Before we enter on Committee Stage of this Bill, I should indicate to the House that amendment No. 13, in the name of Senator Alexis FitzGerald, is out of order on the ground that it involves a potential charge on public revenue.
National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick, Bill, 1980: Committee and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 6, to delete "institute" and substitute "institution".
This amendment was tabled by Deputy FitzGerald who is unable to be present today.
I am informed reliably that there is not any significance in this, that there is no distinction in meaning between the words "institute" and "institution", which come from the same root.
To get everything correct, if the word "institute", is to be left as it is in the Bill, it is as well that the following word "of" should become "for".
This is one of the types of precedent we have. We talk of "a Minister for" and in the Irish language it is "Minister of", "Aire Oideachais". There is not a significant difference.
The Title to the Bill is "National Institute for Higher Education ..." and we find "Bill entitled an Act to establish an Institute of Higher Education". I am trying to get conformity right along the line.
We have had "of" and "for" already.
The issue seems to be that the "Institute of Higher Education" is the generic term. Then we go on to state that the institute would be known as "The National Institute for Higher Education".
It would be incorrect to change it because this is a Bill to establish an institute of higher education. There could be other institutes of higher education, and there will be.
Should we not therefore change the Title?
No. It is to be known as An Bille an Fhorais Náisiúnta um Ard-Oideachas, Luimneach, 1980, which, translated, is an institute for higher education—"um", "for".
I move amendment No. 2:
In subsection (1), page 3, lines 32 and 33, to delete "subject to such conditions as the Minister may prescribe" and substitute "after supplying such information as an tÚdarás may require".
This amendment also is in the name of Senator FitzGerald. It boils down to one point, probably the only point of disagreement between the Minister and Members on this side who are almost unanimously in favour of the Bill. The only reservation we have is that here and there throughout the Bill there is undue emphasis on ministerial power. In order to deal with that these amendments have been tabled. That is simply the position.
I appreciate that if there has been any philosophical difference between me and the House it has been on this basis: certain Members suggested there is too much ministerial control. My contention is that a careful reading of the Bill will show that there is not such undue ministerial control. Indeed the wording of the subsection was changed in the Dáil by me on Committee Stage to its present form at the request of the institute itself whose members felt that the amendment which I had made went all the way to meet any qualms they might have had about the original wording.
I would be completely against subjecting this to an tUdarás in relation to the evolution of NIHE courses or programmes. It is one thing to have the Minister taking a view in relation to resources and so on but, if anything, the amendment would be taking from the autonomy of NIHE in relation to their academic purpose.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 9 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 3:
In subsection (1), page 3, line 40, to delete "(i)" and to delete lines 41 and 42.
Amendment No. 9 recommends that the institution be thought fit to award scholarships, prizes and other awards. Senator FitzGerald wished that that paragraph should be inserted and I formally move the motion in his name.
The effect of these amendments would be to remove the award making function from the governing body and transfer it to the academic council. In so far as academics are concerned, the academic council will function and indeed the governing body will make the awards, being the legal body, on the recommendation of the academic council. It is for that reason that I would like the power to remain with the governing body, who are responsible for the financing and looking after the expenditure in the national institute. The academic council will make the recommendations to the governing body.
I move amendment No. 4:
In subsection (1), page 3, line 43, to delete "subject to such conditions as the Minister may prescribe,".
We are once again back to the old thorny point of undue or excessive ministerial control. It was with a view to reducing this ministerial control that this amendment was put down by Senator FitzGerald.
We had a full discussion in the House on this matter and most of the amendments are in relation to this point. The House will agree that, subject to the conditions that may be prescribed by the Minister it is not reaching out too far for power. The day to day management of the affairs of the institute is not subject to approval. The day to day management may be carried on by the institute under the general conditions and directions of the Minister. As a result there is no danger of interference to the detriment of the educational objectives of the institute in the wording as drafted.
I move amendment No. 5:
In subsection (1), page 3, to delete lines 44 and 45 and substitute "maintain, hold, sell, demise, lease, make lettings of and invest all the property, money and other assets of the Institute;".
The purpose of this amendment is to give to the governing body greater power and broaden their functions by substituting the words
"maintain, hold, sell, demise, lease, make lettings of and invest all the property, money and other assets of the Institute".
I would point out that the Minister is the owner of the property of the institute as of now. Therefore, the question of its disposal by the institute does not arise. In so far as gifts are concerned, they are usually made to institutions like this under certain conditions, the purpose generally being for the advancement of objectives and in aid of people who want the particular courses given in the institute. The institute would have to comply with whatever conditions attached to gifts and, acting in their own right as an entity in law, they would have to deal with the gift in accordance with the conditions. The proceeds from the sale of property, or to use the property for a particular purpose would be written into the conditions for the gift. The wording as it stands to "maintain, manage, administer and invest all the money and assets of the Institute" give the governing body adequate powers in this regard.
I move amendment No. 6:
In subsection (1), page 4, line 1, before "upon" to insert "for such time, if any, and".
It is proposed in this amendment to insert the words "for such time, if any, and" before the word "upon" in paragraph (e) which says:
to accept from donors gifts of land or other property upon such trusts and conditions, if any, as may be specified by the donors: provided that nothing in any trust or condition is contrary to the provisions of this Act;
The amendment proposes to insert "for such time, if any, and". The acceptance of a gift for a period of time would be a condition of the gift. This is already comprehended by the words "upon such trusts and conditions" found in subsection (1) (e).
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 7:
In subsection (4), paragraph (f), page 4, lines 48 and 49, to delete "on the recommendation of the Minister".
The purpose of these two amendments relates back to the point I mentioned earlier. It was an objection that recurred during the debate in the Second Stage. Paragraph (a) says "nine of those members shall be so appointed on the recommendation of the Minister in accordance with provisions of subsection (5)" and so on. Further down it says that two members shall be appointed on the recommendation of the Minister and two more, giving a total of 13. I accept that it is right that the Minister should nominate a substantial number of members of the board, but I would be quite happy to leave the figure at nine. It is right that the Minister, who is answerable to parliament for what he does with regard to education, should have some people on that board to express his views and the views of his Department with regard to education. When it comes to the question of having 13 out of 25, another principle is involved, that is, the principle where the ministerial nominees are in a majority on the board of 25. I dealt with that subject on the Second Stage and I said then that different views are held on these matters in different parts of the world. Some people believe that the State should have little or no interference with the course of education. Others believe that it is right and just that they should. There is merit in both points of view. It would be wiser for the Minister to agree to these two amendments and not let it be said that he or a successor of his was in a position to wield undue influence on the activities of this national institute.
