Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 9, 81 to 89 inclusive, 103, 104 and 128 are related and may be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Universities Bill, 1996: Committee Stage (Resumed).
I do not believe we need delay too long on this amendment because there are other more substantial amendments with which we may deal later. Like the Minister, Members would like to see the Bill passed in the most effective and efficient manner possible.
Senator Ross made a good point about the language used in the section. It had not occurred to me that a visitor is someone who is usually invited to lecture. There seemed to be a perception that visitors were put into universities as inspectors of a sort. That was not the point I made. The basis of my point is that I want to include the phrase "or Visitors" because, in the case of Trinity College, there are normally two visitors. However, I understand the legal advice may be that, in technical drafting practice, the singular is held to contain the plural in the same way that, in the unreconstructed past, the male was taken to include the female.
If the Minister can inform me that the college is satisfied and that she is happy that the existing arrangement for the visitor or visitors in Trinity College will be left undisturbed, I will not press the amendment. However, I would have thought that the simple inclusion of the term "or Visitors" would do no damage, might make things clearer for lay persons such as myself and would indicate the Government's good grace in accepting Opposition amendments.
I will return swiftly to the point made by Senator Norris who proposed in amendment No. 7 that the definition be amended because, like the terms "God" and "sheep", it should include both the singular and plural. I hope he has been reassured but, if not, we can return to deal with the matter on Report Stage.
I listened with interest and concern to views expressed by Senators who represent university institutions about the potential for conflict within those institutions and the inadequacy of existing procedures to deal with this. I am persuaded by the views expressed that the Bill should address the issue. If there is nothing to be concerned about, so be it. However, if there is something to be concerned about, this is a good occasion on which it can be addressed. I would like to do so within the principle just outlined by giving universities, by statute, the responsibility for drawing up adequate procedures. A possible solution might be for Members to consider a new function to have been included in section 13 to provide that a university should establish procedures for dispute resolution for staff and students. These procedures could be established in consultation with the normal industrial relations structures operating in the universities, the existence of which Senators acknowledged but believed did not go far enough, which include recognised trade unions, staff associations, students unions and other student representative bodies.
It is relevant to note that such an approach would be consistent with section 29(1)(e) of the Bill which provides that in its charters or supplementary charters a university may set "the arrangements for review of, or appeals against". Senator Ormonde was concerned about students' fears in respect of examination appeals and in that regard I refer her to section 25(2)(e) of the Bill which relates to the functions of an academic council. With my offer to return to the matter on Report Stage and having taken Senators' concerns on board, perhaps we should proceed to address other matters.
I thank the Minister for taking on board our concern that this should be incorporated in the Bill. However, I do not agree with the term "procedures to solve disputes" which relates to normal industrial relations as part of the internal arrangements within our universities. I was not referring to industrial relations; I am concerned about the mechanism in section 25(2)(e) to which the Minister referred. There is no mechanism in place at present which gives staff or students with psychological not industrial relations grievances an opportunity to air their views. Whatever mechanism is in place, whether it is section 25(2)(e) or a new procedure, it should take into account the psychological impact which may affect students or staff.
I welcome the spirit of the Minister's reply. I share the concerns Senator Ormonde has expressed. In the spirit of co-operation I will wait to see what arises between now and Report Stage. However, it leaves us with the problem of boards of visitors as conduits between universities and the Minister "being of the opinion", which was the mechanism I was trying to use to reach a compromise. As far as it goes I welcome the Minister's response and I look forward to an amendment on Report Stage with which we can agree.
I welcome that the Minister appears to be giving ground on this matter. Is she giving a commitment to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage? The hurdle between the Committee and Report Stages can be difficult to overcome. I wish to be certain that there will be an amendment proposed on Report Stage rather than just consideration given to the matter between now and then.
I have checked on the commitment I can give. I have been advised to say that I have listened to the debate and I will return to the matter on Report Stage. I cannot guarantee that if I propose an amendment on Report Stage the Senator will support it. I intend to return to the matter on Report Stage to respond positively to the concerns expressed.
That is 90 per cent helpful. Will the Minister promise to table an amendment on Report Stage? I am not looking for the text of the amendment now, but for a commitment to table an amendment.
I can give a commitment to return on Report Stage with an amendment which Senators may discuss.
I have taken on board the Minister's undertaking with the permission so clearly given to her by her advisers. If she is incapable of producing an amendment on Report Stage we will facilitate her by producing one.
Amendment No. 10 in the name of Senator Norris on today's Order Paper is in substitution for amendment No. 10 printed on 10 April 1997. Amendment No. 11 is related and they may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 8, subsection (1), line 15, after "apply" to insert "except in the case of Universities which are not in receipt of monies provided by An tÚdarás".
The Minister has shown flexibility and I hope she can accept this amendment which is a comparatively simple matter. It is what has become known as the "opt out clause". We are looking far into the future but a university such as Trinity, which has existed for over 400 years, would anticipate lasting for another 400 years. Who can tell what may occur in the future in the country's political and economic arrangements. It is possible that Trinity and the State may decide to separate and the university might decide to return to financing itself, which is even to this day practised by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
The amendment would mean that the Bill would operate except in the case of universities which are not in receipt of money provided by An tÚdarás. The Minister has made the argument cogently and persistently with regard to some sections of the Bill that where the State provides money it has an interest and should have an input. In other words, he who pays the piper should call the tune. However, where the piper is not paid there is no reason a third party should dictate the melody.
This amendment arises as a substitute because I was telephoned by the Provost of Trinity College yesterday. I have had discussions with the Provost, the secretary of the college, other officers and with the Fellows of the university. They support this wording and asked me to propose it. It is partly to satisfy queries that have been raised by the Department of Education because the original text of my amendment referred to "substantial" funding. The university has shown that it is flexible and has agreed to the removal of the "substantial" element. Consequently, where a university has no funding from the State, the State would only have the normal interest in the proper running of an institution. In not providing funds it would not have the rights the Bill provides to investigate, interfere and regulate. I hope the Minister can accept this amendment. It is one of two amendments the university has indicated to me that it regards as crucial.
Amendment No. 11 is in the name of Senator Henry. For the reasons Senator Norris has outlined I ask the Minister to accept this amendment. I am aware that the Long Title of the Bill refers to universities which are in receipt of money provided by An tÚdarás and it could be argued that these amendments are unnecessary. However, it is a matter of concern to some of the universities. The amendments would not offend against the general thrust of the section because, according to my understanding of the Long Title and this section, the amendments would not change what is contemplated.
As Senator Norris pointed out, circumstances could change in 300 or 400 years time——
And we would be too old to affect them.
The Senator shall never grow old.
——when Trinity will still be arguing that a statute of 700 or more years old is still good. The Minister should agree to these amendments or to propose her own amendment on Report Stage. We want a restatement in the body of the Bill of what is stated in the Long Title. Nobody would lose out and it would provide reassurance.
I could not have put it better. Restating the matter in the body of the Bill will make sure there is no ambiguity.
I support the general principle involved. Circumstances in higher education and the economic circumstances of the country are changing rapidly. It is possible that in a far shorter period than 400 years there might be propositions for universities which are not primarily or at all funded by the State and that the relationship between the private and public sector in the university context would change dramatically. I have tabled amendment No. 146, which we may not reach, but it is aimed at trying to ensure amicable separation in circumstances where it might arise. It may not happen today or tomorrow but it could happen much sooner than we anticipate. It would be desirable to have provision for constructive and amicable arrangements when and if those circumstances arise. I hope the Minister will propose an amendment to this effect on Report Stage.
My colleague, Senator O'Toole, is being unusually modest. I would prefer if the Minister accepted my amendment, for a number of reasons. First, she should accept it for the sake of human vanity.
Is that not a deadly sin?
The mild form of the affliction from which I suffer is not really a sin. I have also been advised by the university that this is the form of words it seeks. The university has been flexible and it would demonstrate the Minister's good grace, of which she has an abundance, if she were prepared to accept the amendment recommended by the university.
