Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 Mar 1997

Vol. 150 No. 12

Universities Bill, 1996: Second Stage.

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

In November 1995 I addressed this House on my proposals for university legislation. Today, 16 months later, it gives me great pleasure to propose the Universities Bill, 1996, to the House. The importance and historic nature of the process we were then engaged in was fully appreciated by the House in the debate which then occurred and Senators will be aware that the debate extended from this House to the university community, the wider community and ultimately to Dáil Éireann, which passed the Bill after lengthy discussions.

The debate around my proposals and later the legislation itself has had a considerable influence on the content of the Bill before the House. That is as it should be. Real dialogue and debate means responding constructively to genuine concerns and proposals put forward. The Bill before the House gives effect to my central aims for university legislation in a manner which is broadly acceptable to the university community and the wider society.

The three main strands of the Bill are: the restructuring of the National University of Ireland, provision of revised governance structures and provision of a framework for interaction between the universities and central government and for accountability to society generally.

Legislating for the university sector calls for a particularly sensitive approach. The traditions, ethos and legal basis of the institutions themselves vary greatly, with one dating from 1592 and others from as recently as 1989. In addition, the balance between institutional autonomy and public accountability is a sensitive and delicate one. Yet a framework of legislation which would be more compatible with the role, function and operation of the universities in modern society was the objective from the beginning. The Universities Bill which we are now debating achieves that objective in a balanced and reasonable set of provisions.

We live in what has been called a knowledge society. The possession, transmission and utilisation of knowledge in all its many forms is essential to the success and welfare of individuals, communities and society. For centuries universities, at the apex of the formal education system, have had a significant influence on the socio-economic order of their times. Their potential importance and influence is now even greater. Centuries ago the universities were the preserve of a small male elite. Today, they are open to all on the basis of ability.

An independent university sector is a guarantor of freedom in our democratic society. Through their teaching, research and constructive criticism, the staff in our universities contribute in a very vital way to maintaining a mature democratic society, a society confronted with increasingly complex social and political challenges.

This Bill will underpin these vital academic and institutional freedoms and will facilitate the universities to continue to serve individual and social needs in the changed circumstances of contemporary and evolving society. Discussion of the provisions of the Bill have brought into sharp focus the issue of the proper role for the State in respect of universities. As institutions of higher learning and research, universities have rightly guarded their academic freedom and independence since their foundation. The level of autonomy enjoyed by our universities has served the universities, the education system and the State well.

Academic freedom lies at the heart of the concept of a university in this State. The Universities Bill contains a strong endorsement of academic freedom and the full expression of that freedom by, and in, our universities. Indeed, the Bill, in many respects gives pre-eminence to the principles of academic freedom. Section 13(3) provides that where there is a doubt about the interpretation of a provision, an interpretation which will promote academic freedom is to be preferred to one which would not.

The Bill also underpins institutional freedom, which is the capacity of the universities to conduct their affairs in a manner which they, as responsible institutions, consider to be in their best interests and in accordance with their ethos and traditions. I believe that by underpinning these freedoms, the provisions of this Bill will enhance the capacity of the universities to serve the cause of scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge and, in so doing, will advance the welfare of our society.

Autonomy and freedom cannot mean isolation. The Government, exercising its constitutional role as guardian of the common good, must have an interest in ensuring that there is a university system which operates to high standards, which is accessible to all who have the necessary intellectual capacity to make the experience worthwhile and which provides fields of study necessary for the national interest and for the full development of the individual.

However, these concerns, as well as the large amount of public funding which is allocated to the universities, do not give the State an unfettered licence to become involved in the affairs of the university. As I said in paragraph 22 of my position paper last November" ... while the universities are institutions which are an important concern for public policy, they cannot be regarded simply as instruments of that policy".

In pursuing its legitimate interests the State and its agents must be constantly alert that their involvement is measured and proportionate. They must ensure that the extent to which they become engaged in university affairs is sufficient only to ensure the continuance of a strong and vibrant university sector which supports the development of society, which is accountable to society for its activities and which operates in a manner consistent with the effective, efficient and transparent use of publicly provided resources.

The restructuring of the National University of Ireland in this Bill is a major milestone in the development of the university. In the last century and the earlier part of this century there was a major educational and political debate which resulted, in 1908, in the setting up of a university which would reflect and promote the values and traditions of the majority of the Irish people.

The success of the NUI and the constituent colleges and their contribution to the progress of Irish society and education is widely recognised. My proposals mark another phase in the development of these institutions which have played such a major role in shaping our country and giving it its distinct identity.

My proposals for the reconstitution of the NUI derive from proposals made by the senate of the university. Each of the present constituent colleges will become universities, with all the powers and characteristics of universities. These universities, successors to their respective constituent colleges, will be constituent universities of the National University. In this way the reputation of the National University will be retained for the benefit of the reconstituted universities. In addition, the retention of the NUI as an umbrella body will provide the constituent universities with a forum for co-ordinating their activities and overseeing the effectiveness of these newly independent institutions.

The Bill also marks the coming of age of the recognised college of the NUI at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, by establishing it as a constituent university within the new structure of the National University of Ireland. Although it is the newest university in the State, Maynooth will bring a long and distinguished history of academic achievement and distinction with it. This is directly attributable to the trustees of St. Patrick's College, to whose foresight and commitment I pay tribute. I am sure that all Members of this House will join with me in wishing the new university continued success.

An important objective of the provisions in the Bill is to place all universities on a common footing in respect of their relationship with central Government. A situation has developed where the State has much stronger regulatory and controlling powers in regard to the newer universities, Dublin City University and the University of Limerick. This situation has arisen due to the particular way in which these universities were formed, starting life as National Institutes of Higher Education. The legislation in 1989 was at the time intended as a temporary measure to bring the institutes into the university fold. These universities have now sought to be placed on a statutory basis similar to the older universities. I am glad to state that their impressive success and existing circumstances have convinced me that this should be so.

Turning from some of the youngest of our universities to the oldest — Trinity College — which has for over 400 years provided a home in the heart of Dublin for distinguished academic endeavour and internationally renowned scholarship. The Universities Bill will ensure that its long tradition of independent academic achievement can continue and prosper.

Trinity College is an integral part of our university sector. As such, the objectives of this Bill are as relevant for it as for the other university institutions. Therefore, the provisions of the Bill will, in general, apply to the college. However, in consultations with the college, and generally, I have been convinced of the desirability of retaining the legal position of the college, as far as practicable. The Universities Bill, therefore, will not of itself amend the charter of Trinity College. Those provisions which would amend the charter will not immediately apply to the college and may not apply at all where a private Act, sponsored by the college, is enacted. This Act would make the appropriate amendments to the charter in a manner consistent with the provisions of the Bill. The board of the college support this approach.

