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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 17 Dec 1998

Vol. 157 No. 17

Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund (Amendment) Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of this Bill is to amend of the Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund Act, 1997. The Bill contains only two sections. Section 1 provides for an increase in payments into the fund from £100 million to £130 million for the financial year 1998. This is clear evidence of the State's commitment to a substantial, visible and secure investment in high level research in the third level area. The additional £30 million, together with £20 million already in the fund related to research and development and equipment, will provide the State's capital investment in the initiative and will be supported by tax reliefs and £75 million in private funding. The current funding side of the programme will include £15 million from the existing allocation for research within my Department's budget. Added to this will be £7.5 million direct Exchequer funding and a further £7.5 million to be raised by the universities and institutes of technology.

Section 1 also broadens the scope of the Bill to include research in areas other than science and technology while maintaining the focus on these critical areas. The humanities and social sciences absolutely fit with the broad approach of this initiative. An intellectual culture which encourages and supports critical inquiry across a wide diversity of fields has clear benefits which reach well beyond narrow academic confines. Section 2 provides for an appropriate change in the short title of the Act.

The implementation of the third level research and development initiative which gives rise to this amendment Bill will also contain two further important elements. One is the establishment of a climate of collaboration between the public and private sectors and the other is the devolution of key administrative procedures to the Higher Education Authority. This new initiative will contain the following key elements: first, additional public moneys which are substantial, visible and secure; second, a solid partnership between the State and the enterprise sector; third, a £180 million investment package focused on high level research and fourth, a transparent funding mechanism to be based on the findings of an international assessment board whose membership will reflect the full range of scholarly activity in science, technology, the humanities and the social sciences.

Senators will see, therefore, that this brief amendment will have quite dramatic and beneficial effects on our third level system. In a wide ranging and stimulating debate in the Dáil on Tuesday, I described this Bill as an important route map for future investment in high level research. I also said it was a logical development to the provisions of the Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund Bill passed by the House this time last year.

Developing a future strategy is of vital importance. It is not sufficient for us to look at recent successes and think that this will continue as if success is a naturally occurring phenomenon. If we are to maintain Ireland's position at the forefront of technological and business change we must put in place a mechanism for building on our strengths and successes. In an era when prediction and uniformity are no longer possible in any detail we must reconcile ourselves to the task of constantly reinvesting Ireland's competitive advantage. Investment in education is the key. Certainly proactive public policies in other areas are also vital but can anyone seriously doubt that the success of the economy is intimately bound up with our capacity to maintain a world class education system? We have no choice — there is no standing still, we either keep moving forward or we get overtaken by other economies. It is that simple.

One of the many underlying assumptions about management in the public or private sector, which has been out of date for some time, is that there is one right way to organise anything. Today, strategic planning in the education area, as in any other area, must be flexible and innovative so as to respond to rapidly changing circumstances. Today's one right way is tomorrow's obsolete policy. By placing the focus of this new initiative on high level research we are building on our recent success as an attractive location for high technology industry and consolidating this same success by developing Ireland as a centre of excellence in high level research. We have every reason to feel confident that this strategy will work.

The investment fund was a dramatic statement of the Government's commitment to looking outside the accepted paradigms for a solution to the ever present problem of funding for major initiatives in the third level sector. Senators will be aware that when it was launched just over a year ago here in the Seanad it was rightly regarded as a dramatic and innovative measure which underlined the Government's commitment continually to grow our knowledge base so as to maintain our position at the forefront of technological and business developments worldwide.

The investment fund was underpinned by three key objectives: first, we wanted to renew and modernise the infrastructure of third level institutions, particularly in the technological sector, and guarantee they would continue to produce high quality graduates; second, we wanted to develop new areas of activities in our institutions, especially where emerging skills needs had already been identified and third, we wanted to invest in promoting the innovation which continues to be so crucial in maintaining and expanding our growth.