Senator O'Toole has argued that because it is contained in the Long Title of the Bill it is the intention of the Minister. However, the university's legal advice is that this is not as strong or binding legally as having the provision in the Bill. We are not thinking in terms of 400 years. Somebody mentioned that because the university I represent is already 400 years old. Nevertheless, as Senator Lee pointed out, economic circumstances are changing rapidly and within 20 to 50 years it might be seen as beneficial by both State and universities to separate them. This House should engage in long range thinking. It is possible that in decades hence the universities might be grateful for this afternoon's work if it resulted in this mechanism being included in the legislation.
The reason I said either of the amendments is that both are inaccurate in their wording. Senator Norris' amendment states "for as long a time as the listed universities" which does not clarify what would happen if only one or some were no longer listed. Senator Henry's amendment simply says "where universities". The amendment must be specific and should apply only to universities which are funded by An tÚdarás and each should opt in or out on that basis. There is a lack of clarity in both amendments.
For the information of the House, my amendment is on the substitute Order Paper. As always, and being a superb amateur draftsman, Senator O'Toole has spotted the clause which my amendment has addressed. My amendment is as he ennuciated and the words "listed universities" are not included.
It must be the better for it.
It could be a joint amendment because both of us are right as always.
I can understand the origin of the two amendments. Senators talk about 400 years from now. Is there a prediction that the Progressive Democrats might come to power by then? We might have a vicious market economy, depending on their mood at the time, and this Bill would have to be in perfect condition to allow the Progressive Democrats to operate in the new climate they might wish to create. I await the Minister's decision on the amendments. Is it necessary to accept the amendment if there is reference to it in the Title?
I told the House last week I was not born with the wisdom of Solomon. I will make an appropriate amendment on Report Stage along the lines proposed by Senator Norris and Senator Henry and consistent with the Long Title of the Bill. I accept the point made by Senator O'Toole.
I appreciate the Minister's attitude. The universities are clear about the wording which should be used. Perhaps the Minister's advisers might contact them to confirm it. Senator O'Toole has confirmed to me privately that the amendment in the revised form is as he would wish it.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 8, subsection (3), line 31, after "with" to insert "the purpose and substance of".
This is an important amendment and the universities are anxious that it is accepted. It relates to Trinity College in particular. The Minister has already shown flexibility and I must put on record the gratitude expressed to me for the Minister's attitude by the senior members of the university. It is remarkable and generous that the Minister will permit the university to introduce private legislation. There are legal, technical and historic reasons for this but a more intransigent Minister might have made the position more difficult.
Instead of stating "in a manner consistent with the sections mentioned in that subsection" and because it is a delicate and sophisticated area, the university is extremely anxious to change the wording to read "in a manner consistent with the purpose and substance of the sections mentioned in that subsection". Permitting that small margin of appreciation, to use a phrase beloved of our President, would be greatly appreciated by the university. I and my colleagues — I hope I can speak for Senator Ross — consider the change essential.
I have had regard for the views of the college and of its Senators in my approach. Trinity College is unique and I have every intention of allowing it, and other colleges, to retain their traditions and uniqueness. All other institutions rely on Acts of the Oireachtas. Proposing a Private Act sponsored by the college in a manner consistent with the provisions allowed me to respond in a positive way to Trinity College as part of the university system, without having to make all universities look as old and new as each other in anything so awful as an unimaginative Bill. I would not turn my back on an institution which has made so valuable a contribution over a number of centuries to the development of education, particularly third level education, in the community that surrounds it.
I have been advised that the amendment adds nothing to the provision. However, a spirit of understanding permeates this debate and if the Senators wish me to pursue the matter I will reflect further and return to it on Report Stage. I believe it is unnecessary but the Senators claim it is necessary. I have confidence in my advice but if it adds nothing to the provision I will be able to accommodate it on Report Stage.
This is most satisfactory. I will not launch divisive elements into the debate but we need more than a vague promise to readdress the subject on Report Stage. What we need at this stage is a commitment from the Minister that she will introduce an amendment which means the same as Senator Norris's. I do not want her to return on Report Stage and say she has given it further consideration and thinks it unnecessary. I know she thinks that and that the amendment does not add much to the Bill but the authorities in Trinity College and in Dublin University think it is necessary and that it adds a lot. We are in no way apart; it is just a matter of interpretation. If it is harmless in her view but important in theirs, we should get a commitment from her now that the amendment will be introduced in this form on Report Stage.
The Minister is trying to help but, like Senator Ross said, we need a firmer commitment. The Minister said the amendment neither added nor detracted from the Bill and in that case her view and that of her advisers is that the Bill remains the same. No harm can be done as nothing is changed. We are not contradicting the Minister's intentions or those of her advisers. There is no earthly reason we cannot be given a clear and specific commitment this afternoon and that is what I require from the Minister. She said she has taken advice and I have no doubt it is professional, competent and well thought out. However, the Minister makes the final decision and I appeal to her to give us a clear undertaking.
It has been said to me at the highest levels in the university to call a vote on this if necessary and we have the numbers but I would much prefer to dispose of the amendment rapidly and not enter into a bruising confrontation or to waste time — which we would do walking through the division lobbies — which would be better spent discussing essential matters. If she cannot give a commitment to something which she says will not change the Bill but will merely satisfy a worry of the university, it is obvious to me she cannot give a commitment on anything. One could not possibly give a commitment in an area where one felt there was a substantial change but one was not sure whether one agreed with it or not and needed to study it further. That is legitimate. When one takes the view it does not change anything and one's advisers can cope with it, I see no reason not to call a vote.
It is not necessary to ask for a commitment to legislate for the autonomy of the oldest college in the country as I have already given one. While the Senator's amendment does not add anything to my provision, it does not detract from it either. However, he has pressed the issue and wishes me to give a commitment. I am being careful not to be bullied into it and I know the Senator does not intend that. While his amendment may not add to the Bill, I never suggested it would detract from it. However, if he thinks it is so important to obtain a commitment that he will push his amendment to a vote, I will return to the matter on Report Stage after the draftsman has examined his request to legislate for the autonomy of Trinity College.
That is a clear commitment to which we will hold the Minister on Report Stage. I will be phoning the college later this afternoon and I wish to be able to inform the Provost and the Board of Fellows that we have a commitment on these two amendments that the matter will be revisited on Report Stage and that some form of amendment will be accepted.
Let the record show that the Minister nodded——
——while her advisers were not saying otherwise.
She nodded positively, not negatively.
Amendments Nos. 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 9, lines 30 to 36, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:
"(1) If An tÚdarás considers that an educational institution or part of an educational institution should form part of the university the Minister shall by order made with the consent of the institution concerned provide that the institution or part shall become and form part of the university and on the making of the order it shall be so incorporated."
I hope we have as easy an agreement on this amendment as on the last. This is about the setting up of a university or the addition of part of another institution to a university. The purpose is to take the initiative from the Minister's hands. The current section 8(1) states: "If the Minister considers that an educational institution or part of an educational institution should form part of a university,". That is my principal objection. The Minister should have no say whatsoever, certainly not an initial or final say, in what constitutes a university. It should not be necessary to obtain the consent of the Minister for Finance because we are getting bogged down in political bureaucracy, moves and decisions when we should be setting up an academic institution. That is fundamental and goes to the core of the Bill. A university should be self-regulating as far as possible and ministerial interference should be reduced to nothing, and can be if the political will is there. Such will is not in this Bill.
The proposal here, while not perfect, is to give the initiative for setting up a university to An tÚdarás and to allow it to consult with anyone it likes, including the Minister and the institution concerned. It is to remove the setting up of a university from the political arena. Whereas there are a few window dressing clauses on consultation in this section and in others dealing with the setting up of so-called international experts — whatever they are — chosen by the Government whose views of international experts are certainly different from many others, the bottom line is that politicians will decide who gets university status.
That is something we should avoid at all costs because there will always be a suspicion that, if the Ministers for Education and Finance and the Cabinet decide a certain institution is to be given university status, it will be decided on other than academic grounds. That suspicion will be justified over time because the pressure on politicians is not academic but to give university status to the place where the most votes place the greatest pressure.