A number of Senators who spoke were of the opinion that the Minister is to be complimented on the main principle of this Bill, on its fulfilling a need that this country is facing every day and is likely to face to a greater degree in the future. The charge levelled against the Minister and the Bill is that he would have an overall majority. If one takes it in the context of the health boards, where a relatively small number of ministerial nominees are in a position to put the Minister's point of view on discussions that arise there, I am certain it is a matter to which the Minister gave a good deal of consideration. But, as it is the view of my party, I am bound to express the doubts that we have with regard to that.
I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to deleting the words "on the recommendation of the Minister" in paragraphs (f) and (g). That would leave the regional technical colleges in the same position with regard to making nominations as the governing body of the Thomond College of Education. I ask that they would have absolute freedom to nominate as their representatives on the governing body of the institute the people whom they consider best fitted to make contributions to the work of the board and to put forward the points of view of the colleges they represent. There should be no restriction on it and they should not have to be approved by the Minister.
I support the arguments put forward by Senator O'Brien. I accept the right of the Minister to have nominees on the governing body to convey his views and the views of his Department on the various issues that will have to be resolved within the governing body. But there is a real feeling that there is a shadow of ministerial control and that the opening is there for ministerial interference in the running of the institute. When we come to this section, all this feeling of control, of being subject of consent or subject to approval, is reflected in the situation we are confronted with where the Minister will have power to nominate the majority of the governing body. We accept the nine that he will nominate directly, but when it comes to the two members who will represent the teaching staff of the regional technical colleges and the two members to represent the management boards of the regional technical colleges, again the nominees put forward will have to be acceptable to the Minister and approved by him. As this Bill will stand for some time to come, the opportunity is provided, for any future Minister to use the powers therein to ensure that a majority of the board are acceptable to him. I do not wish to press the point further. The last evening I emphasised that there is a feeling that the Institute of Higher Education in Limerick will not enjoy the measure of independence and freedom that other universities have.
It is in that context that I am making this point. The teaching staff and management boards of the regional technical colleges should have the same opportunity of nominating their representatives as the governing body of Thomond College in Limerick have. The nominees of the governing body of Thomond College in Limerick are not subject to ministerial approval. The Minister should extend the same freedom to the teaching staff and the management board of the regional technical colleges.
Before the Minister replies I would like to say something. While I have a lot of sympathy with the regional technical colleges and their standing in relation to this, I also have sympathy with the Minister, given that he will have to deal with nine regional technical colleges which have no institutional system from which they can nominate and also that extra regional technical colleges will be built in the future. I do not see any way the Minister can handle it except by making the appointments himself. The fear of the Minister's overpowering position is a myth, because if anything, it is due to the fact that the Minister had freedom in relation to the development of these colleges that we had the innovations that we have had. If the Minister did not have the role that he had in the past, these innovations might not have taken place.
In section 5 (3) and (4) the words "on the recommendation of the Minister" appear. The first one, admittedly, is only dealing with the governing body as of one year's duration, but the second one deals with the full governing body after the one year's duration is up, so that the words there cover subsection (4) (f) which is the subject of the amendment. The second point I want to make is the one which was made by Senator Mulcahy. As of now there are nine regional technical colleges, and the difficulty of getting a system of election by the teaching staff and by the management board is one which could delay the setting up of the governing body and its work. No doubt we will be able to work out a system whereby the very best representatives from the teaching staffs and management boards will be available to us on the governing bodies. The fact is that new regional technical colleges will have to be built and there is not any point in having rigid rules in what is a fluid situation.
The amendment does not suggest any method of selection. I do not think that the House need have any fears that as far as the representatives of the two bodies are concerned, namely, the management boards and the teaching staffs, the best possible people will be available and selected for the governing body. We have in this the same mechanism as we have in the Act for the National Council for Educational Awards.
If it was accepted in principle by the Minister that it would be a good thing for these people to elect their own representatives on the governing body it would not be impossible to devise a system of election.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 7, between lines 12 and 13, to insert a new subsection as follows:
"(3) The following provisions shall have effect in relation to any appointment to the academic staff of the Institute:
(a) Whenever such an appointment is proposed, applications from duly qualified persons shall be invited by advertisement in media of wide circulation in Ireland and at least two other member countries of the European Economic Community.
(b) A board of assessors shall be appointed by the Governing Body, after consultation with the Academic Council, to examine the applications and recommend, having stated the grounds for their choice, the candidate whom they, by a majority, consider the most suitable for appointment.
(c) The board of assessors shall consist of five persons of whom not more than two may be members of the Institute and not less than two shall be nationals of member countries of the European Economic Community other than Ireland, and of whom the chairman shall be an Irish national who is not a member of the Institute.
(d) Should the board of assessors decide to indicate, in addition to their first preference, their second or later preferences for appointment to a particular post, they shall state the grounds on which they have determined their order of preference.
(e) The recommendation of a board of assessors shall be approved and given effect by the Governing Body unless a majority of at least two-thirds of the membership of the Governing Body shall decide otherwise, in which event another candidate regarded by the board of assessors as qualified for the appointment may be appointed".
This amendment is an attempt to give more explicit expression to one of the two major proposals I made last night on the Second Reading.
I would like first to draw attention to the fact that section 9 refers only to the appointment of officers and servants. It makes no specific reference to academic staff. It makes no distinction between staff of any kind, catering or teaching staff—a point which does lend some support to the impression that the model is a State body rather than an educational establishment. The amendment I am sponsoring does make the distinction between academic and other staff. It relates only to academic staff and is an attempt to lay down a statutory procedure for the appointment of academic staff, building into than procedure an assessment board system of a certain kind with external as well as internal representation and an independent chairman, and according a preponderant weight in regard to appointments to the decision of the assessment board.
