Adjournment Matter. - Waterford Educational Facilities.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I think it is her first time here since her accession to office and it is only appropriate that I should express publicly my congratulations to her and wish her well in what is certainly an extremely onerous task, but one for which I know she is well suited and has enthusiasm which she will bring to bear on it.

I am pleased that my motion on the Adjournment was allowed here this evening. It is one which is of great concern to people in Waterford and to people in the south east region generally. There is a very strong view, which is borne out by the facts, that we are falling behind in the expansion and development of third level courses in Waterford city and in the south east region in general. It is with a view to highlighting that and expressing the perceived needs in the region that I raise the matter on the Adjournment. I look forward to the comments of the Minister in reply. I think it is necessary at the outset to give some historical backdrop to the position of third level education in Waterford and in the south east.

In the development in establishing the Queens Colleges in the mid 19th century Waterford was ignored and bypassed and no such development of a college took place in Waterford city or in the region. The next major deployment and establishment in educational infrastructure was the establishment of teacher training colleges. Waterford again found itself bypassed and ignored in this development. I should like to put it on record that the De La Salle Brothers maintained a teacher training facility but it was not in the same league, in terms of funding and strength, as Dublin which had St. Patrick's for male students at the time and Carysfort for female students, Sligo had St. Ursula's and Limerick had Mary Immaculate College.

The next major infrastructural development concerned the establishment of RTCs and NIHEs. The third time round Waterford found itself advantaged and it featured because it was given a regional technical college. The next major development was the establishment of a variety of research style institutions. Again Waterford was overlooked. As examples of these institutions I cite the Agricultural Institute which is established in Dublin, the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards in Dublin, the microelectronics centre in Cork and the innovation centre in Limerick and, sadly, Waterford watched itself once more being bypassed. I and the people of Waterford contend — and this is the reason I asked for this motion on the Adjournment — that Waterford city and its natural environment, the south east region, is the natural capital of the region and that we must start looking at this country in terms of decentralisation and regionalisation. Waterford has not got its fair share of higher education resources or information based services. There is a very strong feeling about that in Waterford and one which I want to give voice to here this evening.

I would like to pay tribute to the work being done in Waterford Regional Technical College, to its principal, Mr. Ray Griffin, its staff and its students. This college is unique in many respects when compared with the country's other RTCs. It has the highest enrolment of higher education students. It has the largest proportion of its student body from the national catchment as opposed to a purely local or regional catchment area. Therefore, as an educational institution, it has clearly and manifestly a growing national appeal. The contention is that it is well poised and well geared up to take off as a university style institute and to have an expansion of its degrees, diplomas and certificates.

It got an entitlement to develop degree courses only in 1980 and the growth has been exceptional and, indeed, rapid. The courses that have come on stream with degree status have been eagerly embraced by students from Waterford, the region, and as I have already explained, from outside the region. There are now six degree courses. There is a building management degree course, commercial computer applications degree course, industrial computer applications degree course, public administration degree, information technology degree and a business studies degree. Thankfully, at long last, a Batchelor of Arts in music is starting in the college in September. Quite clearly in seven years there have been seven degree courses put on stream. They have been very well received, indeed, and the courses are very well subscribed to.

What we need, and what I am looking for from the Department and from the Minister, of course, is an aggressive development policy, the sort of policy that will bring industrial growth and, therefore jobs in its wake. I take it that the Government are committed to expansion, growth and development in addition to costs and cost cutting. That is why I want to see that kind of policy clearly annunciated and demonstrated in the facilities which are given to the regions and to Waterford in particular. In a few minutes I will refer to the Bannon report which was commissioned by the chamber of commerce. I see the Minister nodding in a knowing fashion because I attempted to raise this matter on the Adjournment at an earlier stage and obviously she expected me to say something about the Bannon report and, of course, I will.


No, I will not because I am quite sure that the Minister's reply will deal in depth with it although it is a privately commissioned report. I know that the Minister is very aware of it and certainly the chamber of commerce in Waterford has made a tremendous contribution to the life of Waterford, to debate and to development in commissioning and bringing forward and in striving actively with might and main to further the thrust of this report.

