's website, for example, provides a portal which allows prospective employers to interface with the graduates and students.

The University of Limerick gives an example of how to change college structures to become more student-centred and reduce class sizes without increasing spend on resources. Every course in the university has a large work placement which takes up one eighth of the course. If this were rolled out in every university and institute of technology, there would be a one eighth increase in capacity for teaching hours without significantly impacting on resources.

Would Mr. Murphy ask Mr. Tony Donohoe of IBEC to facilitate that?

Mr. Colm Murphy

I am not allowed ask questions.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Colm Murphy

The Deputy may well ask the question if he wishes.

I have a feeling Mr. Murphy might be a Deputy soon enough.

Mr. Colm Murphy

From the Deputy's lips to God and, indeed, the electorate of County Wexford.

What can colleges do to facilitate start-up small businesses? The main cost factors for start-up small businesses are premises and staffing. Most colleges could spare a room or small building. There will also be any number of students looking for work placements. This could be an area where colleges could work with recent graduates to facilitate small business start-ups. Some colleges are already doing it while others are not, which I do not understand.

Would Mr. Murphy welcome the structured format to which Deputy Clune referred?

Mr. Colm Murphy

Yes, if IBEC, the Irish Universities Association and the Institutes of Technology Ireland can work out a formula. It would work if it was either on anad hoc or a nationally structured basis.

A university lecturer spoke to me recently when we were organising a protest march about how, when he was asked to organise tutorials, the most important factor according to his head of department was that they had zero resource implications. It is a scandal that the number one priority is to use no resources in teaching a practical subject. However, it is the reality.

The lecturer would be an employee of the institution so his tutorial time would have an impact on resources.

Mr. Colm Murphy

Yes, but he was not to use equipment or materials.

The universities, however, have to work within the resources available to them.

Mr. Colm Murphy

Many colleges are without chaplains, counsellors and other student supports. The higher education maintenance grant was cut last year. People are dropping out of college. Every day we have students inquiring about what forms of financial aid are available to them.

What is the cost of a person going to school from the age of four all the way through primary and secondary school and then dropping out in first year of university?

Mr. Gary Redmond

The websiteschooldays.ie and the Bank of Ireland did a very useful survey which was published in August. It put the cost for a parent sending a student to third level education at about €9,000 per year, for a student living away from home, and that is without the registration fee. One is looking at perhaps €36,000 depending on the length of the degree course, plus the investment that they have made in primary and post-primary education.

Could a financial case be made to demonstrate that it saves the State more in the long term, by putting in critical supports, to stop students dropping out after that investment? It is a bit like sick leave and all sorts of other things, regarding maintaining productivity.

Mr. Gary Redmond

Yes, that is certainly something we could look at.

Mr. Mike Jennings

As regards Deputy Quinn's position, there are unpublished statistics from the OECD, which we have seen literally in the last week. When they come into our possession we will pass them on. The OECD, which is not noted for its commitment to the public sector worldwide, has done a cost-benefit analysis of education. In the context of the debate on the possible reintroduction of undergraduate tuition fees, we hear a lot about the personal enrichment that comes with it. However, the OECD has stark figures showing that, in financial terms, the State benefits from every person it puts into higher education. The return for the State in terms of higher earnings and tax returns is important.

As I said to Deputy Clune, Finland is held up as the exemplar for us all. It needs to be said repeatedly, however, that Finland was never in that league until recently when its economy suffered a major crash as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It took a decision then that to get out of the hole it was in, which was akin to the hole we are now in economically, it had to invest in education. If we do not believe that ourselves, how will we persuade the IMF to give us a licence to do it? We have to believe it, or act as if we do.

Our problem is how to persuade the Department of Finance and what kind of productivity outcomes can the third level sector collectively generate to prove that is a smart investment.

Mr. Mike Jennings

As I said, the figures are there and so is the reality.

The Department of Finance may say that it worked in Finland, but will it work here?

Mr. Mike Jennings

In talking to the OECD's researchers, the OECD says that it is not really as monetarist and as right wing as one may think - it is because the departments of finance are telling them to be like this. When we go to the Department of Finance, it says: "We are not really as bad as that. It is the OECD which is telling us to do this". Neither of them can ignore the reality, which is that investment in education - while it is a cliché and we must move beyond clichés - will actually work and make a difference.

The only reality now is how we can get more with less.

Mr. Mike Jennings

Yes, by education.

How can all the brains of the third level system tell us how to get more, with less resources going into the system?

We must identify the necessary structural changes to get there. That is what we want to do. We cannot have it the same as before, because we need to change.

Mr. Mike Jennings

I will finish on this, Chairman.

No. We will come back to it again.