I explained last night that I thought a statutory procedure of this kind was a necessary public interest safeguard which should apply not only to the National Institute for Higher Education in Limerick but to every university and third level institution. The purpose is to safeguard excellence and impartiality in appointments to senior teaching posts and this is a matter of vital importance to the public which is called upon to finance these third level institutions and which relies on them for the highest qualities in their teaching staff and the highest standards in their courses.
Assessment boards are commonplace in present appointment procedures but they are not always mandatory. The National University is a case in point, where recourse to assessment boards was not prescribed originally in the Act or charter but where this procedure is in fact used voluntarily because of its efficacy in examining objectively the merits and achievements of candidates. The Minister told us last evening that the assessment board procedure is also used in the NIHE. In neither case, however, in neither the National University at the moment nor in the NIHE, is it necessary to have recourse to such a procedure. In neither case does any special weight have to be given to the recommendations of an assessment board. In the case of the NUI, it has sometimes happened that the unanimous recommendation of an assessment board has been overturned by a small majority of the appointing body—in the case of the NUI, the Senate—as a result of, or following canvassing of the statutory recommending and appointing bodies by candidates who were not recommended as a first choice by the assessment board.
I am not saying that assessment boards should never be overturned but I do think that efforts to do so by canvassing should be discouraged. The proposal in this amendment is that it be discouraged by making a two-third majority of the appointing body necessary to overturn it. This would preserve the final authority of the appointing body, in the case of NIHE the governing body, and would enable it to correct an eccentric decision of an assessment board, should such occur, however rarely. Also in the amendment there is a provision that assessment boards should state clearly the reasons for their choice of candidate and for any preferences they may indicate.
I am putting forward this amendment because I regard an appointments procedure based on assessment boards as not just a desirable but a necessary element in the constitution of third level institutions of all kinds. I hope the Minister will be able to revise the initial negative reaction he expressed last night. He did say that assessment boards are common and are being used by NIHE but he would be the first to recognise the distinction between what is, which may not be permanent and could be changed, and what ought to be, which is what I am concerned about in this amendment. That is why I am suggesting that this sort of provision is an appropriate part of the constitutional framework of third level institutions.
The Minister was also teasing me a little by saying I was looking for more controls on the one hand and objecting to the controls he was imposing. I will have a chance, when we come to the section itself, to explain myself out of the apparent contradiction but the Minister would recognise that, in view of my background, the leopard would be unlikely to change his spots. Broad controls are desirable both in respect of finance and appointments but they should be as broad as possible. What I was objecting to were not the "laincisi" but the "mion laincisi". Amongst the broad controls which should apply to all third level institutions are controls such as I have put down amendments for, starting with this one.
I support this amendment and what Senator Whitaker has said in moving it. There should be a distinction between academic and non-academic appointments. One can safely leave the non-academic appointments without any statutory form of regulation. This suggestion is a move in the right direction with a view to the position vis-á-vis academic appointments being made clear and statutorily clear. I also take Senator Whitaker's point that similar legislation would be desirable in our other third level institutions, including the universities, because it is not very seemly to have appointments which, before they have been made, are discussed in the press and then the leak comes out that the report of the assessors is overturned. This has not done our profession any good. Senator Whitaker was correct in that regard. One could contemplate alternative arrangements to those put down but the real point of putting down these amendments is to ensure that the principle of an assessment board should be enshrined in the legislation. It would greatly strengthen the position of the institute. It may well be a question of just putting down in statutory terms what is already taking place. As we are considering a Bill which has detailed provisions and restrictions on provisions for such an institute the ideas contained in this amendment should be included statutorily.
I should have been quick off the mark a while ago and dissented volubly from the passage of section 5, the composition of the governing body. I do so now, belatedly. I should like to say one or two things on this amendment, with the spirit of which I am very much in agreement. I should like to reassure Members who are not academics that the system of appointment through boards of assessors, impeccably constituted, in the colleges of the National University of Ireland, and certainly in University College, Cork with which I am most familiar, is and has been the norm of appointment for the last decade. We should be in no doubt about that. I do not think any member should be under a misconception that somehow it is important in the case of the institute in Limerick to remedy a flagrant abuse which is rampant in the NUI. Not so. It is the very fact that it is the norm which has directed public attention to the rare exceptions. It is the norm to have boards of assessors making unanimous recommendations and to have their recommendations accepted by the statutory academic bodies who have the ultimate responsibility for making the appointments, namely, the academic council and its sub-committee, the faculty, the governing body and the senate of the National University.
There have been cases in which either the assessors disagreed or, most regrettably, a unanimous recommendation has been overturned by politicking at which academics are no mean practitioners when the occasion calls for it. It is the exception that has hit the press and the public headlines but I want to emphasise that it is very much the notorious case when the system goes wrong. The difficulty I have with this amendment is in its particulars. It by no means follows that a board of assessors is infallible, no matter how carefully one picks them, no matter how eminent and detached the members. It is possible that they can make a dubious decision. What does one do if one has a board of assessors of five—that is too inflexible; I do not see any particular mystique in the figure five; one might have occasion on a particular appointment to call on seven—and there is a minority recommendation? If there is a dissent on the part of the members what does one do? The bigger the minority the more dubious the strength of the recommendation. Suppose on a board of assessors of five one has three for a candidate and two against. That hardly carries the mark of the magisterium on the assessors board. In that case I submit that the responsibility lies then with the primary body who are concerned with appointments which is not the governing body but the academic council. That brings me to subsection (e) of the section which throws it back to the governing body with a very weighted majority if there is a disagreement among the board of assessors.
I suggest to Senator Whitaker that it would be much more suitable to have the decision reverted to the academic council rather than the governing body, particularly in the case of this governing body the composition of which I deplore as it stands. The other defect that I see through the section is that it makes no distinction between senior and junior appointments. I know Senator Whittaker has referred to senior appointments but it is questionable, to say the least, whether in the case of a junior lectureship it is really necessary to call on the heavy artillery, two externs from the member countries of the European Economic Community. A much better guarantee of integrity in appointments, of getting the right person for the right job, is to put one's trust in a good academic council. Unfortunately, this whole Bill is vitiated by a lack of trust in the academic side of the institute in Limerick.