I would now like to outline the provisions relating to the second objective of the Bill — the setting up of revised governance structures. The principle underlying these provisions is that the major stakeholders in a university should, as of right, be represented on its governing authority. In this way the university can benefit from a range of experiences and perspectives, while stakeholders can be confident that the actions and decisions of the governing authority are taken in the knowledge of their needs and concerns.

The Bill sets out a flexible framework which will allow each university to devise governing authorities which best suit their interests. That framework includes a meaningful presence on the governing authorities of the various stakeholders in the universities. These include academic and non-academic staff and students, who, representing the university community, have the strongest presence. This is the first time that all such groups of the university community will have a statutory right to democratic representation on university governing authorities. The wider community is represented through nominees of relevant organisations and the Education Board, when established, while the State, as the major source of funding, is represented by nominees of the Minister for Education.

The provisions of section 15 of the Bill also allow the universities to respond to their internal and external environment and reflect their unique traditions and values. Provision is also made for representation from particular constituencies which have a special significance for individual universities, for graduates and for the cooption of members, especially members representative of artistic and cultural interests. The provisions allow for flexibility, autonomy, democracy and broadening of representation and as such should greatly enhance the governance of the universities.

The third objective of this Bill is the provision of a framework for interaction between the universities and central government and for accountability to society generally. I outlined earlier the balance which I believe should operate between institutional autonomy and the needs of public policy and accountability and which should have due regard to the respective rights and responsibilities of the university institutions and the State. One of the principal objectives of this Bill is to provide reasonable and proportionate provisions which will facilitate the accountability of the universities to the communities they serve.

The rationale for appropriate accountability derives fundamentally from the pervasive, integral and crucially important role of universities in contemporary society. The need for new forms of accountability by universities to update and modernise existing practice in line with best practice is not unique to Ireland. All over the developed world this complex question is being addressed.

Accountability does not mean control and my approach to the accountability and transparency provisions in this Bill is informed by the view that external controls which require advance approval for detailed decisions of universities are not appropriate because of the importance of autonomy for universities. The general approach of the Bill to accountability is that universities will have freedom to make operational decisions as they consider best, within a budget agreed with the Higher Education Authority. To balance that, the Higher Education Authority will have a central role in ensuring that there is appropriate accountability to the wider community for the expenditure of public moneys.

The Higher Education Authority has a statutory function to co-ordinate State investment in higher education and to advise the Minister on general policy issues. It has, therefore, developmental and funding roles. While the funding role is provided for in some detail in the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971, the developmental and support functions are expressed in a more general way. This Bill redresses the balance by setting out a number of areas where the authority and the universities may work together in the interests of the university sector.

The Bill provides certainty for all concerned and an opportunity to allow the universities and the Higher Education Authority to develop their partnership. The Higher Education Authority will now have a statutory requirement to assist the universities in achieving the objectives of Chapters IV, V and VIII of the Bill. As part of its support and developmental role, the Higher Education Authority may also issue guidelines to universities on staffing and the distribution of budgets. These guidelines will provide the Higher Education Authority and the universities with a formal opportunity for dialogue on important issues relating to the management of a university. They also allow the HEA, in a formal, statutory way and from their sector wide perspective, to inform a university of best practice nationally and internationally. These guidelines will not be binding on a university which will retain autonomy to act as it considered best.

The Bill also provides a statutory framework for borrowing by universities. The objectives in this regard are to provide a statutory underpinning of existing practices while at the same time ensuring that there are no additional unplanned calls on public finances as a result of activities by universities.

In my speech to this House in November, 1995, I outlined how I wished to strike a balance between the requirements of institutional autonomy and public policy and accountability. I believe that in these provisions the Bill achieves that balance.

Turning to issues of quality in education, there is agreement in the university community on the need for quality assurance and for appropriate procedures for measuring and ensuring quality. The approach in this Bill places the primary responsibility on the universities for putting such procedures in place. The procedures must include evaluation of all departments and faculties of the university not less than once every ten years.

Evaluation will be by university staff in the first instance. This will be enhanced by evaluation by people from outside the university, including people who are competent to make national and international comparisons on quality issues at university level. In addition, there will be an assessment by those, including students, availing of the teaching, research and other services provided by the university. The universities will implement the findings of evaluations where it is practical to do so. The Higher Education Authority will have a review and reporting role.

The role played by education in improving the life chances of its recipients is acknowledged the world over. At one time the completion of primary education was regarded as a sufficient preparation for working life for many people. That is no longer the case. Technological advances generally and in information systems have removed from the workforce many of the opportunities for unskilled labour. A third level education is now a prerequisite for many of the best paid and most secure employments.

While education is acknowledged as improving life chances, lack of education is equally acknowledged as reinforcing disadvantage and marginalisation. Because of their key role in society, universities have a very significant role to play in redressing the imbalances in our education system, particularly at third level, as a prerequisite to redressing inequality in society. Universities are in a key position to improve the lot of the disadvantaged and many already have programmes in place. Under the Bill all universities will now have a statutory duty to devise and implement appropriate equality policies.

Each university will set out its policies on access and equality in its activities. Universities shall implement the policies set out in their policy statement and the Higher Education Authority will review the implementation by the universities of these policies and may publish reports of any review.

Tá sé an-tabhachtach dom go mbeidh sé mar chuspóir do gach ollscoil an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Is dóigh liom go bhfuil sé seo a dhéanamh ag ollscoileanna éagsúla cheana féin, ach anois, beidh sé mar phríomhchuspóir acu uilig é seo a dhéanamh. Níor cuireadh faoi bhráid an tSeanaid Bille ar bith a léirigh cuspóir mar seo do na hollscoileanna. Tá mé sásta go bhfuil an Bille fiúntach agus éifeachtach faoi cheist na Gaeilge.

I consider the promotion of the Irish language by universities to be a worthwhile and necessary part of their mission. The Bill imposes on the universities a statutory obligation to promote and preserve the Irish language. This is the first time such a statutory requirement will be imposed on the universities generally and will I believe give a significant impetus to this important area of university activities.

The Bill provides, in section 9, for the development of the university sector with the possibility for the establishment of future universities. The provisions provide a careful balance between flexibility in the development of the university sector and safeguards for the quality and effectiveness of the sector. This will benefit the development of the university sector in the future.