At £250 million the fund remains the largest single capital investment introduced by any Government. A tight focus on science and technology also added greatly to its impact. Simply stated, it was the right measure for the right areas at the right time. The sectoral allocations provide clear evidence of the scope of the fund: £60 million for completion of the programme of skills development announced shortly after the Government took up office; £20 million towards a sustained programme of investment in the provision of hotel and tourism training facilities in the institutes of technology; £20 million for the vocational education sector, particularly post-leaving certificate courses and apprenticeships; £80 million for infrastructural developments, in particular the renewal and reinvigoration of the technological sector as a crucial and distinct element of our binary system; £30 million for third level equipment renewal grants, tackling in a serious and sustained way equipment renewal in our third level colleges; £15 million to reinforce the research and development capacity of third level institutions, including the transfer of technology and £25 million for the schools IT 2000 project.

These allocations have made possible the largest building programme in the history of higher education. As I explained to the Dáil on Tuesday, projects involving capital expenditure of the order of almost £90 million have already received sanction to proceed in Carlow, Cork, Dún Laoghaire, Limerick, Tallaght, Waterford and Blanchardstown Institutes of Technology. Some £70 million of the cost will be met by the fund with the balance coming from European Regional Development Fund and Exchequer sources.

In the university sector, projects totalling £30 million were sanctioned last summer. These included £4.5 million for phase two of the microcomputer building at UCD; £5 million for an extension to the O'Rahilly Building at UCC; £4.5 million for an information technology building at UCG; £3 million for an extension to the Callan Science Building at St. Patrick's, Maynooth; £5 million for an informatics building at the University of Limerick; £5 million for an information technology building at Trinity College and £3 million towards the new computer science building and library at DCU.

The investment fund is working and has met with overwhelming approval from all interested parties. Its effects will soon be visible on almost every third level campus in the country. The concept of the investment fund has been successful in another way also. The establishment of a fund, parallel and additional to the normal Estimates process, was an innovative measure. It was designed, at least in part, to send a powerful message to all parties that we were firmly committed to making a very substantial investment which would be additional to other public moneys, clearly visible to all and securely linked to the operating period of the programme. This mechanism has proven also to be very successful.

The investment fund, in its aims and its manner of operation, is an excellent model for the achievement of best practice for planned change in our education system. We must now build on this success. As Minister, I have been determined to lead the change process whenever necessary. There has been, and will be, no communication gap between my Department and the direct education providers and no unnecessary time lag between the needs of the system and my response as Minister. I am determined, whenever possible, to anticipate needs in the system and get to the problem before it impacts on our progress. This requires farsighted and innovative measures of which the investment fund is a good example.

However, excellence is a journey and not a destination. The day we think we have arrived is the day we start to slip back. The needs are clear. It is accepted by all interested parties that the task of maintaining the exceptional performance of the economy requires the availability of people with the requisite skills to meet the needs of high technology industry and also, crucially, to put in place the means of conducting high level research in key areas aimed at encouraging companies to set up in Ireland, encouraging more companies already operating in Ireland to establish research and development facilities here and establishing Ireland as a centre of excellence in high level research.

The investment fund will continue to play a pivotal role in addressing the skills needs of high technology industry. However, it is high level research which will consolidate our success. Ireland's competitive advantage is directly linked to the quality of our education system and, in the very near future, our capacity to become nothing less than a centre of excellence in high level research across a variety of disciplines will assume critical importance. This is a potential problem for tomorrow which must be addressed today.

The message coming through to me from the experts is that the best thing Government can do is give existing current and capital provisions certainty within a set programme, allocate significant additional funding and establish transparent procedures for allocating the funding which will guarantee that quality and strategic planning will be the only bases for decisions.

The third level research and development initiative is a tailor made response to the needs conveyed to me as Minister. This new initiative will redress serious structural shortcomings in regard to research and development in our third level institutions and will do so in direct partnership with the enterprise sector. I wish to again put on record my appreciation of the response of the private sector in supporting and developing this link with the State in providing the most modern facilities in our universities and colleges.