I share Senator Whitaker's interest and concern that appointees to academic staff should be people of academic excellence and of the highest quality. I should like to hear him elaborate on what he means by calling for flexibility on the one hand in the internal affairs of the institute and setting out in these amendments what seems to me to be very detailed statutory proposals in respect of appointments to the academic staff. The amendments, as set out, are unnecessarily restrictive. My view would be to trust in the judgment and competence of the responsible people in the NIHE to continue to organise an appropriate appointments system. Senator Murphy has rightly pointed out that the reversal of the recommendation of a board of assessors is very much the exception. In the case of UCD, with which I am familiar, I can confirm that the vast majority of statutory appointments, where boards of assessors have an advisory role only, are upheld by the Senate of the NUI, which has the final say in appointments.
In practice therefore I suggest, that special weight is given to the recommendations of boards of assessors. It is true that in a very small number of cases where candidates feel they have not had a fair deal—that personal canvassing does occur. Frankly, I doubt if it can ever be completely eliminated.
I would like to commend Senator Whitaker and Senator West for bringing up this matter by putting it forward as an amendment, thereby putting into the record a procedure for recruitment which might serve as a guide to various institutions. I cannot remember any precedent for a statutory requirement of this kind for recruitment being built into any Bill. But I take the spirit of this amendment in that it is aiming at excellence and quality in third level institutions. Obviously this is almost entirely dependant on the quality of the staff. I would therefore say that I am pleased to see this discussed in the House.
In relation to the NUI, I would like to hear contributions from some of the Members of the House who are members of the NUI. Given that the Minister has a role to play in relation to the number of appointments and the conditions of appointment, these recruitment procedures are something that he can keep in mind in relation to exercising his other powers.
Another aspect which I thought might be restrictive is that in the future—I do not know if the Minister has recently been to Brussels—there might be an attempt in Brussels to harmonise methods of recruitment to third level institutions in order to encourage exchange and interchange between the various countries, and putting something like this in as a statutory requirement might remove some of the flexibility that might be required in the future.
As I stated on Second Stage, I appreciate the motivation behind the amendment proposed by Senator Whitaker. Nobody could criticise any Member of this House or any member of society in general for aiming at impartiality in appointments, excellence in appointments, and the total integrity of the people involved in making these appointments. Where I differ from the Senator and from his proposed amendment is in his anxiety to make it mandatory. I did outline yesterday what the present procedure in the ad hoc institute is. There is a five-man selection board consisting of two senior academic staff of the institute. Senator Murphy said that there was a lack of confidence in the academic staff. The academic staff are asked to appoint two senior people to the selection board and two people who are not members of the institute. A senior academic of another third-level institute is also on the board. The chairman is a member of the governing body not on the staff of the institute. As the system works at the moment on a voluntary basis, there seems to be the kind of mix in the group of assessors that Senator Whitaker is aiming at.
I know that there have been complaints about the system in our two major universities here and about instances where the assessors' recommendations have not been accepted. I am very glad to have it on the record of the House from Senator Murphy and from Senator Hillery that, in two institutes this is not true for the most part. It is true always that the exception commands headlines and attracts attention, whereas the ordinary, efficient functioning with integrity of the system very seldom claims public attention. The case as made by Senator Whitaker is a strong one and it is highly undesirable that a senior position should depend upon perhaps one vote in a large body, especially if that one vote is in favour of somebody who has not been recommended by independent assessors.
I cannot see how it is necessary to make this mandatory, as desired by Senator Whitaker in this amendment. This debate is a desirable one in this House. We could call the attention of the director and the governing body to the sentiments expressed in the House during our discussion of these amendments and we could invite the governing body to work a similar system. After all, the system that is being worked in the individual colleges of the National University of Ireland is a voluntary one and it is no less effective for being voluntary. What normally happens is that certain qualifications are required. The people who are assessing look at published work or research. The basic qualifications usually are equal. There are emphases here and there, strengths or weaknesses in the candidates. When one is at that level of appointment the infallibility even of the assessors is something that can be called in doubt.
Senator Murphy wondered whether it was desirable to have all the big batteries in action for the appointment of junior staff. There is also the consideration of whether existing junior staff who have performed well in the institute should have any extra consideration on account of that. Indeed, there is always the question of trade unions and their impact at that particular stage as well.
With regard to the distinction that is made between officers and servants—I am not particularly enamoured of the terminology—it was referred to by Senator Whitaker when he said that academic staff were not mentioned specifically at all in the Bill. That is so. Senator West said that he thought it might be desirable if a distinction were made in the Bill between academic staff and non-academic staff. At the moment the egalitarian thrust is in the other direction. But I would just like to say by way of explanation that the terminology derives from the 1930 Vocational Education Act and in that the term "officers and servants" covers academic staff.
Senator Murphy made an analysis of certain weaknesses in the system, what happens when the assessors are split four-three or three-two and so on. I suppose the general idea would be that the majority vote would prevail. While it may not be necessary to have such a system incorporated in the Bill, there is nothing in the Bill which would prohibit the governing body of the national institute from adopting this system of appointment and, as I have told the House, the system in operation as of now is very similar to the one suggested. Senator Mulcahy asked me was there any move in Brussels with regard to the equivalance or harmonisation of qualifications. I do not think there is. One of the complaints I have about the EEC is that there has been little movement in education. Some members of the Community deny the right of education to have any great movement, in that education itself it is not specifically mentioned in the Treaty of Rome.
I am very grateful for the opportunity I have had of having a point which I consider important debated here, and for the contributions that have been made in the debate. I remain unpersuaded that all this can be left to good sense and goodwill. I am sufficiently given to the idea of control to feel that, if one is setting up the constitutional framework, one should try to put what are the necessary elements into it. I have a slight worry that, as institutions go along, they might develop a tendency towards inbreeding. It is very important that independent outsiders should at all times be associated with the choice of senior staff and also, as a further amendment suggests, with the assessment of the degree standards. In putting forward the amendment I recognised very well, from a long experience, that I was exposing myself to the risk of criticism in detail. I got that. It is the principle I am concerned with.
I should like to end by saying that, I would be the last person, being the Chancellor of the National University, to create any impression that the system there is rotten. I did say that it was only sometimes—indeed, it is quite exceptional—that an assessment board's recommendations are overturned. I still think it is undesirable that they should be capable of being overturned by a very tiny majority. That was what I was trying to safeguard against by the provisions I put forward. This being the first amendment I have ever sponsored, I am reluctant to abandon it. I am prepared to see it shot down in flames.