In establishing an educational institution as a university it is essential that the process involves a rigorous and objective appraisal of any such proposal and the Bill provides for this. Otherwise, the high reputation enjoyed by the universities as a whole could be damaged. Of primary importance in such a process is the evaluation of the capacity of the educational institution to provide the kind and level of education appropriate to a university. It is also essential that the new university would receive widespread recognition as a university, at home and abroad. A further guarantee of quality and accountability is that the order establishing a university must be made by the Government and must be ratified by both Houses of the Oireachtas before it becomes effective. This will allow for an open and public discussion of the merits of the proposal before any action can be taken.

Section 9 of the Bill will provide a mechanism by which an institution can attain university status. If, in the future, moving to university status enhances the mission of the Dublin Institute of Technology, I am pleased that section 9 of the Bill provides an appropriate mechanism.

The Dublin Institute of Technology is growing as a distinct and distinguished institution in its own right. Building on its legislative base, put in place in 1993, it has made major strides with the active support of my Department. I stress my commitment in my time as Minister to the development of the Dublin Institute of Technology. Staffing and student numbers in the Dublin Institute of Technology have increased substantially. Many new courses at certificate, diploma, degree and post-graduate level have been developed. There is now recurrent funding of over £50 million in this academic year. In addition, since 1993 over £18.5 million of capital funding has been invested.

I congratulate the Dublin Institute of Technology on the progress it has made since 1992 in building a single integrated institute. The Dublin Institute of Technology has a vital role in higher education in providing qualifications at certificate, diploma and degree levels. The successful completion of the review group process on degree awarding status is another step in the history of the Dublin Institute of Technology. I put in place the formal mechanism to evaluate the institute for degree awarding powers. In line with the recommendations of the international review team, my announced intention to grant degree awarding powers from 1998 onwards is the next stage in the successful process of development of the institute.

In conclusion, I am sure we all share a common objective. We want to protect institutional autonomy and preserve academic freedom. We also want to maintain an effective and accountable university system capable of delivering the highest academic standards and the highest standards of research and intellectual inquiry to its students and to society generally. We are debating this Bill at a time when the excellence of our universities is widely recognised, nationally and internationally. Now is the time to build on that reputation and provide the university sector with a framework for development into the future.

I welcome the Minister to this Chamber to discuss an important Bill which has already come through the other House at such speed that when I read the original Bill and then looked at the new Bill, which only came into circulation the day before yesterday, I was amazed that there was no comparison between the two. This shocked me because all my homework indicated that we were now talking about a totally new Bill. While I accept the Bill has three functions — that is, to reform and restructure universities, to revise the governance structure and provide for a framework for interaction between the universities, central Government and the broader community — nobody would dispute them and all of us see that is how it should be. No fewer than 315 amendments were tabled on Committee Stage in the Dáil, 125 from Fianna Fáil. I have heard the Minister suggest that her self-criticisms do not really reflect on the Bill. Instead, she would have us believe that they are a tribute to her ability to listen, consult and encourage debate. Not only did the Minister refuse to personally and formally meet the university heads but as each of them was met by officials it was pointed out that the negotiations on the proposed Bill were confidential, each university head was being met as an individual and, consequently, neither the governing bodies of the universities nor, in the case of Trinity College, the Fellows were deemed by the Minister to be relevant to the discussions on the future of their colleges and universities. When I read this and listened to the submissions by the university heads, it astounded me that this seemed to be the perception — maybe that was not the case but it was the perception. I wondered why there was such secrecy, that negotiations on the proposed Bill would have to be confidential and they could be met only as individuals and not as representatives of their colleges.

It is not true.

We talk about transparency but this was a clear example of pulling the shutters down over the pane of glass. The perception was that they were not listened to as university heads but as individuals.

This also shows the Government's contempt for the role of the Seanad as a partner in the legislative process. Despite the fact that this Bill is unrecognisable from the one published last July and it was rushed to this House in a very short time, there has been little time to assimilate the amendments, some of which I welcome as many of them were tabled by the Opposition. It would have been much better had we had at least another week to think about them so that this Chamber would reflect on it in a knowledgeable and thoughtful way rather than rush through it, as we had to do in the past day or so.

There was plenty of time.

There was very little time to look at the new Bill and that is the truth. Whatever we do, it is important that all the legislation coming through the House is well thought out so that the future of universities and third level education is worked out in a way with which everybody would be happy. That is not the case at present.

Areas of the Bill are not specific. It should not intrude on existing legal and common rights or reduce the universities to a ministerial fiefdom or semi-State body. As the Bill stands, the Trinity College charter will be reduced from — and I use this phrase advisedly — a world of academic freedom to the realisation of national, economic and social development, to use the words of section 12, a section in which the Minister curiously ignored Fianna Fáil's attempt to include reference to the concept of academic freedom.

I need not remind this House that the universities do not shirk a wider role in the development of modern Ireland. However, no Government should expect them to do this at the expense of their freedom of movement or expression. The Minister may say she does not want to circumscribe the universities in this way. To this I say that the concept of academic freedom and respect for the cultural diversity of each of the universities must be specifically mentioned in the Bill. As I mentioned, the Minister rejected the arguments on these points in the Dáil. I appeal to her to include the concept of academic freedom in the Bill and, by extension, to formally recognise the individual ethos of each university.

Senators know that Fianna Fáil has unsuccessfully argued these points in the Dáil. On a number of other points we were more successful and the Bill is the better for it. However, there are still a number of proposals which we consider to be unacceptable. First, it provides for unacceptable powers for the suspension of a governing authority. As stated in a submission from one of our universities, which was made after Committee Stage in the Dáil:

The relevant section is absolutely unacceptable in that it proposes a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between the State and the university by establishing a nominative process for the breaching by the Government of the critical space between them and thereby directly threatening the intellectually independent voice for which society looks to the university.

Second, the Bill provides for guidelines from the Higher Education Authority that could have the effect of curtailing a university's freedom of action.

Third, it suggests that the designated powers of the visitation systems are limited in that they do not provide for any specified access by officers, employees and-or other staff of the university. On the visitation section the submission stated:

The truth of the matter would be that what is contemplated in this Bill is a procedure for the appointment of a government inspector akin to the appointment in recent times of an inspector in the case of a regional technical college. While avoiding the use of the term 'inspector', the proposal however to describe that inspector as a visitor and to stretch the historical role of the visitor to cover this radically new inspectorial function of prosecuting a claim by the Minister of illegal behaviour, does violence to that judicial role.

I am not sure about the composition of the governing body. Reading the old Bill, as I understood it the academic staff's representation would be less than half what it was previously. The representation from various bodies would reflect the kind of university it is. I welcome the fact that our county council representation will still be maintained but the question is how many? I refer in particular to the General Council of County Councils which has sent in a submission. The wording in the Bill "not less than two and not more than five" is unclear. I understand that this is a reduction in the General Council of County Councils' membership on UCD's governing authority. I hope there will be no change in that because we are talking about a big university that has a wide diversity of views in relation to the community, the number of people it represents and the diverse interests of the college. I am anxious that the existing number will be retained in the new legislation.