I know the Minister would resist pressure on her to give university status to an institution in her constituency but we will not necessarily always have Ministers with a strong political backbone. We must be careful not to legislate for the present. We should legislate for the worst possible scenario. That is a scenario in which future Ministers see an opportunity for currying favour with their constituents and those who can return political favours and decide to award university status. This section opens itself to political bargaining and exchanges of favours which a university should avoid.
I have proposed that An tÚdarás be given the initiative. I have reservations about An tÚdarás because it is politically appointed, but the appointees have academic qualifications. I would like to see the initiative and the final say taken out of the hands of individual politicians.
There is a clause which states that an order should be laid before the Oireachtas. That is a standard clause which I propose should be deleted. This clause is blancmange inserted to satisfy people. Everyone knows that orders laid before the Oireachtas are never defeated or removed. It is and always has been a rubber stamp. Ministers use it in reply when confronted with the sort of charges I am making. For the sake of this and future Ministers, the Ministers for Education and Finance should be removed from the procedures of conferring university status.
I support Senator Ross. There is no point in having a Higher Education Authority primarily responsible for the implementation of most of the rest of the Act if that authority, which is the most competent national body, is sidelined when key decisions are taken about conferring university status, whether through the incorporation of existing institutions with universities or the establishment of new universities.
There is no educational justification for including the Minister for Finance in section 8(1). The Minister has nothing to do with authorising the incorporation of educational institutions with existing universities. The Minister has a role in the financial implications and allocation in due course. However, as far as the principle is concerned, I fail to see why the Minister for Finance should be mentioned.
Section 9 was alluded to in the discussion concerning the Dublin Institute of Technology. My amendment substitutes An tÚdarás for the Government and allows the initiative to come from An tÚdarás. It also ensures that the Government's decision to award university status would have to be taken in conformity with the recommendation of the body established and An tÚdarás, not simply after considering the advice. Under the present Bill the Government might reject that advice.
I am attempting to ensure that the mechanisms by which universities emerge and the standards deemed necessary to qualify for university status will be seen to emanate from the institution specifically designated to deal with university affairs. This is logical. It is not intended to block anything but to ensure that the institutions which acquire university status will enjoy the prestige and standing commensurate with that status. We do not want to end up with a situation similar to that in the UK where many institutions called universities are not regarded as such. Our university sector has a well deserved and hard earned reputation, whatever individual improvements can be made. It would be unfortunate for new and existing universities if the mechanism by which new universities were established was seen to be influenced by political pressure. I am not impugning impropriety. I admire the courage the Minister has shown in resisting many of the pressures placed on her during her tenure.
I support Senators Ross and Lee. There should be less intrusion by Ministers. We should leave these decisions to An tÚdarás. The Minister for Finance has no role to play in this section of the Bill.
I agree with Senators Ross and Lee. There should also be an amount of agreement from the Government benches. I recall Senator Cotter's eloquent speech on Second Stage on the necessity to remove ministerial direction. He stated that it was important that Ministers did not make decisions about universities, one could not expect a Minister to say what a university was and so on.
The Senator is making this up. I did not say those things.
The Senator did say them. He is suffering from memory lapse. I am giving the substance of what the Senator said. I cannot match his eloquence.
Methinks the Senator mocks me.
I look forward to the Senator's support for Senator Ross's amendment.
The content of this section is relatively good. There are some elements with which I disagree. Amendment No. 15 states that if An tÚdarás considers that an educational institution or part of an educational institution should form part of the university, the Minister shall agree and bring in a relevant order. This has a number of implications. What of the funding implications? Any decision made by An tÚdarás would have to be accepted by the Minister. An tÚdarás might make decisions which the Minister would not wish to introduce as they may be too expensive and for which he or she would have to make special provision. The wording is unacceptable.
It is no wonder that the public think ill of us because we think ill of ourselves. The Government makes decisions every day. The inference running through this amendment is that the Minister has a dirty pair of hands on everything. That is not the case. In relation to section 8(1) and section 9, the Minister takes advice. This advice does not come from An tÚdarás but from a suitably qualified body established by An tÚdarás. The decision as to whether an institution should be granted university status is a clinical matter which should be decided on empirical grounds. The spirit of section 9 is correct, whether Senators agree with the wording.
I disagree with giving An tÚdarás the right to make decisions as proposed by amendment No. 15. It is untenable that the Government should hand over that kind of control to such a body. The Government should hold the power to make the final decision. I cannot imagine a Government ignoring a decision made by the body established by An tÚdarás under section 9, having considered the application of an institution to become a university, satisfied itself that the institution qualified on empirical grounds and advised An tÚdarás, which would then advise the Minister and the Government accordingly. It might hold back a decision on funding grounds, but I think there would be a furore all over the country if a Government decided to act in that manner.
I do not want politicians, Ministers or anyone to be involved at the initial stages. If an institution wants to be a university it should make an application through particular channels. The application should be considered, recommendation should then go to Government on the basis of the findings and they will decide in accordance with the best interests of the people. If a Government received a positive recommendation that an institution should be upgraded to university status and if it did not react accordingly it would be brought down. Many of the elements here to not stand up to scrutiny. I worry about giving An tÚdarás powers which have financial implications for the country which they do not have to take into account when coming to their decision. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this.
I have major problems with amendment No. 15 and the use of the word "shall". The amendment reads "If An tÚdarás considers that an educational institution or part of an educational institution should form part of the university the Minister shall..." This gives the Minister no flexibility whatsoever and means that An tÚdarás has more power than the Minister. The Minister has no discretion as to whether the decision is made now or later. The word "shall" is imperative.
At the end of the day we are democrats. Those in the other House are elected by the people. Public representatives go on to elect a Government, who selects Ministers. A Minister is given power directly by the people. There is much politician bashing by people who have been and will be involved in the political process and are connected to those who have expressed wishes to be part of that. What has been said about politicians — that they are spineless and unable to make firm, clear decisions on behalf of the people —is anti-democratic.
The word "shall" is important in this amendment. I would have been happier to see "may" used. This would give some degree of flexibility to the Minister. I reject this amendment.
I have listened closely to the debate on this matter. The words of Senator Kelly on Second Stage hit me strongly. She described universities in other countries which do not live up to the university standard. We value the respect in which our universities are held. The Minister is attempting to protect universities in the future. Senator Ross competently expressed his concern that this may be lost if left in the hands of politicians. This concern is the objective of his and Senator Lee's amendments.
However, I am concerned that in establishing a university, if we are to maintain its standard, recognition and prestige, we must have a system of checks and balances. This will ensure universities are only created following a great deal of thought and nothing slips through without this intention. When the Dublin Institute of Technology and the possibility of a university being established on an amendment to a Bill was referred to last week, Senator Henry said that if a university is to be established, it deserves a Bill of its own. Senator Cotter said Ministers make decisions every day. They do, but they do not make decisions to create universities every day. Senator Lee and Senator Ross are attempting to ensure this does not happen with a future Minister.
I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on this area. Concerns have been expressed that the wording in the Bill is not strong enough to ensure that Parliament has a say. It seems the Oireachtas does not have a say, because the section states an order shall be placed before the Houses of Oireachtas. That is not strong enough. Both Houses would be made weak if political influence was removed from it and handed over to An tÚdarás.
I am looking for checks and balances. There is room in these amendments for that. I would welcome the response of the Minister on how she will arrive at the solution to this problem. We want to ensure we have universities of the stature and prestige of those in the past. We do not want to weaken the creation of new universities in such a manner that we leave it in too few hands.
I agree with Senator Ross that the enactment of university legislation is to provide scope for the evolution of the sector over the coming years and decades. If we are confident of this evolution it is our way of acknowledging its contributions in the past. The Bill will provide for substantial reform of present structures and will allow for the future development of the university system through the establishment of new universities and the incorporation of existing educational institutions into universities under section 9.
Under section 8 an educational institution or part of an educational institution may form part of a university by order. Any such order will be made by the Minister for Education with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Dáil Éireann agreed on Report Stage that any such order must be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas before it is made. I counsel caution in asking about the role of the Minister for Finance. We are talking about the establishment of, and evolution into, universities. There are substantial implications for education in the budget and in the Government's commitment to education.