If our education system is as fundamental to our material and social well being as we know it to be, as inclusive an approach as possible towards funding and support for the system is of critical importance. It is important to note that under the provisions of sections 489 and 843 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, private funds in the order of £50 million have already been attracted into the third level system either through projects already sanctioned or currently being processed. This is real partnership in action and this new initiative will develop it further.

With such an excellent initiative in place it makes sense to place the accompanying administrative process as close as possible to the operating environment. Hence, my decision to devolve certain key procedures to the Higher Education Authority. Senators can be assured that there will be no diminution of appropriate controls over public moneys, but rather a fast tracking of procedures in line with the Government's strategic management approach to efficiency and effectiveness. These arrangements will be finalised before the end of January.

This Bill, and the initiative which follows from it, will underline the State's commitment to continuing investment in high level research, develop the concept of partnership between public and private sectors, give a massive boost to the establishment of Ireland as a centre for excellence in research across a wide range of disciplines and make possible a £180 million injection of resources into the third level sector. All this builds on past successes and will put in place the foundations of future successes. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This is an important Bill and I regret, as acting spokesperson, I did not have the time to invest in research on it. Nevertheless, I wish to raise a number of points with the Minister. He referred to private and public partnership. All of us realise that companies, public and private, spend a great deal of money on research and development. They do this to keep themselves ahead of competition and at the cutting edge in the global market.

The Bill offers new opportunities to companies. One of my reservations is that third level institutions and technological colleges, important as they are in the education sector, will get the cream of the funding and important businesses at the cutting edge of research and development will not get sufficient funding. Extending the scope of the Bill to cover any area of education gives it a wide remit. The humanities and social sciences were mentioned. Another reservation I have is that the available resources could be stretched too finely and there possibly would not be sufficient resources for important research and development projects.

I welcome the recent grant allocation to the Belderrig research centre in north Mayo, headed by Dr. Caulfield. It is a classic example of a rural research and development project dealing with archaeology, heritage and antiquity, which are esoteric subjects confined to the academic area. The spin off in economic terms to a region such as Belderrig can be very substantial. I welcome the announcement of grant-aid for this important project. Belderrig is linked geographically to the Céide fields, which is an internationally renowned centre. The Céide fields and the possibility of the Belderrig research centre coming onstream next year will give tourism a tremendous boost. This is a much disadvantaged area on the periphery of north Mayo. The next stop would be New York if one were heading west, which demonstrates how isolated the area is and how important research and development projects could be for the region.

I hope more of this type of initiative will be seen in rural areas. Agenda 2000 and rural development is being examined but unless little pockets of development take place in rural Ireland, we will not progress. For that reason I welcome the extension of the Bill to cover such areas. I am particularly interested in auto turning, which may not be highly technological but is a skilled area. It is a fast growing segment of Irish industry. Many bigger companies farm out their small requirements to these companies, which produce small machine parts. However, there is huge skill shortages currently. Most companies are short of skilled labour and in an expanding sector such as this, money could be devoted to give it a new impetus. I have spoken to many people involved in the sector who told me that they are trying to get labour from abroad, such is the shortage here. Investment in training and research and development in that area would be welcome. As I said, it is not a major technology area and does not have a high profile in the public imagination. Nevertheless, it is so important for industry that it needs to be looked at.

In our area we have the nucleus of a project which has failed to get off the ground for the past three years because of a lack of funding. This does not come within the Minister's ambit, as we are dealing mostly with the Minister for Employment, Trade and Enterprise. However, will such projects come under the remit of the new legislation? If so, will the Minister inform us how to avail of it?