I am also concerned about the gender section and women's equality on the governing body. How many new women professors are there? Will the Minister use her nominee inside or outside when it comes to dealing with gender balance? It seems vague so perhaps the Minister will highlight that point in her reply.

On this side of the House, we do not accept that the Minister should allocate to herself the power to suspend the university authority for stated reasons. What does the Minister mean by "stated reasons"; it is a loaded term. This kind of unspecified reasoning may explain why the Minister refused to accept our view of a university's mission statement. We believe that the integrity of both the individual academic and the university at large are inextricably linked. To intimidate the one is to intimidate the other and vice versa.

There is also an implication that the university is not doing its job properly. I am a UCD graduate, as are many Members of the House, who can stand up and say that the university has served me well. The implication is that the university has to be monitored and supervised and must be accountable to the public, yet it has always had good management practice in its internal workings. To suggest that State control is now called for is to stifle academic freedom. I resent the idea that freedom of creativity, research and output will be taken from our university lecturers and professors. It concerns me very much. Compared to other universities UCD has surpassed itself over many years, long before we were Members of this Chamber. The contribution of our university graduates, not alone to this country but to other parts of the world, stands on its own. To suggest, by implication, that universities need monitoring and supervision to the extent that they may not be doing their job properly is stifling and I resent it.

A similar kind of intimidation is implied in sections 48 and 49. Here the universities are told that the Higher Education Authority "may, following consultation with all or any of the chief officers, issue guidelines". What is the point of this section? Are the so called "guidelines" meant to be advisory or are they meant to be binding? If they are meant to be advisory, why is the Minister including them in the Bill? Given the role of the Higher Education Authority in higher education we all know there is no such thing as a guideline from the Higher Education Authority that, in effect, will not assume the role of a directive. It is difficult for any university head to ignore the HEA. As such, these sections of the Bill constitute another example of the Minister's desire to continue a binding role by central Government.

What must be central is the undoubted authority of a governing body to order its own affairs, although I recognise, in conformity with one of our amendments, that every university must be answerable for all public money that is spent. However, in this connection, the Oireachtas and Oireachtas committees are the appropriate reference.

This Bill also downgrades the role of the Oireachtas. Where new universities are to be created, for example, the Minister suggests that an order laid before the Oireachtas is enough, but in my opinion it is not. The creation of a new university should be determined by an Act of the Oireachtas, not by ministerial order. Oireachtas Éireann is the place to designate the present Dublin Institute of Technology as a university.

There is no reason for the Minister to ignore Dublin Institute of Technology's case, especially as the report of the international review team suggested, on page 24, "that the relevant authorities should consider whether the key features of the proposed legislation should be extended to the Dublin Institute of Technology and its legislation be amended in the light of such analysis". I ask the Minister to agree with this new designation and, if not, to spell out her objections. I suspect she will not be able to do so because she is more concerned with designating our third level colleges and universities as semi-State companies. These companies should not be models for university institutions. The model must be an integrated mission statement of what all our universities stand for. I appeal to the Minister to specifically protect the concepts of academic freedom, as well as the ethos and diversity of our universities, which the Minister has refused to acknowledge in her stated understanding of a university's function.

The Minister must ensure that existing rights, charters and conditions are recognised. This Bill is a catalogue of ministerial intrusions in our third level colleges and universities. As a result, we will oppose this Bill.

Ar dtús, ba mhaith, liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Bill and to criticise some of the functions of a university.

The universities have done excellent work for the past 30 years. They are involved in every type of research and are turning out quality graduates in every discipline. Our graduates are sought after across the globe, but it is a source of regret that we do not have adequate opportunities to allow many of them to use their skills here. Our brightest and best tend to leave this country because of better opportunities and greater financial rewards abroad. However, that is changing rapidly. There are now more opportunities and better employment for third level graduates in this country.

The colleges were content to fulfil a teaching role until the late 1960s. Historians would point out that this acted as a brake on our economic and social development until the interests of the universities were broadened in the 1960s. We inherited that ethos with the foundation of the State. The social sciences, for example, were not part of the curriculum and social research was non-existent. The college population grew from 10,000 to 50,000 during the 1960s. This provided the colleges with resources which allowed them to be innovative and creative. This has made a huge impact on all aspects of our development.

The role of the universities has changed since the State was founded. It is appropriate, therefore, that the framework within which they work should be examined and, if necessary, modified to suit the needs of modern Irish society. We have debated this issue on numerous occasions. This Bill is a culmination of previous Government Green Papers. It is of the utmost importance that any changes in structure or governance should enhance and support the teaching and research activities of the colleges. I am convinced that the changes proposed in this legislation will have that effect. The inclusion of the community and other strands of opinion will not only enrich the governing authority, but will infiltrate and improve the system.

This legislation is the product of long, arduous and sometimes acrimonious consultation and debate. A number of position papers were sent to the universities for discussion. The Minister responded positively to the debate in an effort to get the balance right between academic freedom, the need to introduce wider community interests on the governing bodies and the need to ensure accountability.

The changes proposed to the governing authorities are appropriate. It is necessary to represent the rights of lecturers, non-academic staff and students. The colleges provide a service to society, so the composition of their governing bodies should reflect its various strands. One could put forward an argument for the inclusion of a variety of other representatives on the governing authorities. The Minister adopted a flexible approach to this issue during the consultations because she wanted here proposals accepted. It would be good to include representatives from primary and post-primary teaching bodies and parents' associations, trade unions, chambers of commerce and other community interests on the governing authorities because the universities dominate the way the post-primary system operates.

Since the 1960s pressure has been applied to post-primary schools and this has had a negative impact on the way they operate. We all know the points system used by the universities to gain entry to the faculties is based on the results of the leaving certificate. The universities have created a post-primary system which is out of balance. The need to achieve high points in the leaving certificate is dictating the pace.

We need more places.

That is not the solution either.

The basic ideals of a good education have been perverted at post-primary level for the past 30 years. Disciplines such as physical, social and moral education have been pushed to the periphery. The balance is wrong. Post-primary education is incomplete and narrow in its focus as a result of this pressure. It is elitist in so far as the pressure from parents and students to get results forces schools to put an inappropriate amount of their resources into that area. Such pressure is thwarting the system's operation.