Is the amendment withdrawn?
No. I have just said I am prepared to see it defeated.
On section 9, I said I would like an opportunity to try to rid myself of the accusation of self-contradiction. What I am concerned about is that the controls which are imposed in the public interest on an institution of this kind, and necessarily imposed, should at once be adequate and yet give the institution as much flexibility as possible. In this section dealing with appointments—and I was surprised that Senator Mulcahy made a virtue of it a moment ago arguing against the amendment I was proposing—the appointment of persons to the offices of the institute can be made by the institute only with the approval of the Minister given with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance.
I suggested on Second Stage, and I have suggested many times before, and so I think has Senator Mulcahy, that one of the basic prerogatives of any board or governing body should be freedom to decide how many persons are needed to discharge its obligations and what kind of persons they should be. In other words, they should be able to do that, within whatever block grant they are given by the Higher Education Authority, without having to seek the approval of two Ministers.
I should like to make it clear that I have no objection whatever—I have also said this before—to boards having to consult with the Department of the Public Service about rates of pay and conditions of service. That is essential to avoid leapfrogging and other evil consequences in a public service in which pay is such an important matter. I would have liked to see a system in which the governing body was free to decide how many people it needed and what grades of people without having in each case to get the approval of Ministers. It may be said: "Well should there not be some control even over such matters and even with a financial control in the background?" I would agree that there should be some control, but I would like it to take the form in all State bodies and in institutions of this kind, of a periodic post factum review of the staffing of the body concerned on behalf of the Department of the Public Service, to assess whether or not it was excessive in relation to the functions of the institution. That kind of post factum review would preserve the essentials of public control while at the same time leaving the institution free to initiate appointments and to adjust or relate these appointments to its special needs.
Since Senator Whitaker referred to me, I admit that I made a virtue of something I do not necessarily agree with. I have raised this matter often enough in the House for nearly every Minister who has brought a Bill before the House to know now what my stand is. I agree entirely with Senator Whitaker in relation to appointments in these institutions. The recent report published by the National Economic and Social Council about enterprise in the public service points out some of the difficulties that arise as a result of over-control. I stand by that. I certainly made a virtue of it in relation to the other issue because I saw it was a way out.
I should like to support the points made by Senator Whitaker. It could well have the effect of delaying appointments or the filling of important posts for periods of unreasonable length which could well hold up the proper development of the institute.
For the usual bureaucratic reasoning, the flow of events which must take its course if an academic technological institution of this type is to develop, the normal procedures, could be delayed unreasonably because of the necessity to obtain the assent of the Minister for Education and the Minister for Finance. It would have been better to trust the institute to make the right appointments and, as Senator Whitaker suggested, periodically review staffing levels but not to require a specific approval for every single post and every appointment that will be made.
Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil aon rud le rá agam mar gheall ar seo. I find the idea of review post factum an interesting one. If it were, say, a triennial review, I could imagine an institute rushing to get as many names on the book before the triennial review would come up in the hope that the people who were doing the reviewing would not by ukase or by retention of funds reduce the number on the staff. There is a particularly dangerous concept in this in that it could disturb the staffing arrangement even more than the control, mild as it is, written into the section. That, of course, is arguing on the basis that you might have people anxious to make appointments which could not be justified in the public forum.
In reply to the Minister, I am assuming, as he also assumes, that you have a responsible board. I cannot think that any responsible board would want to subject themselves to the humiliation of being found out in inflating their staff, if there was a periodic review by the Department of the Public Service. I had in mind that review would stand in the background as a safeguard and that they would normally act responsibly. The purpose of the review would be to require them to set things right if anything were found amiss, particularly if an excess were discovered in regard to the complement of staff or to the grading structure.
Finally, in regard to what I was proposing about the prerogative of a board, the Government have already yielded the principle of this argument in certain cases. They have yielded it in the cases of the National Board of Science and Technology, An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta and Bord na Gaeilge. Having been directly associated with the representations of one of these bodies, I am well aware of the difficulty, and Senator Mulcahy will also be aware of the difficulty we had in persuading the Government to adopt this enlightened approach.
It might be as well briefly to state that the national institute is a designated institution for the purposes of the Act of the Higher Education Authority. The Higher Education Authority received submissions from the institute as to staffing. All these are gone into in minute detail when the Higher Education Authority are preparing the budget for the institute. If the Members of the Seanad study the situation as it developed in the institute, they will see that the system obtaining before and since designation has been very effective and that there has been a generous treatment of staffing in the national institute.
There are two amendments. Amendment No. 12 is consequential on amendment No. 11, so amendments Nos. 11 and 12 will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 9, before section 12, to insert a new section as follows:
"12.—The Governing Body shall, following consultation with the Academic Council, appoint external advisors from member countries of the European Economic Community other than Ireland to report at least once every three years on the adequacy of the standard required for each degree level and diploma level courses of the Institute having regard to standards for corresponding degrees and diplomas in their respective countries."
Again, by way of this amendment I am raising a point of principle which is relevant not only to NIHE but to universities and other third level institutions. As things stand under this Bill, the standard of degree and diploma courses followed in the NIHE will be determined by the National Council for Educational Award. I said last night that I had respect for and faith in the NCEA. I am, however, dealing with what I consider to be a principle of fundamental importance from the point of view of safeguarding the public interest, namely the principle that the constitution of third level bodies, the Act providing for their establishment, should provide for a check on the adequacy of the standards of the qualifications they offer or for which their courses prepare. I mean adequacy not only by domestic comparisons but, now that we are a member of the Community, by reference to the standard of corresponding qualifications elsewhere and particularly in the EEC.
When one turns to the Act setting up the National Council for Educational Awards, one finds that the only reference to external standards is in section 9 (4) of the Act. This provides that a board of studies in making recommendations to the NCEA shall have regard to:
(g) ...any corresponding standard required by a university in the State and shall not recommend a standard which is lower than such standard (if any).