Mr. Tom Boland

I want to pick up on that particular point of doing more with less. Obviously, higher education needs considerable resources. I must take issue with Mr. Jennings, although I hope I am not misrepresenting him. In his submission, I got a sense that he was saying there was no point in curriculum reform because without resources one could not do it, and that more innovation necessarily requires more resources. The old adage states that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. To take Deputy Quinn's point, I suggest that now is exactly the time when we have to be creative and innovative, with no expectation of significant additional resources, otherwise our education system will be in serious difficulty. That is a reasonable challenge to put to the higher education system and, of course, there are lots of resources.

Deputy Quinn referred to a positive herd of elephants in the room, concerning how resources are deployed in the education system as a whole. I am not sure that it is a question of not having the necessary resources, but of how they are deployed. Those employed in higher education have to take responsibility for dealing with the situation as it is. In fairness, I would say that Mr. Jennings is underselling the sector quite a bit by implying that academic staff are not interested in being creative and innovative in these difficult times. A great deal of innovation and creativity is actually going on. I referred earlier to the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General in this context.

I have a list of people who wish to contribute at this stage. I will call on Professor Bairbre Redmond first, as she has not yet spoken.

Professor Bairbre Redmond

I wanted to take up the point about creativity and working within one's current resources. We have been looking at two things in UCD. One is the quality of what we are teaching and doing it openly and transparently. The increasing use of online, IT methods of measuring our students' registrations electronically has made that possible. We can now provide every head of department or head of school with an online report that shows the number of students in each module, as well as where students tend to stay or drop out, and the grade distribution. I am looking in particular at where there are unusual grade distributions, involving very high or very low pass rates. We also want to examine the quality of teaching plan that individual module co-ordinators produce. With modularisation it has become much more possible to see what module co-ordinators are suggesting in terms of teaching, and where they want their students to be. We started this two years ago in our bachelor of arts degree, which had over 800 modules. Since they were not professionally accredited, some of these had not been reviewed. One of the things we felt was missing after we did this exercise, was the student voice. For the first time this year we are now able to bring in online, standardised student feedback for all modules in UCD. It is currently open and we will have over 1,400 modules open for evaluation. It is only by doing so and by putting that kind of data back in the hands of heads of department that we can really examine the quality of what is being done in different schools.

Has the loop been linked so that UCD is now reaping the benefit of that information? If so, what benefit has been reaped?

Professor Bairbre Redmond

What we have seen are modules where we are told that the subject area is difficult and students need to come up to a particular level. We also want to see how students are being assessed, however, because one of the most important drivers for students is what is on the exam. Students will always work to what is on the exam, so how is the assessment being used? Are we assessing students intelligently? Are we assessing them mid-way through their programme so that we can offer them feedback and guidance? Can we use different teaching methods such as, for example, inquiry-based learning? Tomorrow, we will be examining a 500-student module in first-year English where they are working in groups of 20. Therefore, we will have 25 groups of 20 reporting on a inquiry-based learning project. As well as seeing those sorts of things, it is also giving power back to heads of school to question the almost private teaching that sometimes goes on. They say that teaching is one of the last great private activities, so how can we measure quality? How can we see change longitudinally? It is much more important to see how lecturers develop year-on-year, than to compare them across a college or university.

Can Professor Redmond comment on the point made by the USI earlier, namely, that at one time, lecturers had 50 students but now have 500? I would be interested in hearing her views on that important point made by the students.

Professor Bairbre Redmond

In first year particularly, we see the importance of limiting those large classes for students and ensuring that they are seen either in small group tutorials or in inquiry-based learning groups. Senator Healy Eames spoke earlier about the use of response systems, or clickers, in the classroom. We have used those in a number of first-year courses, where each student has an electronic clicker. One can design a programme so that one can ask a question of the class and students can use their clickers to respond. It is like asking the audience, so one gets immediate feedback on how what is being taught is reaching the students and what their level of comprehension is. One can immediately see if one is on the right track, if the teaching must be changed or a concept must be reintroduced. We use separate clickers but in the next two years ICT will improve to the extent that we can use mobile telephones or laptops as a response system.

How do the lecturers feel about that?

Mr. Mike Jennings

We do not have any problem with that. From the lecturer's point of view, there is the same number of hours preparation and the same time speaking on one's hind legs. In terms of the delivery of the lecture, it does not make a difference if one is speaking to 50 or 500. However, because education is not just about the lecture but about the engagement and the wider dimension, one cannot ignore the resources implication.

I am very surprised that Mr. Boland so completely misunderstood my point. I presume his misrepresentation of it was accidental. My submission referred to the fact that it is pointless talking about curricular reform at second level without talking about curriculum access. That is not the same as saying we cannot be imaginative and adaptable. It is terribly important we understand, as a society, that there are hard choices to be made. We will not do what they did in Finland and elsewhere by gimmicks. Hard choices must be made and we need the resources. Anyone who thinks those calling for more resources are simply doing so to mask an unwillingness to be innovative and to develop and change is doing no service to society. Society needs to understand that there is only so much one can do by changing or by smarter delivery. Without extra resources, this will not be delivered and potential will not be achieved.