It is a pity the legislation does not tackle this problem by setting out a modern framework for selection at university level. We have discussed this issue on a number of occasions over the past decade but it was not referred to during the debate on this Bill in the other House. Many people do not realise this has been happening and that it is doing terrible damage to the post-primary system. Why is a modern society willing to allow it to continue? It underlines the absolute necessity of broadening the composition of governing authorities. There is need for a change of attitude at that level. I hope the new governing authorities will debate this issue and put forward a solution. Who better than the cream of academia in Ireland to put forward solutions?

The universities should strive to enhance the quality of post-primary education rather than to pervert it. If asked, the universities would claim the enhancement of post-primary education is a priority. It should be relatively simple to introduce a set of tests to be used with the leaving certificate to select university candidates. I previously proposed the use of a vocational suitability test, an IQ test and a school certificate, which would give details of the programmes undertaken by the student in physical and social education. Under such a system the leaving certificate could account for about 25 per cent of the total requirement. That would remove a great deal of stress from students and facilitate the development of the student's personality in a better way. The universities would not be given a huge workload under the changes I envisage because the IQ and vocational tests could be carried out by the second level schools. As a result, the post-primary system could set about achieving its basic aims and objectives in a calm and less crowded manner. In addition, the universities would secure better students.

I am sure the Minister continues to be amused by the hysterical response of the Opposition. Fianna Fáil has promised that if it is returned to Government it will repeal this legislation. I wonder if the party will deliver on that promise.

It might not have the opportunity because recent opinions polls appear to suggest it will not be elected to Government. Even if it is, it will not do something foolish. Words such as "farcical" were used during the debate in the Lower House. Senator Ormonde's reaction was not too bad. She said she was shocked about a few matters, but she went no further. She was probably most shocked by the amount of consultation that took place. "Consultation" is a bad word. There was too much consultation. Position papers were regularly put forward to the universities. They were able to discuss those papers and refer back to the Department for an exchange of views. It was an ongoing process. From Fianna Fáil's point of view, consultation is not a good thing.

It is a great thing.

The Senator was shocked at it.

Shocked at the lack of it.

The Senator was shocked by many things. She suggests that academic freedom is under threat.

Careful reading of the Bill will reassure the Senator that there is a balance between academic freedom and the necessity to introduce accountability in the system.

The Government is not introducing accountability. There has always been accountability in universities.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Cotter must be allowed to continue without interruption.

It would be dull without any interruptions.

Considering the huge amounts of money being invested in the system, the Government should be able to get answers to questions and ensure that money is spent properly. A measure of accountability is being introduced in this Bill. It is necessary and important.

It is a brainwash.

Is the Senator saying the heads of our universities are capable of being brainwashed?

I was amused by Senator Ormonde's reference to the Minister's authority under the Bill to intervene if something strange happens in the university system. The Senator believes the Minister should not have that power. She suggests that professors and lecturers will be operating in a state of chaos, wondering when the Minister will intervene. On a previous occasion the Minister was obliged to introduce hasty legislation to give her the power to intervene in an educational institution. This measure will not create the type of terror Senator Ormonde expects.

It has. Talk to the universities.

People will be quite relaxed and continue to do what they have always done in the secure knowledge that, unless everybody goes around the bend at once, the Minister will not intervene. It is appropriate that the Minister should take on that power. It will not worry anybody.

The Opposition has been grasping at straws and trying to stoke up the natural worries of certain people. After all, there are traditional power bases in the universities; certain people are members of the governing authorities and expect to continue as such. Power bases are being attacked to some degree and many people believe their positions will be different in future. There is a degree of fear because people like to maintain their power bases. Broadening the membership of governing authorities will shift the power base——

To the State.

Not to the State.

The people are the State. We live in a democracy.

Everybody agrees the membership of the governing authorities should be broadened and it is about time it was done. That worries certain members of the academic staff in universities who have always held strong positions in these authorities. It might also worry the lecturers and tutors——

It does worry them.

——that outsiders are being appointed to boards which might make decisions which will affect their livelihoods. However, the more positive view is that appointing people from the non-professorial sector, such as lecturers, students and non-academic staff, is good and desirable. In my view the Minister did not go far enough, but she had to try to achieve an objective and if she had gone further she probably would have had difficulty doing so.

Remove the county councillors.

The county councillors will remain.

They will not.

The number will be reduced.

There are no county councillors on the board of Trinity College and I am not sure what scintillating contribution they would be likely to make.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Please allow Senator Cotter to continue without interruption.

The last comment will be of great interest to county councillors. There was a suggestion that they speak nonsense all the time. That is not true.

That is obvious.

Many county councillors are intelligent people who say intelligent things.

Some of them might.

The Senator should not categorise them as morons, which is what he has done.

That is extremism.

They are not morons. They are like ourselves and there is an odd moron among us.

It is very modest of the Senator to admit that.

There was also a suggestion by the Opposition that the pay and conditions of staff would be reduced under this legislation. That rumour gained strong currency. That is farcical and it is not the intention of the Bill. To suggest otherwise indicates that the debate is not going in the right direction. Pay and conditions will not be reduced and most people involved in the universities agree that the rumour had no foundation.

This legislation will enhance and support the work of the universities. The governing authorities will facilitate the introduction of new ideas and will be a breath of fresh air at that level. Eventually the universities will discover that the authorities are more effective, will introduce new ideas from outside the university sector and will provide better understanding both within and outside the universities. It has been accepted for years that there is a need for change.

I hope we continue to have an interesting debate. Senator Ormonde said she was worried that she did not have time to read or discuss the Bill. It does not take a week to read and she should not make such a suggestion. We will have further opportunity to examine all aspects of the Bill and establish if the concerns expressed about certain elements of it are well founded.

I welcome the enormous amount of work done by the Minister and her officials to get the Bill this far. The consultation process has been incredible and has taken place over a number of years. This Bill will be good and sound when it is eventually passed and will support university life rather than detract from it.

I remind Senator Cotter the Bill is not yet passed; we are still discussing it and is not beyond the bounds of possibility that it will be amended further. As a matter of fact, it is inevitable that it will be.

I am in a good position to speak on this Bill as I have a number of qualifications. I am a graduate of the University of Dublin, Trinity College; I taught for almost 30 years; I was also a member of staff in the college and I am totally independent of any party affiliation. I am not a member of the Opposition and if I choose to oppose the Bill it will not be for partisan party ideological reasons. If I so choose, it will be because it needs to be opposed. I have not yet made up my mind and that will depend, in some degree, on the Minister's response to the various amendments that will be tabled. Some already have been tabled, and, for tactical reasons, I deliberately flagged a number of them earlier than normal to give the Minister and her advisers the courtesy of an opportunity to consider them and see if any or, all of them will be accepted. Some will have to be accepted.