In order to balance the vision we have for development with the practical realisation that we would be committing ourselves as minders of the public purse, the consent of the Minister for Finance should be incorporated without any difficulty. If Senators push the matter, I will go back and ask if it needs to be incorporated in a legal manner. Recognising the practicality of our vision for the future, I cannot see any difficulty in the order being made by the Minister for Education with the consent of the Minister for Finance.
There was some discussion in the previous debate on Committee Stage about the section concerning significant safeguards for the institutions. We want to ensure the rigorous evaluation of existing practice and that the addition of new universities would only happen following the implementation of safeguards. There are three safeguards to development, namely, the consent of the institution if it is being broadened, the agreement of the governing body of the university and consultation with the Higher Education Authority. Only then could both Houses of the Oireachtas approve the making of an order. This will preserve the high standards of our university sector and protect the rights of the institutions to manage their own affairs. A conclusion could only be reached in the context of these safeguards.
I see merit in the proposals in amendment No. 15 to give a prior role in making a determination on the amalgamation to the HEA, although it removes the initiative from the Minister. I consider that the Minister, while constrained to act only on the advice of the HEA, should have discretion to make an order in the public interest. We will never agree on this matter. I propose to return to this issue on Report Stage to include the role of the Minister.
Amendment No. 17 proposed by Senator Lee is very worthwhile. I agree with the concept of the expert group making recommendations to the Higher Education Authority rather than the Government. I think Senator Quinn will be reassured by the concept of the expert group making recommendations to the Higher Education Authority rather than directly to the Minister. Regarding the new subsection (2) suggested in Senator Lee's amendment, the Government may only agree to the establishment if both the expert group and the Higher Education Authority have so recommended and even then there is no compulsion on the Government to do so. As Senator Cotter said we are at that stage in the realm of public debate and concern. The strong view of Dáil Éireann, with which I agree, is that experts should be employees of existing universities and national experts are not university employees. I wish to further consider this proposal with a view to making an appropriate amendment on Report Stage.
I do not support amendments to sections 8 and 9 which would have the effect of leaving no role for the Oireachtas in the establishment of a university or the incorporation of an institution into a university. I defend my role as Minister in a Government elected by the people. I will defend democracy as is my role in the democratic process. The central role of the highest legislative body has been a feature in the establishment of all universities. This includes universities founded since the establishment of the State and those founded before the 1908 universities legislation whose establishment was based on royal charter. Trinity College was also founded by charter in the manner of the time. This Bill is enriched by the fact that it has taken on board the concerns of this House and the university community who look to us to reflect this in legislation.
I enjoyed the Minister's ringing words of commitment to democracy as I did Senator Kelly's. It is not appropriate to make such comments in the context of ministerial powers. It cannot be said that the Minister was elected to do what she wants and to take certain powers. The question is whether it is better for a Minister to have these powers or somebody else. The Minister has not responded to my point that it is almost inevitable that Ministers will abuse these powers in future; it is in the nature of politics that Ministers will abuse these powers.
For example, we all have been subject to much pressure to give university status to the Dublin Institute of Technology. None of us would be human if we did not feel that pressure and we would be liars if we said we never responded to that type of pressure. Whereas the Dublin Institute of Technology case may have great merit, those of us with influence on the issue must admit that we pay more attention to what they are saying now because they have votes and influence in our constituencies then we would if they did not. This is the reality of politics.
When the Dublin Institute of Technology says it should be a university I am not qualified to make a decision because I do not know enough about it. I am a politician, not a university academic; neither is the Minister. I am subject to those pressures and I will respond to those pressures because I am a politician who responds to pressures in my constituency. When the Dublin Institute of Technology tells me they have 1,000 votes in my constituency and that they want me to support their campaign for university status, I jump to attention. Everybody else on these benches does likewise because of the potential of votes. I would not be human if I did not lean in the direction of the Dublin Institute of Technology because of these 1,000 votes.
It is no coincidence that support for the Dublin Institute of Technology has come from the university benches. It appears that we are unanimous in the opinion that it should be granted university status. Perhaps that conclusion has been reached after much solid research into the academic standards in the Dublin Institute of Technology in comparison to UCD, UCC, UCG and TCD. Of course this is not the case. Senators have jumped to attention because of the 1,000 votes and have said they will put pressure on the Minister. We are all guilty of this approach. This is only a minor example of what can happen. The Dublin Institute of Technology may well have a legitimate claim but a better decision would be made if the matter was taken out of our hands and given to An tÚdarás or a different group. If a Minister continues to have these powers they will respond to similar political pressures. Perhaps all Ministers for Education will be people of such purity and virtue that they will turn their backs on lobbying and university groups. However, I do not believe this will happen. I am trying to take this away from particular pressures, such as voting and lobbying pressures which are not relevant, and take this into an area where academic considerations are what matter most. Political considerations matter most in the way the Bill is balanced at the moment and we will have terrible accidents with unsuitable places being given university status for all the wrong reasons.
Anybody who is involved in politics in any shape or form would sympathise with much of what Senator Ross has said. It was partly for that reason I seconded his amendment on section 15.
As I understand it, the Minister has found some good in amendment No. 17 to section 9 and will return with her own amendment on Report Stage which will take on board the principles expressed in my amendment. My amendment states that the Government may at any time appoint a body, the membership of which shall be recommended by An tÚdarás and shall include national and international educational experts who, in the light of sections 12 and 13 of this Bill, will make their recommendations and, on the advice of both such a body and An tÚdarás, the Government may recommend the establishment of a university. They are the key principles which mark the divergence from the current section in the Bill. Am I correct in assuming that the Minister's amendment will be drafted in accordance with those principles?
I thank the Minister. Such an amendment would also encompass the principles of balance which Senator Quinn expounded earlier.
In relation to amendment No. 15, I am going to "do the dirty" on Senator Ross to the extent that Senator Kelly and the Minister made a valid point in asking that the word "shall" would be substituted by "may". It is not acceptable to impose a diktat on the Minister in that sense. The word "may" would be a distinct improvement.
I completely reject any reference to the Minister for Finance in this context. Financial considerations do, of course, have a role in the allocation of resources if university status is granted to an institution or part thereof. The principle of whether the standards of such an institution are university standards or not, which is the key consideration in the first instance, has nothing to do with the Minister for Finance.
In section 8, which we are trying to amend, line 34 states that the Minister shall make a decision following consultation with An tÚdarás. It does not state that the decision will be made on the recommendation of An tÚdarás. It does not, as it currently stands, require the agreement of An tÚdarás; it simply says "after consulation with An tÚdarás". "Consultation" is a word whose coinage is rapidly devaluing in the context of the current Bill. As the Bill stands, it will be quite possible for the Minister to make a decision contrary to the advice of An tÚdarás. Perhaps the Minister would correct me if I am wrong. The Minister did say, in the course of an unscripted response, that the Minister would be constrained to act only on the advice of the HEA. I thought she made the comment in the context of section 8. There is a big difference between "on the advice of the HEA" and "after consultation with An tÚdarás". I would like the Minister to clarify this issue before I come to a decision on how much of section 8 is acceptable or how much of it may require further amendment now or on Report Stage.
One could easily get very confused if one thought too much about this. On a previous occasion we discussed the establishment of the Dublin Institute of Technology as a new university. In my contribution I said that the Minister had gone two thirds of the way when she said she would transfer funding to the Higher Education Authority and would grant Dublin Institute of Technology the ability to award its own degrees by 1998. The Minister said everything would be subject to section 9 of the Bill. Senator Lee's amendment to section 9 states that "...the Government may, at any time, appoint a body, the membership of which shall be recommended by An tÚdarás and shall include national and international educational experts to advise An tÚdarás on whether, having regard to the objects and functions of the university under sections 12 and 13...". I cannot go along with that amendment until we have discussed sections 12 and 13. The Minister is saying that she will come back on Report Stage with an amendment which refers to the appointment of a body, the membership of which would be approved by An tÚdarás. Such a body would comprise academic experts who would decide whether an institution would be awarded university status or not. That would be subject to our having discussed sections 12 and 13. Am I correct in thinking that? I am very confused as to what the Minister's intentions are.