I have been a trade union official for over 30 years and I have never represented such a flexible, adaptable and imaginative workforce. The university system has been turned inside out and will be again with our input and co-operation. However, that will not rescue us if the resources are denied.

Dr. Joseph Ryan

Going back to the pragmatic point of doing more for less, which is the topic of the moment, the president of the Union of Students in Ireland responded to Deputy Quinn's direct question on cost, which represents the considerable expense of €9,000 to families. The cost to the State for delivering the education is considerably more. Our offerings in technology can be quite expensive. The purpose of the progression study was to show that if someone does not progress in college, not only are his or her dreams shattered, as a society we have invested money and will not get the necessary return.

Taking up the point made by Mr. Jennings, in 2008-09 full-time students within the institute of technology sector numbered 54,464. In 2009 and 2010, this figure is 59,832. This represents a considerable increase when the staffing structures are decreasing year-on-year by 6%. Considering labour market activation and the generous response of staff and everyone involved, there has been a real, co-ordinated attempt to come through, with the realisation that these are tough times. Part of the paper we are putting forward is the overall co-ordination of this effort. The institutes of technology undertake a great amount of sharing. The learning and teaching agenda was cited by the chairman of the Higher Education Authority. Great work has been done on this, not just within the institutes of technology sector but also across the university sector. There is a great amount of sharing and this allows us to benchmark.

Deputy Clune made a point on placements. Responding to a point made by the Union of Students in Ireland, this is a major feature within the institutes of technology. It is being driven all the time but, because of the downturn, we have to look at surrogate placements in order to find a way of giving people some level of experience.

I invite representatives of the TUI to contribute. We will come back to Ms Bernie Ruane about the mathematics question from Deputy Clune. Then we will hear from IBEC.

Ms Bernie Ruane

Regarding Deputy Clune's question on mathematics, she suggested there are not sufficient qualified teachers of mathematics. That could be the case for chemistry and physics because one does not see a mathematics teacher's job advertised anymore. Hours are offered. A teacher may be offered ten hours in the post-primary sector and it is not a job. People highly qualified in mathematics do not find the post-primary sector an attractive place if they are going to receive a few hours teaching mathematics. Most people qualify with two subjects as opposed to one. Statistics and surveys are available on the number of qualified maths teachers and I think we have quite a number. A bit of a job, with a few hours teaching in a post-primary school, is not very attractive to a person at the skill level of a pure maths graduate.

I apologise for interrupting but surely the whole thesis behind STEM analysis is that they are all cousins of the same family. If one is trained in mathematics, one is trained in technology, qualified to teach applied maths and one can easily access engineering. Those subjects are on the curriculum at second level.

Ms Bernie Ruane

That should be the case. Naturally science, physics and chemistry are all connected but if one has a qualification in engineering, the Teaching Council will not recognise it as a qualification to teach.

The basics are being missed out on, from primary school on. We drastically need to get the basics right. Hopefully Project Maths will help but not unless something is done at primary lower. I fully agree with the point that people qualified in the STEM subjects are suitable people to deliver this.

They are not being attracted to the teaching profession. Do we need to improve the personnel or the quality of teaching?

Ms Bernie Ruane

We do and we need to talk to the Teaching Council about what makes a qualified-----

We need a roadmap on how to get there.

Ms Bernie Ruane

If one is not on the registered clár from an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna of certain teaching subjects-----

There is great urgency-----

Ms Bernie Ruane

I fully acknowledge that and I think Project Maths will be a huge step forward. We must consider primary education.

Mr. John MacGabhann

One of the particular features where mathematics is concerned, though it is not confined to maths but was in the public spotlight recently, is that in the voluntary sector as distinct from the vocational sector, the Department of Education and Skills does not look beyond the school gate. Someone is appointed to a particular discipline. If the discipline is Latin and the person has been there for a considerable amount of time------

Some 137 people did Latin for the leaving certificate last year. Let us get real.

Mr. John MacGabhann

The point I am making is that the person has been there for some considerable time and there is no longer a Latin provision. The person is converted to use as a teacher of another discipline and is not formally qualified in the subject. One cannot say that, in individual cases, the person will not make up the deficit but from the outset there is a deficit to be made up. Where can the deficit be made up? It will not be made up by employing a whole raft of new teachers. That will not happen in current circumstances so one must deal with the existing staff. How does one do that? One does that primarily through the provision of targeted continuing professional development. Has the Department, and the Government in terms of financing it, ever come up to the mark in that respect? No they have not. At its very best, continuing professional development, through the teacher education section of the Department, amounted to 0.6% of the education budget in one year for the entire range of teachers, primary and post-primary.

In most professions continuing professional development is delivered by the organisation of the profession. What is the role of the TUI or the ASTI?