This is a technical Bill but it is not well drafted. However, I do not want to embarrass the Minister or her officials. It could not possibly have been well drafted. The Minister presented a very unusual Bill, with over 100 Government amendments. That suggests the original conception was, to be charitable, hazy. One can look at it two ways. One can take the view, as did Senator Cotter, that this indicated an exhaustive and highly democratic process of consultation. That argument is in some degree sustainable and I welcome the fact that the Minister had meetings with university Senators and others and made herself available to senior members of college administrations. However, it is also tenable to suggest that, because there are so many Government amendments, there was a lack of careful and precise thought in the overall conception of the Bill. For that reason one would suppose it might have been withdrawn. The Minister may even consider the possibility at this stage.

I tabled a number of drafting amendments. For example, the Title of the Bill is cumbrous. Is it a legal title in terms of the University of Dublin with its long and antique formulation about the college of "the Sacred and Undivided Trinity" of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin? The phrase "of Queen Elizabeth" was omitted and that is a significant flaw in the Bill. I assume that at least this technical amendment will be accepted by the Minister. I would appreciate an indication from the Minister which amendments she is likely to accept. I am concerned about the vagueness of the conception of the Bill, although in general terms I agree with a certain amount in the Minister's speech.

The vital element in the Bill is the guarantee of independence and autonomy of the university, even though the Exchequer has been required to make a contribution increasingly in recent years. One of my amendments looks at a remote possibility in the future. University of Dublin, Trinity College, might decide to become independent and finance itself separately as the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has already done. There is no provision for that eventuality in the Bill.

With regard to finance, I was astonished to hear Senator Cotter say this Bill would introduce accountability, as if it was for the first time. I am sure the Minister, who on occasion has good relations with universities, would accept they have been responsible. There is no evidence of peculation or of gross misuse of funds in any of our great universities. Universities' accounts have always been made available to the public through the Comptroller and Auditor-General's Office. I am surprised the Senator thinks this Bill introduces any notion of accountability because behind that suggestion is the notion that universities are irresponsible institutions that waste public money. It is very easy and popular to float these ideas and to suggest there is a lack of accountability.

It may well be popular but it is a very dangerous statement to make, particularly when one looks at the notion of academic freedom. This notion involves the recognition that knowledge is good and that the pursuit of it in all its forms is a form of excellence and entails intellectual freedom. Therefore, if one attempts to put a public and fashionable price on, for example, where research and investigation in education should go, then one will automatically narrow the confines of that autonomy and independence. I am very concerned about that.

I am also concerned by the fact that, although the power of the Minister to dismiss the board of the university has been controlled, it is now being done by a type of remote control through a report of the visitor. The Minister is skilful in concealing some of her moves in the Bill. I do not consider it appropriate that the Minister for Education should have the capacity to remove the board of a university. I cannot envisage any circumstances in which it is an appropriate right for a political figure to take unto his or herself. I oppose that in all its forms.

I was also interested to hear Senator Cotter support the notion of introducing outside elements on university boards. There is an arguments to be made for that but very few of the councillors appointed to such boards have made the significant contribution he said. If the Minister wants a positive engagement from outside interests, such as business, trade unions, etc., she should retain the element of choice. For that reason, she should find her own form of words to create the substance of an amendment which I would like to put before the House. Instead of having the power to nominate representatives which shall be appointed — it is a direct power and the board does not have the right to refuse to appoint — the Minister should find a form of words along the lines that the Minister may nominate from nought to four — in terms of membership of the board from outside — and the college "may" rather than "shall" appoint these members.

At perhaps a slightly lower level of life, I have occasionally been asked to serve on boards. I am rarely flattered when it is a statutory requirement to include a public representative or some other functionary. I am much more flattered if I know there is no such statutory requirement and I have been deliberately selected for a specific task. I imagine the Minister would agree with me philosophically that by leaving the universities with the right to choose somebody for a specific task because of their expertise or talent, we are including fresh blood from outside and not fossilising it in this statutory requirement, which is a bad idea and cannot be welcomed.

While one should not be over defensive, I am old enough to remember the merger in Trinity and the heat and emotion it generated. I remember the late Donogh O'Malley of Fianna Fáil escaping through a lavatory window in the GMB because of the heat generated by a student debate. We have moved on from that and Trinity has sought to play its full role as a representative element in university life for many years. Reference was made in the Minister's historical survey to the institution of the other university systems. It was indicated that the 1908 Act resulted in the establishment of a university which would reflect and promote the values and traditions of the majority of the people. I am sure the Minister would agree — perhaps she might be gracious enough to refer to it in her reply — that the University of Dublin not only reflects the values of the majority of the people but also the pluralist elements in that community, which is extremely important.

The university system should not be a bland homogenised one, reflecting what a political party or dominant interest at a particular time sees as the values and traditions of the people; but it should reflect the diversity of opinion and intellectual inquiry taking place in our society. I hope these values and ideas and the ethos of the universities are fully respected.

We had a debate last week on the protection of the religious ethos and its insulation from certain equality provisions. If this is appropriate when dealing with equality legislation, it is certainly appropriate that such values — the autonomy and independence of the universities and their special ethos — should be properly and fully taken into account in any legislation brought before the House.

I am concerned about some of the tone of the Minister's speech. She quoted from her position paper of last November and said: "While the universities are institutions which are an important concern for public policy, they cannot be regarded simply as instruments of that policy." Of course they cannot, that is blindingly obvious. I am a little worried about the notion of public policy in that this may have a tendency to become political policy. It would be wrong for the universities to be seen by any Government or party as an instrument of political policy, whatever about public policy.

This seems to have infected the Minister's speech. She spoke, for example, about the Irish language and said: "I consider the promotion of the Irish language by universities to be a worthwhile and necessary part of their mission. The Bill imposes on the universities a statutory obligation to promote and preserve the Irish language. This is the first time such a statutory requirement will be imposed on the universities generally and will, I believe, give a significant impetus to this important area of university activities." I would not like the House to be under the impression that I am antagonistic to the Irish language, far from it. I occasionally make halting attempts to speak Irish in the House and have a love for the language and use it frequently when speaking abroad. I was in Oslo last Saturday leading the first St. Patrick's Day procession and the first part of my speech was in Irish, which drew substantial cheers from a section of the crowd. It made them feel at home in that our cultural independence and integrity was being given public recognition.