I would ask Senator Ormonde to ask me one question at a time.
In relation to Senator Lee's question on mergers, an institution and a university would have to agree to a merger and, following consultation with the HEA, the Minister would also have to agree to one. The word used is "consultation".
Under section 9, on the issue of the establishment of a new university, we are talking about appointing an expert group. Discussion arose in the Dáil as to what the composition of such a group would be. People asked how the academic requirements of a university would be evaluated. Under this legislation we have defined the functions and objectives of a university. An expert group evaluating an institution which wishes to become a new university would involve national and international people. We used the example of the expert group which I had formed to examine the request from the Dublin Institute of Technology to award their own degrees. The experience of that group was good and it was accepted that it was effective. I thought it was a model which had worked well on a previous occasion and which could be used again in this context.
One needs to protect the professional and academic criteria of a university. The advice of an expert group will be sought on the academic and professional aspects of a university. The discretionary parts for the Minister and the Government are concerned with the financial implications of establishing new universities. There is no doubt that there would be financial implications for the economy of establishing new universities.
We have all discussed political pressures but I do not think this House simply succumbed to pressures. The spirit of the debate which we had last week and the general agreement that we would accept section 9 was not one in which the force of a vote was used. We looked at the request for a change in the definition of an institution and satisfied ourselves that there were procedures in section 9 whereby this and other institutions would be rigorously evaluated. We did not succumb, but addressed a need to put in place a process which would not succumb in the way Senator Ross believes he has succumbed. I do not know to what he has succumbed.
I am the only person who appears not to have succumbed.
We spoke about future developments because we accept that what is in place will not remain static. We will respond to our responsibilities to ensure the development is a process which is rigorous. Although it may seem to have the mucky paws of politicians on it, which for some reason Senator Ross does not believe himself to be a politician, I am satisfied with the process on which we have agreed of expert groups and academic evaluation and the responsibility of a Government accepting it. We have put in place a process which will see future development, be it the merger or amalgamation of existing institutions or institutions under section 9 becoming universities. We accept the situation will not remain static and that there will be developments.
A Bill could be pushed through the House on numbers without engaging in the process outlined in section 9. By agreeing to section 9, we will not succumb to lobby groups. We are including a process which recognises future developments and through which evaluations will take place. The balance of power in the House would be different if Members moved from one side to the other and it would be possible to establish a new university regardless of academic standards and procedures. This safeguard will ensure third level education develops through the process provided in the Bill. I recommend the process, because people may succumb to lobby groups too easily. By accepting section 9, we will ensure confidence in the process.
In reply to Senator Ormonde, we have agreed on the need to include a process in section 9. I will be able to recommend this process to one institution, which has been concerned and lobbied, as a process it will be able to use. I have not guaranteed the outcome of the process or the evaluation, despite headlines which might have suggested otherwise and Members who were here the last day will know that.
This process started in 1992-3 when the Dublin Institute of Technology became an institution. I know this institution inside out from my contacts with academics in the colleges. I am aware experts were brought in to begin this process. I agree with the Minister's plans for the future in that there should be process for any changes. However, this should be the end of the process as regards the Dublin Institute of Technology. An international review body was set up. What was the composition of that body? Where these people academics? I understand international and national experts were involved. What other decisions do we have to make about the Dublin Institute of Technology becoming a university?
I agree with the introduction of a process, but this is the end of a process as regards the Dublin Institute of Technology. We should include this process for new institutions which wish to become universities, but it should not apply to the Dublin Institute of Technology. I have a problem with this provision because we have yet to discuss sections 12 and 13. It seems we will never make a decision on this matter. I understand from where the Minister is coming. This is a worthwhile debate and there is no pressure on us to make a decision. This process has been well researched. I do not understand, however, why we cannot go all the way as regards the Dublin Institute of Technology.
I got a letter this morning from the Dublin Institute of Technology which suggested it was happy with the process outlined by the Minister. If it is happy, who are we to say otherwise?
A group was set up in 1993 because the Dublin Institute of Technology made a request to award its own degrees, about which we spoke at length the last day. The group's terms of reference did not require it to decide if this institution should become a university. It was asked to evaluate this institution to see if it should award its own degrees and it made a number of recommendations about quality control, organisation and academic work. It recommended that I accede to its request that it should no longer award degrees from Trinity College and that it award its own degrees. In light of the fact that legislation was being introduced — it will be a long time before the next Queen Bess introduces legislation — it recommended we look at its future development.
We set up a group with specific terms of reference which reported back under five headings. We have worked diligently with the colleges under those five headings. I prepared the order which will allow the Dublin Institute of Technology to award its own degrees in 1998. Despite campaigns, headlines and misinformation, the group was not requested to do otherwise. There were five people on it, two of whom were international experts. It had a lot more information the last day. I did not ask them to evaluate this as a university or to set up the criteria. They did not do the job that it is being suggested publicly they did. However, I responded to a point they made about the process of the university, given the fact that legislation is being introduced. Section 9 sets out that there will be a process. I am a bit wary of giving instant recognition to any institution.
I have criticism from north and south about instant solutions for lobby groups. Section 9 will protect against that kind of knee-jerk reaction. However, because we have done a lot of work with Dublin Institute of Technology, I gave an undertaking that under section 9 as enacted in this legislation, I would recommend to Government that this institution shall now benefit.
I will take up the point of which Senator O'Kennedy reminded me and the House: following the report in 1995, the institution itself is satisfied with the process we are putting in place.
Amendment No. 17 has already been discussed with amendment No. 15. Is the amendment being pressed?
Not in the light of the Minister's commitment.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 10, subsection (1), lines 11 and 12, to delete "The Minister may, at the request of the governing authority of a university" and substitute "The governing authority of a university may".
On the surface this would appear to be a minor amendment but it is a fairly important one. Subsection (1) reads: "The Minister may, at the request of the governing authority of a university, and in the case of the constituent university with the consent of the Senate, by order, change the name of the university.". I do not see any reason a university cannot call itself what it likes. It is simple. I see absolutely no reason whatsoever a Minister should have any act or part in what a university calls itself. It looks as if the Minister, at the very least, has the power of veto over the change of name of a university, which seems incomprehensible to me. No one has been able to explain why. It seems symbolic of the nature of this Bill that the university should at least be able to call itself what it likes and that the Minister should not have any say in this whatsoever.
It is a simple amendment. I do not want to say anything else about it for the moment because I cannot see any argument for other side. I will be interested to see what the Minister has to say.
My sympathies are with Senator Ross. I have not tabled an amendment but I was going to ask on the section why the phrase "in the case of a constituent university, with the consent of the Senate" must be included. That is simply a question for clarification at this stage.
I will answer the second question first. The senate of the NUI asked for it.
I think that basically Senator Ross is right. I do not think there is a requirement on the Minister to have any role whatsoever in the change of the name of a university. I do not think the Minister should be able to change the name of a university against the wishes of the university and under the section the Minister cannot do it. I do not support the amendment, however, because it is appropriate that the Minister should be the one to make the order to change the name of a university.
In all but the case of Trinity College, the names have been conferred by Act of the Oireachtas and it is appropriate that the relevant Minister should have a role in effectively amending such an Act. The Senator asked the origin; he can be reassured that I have, and see, no role or function in the name. However, because the names were conferred by an Act I do think the Minister of the day has a role in presenting the order for change, without the content of the change, before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
In many ways the Minister is far more conservative than I, which surprises me. She says she approves of it because it was always so and was always done this way but that has always been a bad reason for doing anything of this sort. I am still not clear what she is saying. I am not trying to be difficult but I want to ask her a couple of questions. She may correct me but my impression is that under this section the Minister can prevent a university from changing its name. Is that correct?
There must be some mechanism of order in the naming of universities. Two universities or institutions might want to take the same name or an institution might take a name that is very similar to the name of an existing institution. There must be some mechanism but what that is a different matter. At the moment, the Minister is as good as, or maybe better than, any for that purpose. I will not linger over the point because I want to progress things as quickly as possible. However, it seems that if constituent universities of the National University of Ireland want to change their names in future it should be they who have to ask the Minister rather than the senate of the NUI. I do not quite know what happened but I put down a market for Report Stage.