Mr. John MacGabhann

The TUI, as I am sure Deputy Quinn realises, represents people on an IR basis, but we make up deficits frequently.

The TUI is the only representative body of teachers that calls itself a union. The INTO does not call itself a union and the ASTI calls itself an association. Two of the three organisations clearly aspire to be more than just IR bodies.

Mr. John MacGabhann

Yes, but it is entirely and abundantly clear that no union will ever be financed by its members to the extent of picking up a tab that quite plainly in the context of a national curriculum the State must pick up.

Irish teachers are the best paid in Europe.

Mr. John MacGabhann

Any business here that ran on the basis of a continuing professional development budget of less than 0.5%, as is currently the case, would go out of business. That is one issue.

Another issue in respect of maths relates to a point Deputy Quinn made, as to how one saves money in the system and ensures quality. That is put crudely, but how does one do those two things? It is a matter of political choice and political judgment. One does not provide on a continuing basis for three, four or five schools at second level in every middle-sized provincial town. One does not provide additional resources to do essentially the same thing across different campuses. One provides integrated campuses, which is not currently being done. If one has integrated campuses, one can share teaching services and in that respect one would begin to solve some of the provision problems. The other thing that one can do-----

What is the position of the union on the integration of the VECs?

Mr. John MacGabhann

We have not taken a formal position. We acknowledge, and have done for some time back, that an opportunity was probably missed when the first integration of VECs occurred. The particular geography may be tweaked. I do not know. However, there are some VECs that are clearly too small to be sustainable as single entities.

What they are asking, in effect, is 33 into 16 but in reality it is 28 into 11.

Mr. John MacGabhann

Going back several years, the TUI favoured the establishment of local educational boards which would have a far more wide-ranging set of functions. We are not averse to structural re-arrangements that make sense and that produce quality outcomes.

This has to do with the architecture of education. Deputy Quinn mentioned in the context of maths the possible transferability of a skill in maths to the teaching of engineering, design or whatever it might be. Again, as a union representing teachers and lecturers, we have felt repeatedly stymied in terms of the delivery of an organic curriculum at second level by the failure of the Department of Education and Skills for reasons of scrimping, minor cost saving, to introduce retooled, redesigned syllabi. Architectural technology and engineering technology are two cases in point. Updated syllabi were simply put on a top shelf in the Department and have remained there for six years. That does not equate in our view with a commitment to the smart economy.

Other issues arise in regard to the sciences. Biology attracts. The gravitational pull of biology is enormous at second level. Due to that one has an increasing movement of teachers into the system to meet the biology need and an attenuation of the teaching force available to teach chemistry and physics. One needs to incentivise the provision of chemistry and physics. It will not just happen by accident. It needs to be incentivised. Previously, there was-----

How would Mr. MacGabhann suggest that is done?

Mr. John MacGabhann

Allocation is one means of doing it. Ideally, one would restructure second level provision with shared campus provision, but in the absence of that for the time being, one would at least incentivise initial provision of the likes of chemistry and physics through extra allocation.

If we take a mid-sized town that has three or four post-primary schools, does Mr. MacGabhann suggest that one of those schools would specialise in STEM subjects and all of the young adults in the area would do that subject?

Mr. John MacGabhann

I am dodging the bullet. That would clearly depend on the town and the available resources.

Let us take Clonmel, for example.

Mr. John MacGabhann

That is a very good example. I am from Clonmel.

Mr. John MacGabhann

In Clonmel, there are schools that are no more than a two minute walk from each other. There is no good reason the facilities within a town such as Clonmel should not be rationalised so that one would be a student of the campus of Clonmel. What that requires more than anything else is the sort of political will at national and more particularly at local level-----

Let us have the IMF for six months and we will have it.

Mr. John MacGabhann

Perhaps so, but it does require that. We as unions representing teachers cannot engineer it.

I appreciate that but the unions could not obstruct it. I do not suggest for a moment that the unions have or did in the past but they could encourage it and say that it is necessary for teachers to achieve their full potential. A campus in Clonmel would liberate the teacher and the pupil. Parents will be guided by what teachers say.

Mr. John MacGabhann

To a degree, but it would still require a collegiality at a local political level as well. I will not mention the individual Deputies.

Irish education is highly politicised. Mr. John Walsh from Trinity College has written a book on the matter.

Mr. John MacGabhann

One other issue Deputy Quinn raised was the teaching of the Irish language. One could ask why it failed. The reason is that we were teaching the wrong thing. It was nothing to do with Irish. The teaching of Irish rarely had anything to do with Irish. It had much to do with the inculcation of a very dubious set of literary principles. Had it been the teaching of Irish the transfer benefit of well taught Irish to other language acquisition would have been precisely the same as the transfer benefit of well taught French. Again, while teachers might have been complicit, they were complicit in a design that was a political one.