This leaves a university in the State as the only point of reference. Attention need not be paid under the statute to standards elsewhere in the EEC. The NUI is obliged by its charter to have external examiners in connection with each of its degrees and the NUI is a university in the State. However, the NUI is to be disbanded in due course and new independant universities are to be set up under fresh legislation. That is why it is important that, at this juncture, we should not lose sight of a requirement which was thought to be necessary and desirable 72 years ago when the NUI was founded. Therefore, I propose an amendment which requires at least periodic consultation, that is every three years at least, with appropriate external advisers on the adequacy of the standards required in the degree level and diploma level courses of NIHE.
Last night the Minister said this kind of amendment strictly speaking, should be to the NCEA Act itself. I submit that the principle is of general relevance to third level institutions. The Minister suid that this Bill will be a model for the constitution of other third level institutions and, faute de mieux, I have had to phrase the amendment so as to apply to the standard of courses rather than to the degrees and diplomas themselves
Amendment No. 12, which is associated with amendment No. 11, is designed to bring to public attention, via the report to the Minister, the reassurance as to standards which would be provided by the reports of external advisers, or any deficiency to which they may draw attention in their reports and which needs correction.
Of the two points of principle which Senator Whitaker made on the Second Stage and by putting down amendments at this Stage, I believe this is the more important of the two. We have a well worked out system of appointment by boards of assessors, whether voluntary or not. I would like to concur with what other speakers said in that on the whole it works extremely well. There are rare cases where things can go wrong, but they are very rare indeed in any third level institution.
From what the Minister said on the previous amendment, the system working in the NIHE is a very comparable system. But here we are in rather a different situation because the NIHE is a body which has no comparable institution in terms of the content of courses and standards with any other body in the State. There is one institution in this country with which it might very well be compared. It would be greatly in its favour if it had a link with the Ulster Polytechnic. In terms of domestic arrangements entirely in the State, the NIHE is a completely new concept. It is absolutely essential that some very definite method is statutorily outlined to ensure that the standards, the contents of the courses, the actual degree levels, diploma levels and so on, are monitored on a regular basis and compared with institutions outside the country, because, as I said, there are not any institutions within the Republic with which proper comparisons can be made. This amendment is more important than amendment No. 10. The only body in Ireland with which this institution can be compared is the Ulster Polytechnic.
I ask the Minister to encourage the estalishment of cordial relations between the two bodies, because the Ulster Polytechnic is much further along the line of development. It is much bigger. It has been established for some time and is a very formidable institution. The little I knew about it is in its favour. It is a very powerful body and has already established a reputation in the technological area second to none in the British Isles. There could be benefit to both institutions if there was a genuine bridge built between the Ulster Polytechnic and the NIHE. The point we are making is that there should be put in statutory form a provision to ensure that standards are monitored regularly by people from outside the Republic. That is very important, and I would like to see the Minister acting on this amendment.
This amendment would be more appropriate to the NCEA Bill. If it had been discussed last year when that Bill was going through, I would have had some sympathy with including something like that. I see this as a dangerous amendment referring to the institution, given that the NCEA exist. The NCEA have the function of establishing the standards for degrees. I could imagine a situation arising, if an amendment like this were embodied in the Bill, where another body would come into existence which could take a view on the standards of degree which might come into conflict with the NCEA. I could see institutional problems arising. What matters here is that the degrees, as awarded by the NCEA, should be reviewed by them through the procedures and systems laid down by them. As the Minister told us, and as I know from being involved in setting up the system, 40 or more external examiners are members of the examining boards of the NCEA. This should ensure that the levels and quality of standards of degree levels which Senators want to achieve will be achieved through the existing system. If that amendment had been included in the NCEA Bill, I would have said fair enough, it is spelling it out; but it is completely inappropriate to this Bill.
Senator West referred to the Ulster Polytechnic. I would be very pleased to go along with him on that and say there should be connections between the NIHEs here and the Ulster Polytechnic.
I do not wish to interrupt the Senator, but that would be more appropriate on the section. We are discussing two amendments.
We are discussing standards. Senator West brought it up in the context of——
He was discussing——
With respect, he discussed it in reference to standards and I could not let the occasion pass without reminding everybody that Bolton Street College of Technology, Kevin Street, Rathmines and the College of Marketing in Parnell Square are all in this situation. We are not just referring to the Ulster Polytechnic as being the only other institution of that kind in the country.
There is a great deal of merit in Senator Whitaker's amendment. If it were accepted, the fact that we would have external advisers from countries of the European Economic Community keeping in touch with NIHE, Limerick, would go a long way towards ensuring that our institutes were developing on the same standard as was being attained in the other countries of Europe. Seeing that we are in the one economic bloc any measure that can be taken to ensure that we progress apace with our competitors would be well advised. The provision suggested by Senator Whitaker would ensure that the degrees from the NIHE and diplomas, certificates and so on, would be recognised by the European countries as being up to their own high level because of the fact that there was this link between them.
I know the Minister has said several times, and I do not for one minute doubt it, that it is his cherished aim that the standards in the NIHE, Limerick, should be of the highest. I suggest that this amendment by Senator Whitaker goes a long way to ensuring this.
While I have sympathy with the proposers of this amendment, we should realise that its acceptance would have very serious implications. What is before us in this Bill is a particular institute for a particular place. If this principle were accepted we would have to incorporate such a condition in the legislation concerning further institutes of the same type. Furthermore, we would have to have another look at our universities, National and Trinity as they are at the moment, because such conditions would be applicable in their case also if we were to accept the principle proposed here.
On the point made by Senator Cranitch, the obvious answer is "Why not?" Already in the 72-year old charter of the National University there is the principle laid down of external assessment. There is no reason whatsoever to object to the extension of this principle. I laid out my objections to the amendments in section 9. I am glad to say that I fully support these two amendments in the names of Senators Whitaker and West. I do so because it is very important to make provision for the proper monitoring of standards, especially in the case of an institution which is in a new and unfamiliar area. After all, the whole point of the Limerick institute is that it should technologically excel. If we do not have people to monitor its excellence that will be a great drawback.
Since everybody has been talking about the Ulster college, the Ulster Polytechnic. I am sure the Chair will not rule me out of order if I make the point that there is a very good example of the monitoring of standards. I happen to be an external examiner for the Ulster Polytechnic, in the Eigse section thereof, so to speak. What is quite remarkable about their system of external examination is that it does not proceed on the rather casual basis on which external examination goes in the NUI, which is largely because of the way in which student numbers have outstripped staff and so on. In the Ulster Polytechnic there is a tight and rigorous system of external examination which might well be emulated.