It is up to the universities themselves to come forward with the name and the Minister places the order before the House. The names of the universities have been enacted by order of the Oireachtas. As the Senator said, two universities could seek the same name. I do not imagine there will be any difficulty with this but there is a role for the Minister of the day and for the Houses that the request of a university to change the name will be done by order here. That is the only role I see the Minister having. At that stage the input of the universities, their governing bodies and senates would be to come to the Minister of the day with agreement on the name and the Minister places the order before the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval. I do not think there is any difficulty about it. It is something that gives the matter importance and gravitas so that we do not have people acting willy nilly.
I am not more conservative than Senator Ross. We could challenge each other on that. This is just an orderly provision following the request of the university.
I understand that, if the governing body of a university wants to change the name, it is an internal arrangement. It would then come to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I do not have a difficulty with that. The way it is written here reads badly and concerns were expressed that the Minister was playing a power game, but she has clarified that.
I was surprised to hear Senator Ross describe himself as a conservative. He is a radical on what we call the right, not a conservative.
Except in relation to Trinity College.
Not even there.
I would be grateful if we could introduce a more conservative element into the House.
I do not accept the Minister's explanation because I do not understand how a university can decide what to call itself. Apart from the ingenious suggestion by Senator Lee, which seems obscure and unlikely, that a university would want to give itself the same name as another institution, in what circumstances can the Minister visualise herself forbidding a university to change its name or dictating the name of a university to it?
It is difficult to understand the point made by Senator Ross. The Bill states that the Minister may by order change the name of a university. However, Senator Ross is saying the Minister may not do so. A future Minister might decide to change a particular name because it is inappropriate, the people who chose it did so under the influence of drink or because they did not have their full senses due to a gas leak in the room where the decision was being made. There are implications for this legislation because if institutions which are known by particular names in this Bill decide to change them, an amendment will be required. On the other hand, they could be seen as new universities. I assume a contra-case can be made every time, such as that the Minister may do this, which implies that she may not do something else. We are wasting time discussing this issue.
It is an orderly mechanism which can be used by a Minister and the Houses of the Oireachtas to respond to a university's change of name.
Could the Minister outline the circumstances, apart from the one suggested by Senator Lee, in which this would be necessary? This is an important issue.
It is so important I cannot imagine why anyone would object to a university requesting the Minister to change or extend its name under section 10 or to the Minister acceding to lay the matter before the Houses of the Oireachtas in the same way that the other universities, with the exception of Trinity College, were named following Acts of this Parliament. I cannot follow the shenanigans of the Senator's mind.
The Minister is slow.
We are discussing the new universities, the names of which were granted by orders of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I want to give an example of what could happen if the Minister did not have control in this area. If the governing body of the University of Limerick decided to rename it the University of the Midwest, which is not beyond the egos of some people in the university, this change would be bitterly resented by the people of Limerick, particularly the public representatives who would feel they should have had a say in the change of name.
Senator Kelly made a good point in support of Senator Ross. However, the University of the Midwest would not play in Peoria. Has the Minister considered a career as a lyricist because there was an attractive ring to her comment that she could not follow the shenanigans of the Senator's mind? I am sure if she found an adequate composer, she would have a hit.
Spirit of partnership.
I do not want to get too frivolous about this matter. I asked the Minister to give examples of where this would be necessary, but she said she could not imagine this being necessary. Nor could I, so why is it included? The Bill is so full of ministerial interference that this slipped in as another example. If the Minister cannot imagine circumstances in which it will be necessary and she will agree to anything the universities suggest, why can she not accept the amendment which states that the governing authority will decide what to call the university?
I did not think what the Senator was dreaming up would be possible. If institutions wanted to call themselves names similar to other institutions, they would have to change them. Titles of institutions are statutorily designated. If an institution wants to change its name, the Minister must place an order before the Houses of the Oireachtas so that it would have a new statutory designation. I want to prevent ministerial interference if, for example, the governing body wants to add another queen to Trinity College.
There are too many there.
We have had a discussion on the legal entity of Trinity College and I have shown myself willing to take on board the views expressed. I am saying that if the universities wish to change their statutory designation, it should be done by an order of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I will persist in giving the same answer to the Senator who is challenging me on this matter. Senator Ormonde grasped immediately the point that there was no role for me in a debate on the name of a university; but, given the existence of these names in legislation, there is a role for the Minister to return to the House with an order in such cases.
I am not going to take sides on this matter. I want to add an observation which supports what Senator Lee said. In Dublin there has been some confusion because there is Dublin City University, University College Dublin and the University of Dublin — DCU, UCD and U of D. I do not know whether that advances the case but at least it supports what Senator Lee said. He may have given that example, I am not sure.
To stick to the point, there is a perception from the wording that the Minister has a greater power in this particular section. I saw from where Senator Ross was coming.
Not where he is going.
The point was that the Minister was intruding where, in fact, she is not. That was my worry.
If there was to be a change of name, it is relatively important that it would be done in an orderly fashion. There are minor details, such as to whom would the postman deliver a letter and to whom would the Department make out the cheque. Therefore, if there is to be a change of name, it should be done in an orderly way. These matters are important. One could receive a cheque which one could not cash because the official name did not appear on it.
Amendment No. 22. Amendments Nos. 23, 28, 30 and 115 are related so amendments Nos. 22, 23, 28, 30 and 115 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 11, before section 12 but in Part II of the Bill, to insert a new section as follows:
"12.—(1) All universities have the right, and the responsibility, to preserve and promote the traditional principles of academic freedom in the conduct of both their external affairs and their internal affairs.
(2) Nothing in the interpretation of this Act shall contravene, subvert or diminish the application of the traditional principles of academic freedom in the conduct of the external and internal affairs of the university.".
As the Minister will be aware, this is a matter of fundamental importance to many of us in the university world and, I hope, the wider society beyond.
I said on Second Stage that the Minister's exposition in her speech of both the concept and implementation of the principle of academic freedom was wholly admirable. I did not see the intensity of her commitment as expressed in her speech adequately reflected in the Bill. To try to explain how I came to suggest a separate section which would be clean cut on the issue of academic freedom, my first inclination was to take section 13(3), which states that a university "shall be entitled to regulate its affairs in accordance with its independent ethos and traditions and the traditional principles of academic freedom" and that "if, in the interpretation of this Act, there is a doubt regarding the meaning", a construction that would promote the ethos and those traditions shall be preferred to one which would not, which was provided as a measure to alleviate the widespread anxieties in universities.
This may seem a little pedantic but it is not meant to be. I distinguish between the ethos of the university and the principle of academic freedom. The ethos of a university is internal to the university. The principle of academic freedom concerns the wider society. A university is entitled to regulate its affairs in accordance with its ethos. That enables, but does not require, it to do so and that is correct because a university should have a right to modify or change its ethos as circumstances change if it so desires. That is internal to the institution.
However, the principle of academic freedom transcends individual institutions and it ought to be a core value of a liberal society. Therefore, universities should be required, and not merely entitled, to regulate their affairs in accordance with the principles of academic freedom, both internally and externally. This should not merely be an entitlement because that would give those who were not of that disposition the right to ignore the intention behind section 13(3).
Looking at the matter, I despaired of finding a phraseology which would capture adequately this intention within the current phraseology of section 13(3), where ethos and the principle of academic freedom are basically different concepts despite the degree of overlap which may exist between them. That is why I decided to insert a new clean cut section, the phraseology of which it may be possible to improve, giving the universities the right and imposing the responsibility "to preserve and promote the traditional principles of academic freedom in the conduct of both their external affairs and their internal affairs". That seems to me to be as clear, unequivocal and, I would hope, uncontroversial a statement of the principle of academic freedom as one can provide in an Act.