Sin scéal fada eile.

Mr. Tony Donohoe

With my accent, I will not pontificate about the teaching of Irish, which is my loss, incidentally. I wish to respond to Deputy Clune's questions on mathematics. There is a roadmap. A report was published mid-way through the year on the implementation of Project Maths which had many very sound recommendations but like all of those reports what is important is whether they are acted upon.

In terms of the competence of teachers and continuing professional development, there are 5,900 secondary school maths teachers in the State. Research from the University of Limerick suggests that 48% of them are out of field. In other words, they do not have a primary qualification in mathematics. They may have had it as a component in a business degree or other course of that nature. The Department puts it at a lower figure but it is still well over a third, implying that there is an issue in that regard. Resolving the issue is quantified by the group. It would take €7 million a year up to 2018 to get that cohort to a position where every secondary school student would be taught by a qualified mathematics teacher. In the scale of the education budget that is still money well spent. It offers bang for the buck, in other words a productive investment.

The report also has a number of other recommendations about how business could help. We are looking at that. Much of it is around role models and enthusing the appetite of children and their parents for the STEM subjects. It is not coincidental that we are seeing increased applications and points in those areas post-2008.

I am interested in the question of industry's involvement, as it is a difficult nut to crack. Industry is involved at a higher level. For example, IBEC is involved with a worthwhile initiative by the institutes of technology that has not had any airing today, namely, BlueBrick, which delivers modularised blended e-learning. This is the sort of initiative that industry is always calling for in terms of a flexible response from the system. We are on the advisory group and BlueBrick ticks many boxes for us.

We met the Irish Universities Association in the summer. Twelve of the largest ICT, pharmachemical, financial services and food companies in the State spoke with the universities' registrars about some of the issues we are discussing, for example, work placements, how business could contribute to the curricula, pedagogy, assessments and the learning environment. The institutes of technology and the universities asked us to explore the idea of a two-way staff secondment, that is, people moving from the academies into business andvice versa. We are considering how to get this idea off the ground. These types of initiative are worthwhile, but I still get the sense that they are being done at a high level and not on the ground to the extent that they should be.

Clonmel was mentioned. It is a prosperous local leader town. I know south County Tipperary well. Do two by-elections in one year and one gets to know the place well, as Mr. MacGabhann knows. There are some large and small pharma companies in Clonmel. It is a prosperous area. How would Mr. Donohoe prescribe what has been discussed working in the south County Tipperary area?

Mr. Tony Donohoe

We have been discussing whether to approach the matter on a regional or sectoral basis. If this was to be real for business, it would be on a sectoral, not regional, basis. One examines the expertise in a particular institute of technology or university, be that expertise in pharmachemistry or medical devices. One links that expertise with the sector association, be it PharmaChemical Ireland or something else. This is where some sort of synergy is likely to be. Business will be looking for something, as will the academy. Fabricating it will not feel real to either party.

I thank Mr. Donohoe.

Mr. Tony Donohoe

The issue of work placements is another difficult nut to crack. IBEC had something called GradLink. It was a pilot programme of work experience for new graduates as opposed to undergraduates that we tried to get off the ground at the start of the year. If one can give a graduate six or nine months work experience, he or she will be more likely to be ready for employment. From an employer's point of view, it is a useful way to consider potential recruits, etc. It was a drop in the ocean. We have had 500 placements so far. Given the scale of graduates in employment, we have a long way to go.

There has been some interesting learning. For example, there have been significantly more placements than applications. Digging into the detail-----

That is an extraordinary statistic.

Mr. Tony Donohoe

It is to a degree. Some of the placements are paid, but most are unpaid. Having read some of the literature on undergraduate work placements, the issue of pay arises. Employers are hamstrung in this regard. They either pay the minimum wage or they pay nothing. There is no facility for them to top up, even though most of them want to. The reputable employers do not feel good about having someone working for them for nothing, yet they are not in a position to pay the minimum wage.

The scheme got a fillip, in that participants were allowed to retain their social welfare entitlements. However, many graduates do not get social welfare benefits, so attending the placements cost them.

How does Mr. Donohoe propose to overcome that problem?

Mr. Tony Donohoe

One would retain the social welfare entitlements and give employers the facility to provide some sort of payment.

How would one provide employment in that way and keep it legal?

Mr. Tony Donohoe

One must define it as an internship. This is a grey area and employers are frightened to take on interns because the rights and responsibilities of both groups are not defined anywhere. We need to bring some clarity to the matter.

Mr. Mike Jennings

The Deputy asked about-----

We will revert to Mr. Jennings in a few moments. Dr. Clarke has not contributed yet.