For the information of Members, the examiners meet as a team, they visit the place twice a year, they stay there two or three days on the run, they have internal discussions with the internal staff, they interview quite a number of students and it is indeed a most admirable system of monitoring which might well——
It is done under the procedure of the CNAA in the UK. That is the point I am making.
That may be. The point the Senator made was that we should have dealt with the matter in the other Bill, but we have not.
We have an institution to do what the Senator is saying is done in the UK.
I was simply offering the benefit of my experience.
Senator Whitaker started off by saying that he had the utmost confidence in the National Council for Educational Awards. When it was established the objective was that its assessments and the awards made under its aegis should command the respect of third level institutions in and outside the country. Right through the debate in the Dáil and here in this House this was emphasised by me and by other speakers. Personally I feel that if the standards of international calibre and acceptance were not high the whole exercise of setting it up would be a failure, a disaster, a waste of time and a waste of the money of the citizens of this country.
The statute charges the NCEA with this responsibility, that when they assess a course, the equipment and resources, human and otherwise, available for that course and for the students should all be vetted carefully and examined. If the council comes to the conclusion that the human or the physical resources are not adequate, then it has the statutory duty to refuse to recognise the course and to recommend additional resources, both human and physical. In discharging that duty as of now it is calling on people outside and in the State who are involved in third level education, including the Ulster Polytechnic.
It is a particular pleasure for me to hear Senator Murphy lauding that institute and its standards. It is in the same country, and I can assure the House that whatever association can be developed to our mutual advantage, will be developed in the context of the national institutes and of the National Council for Educational Awards. It is in the committees set up under the National Council for Educational Awards that the standards are laid down. It is there that the best input can be made by people, whether they are from our own third level institutes or from institutes in other countries.
Senator Whitaker said that section 9 (4) (g) of the National Council for Educational Awards Act, 1978, was the only one where reference was made to standards. I would just like to read out the section for the House. It states:
Provided that a board of studies in making recommendations under this subsection in relation to the standard required or proposed for admission to a course for, or for the conferring, granting or giving of a degree, diploma, certificate or other educational award, shall have regard to any corresponding standard required by a university in the State and shall not recommend a standard which is lower than such a standard (if any).
In the course of our debate we had an argument as to what that meant and some well-meaning contributions thought that it meant that the university ethos would be imposed on the National Institute for Higher Education, in Limerick. This was not the intention and, in fact, is not the effect of what we are trying to say here. Universities are internationally recognised institutions and it was by way of analogy that we were speaking of standards in the National Institute for Higher Education. Senator Whitaker made the point that the National University of Ireland utilised extern assessors and that the National University of Ireland will go out of existence and you will aid me in removing it in the very near future.
A conscionable time dying.
It will be re-invigorated by the Lee, the Liffey and by the Corrib. It may have escaped the notice of Senator Whitaker that there is a reference in section 3 (2) (b) also. The council may:
(b) either recognise a degree, diploma, certificate or other educational award conferred, granted or given to persons who successfully complete such courses, or approve of such course of study or instruction, if it is satisfied that the standard in general of both—
(i) a particular course of study or instruction conducted by, or provided under the supervision of, an institution to which this Act applies and relating to professional, scientific or vocational education (which course may be concerned with liberal arts), and
(ii) the examinations or other tests of knowledge or ability conducted in relation to such course,
corresponds or is analogous to any relevant standards for the time being in force in universities,
We are not specific. We are using in the Act the word "university" which, of course, refers to a university as a concept, whether it be in Ireland, Britain, the United States, Europe or any place else. In the context of standards, we have used the concept of the university to see to it that we are aiming at something that is recognised internationally.
Senator West made the strong point about the Ulster Polytechnic. I have referred to it and how it will be, I do not want to use the word "used" because it is slightly obscene, but how we will benefit and how we hope the Ulster Polytcehnic will benefit by closer links in this field. Of course, Bolton Street and Kevin Street, the College of Commerce and the various other colleges in Dublin, are cases of excellence with their own input in the technological field. Hopefully, also, when we have the new National Institute for Higher Education in Dublin under way, there will be considerable mutual benefit arising from their being near each other as well.
I should like to say, in reference to what Senator O'Brien said, that it so happens—without its being written into either the ad hoc regulations for running the National Institute, Limerick, or without our having to put it into this Bill—that there is in Limerick and there will be in Dublin, I am sure, a consciuosness of how important it is to keep in touch with institutions on the Continent of Europe with a view to seeing what is going on there and also in the United States and Britain, and with a view to keeping up the kind of standard that obtains there. I did mention yesterday Eindhoven, which I visited myself, and which has, on a personal level, strong connections with the National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick. I chose Eindhoven because it is only 20 years-plus in existence, rather than Delft which was the mother institute, because being new, we might be able to learn more from Eindhoven than from the longer established Delft. The people of Delft would prefer that one visited Delft—mothers are sometimes jealous of their daughters. I think I have covered most of the points that were made.
What about the CNAA?
Taking the point that Senator Murphy made that in the realm of Eigse he has inside experience of the high standards and rigorous assessment in the Ulster Polytechnic, it is, I suppose, significant to mention what Senator Mulcahy mentioned, that it is the CNAA which is the corresponding body to our NCEA that operates in the Ulster Polytcehnic. In fact, there are some strengths in our National Council for Educational Awards, as outlined by statute now, which the CNAA have not got but would like to have.
At least this debate emphasises the importance we attach unanimously to there being very strict standards, very high standards, for degrees and diplomas in all institutions which we finance out of public funds. I would hope that the Minister's disposition to rely on the national authority, whatever it might be, always to do the right thing, with which I go a long way, will not be generalised by him so as to free the new universities when he sets them up from any monitoring by way of external examiners. I would emphasise the importance of this safeguard which has been present, as has been said by me and others, in the case of NUI for 72 years. It has proved its worth over that time and has at times proved somewhat of an embarrassment in certain faculties but has brought the national institution very quickly to set matters right. The experience of a responsible institution such as the NUI would suggest that it is desirable to have some public safeguard in legislation dealing with higher level institutions so as to ensure not only that you have an external check on the standards but that you have external support for efforts which the native institution will always be seeking to make to improve things.