Second, section 13(3) states that if in the interpretation of this Act, there is a doubt regarding the meaning of any provision, it will be interpreted in accordance with the principles of academic freedom; but that confines the application of the principles of academic freedom to those clauses where there may be a doubt regarding their meaning. It does not provide blanket coverage for the Act as a whole, but only in cases of doubt. The second part of my amendment states that nothing "in the interpretation of this Act shall contravene, subvert or diminish the application of the traditional principles of academic freedom". In other words, it applies that principle without qualification to the interpretation of every aspect of the Act. That is a clear, comprehensive and uncontroversial a statement of that principle, which ought to be a fundamental principle of civil society and not simply something to do with university privileges.
If my phraseology can be improved, I will gladly defer to improvement; but I hope that the principles can be accepted fully by the Minister. If there is a difficulty in principle with accepting this amendment, it bodes ill for the real meaning of the Act.
My amendment, amendment No. 23, seeks to insert the paragraph: "(b) to protect and promote academic freedom," because it is not emphasised in the Bill that that particular freedom will be protected and it is important to the role the universities play in the social and cultural life of the country. It is important that academics are free to make their contribution, irrespective of how they might wish to do so. I consider this to be a mission statement and it should stand on its own. We should cherish academic freedom. There should be no fear that such academic freedom does not exist. I believe paragraph (b) of my amendment stands on its own and is a mission statement. Academic freedom should be protected by the legislation.
The aim of paragraph (c) of the amendment is "to promote the right of a university to regulate its affairs in accordance with its ethos, traditions and the principles of academic, operational and management freedom, consistent with the effective and efficient use of resources and accountability to the public.", and stands on its own. The Minister referred to this issue in her position paper in November 1995. The heads of the universities acknowledged that her statement would guarantee autonomy in terms of a college's academic and operational freedom to regulate their affairs and reflect their ethos in the best way possible.
It is important that my amendment be incorporated into the legislation because it would provide an in-built safeguard that there would be no discrimination in respect of academic's teaching, work or the way they express themselves in such work. We are discussing the adult population and there should be openness with regard to discussion. The only way the academic world can develop is if such freedom, without State constraints, is guaranteed. I am concerned that if paragraphs (b) and (c) of my amendment are not incorporated in the legislation we will begin to enter the realm of semi-State agency thinking. That is why I made this strong argument in respect of academic freedom and the protection of that ethos.
If I understand Senator Lee's arguments correctly, I agree with him that academic freedom must also operate within universities. Sometimes the views of an individual within a university are as much under threat from managers or senior staff members as they are from outside influences. I believe internal freedom is as important as external freedom.
Senator Kelly's point is good and useful and is addressed in some of the amendments under discussion, which I support. For a number of reasons, I hope the Minister will be able to include them in the legislation.
These amendments go to the heart of the ethos of a university which encapsulates independence, autonomy, the capacity for independent thought and the ability to pursue lines of research undisturbed, take unpopular positions and debate in the freest possible atmosphere. This is a real core value of universities and it is important that should be addressed. The Minister has addressed it in her speeches but, from the point of view of universities, it has not been spelt out in the legislation. This may be a function of the goodwill of the Minister who assumes that her intentions are clear and will be carried out by her successors. However, the universities want the matter addressed in detail. For that reason it is important that the principles of academic freedom should be enshrined in the Bill.
I find it difficult to believe that the Minister or her advisers oppose the principle of academic freedom, even if they believe it would make the legislation bulky or represents unnecessary verbiage. However, in terms of the optics, it is very important that these matters be seen to be priorities to the Minister and her advisers.
The amendments are well structured and well thought out. Amendment No. 28 in the name of Senator Henry addresses the point made by Senator Kelly. It would be astonishing if we were not able to enshrine in legislation the aim to protect and promote academic freedom. That guarantees not only the autonomy of a university as an institution but also the individual freedoms about which Senators Kelly and Ormonde spoke effectively.
Amendment No. 30 in my name requests the insertion of the following subsection:
"(4) In the performance of its functions, the right of a university to regulate its affairs in accordance with the traditions of university autonomy is recognised by this Act and nothing in this Act shall detract from the exercise of that right by any of the universities to which the Act applies".
I would be grateful if the Minister, in her response, states that the she agrees with my proposal and indicates her acceptance of the amendment. If not, will she provide a considered view why it is not acceptable? The quality of her response will be very important because if she chooses to reject the amendments it may seem that she is opposing the principles of autonomy, academic freedom and independent thought and research. At the end of the day these principles are what universities are all about.
There is a need for the Minister to be either careful or to take risks. It would be risky for her to state that she does not agree with the degree of autonomy or freedom in place and that she believes it should be limited. However, I would admire her courage if she made such a statement. I would not advise her to do so but I will be interested to hear her response.
Amendment No. 115 states that employees should not be disadvantaged as a result of opinions or findings advanced during the course of teaching or research. This is a fundamentally important point and involves the protection of an individual teacher who may hold controversial views. Some of the best teachers have controversial views. I have probably learned more, certainly as much, from teachers with whose views I violently disagreed because they made me consolidate my opinions. I recall one particular individual, an Englishman, who had the most aggravating views about the Romantic poets. He was a very clever man but he annoyed me by upending my views during a discussion at a tutorial. I was so determined to gain revenge that I researched the matter and I assure the Minister that Hibernia obtained victory in round two. To my mind, the person in question was a good teacher because he stimulated his students. However, if we take the route of conformism, we will not encourage stimulating debate.
There have been people who adopted views in research which were not politically or socially correct or popular. I myself have adopted such views and I have been attacked not so much by colleagues but by outside pressure groups who attempted to disadvantage me for doing so. There are a number of my colleagues with whom I strongly disagree but it is wonderful that Trinity College supports them. For example, the college has eminent legal people such as Professor William Binchy, who played a prominent role in various referendum campaigns, and Professor John Bonar. I strongly disagree with these individuals but they are people of high integrity. I would hate to think that because they took a view I believed to be incorrect — luckily the majority of Irish people subsequently came to believe it was incorrect — that they should be penalised in their academic research or their standing in the university. They were merely politically wrong. That is my view and I am entitled to it, just as they are entitled to theirs.
I had originally thought that amendment No. 114 would be taken with No. 115 because they are similar. However, amendment No. 114 deals with financial conditions and the question of disadvantage. I presume it is not being taken for that reason and will be dealt with in the normal course of our deliberations. I further presume it is not an oversight that the two amendments are not being taken together.
Amendment No. 114 reads:
In page, 23, subsection (8) (b), line 23, after "university" to insert ",and
(c) no person who is a member of staff of an educational institution which is incorporated into a university pursuant to section 8 of this Act, shall, while in the service of the university, receive less remuneration or be subject to less favourable conditions of service than those to which they were entitled immediately prior to such incorporation.
That amendment is to be taken on its own.
On Second Stage I questioned the relevance of section 12 and whether it was appropriate to try to enunciate the objects of a university in legislation. When I think of "objects" I am put in mind of the campanile and the Book of Kells; perhaps, "objectives" is more appropriate. I wonder if it is appropriate to include the list of objects. However, it is there and we must see how it can be improved upon.
I support amendment No. 23, which is in the names of Senator Ormonde and I. It deals with the need to protect and promote academic freedom which is central to the idea of a university. The most important function of universities is to challenge orthodoxies, as has been their tradition. Some of the most odd people have come up with some of the greatest ideas. This is not meant as a reflection on any of my colleagues from the Independent group.
I consider it a backhanded compliment.
Some socially unacceptable and generally undersirable human beings were responsible for some of the greatest advances we have known. Thus, the idea of a university as a semi-State body is repugnant. I can think of people in very powerful places who have taken grave exception to some of the findings of the ESRI or Teagasc, particularly in areas of economics, because the findings did not agree with the propaganda being touted by influential people. I can recall efforts being made to suppress or dilute what was being said.
It is essential that the idea of promoting and protecting academic freedom would be included in the Bill. If all the other objects were to fall, that alone would be the most important and should be included. Mahaffy, if one reads Wilde's biography, seemed to be totally "off the wall".
Yes. I called him a bilious old snob.
Nonetheless, he went down in history, so he had something to contribute. The Voltairean principle of disagreeing with a person but defending to the death their right to hold their ideas is central to the idea of a university. It is essential to undergraduate life, where ideas are exchanged, and some of society's greatest developments emanate from that exchange.