Dr. Marie Clarke

I am with the Irish Federation of University Teachers, IFUT. I wish to address two matters, the first of which has already been raised, namely, mathematics. There has been a problem with mathematics education since 1921. The first commission that was introduced and the then Department of Education examined the relationship between mathematical attainment and the development of the economy. The commission's proposals were never put into place and the mathematics curriculum, despite international advancement over 40 years, continued to persist with a concentration on abstraction as the learning result. Between 1951 and 1961, there were a total of 12 honours graduates in mathematics teaching. From the 1940s to date, mathematics has been the first subject of approximately 44% of those teaching the subject. The problem with mathematics education has always been a problem and is not new.

Regarding work that has been done by education researchers on this issue, the primary curriculum review conducted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, in 2005 noted that 66.4% of teachers had hardly ever or never used diagnostic tests and that 77.2% had hardly ever or never used standardised tests as a means of assessing performance in mathematics. If specific difficulties in mathematics are not addressed early on, the mathematical foundation will be weak as it continues through the system. Taking this into account, Dr. Joseph Travers of St. Patrick's College in Drumcondra, who has done research in this area, suggested that, with the introduction of the revised primary school mathematics curriculum, there was a significant decrease of 48 minutes per week in single-grade classes in the time allocated to mathematics instruction, resulting in an overall average of three hours and 36 minutes of instruction per week. This contrasts with the provision in England where students receive on average an additional one hour and 24 minutes per week. I do not need to tell the committee how this disadvantages those who are in designated disadvantaged schools as well as mainstream schools that cater for students in a range of areas. The education system must be considered as a continuum. This point has been made by everyone who has made a submission.

Investing in education with fewer resources has been discussed. This seems to have been a challenge to our education system, as pointed to by Mr. John Walsh's book in the 1960s in terms of looking for rationalisation and greater school co-operation under Mr. George Colley, Dr. Patrick Hillery and so on. Prior to the introduction of free education, education cost up to one sixth of the total household income. The results of making it free include the widening of the socioeconomic profile of those participating, although many have been denied opportunities to benefit from the education system because of financial reasons. According to the Living in Ireland survey data on people who had spent any time in the labour market, 30% of the early leaver group had spent some time in unemployment compared with 18% of people with leaving certificates or higher. Those with lower levels of education had spent approximately 9% of their time since leaving unemployed compared with 6% of those with leaving certificates and 4% of those with a third level education. Assuming a working life of 40 years, this translates into 3.7 years of unemployment for the pre-junior certificate group, 3.4 years for the junior certificate group, 2.4 years for the leaving certificate group and 1.7 years for the third level group.

If this is the data that has been collected by Ms Emer Smyth and Ms Selina McCoy in the ESRI in 2009, anybody might question the lack of continuing investment in Irish education, considering the cost in economic, social and health attributes as well as all the considerations associated with long-term unemployment, that have persisted even through the Celtic tiger years. I am not an economist or attached to IBEC or any such group, but anyone can see the education system must continue to be prioritised, from early childhood until third level. In terms of higher education and academics working to facilitate the employment prospects of graduates, Professor Redmond has referred to this, as has IBEC and the IUA. The work of start-up companies that have emerged from higher education, where academics have worked actively to promote innovation and developments in the economy, does not stop there, and it is not just a matter of profits. Those academics also involve their students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, so it is a continuum.

Regrettably, since the introduction of the Vocational Education Act 1930, we have tended to look at our system in a piecemeal fashion. This is borne out by the committee's reference to the origins of the teacher unions, the INTO, the TUI, ASTI, IFUT and so on. We have all tended to look at different sectors, whereas the challenge for us now, in this economically diffuse time and given the presence of the IMF in the country, is to look at education as a continuum from the birth of a child right up to third level or wherever, including, as our submission highlighted, provision for the most vulnerable, those with special educational needs or susceptible to early school leaving or who live in disadvantaged areas. Educational disadvantage has been with us for the past 40 years, so that is a significant challenge for all Governments in the future. We talk about rationalisation, but if sectors are denied resources, then the country will be denied a future. Resources need to be managed, I accept, but there has to be clear joined-up thinking.

In fairness to the present Government and the Department of Education and Skills, they have won in so far as anyone is a winner. They have ring-fenced and protected the educational Vote much more than anybody had anticipated.

Dr. Marie Clarke:

I accept that.

Our problem is that collectively we do not know how to spend it. I am being serious. Deputies here will have some experience in this regard, and the last people who know how to spend it are those involved in education. We depend on the delegates to tell us how to do it better.

Dr. Marie Clarke:

The submissions the committee has received and the contributions made by people here are all contributing to the work on educational research that has been done, from higher education right back to education in early childhood. Numerous suggestions have been made and the matter is too important for the educational research to be ignored. The contribution from the USI, too, has been very important in relation to that.

We should seize the opportunities we have, build on the successes we have achieved in the country and within education from the introduction of free education, but there are persistent challenges that still must be addressed, so that everyone has a fair opportunity to benefit from the society we wish to have.