I am, however, worried by the language used by the Minister. Of course, the promotion of the Irish language is worthwhile, but I am not sure it is necessary. The university whose graduates I have the honour to represent has played a full and leading part in the advancement of that subject. We had the first chair of Irish and were involved in the first printing of Irish. We have a remarkably strong Irish department and a unique collection of Irish manuscripts and materials. I am not antagonistic to the idea of cherishing the Irish language, but I am worried by the language used, that is, that it is a necessary part of the mission of the universities. It imposes a statutory obligation on the universities. As if that was not enough, within four sentences the word "imposed" is used again. It is dangerous to seek to impose things on the universities. It is much better to encourage people to continue the excellence which exists rather than use the language of imposition and coercion, which is a pity. The Minister's objectives could have been achieved in a different way, and I look forward to her comments on this matter.

Universities must develop; they cannot stagnate. I would like to cherrypick from an excellent article by the Provost of Trinity College, Dr. Tom Mitchell, in Trinity Today, which I received yesterday. He said university education is at a crossroads. We must ensure, through the passage, defeat or further amendment of this Bill, that the correct road is taken at this important crossroads. He also said we need to redefine the vision of a university education and what it can contribute to our society. A university education must contribute to our society and we must facilitate it in doing so. However, it is already doing so, even in the marketplace. I made the point that universities have been accountable, so let us scotch the idea that they are not. They secure advances not only in research and design but also through university companies and campus developments in relation to technology and industry. Such companies are in the marketplace earning money for this country, and I applaud them for doing so. It is important that money generated by these activities is not subject to the control of the HEA. There is far too much interventionism in the Bill and there is a feeling that at the end of the day, the Minister for Education may come to regard herself as a nanny to the university system, rebuking it, telling it when it is wrong and instructing civil servants to dictate to it in terms of budget. It is with the use of terms such as “impose” that the Bill becomes political. Education is costly and Irish taxpayers make a significant contribution to it, and it is appropriate they should. The factors which make major multinational companies invest here are the already existing excellence of graduates and the degree system. Hence, the taxpayer is being accounted to already, although that might need to be tightened up. The excellence is returned to the investors.

I am concerned about some other elements of language employed by the Minister in the Bill. For example, she refers to the major stakeholders in a university as having a natural right to be involved. This is the language one sees in a business report. I am not sure it is appropriate to this debate and it worries me when taken in conjunction with the idea of academic freedom.

I refer again to the article by the Provost of Trinity College and place what I see as the most significant paragraph on the record of the House. He states:

A final basic principle to be reaffirmed is the vital need for universities to remain autonomous. Universities must never allow the state to dominate their decision-making or to usurp their responsibility to determine their philosophy, ethos and ideals and the nature of their curriculum and the balances within it. Universities must preserve independent thought by scholars who are genuinely free to pursue truth, to criticise established orthodoxies, to create and express ideas, and to communicate knowledge. They must still serve the public good, be responsive to public needs and be accountable for the efficient use of public funds. But they must be shielded from political pressures and from transient or ill-considered perceptions of relevance or utility, so that the constant values of education and of learning can be preserved and that all decision-making is based on stable, objective academic criteria. This is the essence of the autonomy that universities have traditionally enjoyed and it is the guarantee that their intellectual vitality and value to society will be maintained. Trinity is committed to defending these four principles.

If the Minister can persuade me that the values flagged by the Provost of Trinity College in that paragraph are met by her Bill, I will either support it or abstain on it; but I have not yet made a decision. It lies in the Minister's hands and in her response to this debate and to the various amendments tabled.

Another point I wish to raise, which has already been raised by my colleague from Fianna Fáil, Senator Ormonde, is the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Minister has missed an opportunity to create a separate university. I say this with a degree of sadness because the Dublin Institute of Technology is a fine institution which, over the past years, has had an association with Trinity College under which the University of Dublin, the degree awarding body, awarded the degrees of the Dublin Institute of Technology. That was useful for it in validating its degrees and also interesting to me and my colleagues because it provided a slightly different form of graduate and, therefore, voter.

I would have liked the historical development of Trinity College to have continued because, as the Minister knows, it was founded within the framework of the University of Dublin. The original intention was to develop further colleges. For various reasons the university still comprises only Trinity College, Dublin, with the University of Dublin being the degree awarding body. It would have been a natural, organic and welcome development of Trinity College to go the direction of Oxford and Cambridge and, even after a gap of 400 years since its inception, create other colleges within the university. However, I understand the decision not to proceed with this has been amicably arrived at on both sides.

For that reason I support the desire of the Dublin Institute of Technology to be recognised as a university. It is worth placing on the record of the House that the Dublin Institute of Technology has already met the requirements necessary to be considered a university, so I have tabled an amendment granting it such status. This is supported by Fianna Fáil and I will press the amendment vigorously on Committee Stage. I hope the Minister will accede to my wishes and those of a combined opposition and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Although I cannot give an unqualified welcome to the Bill, I hope my qualifications have not been as shrill as Senator Cotter imagined. It is important to maintain a balance and to continue the negotiation and discussion process to the end and I hope the Minister has some positive things to say on this in her reply. I have kept general what I have had to say, basing it on the philosophy of the university rather than dealing in any minute detail with the various sections of the Bill. The time for that is on Committee Stage when the amendments tabled are dealt with. It is important the debate be kept at a reasonable level.

I am reminded of how the debate started in this House some years ago. One of my former colleagues in the University of Dublin and a Member of this House wrote a strongly worded letter to my distinguished colleague, Senator Henry. His writing was so illegible, the letter was sent to Deputy Harney, the leader of the Progressive Democrats, who took this as manna from heaven, spoke to the representatives in this House and got a major and very valuable debate on the issue. I made the point then that I would not vote against the Government because I understood the practicalities of politics. There was no earthly point in tactically voting against the Government then because all that would happen would be that it might be defeated and be mildly irritated for half an hour but that nothing would change. A motion would have been passed but we might as well have done nothing.

The time to push the pistol to the head of the Minister is in this House on the legislation if sufficient numbers can be garnered. Whatever about Second Stage, the outcome of which it would be foolish of me to speculate upon, the numbers are very tight and may become considerably tighter when we reach Committee Stage. For that reason, in addition to respecting her intellectual freedom, I urge the Minister to consider carefully the principal amendments tabled and to give an indication of her response.

I would not be likely to vote against a Bill of this nature for a numbers of reasons. I recognise the time spent on it by the Minister, by her advisers and by the universities; and it is a natural human reaction, having undergone this exhaustive and exhausting process, to hope the process will not be derailed at the last minute.

The signals I am receiving from the University of Dublin are mixed. I am decoding them at present. I am a practical politician and am not merely a minion of the board of Trinity College. I represent the 30,000 graduates and not the board or the University of Dublin. I am responsible to that electorate and their concerns and wishes as well as the concerns of the provost, board and the fellows all which I have to consider in making my decision regarding which way to vote on Second Stage. I have not made a decision yet and I have no knowledge that a vote will be called. Neither have I decided how far and which of my numerous amendments or those of my colleagues in Fianna Fáil I will push to a vote or support.