I will conclude on the matter of the regional college. It is there. It is our institution. It is successful and it is growing I do not have a doctrinaire approach as to how I see the third level facilities of Waterford and the region expanding. There is a school of thought that says we must have an NIHE. There is another school of thought which say that all expansion and development should proceed from the regional technical college and should span out from that. There is probably a third way to which I would probably be inclined to myself; that there could be some sort of complementary role between two institutions and that competition and interaction between the two could perhaps be the best possible way forward.

Waterford certainly needs a research resource similar to the innovation centre in Limerick or the microelectronics centre in Cork. It is important not only to look at this in terms of either the RTC or the NIHE, but to consider that type of research resource. Since the regional college has demonstrated a capacity to provide higher education at degree, diploma and certificate level, it has of necessity had to develop in non-capital intensive faculties and that has been a certain handicap. But it is anxious to develop in wealth creating technologies, for instance, in manufacturing systems in electronics, in food technology, and all of these technologies have an industrial wealth creating edge. It must be remembered that a centre such as this would attract a high calibre staff.

That again would act as a stimulus to the community and, indeed, to technological development. Again I see such a research facility acting in partnership with the Waterford Regional Technical College in the use of resources and the development of projects.

A matters stand, many bright young people from Waterford and the south east region leave the area for third level degree education, and they do so unwillingly. Their families see them leave unwillingly and the net result of that is that, by and large, they do not come back into the region to use their third level education. An expansion of degree and post graduate facilities would reduce pressure on existing institutions. We know all about that. It would also meet the need for additional places coming from Waterford and nationally. Waterford as a region would become more appealing and the graduates, as I have said, would be encouraged to come back and work locally.

The whole problem really has been thrown into relief by virtue of this latest commissioning of the Bannon report — Dr. Michael Bannon — and indeed great praise is due to him. He was appointed in May 1985 to prepare a study on the third level education needs of the region. This Bannon report was presented to the chamber of commerce on 21 October 1985. Indeed, that chamber of commerce is celebrating its bicentennial and there has been a year of tremendous activity, and a high profile year. I hope my small contribution in the Seanad highlighting the Bannon report and the wishes and needs of Waterford for increased third level activity will be some small contribution towards the bicentennial year.

The evidence which was thrown up in the Bannon report suggested that Waterford had slumped in the league of cities in the country, that it had gone from fourth place in the league to fifth; indeed, that if matters were not arrested and if something radical was not done to inject new stimulus and life into the city, it was fast approaching a situation where it could be reduced to seventh position. Our well educated youth to whom I have referred already were being lost to other regions. Those two points, together with the evidence that regional centres lacking in higher educational and research opportunities had been increasingly bypassed by new industries and services, would indicate that the region is in danger of losing out on the projected national growth.

It is not just merely a question of degrees; it is not a question of status seeking or of wishing to beef up resources at all costs. It is directly related to the infrastructure, industry, growth and employment. It is crucial to the programme of decentralisation which the Government have actually endorsed and embarked upon. Sadly again, in Waterford when the announcement was made recently about a start on the decentralisation programme, there was really a certain degree of disappointment that Waterford was yet again omitted in this first attempt by the Government to institute some sort of decentralisation. I appeal to the Minister in the context of what I have said to indicate in her reply that she is aware of the importance of the regions, of regional development and of seeing this monster that Dublin has become, and the whole surrounding areas, taken care of and in some ways amputated. Dublin will, in fact, be enhanced if the regions are not allowed to become strangled. If they are allowed to grow, we will not have this sort of lobsided development which we all see happening and on which we all want to see some sort of rationale brought to bear.