Dr. Joseph Ryan

In response to the call for some advice, if one is bold enough to give it - arising from Mr. John MacGabhann and the Clonmel experiment and Mr. Tony Donohoe's talk about out of field mathematical provision, and the last speaker - I should like to shine a light for one second on the contribution by Ms Bernie Ruane, earlier. There might be one element of this that is much cheaper and more pragmatic. We have had a boom in the construction industry and very highly qualified engineers all working with high quality mathematical skills, some of whom are not now able to find employment. To be linked into the professions they need maths at the highest level as an input metric and as part of the programme, and yet they are not recognised by the Teaching Council for the teaching of maths. There is a resource that is immediately to hand which does not require a very big structure to be put in place.

How does the Teaching Council come around to that decision? Is it autonomous to the council or can Marlborough Street send a request?

Mr. John MacGabhann

The Teaching Council has a suite of third level qualifications that appear on the "Autoquals" list available on its website. If one possesses one of those, one is identified as being qualified to teach specified subjects. A very particular problem arose on engineering qualifications several years ago, because there has to be a quantum of maths in the content of an engineering course for the experts who advise the Teaching Council - and previously advised the Department - to deem that somebody with the appropriate engineering qualifications has sufficient maths to be qualified to teach this to leaving certificate honours level. The perception of the experts engaged by the Teaching Council is to the effect that there has been a drift in the maths content of engineering degrees. I suspect that in some instances it is a marginal drift, with the standard dipping below a percentile that-----

Were these expert mathematics teachers, themselves?

Mr. John MacGabhann

I believe so, but not second level maths teachers, I should add. They probably were drawn from the third level fraternity.

Would an engineering qualification not have covered physics, chemistry and applied mathematics?

Mr. John MacGabhann

It depends on the constituent parts of the particular qualification.

I take Mr. MacGabhann's point, and while it is not for him to defend it, he is being asked to explain how the situation arose.

Mr. John MacGabhann

The Oireachtas, in its wisdom, chose to establish the Teaching Council and gave it these functions. Some level of engagement may be required between the Oireachtas and the Teaching Council to find out the rationale.

I am a qualified civil engineer, and a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Ireland, and after the next election I may be looking for another job somewhere. The institute has been monitoring engineers who have been working in this industry, and given their extensive experience, have something to contribute. It has been offering grinds over the past two years to leaving certificate students on a voluntary basis, and as an institute is very engaged in progressing the whole issue. It has produced numerous good reports and its members visit primary and secondary schools, encouraging steps to engineering. It has done a great deal, as a profession, and perhaps this is something that we could take up.

Dr. Joseph Ryan

This could also have a very applied focus, which is exactly what we are talking about here.

I am conscious of the time and that the weather outside is deteriorating. Several speakers want to contribute. I shall accept very quick comments, and I will call on Mr. Gary Redmond, first, to whom I must apologise as I missed him earlier.

Mr. Gary Redmond

That is no problem, Chairman.

I shall pick up on a point that IBEC made earlier, which links into Deputy Clune's question about mathematics. When the HEA published its excellent work on retention, as IBEC said, it showed in STEM areas, and particularly in computer science and engineering, that one fifth of students drop out before reaching stage two, simply because of the standard of mathematics and how that subject is being taught at second level.

As a student who was admitted to a computer science degree course at UCD in 2004, I look back on people dropping out as we progressed through the different stages. We have second level schools that do not teach maths at higher level, which is nothing short of a shambles, a complete travesty. The idea of something like the Clonmel campus will solve much of that problem, however, and it is something we might look at for resources, given the straitened times we are in, for higher education as well. Perhaps the pending publication of the strategy might address that.

In certain schools, as I have seen, the method of teaching mathematics is to teach to the exam. That practice is prevalent, given that there is a choice of five questions out of eight, where each question is based on a different topic. In some cases schools are teaching just five topics, which means that a student embarking on a computer science or engineering course might never have covered three of the topics, and already will be miles behind his or her classmates. This is nothing short of a travesty and needs to be tackled urgently if we are serious about building a smart knowledge-based economy.

We are already miles behind our class mates. As I said previously, this is nothing short of a travesty and must be tackled urgently if we are serious about building a smart, knowledge-based economy.

Professor Bairbre Redmond

A key area in terms of how we transition students is first year of third level education. Australian research on students from 1994 to 2008 indicates that the students most vulnerable, in terms of drop out, in their first year are students aged 19 years and under who live near home, are unsure if they are in the right course, have moved straight from school to college and do poorly in their first assessment. We believe there are many Irish students in this type of cohort. We must consider issues such as what is the right curriculum for students and should not push them into making subject choices early. We must also ensure they are exposed to their subject area. Our science and engineering students engage in concept modules which help them understand the nature of science. This allows them to see the horizons of their professions as well as getting down to specifics. We need also to be thinking about the importance of academic mentoring and, as our academic numbers drop, to consider peer or student-to-student mentoring.