I also welcome the Bill. It has three core objectives, namely, the restructuring of the National University of Ireland, broadening the composition of the governing authorities of the seven universities and providing a modern framework for general provisions of accountability and transparency between the universities and the wider community.

The necessity for this legislation has been recognised for a number of years. Legislation was proposed in the 1992 Green Paper on education produced by the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government. The White Paper which followed was based on extensive consultation with all the interests in education including the universities. This consultative process included the national education convention held in Dublin Castle in October 1993. The Bill has been framed in the context of continuing consultation and dialogue with the seven diverse university communities.

The concerns of one university are not necessarily the prime concerns of another. Yet there is a need for omnibus legislation to govern all the universities in an equal fashion. The divergence of views within the universities has led to many of the difficulties encountered in framing this legislation.

We must ask what defines a university. Tracing the history of the university to Plato's time, we see that it was the preserve of a very small, male elite. It has come a long distance from that privileged position. Is university the training ground for gentlemen, as Cardinal Newman suggested, or is it the centre for advanced knowledge, technology and research? The two roles need not be exclusive. We have a tradition where universities have tended to merge the traditional, old-fashioned role with that of being to the forefront of modern scientific and technological advance. This conflict is at the heart of the Bill. There are questions to be asked about each role. If a university spends too much time and resources pursuing the traditional route of academic research it tends to lose contact with what is happening in the wider world. It is necessary that universities feed into society.

Not everybody has praised the role our universities have played in the foundation of the State. Professor Lee, in his book on modern Ireland, questions the lack of critical analysis in the universities in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. We were left with traditional universities in the 1960s and an Irish academic life that was ill-equipped for modern advances in science and technology. It is only when one sees the new courses that have come on stream over the past few years that one thinks they should have been offered years ago to suit the type of society that has emerged. For example, it is only in the past three or four years that equine science has become a subject of study at a major third level institute, namely, the University of Limerick. This is amazing in the context of the importance of the bloodstock and horse racing industries which are a major preoccupation with a large section of society.

I went to UCC in the early 1970s when dairy science was only a very small part of the programme offered. At that time UCC was the only university in Munster. The principal livelihood of the majority of Munster people was food processing and yet it encompassed only a very small part of the university course. It was totally under funded. It is only in recent years that the university has started to look at the study of food science and technology. I cannot say, therefore, that the universities have pushed out the boundaries of Irish academic life to the extent they ought to. Sometimes I feel universities are being dragged into the 20th century rather than dragging the rest of us there. The call and desire for study at university often comes from the community and not from within the universities.

Great fear is being expressed by Senator Norris that the State, because it funds the universities, will limit their freedom. However, there is another question to be asked of the academic world. Institutions such as UCC and UL have done well in going outside the university and the country to get funding for research. Does it curtail the academic freedom of a university when research is tied to a particular company? It is a question often asked of American universities which are heavily dependent on huge multinational companies for research funding. The research is tied to what the multinational company wants. What will happen to research which is contrary to the wishes of the multinational?

Concern has been expressed about the State controlling the academic freedom of the university. Concern has also been expressed to me by the staff of the University of Limerick about internal freedom; if there is a particular ethos in a university — the University of Limerick has a strong entrepreneurial ethos — what will happen if a staff member feels that such ethos is not a particularly good idea? What protection is there for such a person? Internal academic freedom is a very important factor which must be considered. One might see a complete contrast between the concerns of Trinity College, as expressed by Senator Norris, and the fear of external control on its academic freedom. Yet members of staff are concerned that there would be internal pressures put on them to stay quiet on particular issues.

In the past month we have seen breakthroughs in genetic engineering in Scotland. There is nothing to prevent something like that happening in an Irish university. Such an occurrence would go strongly against the ethos of many individuals within our universities. What would happen in such a situation?

Parts of the Bill need consideration, particularly the one with regard to internal freedom within a university. Concern has been expressed to me by the University of Limerick on the Third Schedule, page 37, 8 (3) that: "a member of a governing body of a university shall at all times act, as a member, in the best interests of the university and shall not act as a representative of any special interest". I can understand that somebody on a university board, who happens to be an IBEC nominee, for example, would not like to see the university promoting the view of any particular sector of industry. However, when it comes to members of the staff or students of the university who will, after all, be elected as representatives, it is important that they would be allowed to speak out on the particular interests of their group. There may be an issue about which students are unhappy and which they want rectified. If they are unable to express that concern within the board they should have the freedom to go outside of it and express the fears of the people who have elected them. Whatever about those who have been selected, those who have been elected to the board are duty bound to reflect the views of those who elected them.

As a member of the council of the administrative county of Limerick, I welcome the provision in page 15, which states that "in the case of the University of Limerick — (i) the chairperson of the council of the administrative county of Limerick or a person nominated by him or her...". This is a new provision and I feel strongly that a university should reflect not only the views of the university city but also those of the county if it is to be in tune with the community in which it resides.

There are also some small technical points which I would like the Minister to address. In page 13, with regard to line 38 that "at least one shall be chosen from those nominated by organisations representative of business or industry,", I think that to give such an emphasis to business or industry and not to the wider community may be detrimental to the overall development of the university giving it too much of an entrepreneurial slant.

Section 17(6)(b), in contrast to section 34(1)(a), makes no mention of people with a physical disability. They should also be included under section 17 which states that there shall be "... equality of opportunity among the students and employees of the university and shall, in particular, promote access to the university and to university education by economically or socially disadvantaged people...". The section makes little reference to those who might be physically disadvantaged particularly those in wheelchairs who might feel that the layout of a university is counterproductive to their full utilisation of it.

The Minister has worked on the Bill for quite a long time. The Bill is welcomed by many people in the universities. I quote from a letter which I received:

We welcome the provisions in the Bill which will provide for transparency and accountability. It is proper that universities be held accountable for large sums of public money which they expend. In doing this, the Oireachtas must ensure that academic freedom and independence essential to a healthy university is defended. This can best be done by providing, in the legislation, for a strong governing authority, independent both of management of the universities and of Government.

I thank the Minister.

In terms of university education, we must look at society and at what happened in education in the past. We have created a stratified scheme of university education which is not conducive to the broadening of education in this, or any other, country. There will be an educational loss the more stratified education becomes. The Minister is attempting to bring further control of university education within the remit of the Department of Education and to ensure that we have a stratified educational system. That is ludicrous. Education should be all-embracing; unfortunately, this Bill does not give access to education to the people who need and demand it. The concept of confining third level education to huge campuses is outdated.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.