It is clear that the author of amendment No. 22 has a good understanding of the Bill and has done a lot of research on it. I like the outcome of his work. The one problem is that subsection (1) of the new section proposed refers to the need to preserve and promote the "traditional principles of academic freedom" in the conduct of a university's internal and external affairs. The "traditional principles of academic freedom" are well understood by some, but I imagine that two academics might argue about them. They could be open to different interpretations and I see that as a weakness in the amendment.
The flimsy concept of the "traditional principles of academic freedom" should be specified and given more substance so that everybody reading the Bill would fully understand what is expressed by the concept. Perhaps Senator Lee would consider how that matter might be tidied up. I am also interested in the Minister's view. I hope she will find it possible to follow Senator Lee's direction in this regard and to accept that amendment No. 22 has value.
I find this section difficult. It is hard to understand why it is necessary to include in legislation in such detail, albeit vague detail, the objects of a university. The objects listed in the Bill sound worthy but they are subject to widely different interpretations. The Bill has too many adjectives and too much scope for confusion and interpretation in the future. This particularly applies to this section. This section is used as the basis for the Minister to send visitors into universities along with other provisions in the Bill.
The section dealing with visitors indicates that where the Minister is of the opinion that the functions of a university are not being carried out, he or she can take certain actions. These are listed. However, the objects of a university are so vague that a Minister could at any time say that they are not being complied with and act accordingly. This gives immense powers of interpretation to future Ministers and Governments. If the objects and functions of a university must be included in legislation they should be far tighter and more limited.
I do not believe the objects and functions should be the subject of this Bill, which, incidentally, reads more like a political manifesto than an item of legislation. The objects and functions should be left to the university to decide from time to time, because learning evolves. If a university decides that the objectives set out in this section are not being complied with or are no longer relevant, will it have to come back to the Oireachtas to change them? If a university decides that it does not want to promote the English language, must it revert to the Minister or the Oireachtas to get permission? The section gives as one of the objects of a university the promotion of the Irish and English languages. Perhaps it will not want to promote the English language in years to come for unforeseen reasons. However, if it makes that decision it must seek the approval of the Oireachtas or a visitor can be sent to the university to inform it that it is in breach of its obligations under the law. While I sympathise with the insertion——
I object to how our business is being handled.
Senator Ross has the floor.
The Senator should sit down.
Senator Ross could be a little briefer.
I could be, but I have no such intention.
Should the Senator not speak to the amendments rather than to the section?
If the Senator reads the amendment list, he will see that I oppose the section.
We are not discussing the section.
I will oppose every item in the section.
We are discussing amendment No. 22.
Which amendment is Senator Ross addressing?
I am speaking on all the amendments regarding academic freedom. While I sympathise with inserting a protection for academic freedom, it gives hostages to fortune in other areas of the Bill. It gives power to the Minister to interfere where he or she believes academic freedom is not being protected. I would prefer if no definitions and functions were included in the legislation; they should be left to the universities. What have universities done that for some extraordinary reason they cannot be trusted to run their own affairs and change their functions and objects? We must leave these issues to the universities and not include them in a long and vague section of legislation which makes them subject to wide interpretation.
We are discussing amendments Nos. 22, 23, 28, 30 and 115. Amendment No. 115 relates to the staff of a university. They should not be disadvantaged in their work because of how they deliver lectures or because of the content of their lectures. We saw what happened in Iron Curtain countries, where if academics made statements which opposed the government of the day, their careers were stymied. I am concerned that academics should be free to make statements in the context of university lectures and to express different views. That is why I am anxious to insert the amendment. It provides that "employees and officers of a university shall not be disadvantaged, or subjected to less favourable treatment, for opinions or findings advanced during the course of their teaching or research or as a result of any other activities relevant to academic expression".
Senator Cotter referred to a problem with phraseology. Amendment No. 30 is sharp and precise and he might be disposed to support it.
Senator Ross said there were too many adjectives in the section. My experience of academics is that, from their point of view, there can never be too many adjectives. I remember introducing Professor R.B. McDowell to a meeting a couple of years ago in flattering and flowery terms. However, when he stood up to speak, he said: "People often say they do not like flattery. Well, I like it a great deal, although I found it lacking in Senator Norris' contribution. In his introduction there was an absence of adjectives such as ‘wonderful', ‘very', ‘superb' and ‘splendid'. The Senator can take my word that academics like adjectives."
I wish to make a brief observation on how are conducting our business. Academic freedom is one matter but the freedom to range across all sections of the Bill in any fashion is not in order.
What amendment is the Senator addressing?
I am questioning how we are handling the business of the House. I spoke to the amendments in my contribution. However, other Senators appeared to be interested only in obstruction and making flowery speeches.
If the Senator wishes to raise a point of order, let him say as much.
On a point of order, two Senators spoke on the section and did not refer to any of the amendments.
I deemed their contributions relevant to the matter under discussion.
They were relevant.
Unless we wish to remain here until this day 12 months——
The Senator is going a good way about keeping us here for 12 months.
——we should adhere to the order of the House.
I presume the Senator is referring to Senator Ross. I presumed his contribution was relevant and I allowed him to continue. If he were to make the same contribution later, I would deem him irrelevant and ask him to resume his seat.
A central theme of Senators' contributions has been the need to guarantee the academic freedom and institutional autonomy of universities. I agree these principles are at the heart of the concept of a university. The structure of the Bill is such that academic freedom and respect for ethos and traditions are given a central place. Section 13 of the Bill is of crucial importance as it gives a statutory basis to the exercise by governing authorities of their functions.
Central to section 13 is subsection (3), which is a clear expression of the entitlement of a university to regulate its affairs in accordance with its independent ethos and traditions and the traditional principles of academic freedom. The subsection goes further to safeguard this by providing that where there is a doubt about the interpretation of a provision, an interpretation which will promote academic freedom and the ethos of a university is to be preferred to one which would not.
Senator Lee has proposed in amendment No. 22 to insert a new section before section 12 to underpin the traditional principles of academic freedom. Senator Lee and Senator Norris have further proposed in amendment No. 30 an additional subsection to section 13 on the point of institutional autonomy. Senator Ormonde and Senator Henry have proposed in amendments that it should be an object of a university to protect and promote academic freedom. Although the Bill as drafted leads inevitably to this conclusion, it is a reasonable proposal if any doubt remains on the matter. I support the thrust of the amendments.
I agree with Senator Ormonde that if such an amendment is to be introduced to the objects, it should be introduced before the second object in the Bill. If such an object should be included in the wording used by Senator Lee, it should state that it is an object of a university "to preserve and promote the traditional principles of academic freedom in the conduct of their internal and external affairs". Such wording would be consistent with and supportive of the wording of section 13(3). However, I wish to get advice on the wording with a view to returning to this issue on Report Stage.
Senator Ormonde proposes in amendment No. 23 that a further object similar to the provision in section 13(3) should be inserted in section 12. Given that the House is supportive of an amendment to the objects to ensure that the promotion of academic freedom is included and given that the principal elements of Senator Ormonde's proposal are already included in section 13, I do not recommend the inclusion of this further object. Furthermore, given the strong statement in section 13(3) concerning institutional autonomy, I do not favour the inclusion of a further statement on the same subject.
I have considered in detail Senator Ormonde's amendment No. 115 that there should be specific provision that employees should not be disadvantaged as a result of teaching, research or other activities. Academics have the right to freedom of expression. However, I consider the Senator's approach unnecessarily detailed and the revised section 13(3) provides sufficient reassurance in this regard. It will now be articulated in legislation that a university shall be entitled to regulate its affairs in accordance with its independent ethos and the traditional principles of academic freedom. Furthermore, in interpreting the legislation, a construction which promotes the ethos and traditions would be preferred to one which does not.
I said in my opening remarks I would listen to the debate and concerns of this House. Having given that commitment and bearing in mind the views expressed, I would like to use the time between now and our next exchange of views to examine the issue and return to it on Report Stage. Senator Norris referred to those who disagreed with him as allowing him to sharpen his argument. It might be an appropriate time now to conclude my remarks and have my argument sharpened by the time I return.