Like other institutions, we operate drop-in maths support centres. We operate one such centre for 32 hours per week, which is available to students of any course. We need to use supports intelligently and to develop, as we are going to do, a writing support centre for students who are having difficulty with essay writing. Above all, we need our students to be engaged with their peers and courses and to think about how they have a sense of themselves as students. If we put resources in place and work intelligently with students in the first semester, this will make a huge difference.

I have a 16 year old and as such my focus may be on second rather than higher level education. I get the sense that the educational sections of theIrish Independent, The Irish Times and Irish Examiner focus far more on secondary level, transition year, coming of age type issues, for which parents should be looking out, as distinct from the pitfalls and dangers at third level. Is that an accurate perception?

Professor Bairbre Redmond

Yes, that is correct. During this year's orientation programme we ran a parents' crèche which provided parents with advice on what to do if worried about their children. We have a difficulty in that if a student is over 18 years of age he or she has the right not to have his or her details shared. We need to be supporting and engaging with families that are concerned about a student.

This is particularly true for the cohort of students we are trying to attract into the system whose parents have no experience of third level education whatsoever.

Professor Bairbre Redmond

Yes, that is correct.

Perhaps Professor Redmond would provide clarification in regard to the research of which she spoke.

Professor Bairbre Redmond

The research was undertaken by Krause and James. It was a longitudinal study of first year third level students. Australian students are like Irish students in that they do not go far from home for their third level education.

Is it a negative that they were close to home?

Professor Bairbre Redmond

Yes. Another issue was that of moving straight from school to university and not taking a gap year.

It is a question of maturity.

Professor Bairbre Redmond

Yes. Despite the size of Australia, Australian students tend to go to university closer to home.

Mr. Ned Costello

On the maths issue and that of distribution of time in the curriculum as raised by Deputy Quinn, I refer the Deputy to Dr. Clarke's statistics in regard to the amount of time devoted to mathematics in Irish primary school relative to other countries. I have spoken to a number of primary teachers about this issue. While they agree the new curriculum is great they do not have enough time to teach it. This has a bearing on issues raised by Deputy Quinn in regard to the distribution of time within the curriculum.

On the Teaching Council issue, an issue arises in regard to the urgency or priority of recognition of qualifications for mathematics teaching. The universities have developed a postgraduate diploma in maths to allow people to cross qualify in maths. We have had difficulty in having this recognised. It is an issue which the council needs to address urgently.

Is the Teaching Council a closed shop?

Mr. Ned Costello

It has a broad representation.

If we got it wrong, we should be told.

Mr. Ned Costelloe

Consultation with the teaching profession in that regard would be interesting.

Mr. Gerry Murray

I support Mr. Costello. The IOTI had a meeting with the Tánaiste yesterday. One of the items on our agenda was the Teaching Council and the issue of mathematics. There are many graduates who would be brilliant mathematics teachers but who are not mathematics graduates. I agree with Mr. Donohoe that half of the teachers in our schools are not qualified to teach mathematics. It is a precise subject. I made the point at a different forum recently that we must do something if we are to get this right. My son is currently studying engineering. I told him that if, like me, he has a problem with Lagrange multipliers he should visit the YouTube site which provides brilliant lectures on them. We must get this right in schools. Again, I support what Mr. Costello said in this regard.

Mr. Colm Murphy

Mr. Murray referred to clips on YouTube. Engineers Ireland provides clips on almost every topic. It is hoped to publicise this a little more so that students will use it.

A number of speakers referred to the drop-out rate. One of the reasons for this is that the first time a student gets real feedback in regard to how he or she is doing is after the Christmas examinations. If students do not do well they remain trapped in the courses because they have used their first year. Academic councils and institutes of technology and so on are currently discussing the idea of the selection of a single module, the one most indicative of the general content of the course over whatever many years, which will be taken for the first three weeks of a student's first year, following which students will be examined on it and provided with real feedback in terms of how they did. This would give students some indication of whether they had chosen the right course. Unfortunately, this mode of teaching has not yet been rolled out anywhere. It is an example of a good idea not being taken up because of academic inertia. A big challenge that will exist long after this meeting is over is overcoming inertia and the fear of trying new things. While we may get it wrong, trying new things is something we should work towards.

Mr. Murphy has done a good job. Focus on the student is the message from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). I thank all members of the delegation for attending today's meeting. We have heard many presentations and have had four hours of discussions. As Dr. Clarke said earlier, we have received substantial submissions from all delegations which will be worthwhile. It has been an interesting discussion.

The committee secretariat will collate the issues raised during the three meetings on curriculum reform, following which the committee will present them to the Minister for Education and Skills. I thank the delegations for their excellent submissions today. I also thank members for their attendance and questions.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.50 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 16 December 2010.