The Bannon report and, indeed, the chamber of commerce concluded that the south east region has this pressing and immediate need for a comprehensive range of degree and post graduate courses. The timescale for something like this, as one is aware particularly with the national financial difficulties, is somewhat protracted and there definitely has to be some sort of phased approach initiated. I would like to see an active campaign launched to attract preferential resources to Waterford. We are not seeking more money or more resources because we are aware of the national constraints, but we want to see a fairer share of the resources coming in the direction of Waterford. I do not think that is too much to ask for and it has been clearly manifested that Waterford needs and could do with that.

I have referred to Waterford and to the south-east region in the course of this contribution. It is important to remember that the south-east region is of major national importance because of its agricultural, industrial and tourism potential. It is an important region for most forms of service activities with a highly developed urban hierarchy descending from what is its natural regional centre, Waterford. It has a long history of service provision and trade, but the whole job areas has been declining both in the service sector and as traditional industries have gone into decline. It has been bypassed by new high technology and electronic firms who have been located elsewhere.

The provision of enhanced educational facilities will attract and will act as a magnet to the kind of industry and industrial type of promotion which I have spoken of already. I do not want to see our bright, young school leavers becoming educated outside the region and failing to return to the region, and see the region consequently go into decline. There is so much that is vibrant, healthy, energetic, that is good, that needs to be harnessed and that needs to have provision made for it. I look with confidence to the Minister for a very positive response to the points I have made.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I want, first of all, to express to you as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad my delight at being back in the Seanad even though it is not in the room to which I was accustomed or maybe one should say the style to which one was accustomed. Senators have adapted very well to this room and I hope, a Chathaoirligh, that in your tenure of office you will be moving back again to your normal habitat. I congratulate you on being appointed Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and I recall with delight the two terms which I spent in it and, indeed, the friendship which was accorded to me always and which has always existed between Senator Catherine Bulbulia and myself. I wish to thank her for giving me an opportunity to come here tonight and respond first of all to the good wishes which she expressed to me and then to the debate. I should like also, with your permission, to welcome the two Senators on my left who are both new Members of the House and to wish them long years of participation.

Senator Bulbulia quite rightly is using the occasion of this Seanad debate to make her case for her home patch, Waterford. I took the occasion many times myself in the Seanad to do the very same thing. It is a very useful forum for highlighting issues which may seem sometimes to people to be parochial but which are not so in the widest possible sense because the Senator has slotted her concern for Waterford into an overall national picture. That, of course, makes it of national importance as well. I very much take the point which the Senator made in the course of the debate. I noticed earlier on that she was talking about regionalisation and decentralisation and I am very glad that the Government took, as a priority, the return to a policy of rationalisation, one which had been abandoned some years ago. I always felt it was a mistake for any Government to abandon it because it has benefits far beyond the financial benefits which will accrue, for example, the participation as the Senator said of the people of the region in their own development, and the people of the community.

The policy of decentralisation which we have embarked upon has many stages which the Senator recognised and, hopefully, it will move on in every increasing momentum as the parameters become very clear to the people who are interested in working within the decentralisation programme. The Senator cited the various bodies which Waterford did not have over the past number of years. I know that she will be working to highlight these at every opportunity. I would like to say without any acrimony at all that whatever happened or did not happen to Waterford in the past four years would not have been in my control or indeed within my Government's control.

Like the Senator I am very committed to the system of regional colleges. I started my public political life as chairman of a board of management in Athlone RTC. I became very quickly attuned to the massive potential for development within a regional college. We very often forget the brief with which they were set up. One of their main briefs was that they would serve the needs of a region. That was one of their overriding tenets and of course all of them have gone on to do that in a very dramatic fashion. Regional colleges have been the success stories of the seventies in Irish education. Each college was to serve a designated region and we have Carlow and Waterford in the south east region. Along the way both colleges have been enlarged on different occasions to cater for the increased demand for student places and for various courses.

Waterford and Carlow have participated. The people of the region have shown their faith and their wish to be involved in the regional colleges quite dramatically because between 1979, 1980 and 1986-87 full time student numbers in Carlow increased from 550 to 1,545, an increase of 181 per cent. In the same period, comparably speaking, the number in Waterford increased from 784 to 1,740, an increase of 122 per cent. Indeed, the community responded to them. The Department of Education responded very gladly and enthusiastically to the needs of the region.