Even in the financial field we find that it is a great help to the country to have a critical body like the World Bank or the European Investment Bank, the EEC or the IMF standing outside objectively to advise us on what needs to be done. I think the Minister would agree that Governments often find this a great help in strengthening their own resolve to steer a true course at home.
Is the amendment withdrawn?
I have to leave it on the same basis as the last amendment, I am afraid.
Section 15 says:
The Institute may charge fees or admission charges of such amounts as may from time to time be determined by the Governing Body with the approval of the Minister for courses, lectures, examinations, exhibitions or any other event held at or by the Institute.
Why is the approval of the Minister required for the governing body determining of fees and admission charges for courses, lectures, examinations, exhibitions or any other events. I do not think this is too absurd a case to hypothesise. Say there is an exhibition of some kind at the institute and the governing body or its servants determine the particular admission charge. The Minister, in whatever form he is represented in the Department, might sit for hours agonising about whether the charge should be £1 or £1.20. This might be a ridiculous extreme, but I think this is a ridiculous section. It is ministerial interference gone mad.
This is the very phrase to which Senator Alexis FitzGerald took exception: "with the approval of the Minister". It would appear from time to time that, in order to ensure that the concept behind any Bill never develops beyond the rigid controls put on it at the time it was introduced, the draftsmen as often as possible insert the phrase "with the approval of the Minister" thereby restricting any development that is natural to a living body. This phrase "with the approval of the Minister" is constantly inserted in order to proscribe this kind of development. It occurs all too frequently in Bills. On every possible occasion on which it can safely be done without, it should be deleted.
I do not think there is anything sinister in the section. The result of its exclusion, although I will admit it is somewhat far-fetched, would be that there would be no control over the level of fees that could be charged by the institute. Students could be subjected to extremely high fees. I am not saying that that is a possibility. It is not a possibility within the kind of society we live in as of now. The idea was that in the funding of the institute the Minister should have a function in regard to the amount of money which a student could be charged. This is because there is a possibility, perhaps a remote one, of fees being put out of the reach of all students by a governing body which was perhaps too conservative in its financing. This may seem to be a remote possibility. It may have occurred only to the people putting the Bill together.
May I suggest that remote is not the mot juste; fantasy is the mot juste—that a governing body might act like this, a governing body which is fashioned after the Minister's own image and likeness and whose members, one might say, constitute a ministerial majority? Surely the references to fees, admission charges and so on do not substantially amount to the general question of funding which is referred to in other parts of the Bill. I just think it plain silly.
I move amendment No. 14:
In paragraph 3 (1), page 10, line 35, before "may be removed" to insert "if appointed in accordance with the provisions of section 5 (5)".
This amendment was put down by Senator Alexis FitzGerald mainly with a view to establishing clearly whether this Schedule applies to people who in the first instance became members of the governing body without having to have the sanction of the Minister.
The effect of the amendment, it seems, is to confine the powers of the Government to the nine members of the governing body appointed on the recommendation of the Minister. On the principle that all of the 23 ordinary members are appointed by the Government it would seem to me to be completely logical that the provision should cover all 23 ordinary members.
I move amendment No. 15:
In paragraph 6 (a) (i), page 11, line 20, before "for" to insert "with his consent".
This amendment refers to a person being excluded from the governing body if he is nominated for Seanad Éireann or Dáil Éireann election. Senator FitzGerald was anxious to insert the words "with his consent". I suppose it rarely happens that a person is nominated without his consent, but it is a possibility. If a person is nominated for one of these bodies without his consent he is thereby rendered ineligible to remain on the governing body. To ensure that that could not happen, it would be wise to insert the words "with his consent".
It is a very neat little legal point. I would just say that the draftsman is satisfied with the existing format. All the Acts that contain this provision are formulated or expressed in the exact same words. I know that it is covering every eventuality. I suppose it is possible to nominate somebody for election without his consent. I know that for more will inevitably want to consent than be nominated without their consent. The draftman's judgment is that the present wording of the Bill is adequate to cover all eventualities.
I should like to say how pleased I was to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. It is a most important Bill and what was said in the House may be as important in ways as what is said in the Bill. At the same time there is one aspect of the debates which I want to draw attention. I am quite concerned, particularly in relation to the National Institute for Higher Education in Limerick, about the standing of the Irish language and the Bill does not contain anything which specifically lays on that institute a particular responsibility for the development of the Irish language. In the past a good number of the people who have been employed there were non-nationals. At this point of passing a Bill as important as this in relation to that institution, the clarion call should go out that the national policy in relation to the Irish language must be followed there as well as elsewhere.
Senator Mulcahy referred to this on Second Stage and I did intend to comment on it. I would like to assure the House that since taking office I asked an tUdarás um Ard Oideachas to address itself to this problem, not specifically in the National Institute for Higher Education in Limerick but in the third level area generally. In certain areas I managed to strengthen staff so that there would be a better ratio in teacher training colleges, for example, in order to strengthen the language there. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil na hinstitiúidí go léir báúil leis an Ghaeilge. Tá a fhios acu sin cén polasaí atá agamsa agus ag an Rialtas agus is féidir liom a rá nach bhfuilimse chun faillí a dhéanamh sa ghné tábhachtach sin oideachas. Cuirfidh mé ar shúilí mo dhaoine atá i gceannas ar na hinstitiúidí agus ar na coláistí reigiúnacha go bhfuil dualgas faoi leith orthu sa méid seo. Tá áthas orm go raibh cruinniú—is dóigh liom go raibh an Seanadóir O Maolcatha i láthair ag an gcruinniú—sa Cheathrú Rua le deanaí. Na daoine a bhí ag an gcruinniú sin daoine iad a bhí ag gníomhú sa teicneolaíocht san oideachas sa tír seo. Fuair me tuarascáil ón gcruinniú sin i dtaobh na deachrachtaí a bhí ag baint leis an oideachas teicneolaíochta as Gaeilge. Ní raibh siad ag pléigh ceist na Gaeilge chor ar bith ach bhí siad ag pléigh na deacrachtaí agus na fadhbanna atá ag baint leis an ghné seo den oideachas as Gaeilge an t-am go léir agus, de réir mar a chuala mé ar aon chaoi, d'éirigh go han mhaith leis an seiminéar.