The Senator talked about the Bannon report. I know something about it because I met Professor Bannon. When I was Opposition spokesperson on education he came into the Dáil to meet me and to tell me what he was doing. We had a very useful discussion on it. He then very generously sent me a copy of the report when it came out and subsequently I met him again. I also met the Waterford Chamber of Commerce last year again in my role as Opposition spokesperson on education. At that time they had a very fine plan for the siting and development of a NIHE type college.

Subsequently I met them again but on an informal basis in Waterford when I was there for the CSPA annual general meeting. It was not a structured meeting in that I did not know I was to meet them. I was very glad to talk to them and they told me they had not quite scaled down their expectations but were now talking about what the Senator spoke about tonight, an elaboration of the range of facilities and also an extension of the degree courses at Waterford RTC. They thought that that was the way forward in the light of a modification of Dr. Bannon's report and in the light of what they saw as the realities of the scene as well.

Waterford Chamber of Commerce are to be congratulated on the up front position they have taken. It is very unusual, but very correct, that chambers of commerce and development committees should see within education a role for economic development as well. When I met them last year I was struck by their over view approach on how the region should develop and how they saw the education structures responding to that. I met them on that occasion with an ex-Member of the House, Deputy Ormonde. I mention him because he was very concerned at that time about the case and I am sure has continued his interest in it. When one looks for new degree courses and puts them forward, as the Senator knows, they go for validation to the National Council for Educational Awards and subsequent approval by the Department of Education must be gone through.

All of the proposals which are received from the colleges are very carefully considered in my Department and every effort will be made to ensure that the best educational services possible are provided throughout the colleges. We have to look at every proposal to avoid overlapping or duplication in a nearby college, or in another college, of a course which would be a degree bearing one. That is very important because if you duplicate and over subscribe those courses, in some way they lose their authority and their authenticity. I know from experience that the regional colleges have tended in their own way to develop specialities in which they want to see a degree course carried out. Various colleges have seen how to do that, responding again to the needs of their community.

We have had, of course, the Clancy Report on participation in third level education. The rate for Carlow is 29 per cent and for Waterford 22.6 per cent, substantially in excess of other counties. A most amazing statistic which I saw was that Offaly had 14.7 per cent of student participation in third level. It is hard to explain it because it adjoins Westmeath which has a regional college. I am saying this to show the willingness of the people in the Waterford region to respond again to the facility which they have in front of them. It bears out what the Senator said that the need is there and the willingness to participate in it.

Dr. Clancy is at present engaged in a further study since his earlier one came out and sometime this year he hopes to publish it. It will, I am sure, have very interesting and maybe startling data in it. I am looking forward to what he has to say. Of course, if there were any additional type university institutions the Higher Education Authority would be the people to whom those institutions would look. All applications and direct negotiations go through the Higher Education Authority. It has a central role to play in the matter of provision if this is the type of institution. The Senator said she was fairly open on the whole idea of what it should be. At my meeting about two to three weeks ago with the chamber of commerce represenatives in Waterford, which was unplanned and unstructured and therefore is not on record, I gathered from them that it was a furtherance of the degree courses Waterford presently enjoys which they had in mind.

They gave me documentation which I took back to the Department and the Department will be studying that. Bearing in mind the economic situation at present appertaining to which the Senator so generously referred, I am not in a position to make any dramatic announcement of any kind but I can tell the Senator that any proposals which have emanated from this debate tonight and the up to date ones from the chamber of commerce will be very carefully considered by the Department of Education, and by myself in particular, bearing in my mind my very intense interest in the whole role of RTCs, my very solid commitment to the type of developmental education pursued through the structure of regional colleges and my very real commitment that these colleges should continue and intensify the developmental work which they do in the community. I hope I will have an opportunity at a later date to discuss the matter again with Senator Bulbulia.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.50 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 June 1987.