The level of investment in our third level institutes must be welcomed. However, I would not like them to get the cream of the funding available under this legislation, although their buildings must be maintained. The NUI Galway must use prefabs because of accommodation shortages. This problem must be addressed. The number of applicants for third level places is increasing, as is the number of drop-outs. About 80 per cent of those who enter third level graduate with a degree. We must examine the many factors for that percentage and try to improve it.

We have many socially dysfunctional families and there is a widening gap between sectors in the economy. Funding for this area must be looked at; this would add immeasurably to our total economic well being. If there are major divisions in our society, they will reflect on us all eventually. The widening gap which is now emerging is not to be welcomed. The Minister should address social funding under the new legislation.

A recent survey found that 85 per cent of the technical skills shortfall and 50 per cent of the professional skills shortfall will need to be provided by industry led initiatives. Public and private companies have a function in providing those initiatives in research and development.

It is important that, while institutes are given research and development facilities, companies should also be invited into the universities, because partnership between business and education is the way forward. The Minister referred to this in his speech. We welcome the partnership between education and business and everyone should try to cultivate it.

There must be a greater integration between business and the education and training sector. The business and education training forum is one area where this could happen. There has already been a number of initiatives in which businesses have trained their own staff at local educational establishments. Companies that are recognised by local education establishments should be encouraged to promote business, by allowing people to be involved in education while they are working. The expert skills group sees the need to extend the integration of business and education.

Providing incentives to business people to invest money in educating their employees will ensure there are sustainable jobs which will remain in this country. That is where the real growth is. This applies particularly to Irish companies. The facility of an institute to develop these skills is crucial. Many Irish companies have great products but they do not have the facilities or money to employ researchers and to invest in R&D, which would take them into the marketplace at a higher level. Some of the initiatives in the Bill could go some way towards redressing that area.

I have already referred to social trends. There are now many single parent families who we are trying to integrate into the education system. We need to put more emphasis on adult education. There is major new thinking on adult education in my area. It is promising to see the number of adults taking part-time courses in our third level institutions and what used to be called vocational education committees — they are all called colleges now. There is an amazing number of people attending night classes in rural areas. This new emphasis on adult education is to be welcomed. Sections of the Bill may lead to greater funding for this area.

We have established a third level institute in Ballina from scratch, which is a daunting prospect at any time of the year. After four years of intensive work, we launched a third level institute last July. It is limited in its capability and the scope of its denominational thrust, in that it is a single denominational institute. This year we have 20 part-time students taking diploma courses in community development and ten post-graduate students studying theology. We can see the value of such initiatives in rural areas. One might say it is a very small beginning and wonder what future it might have; nevertheless, we are convinced that in a few years' time, with the emphasis on adult education and the shortfall in third level places throughout the country, we will have a growing institution in our area. I am sure our R&D section would qualify under some aspect of the new legislation and I am sure the Minister will receive demands in this regard before the year is over.

By widening the scope of the Bill, the Minister has opened up new opportunities in many spheres, which is to be welcomed. As I said, we are currently looking at a privately funded project and any public funding would be most welcome. I welcome the Bill, by and large, with a few reservations.

I welcome the Minister. He has attended the House on at least a monthly basis. It has meant that I have had to work very hard.

The Minister has had a number of achievements. The fund which is the subject of this Bill was created in 1997. The Education (No. 2) Bill was introduced this year and a huge new programme was implemented at second and third level education. Approximately ten days ago he introduced the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Bill. Today we are considering a Bill to increase the fund for scientific and technological education investment. It demonstrates that once success is achieved it needs to be worked on.

I welcome the commitment of an allocation of £60 million for the completion of skills development announced shortly after the Government took office. The partnership arrangement will enhance the public and private sectors and the promotion of people in business. This was a core area of the information technology programme launched last year. It is proving to be a very successful project throughout the country.

The hotel and tourism industries need to be linked up. When I was involved in education there was a plethora of courses which lacked a coherent centre. They were sold badly in second level schools. I congratulate the Minister for recognising the opportunity to tidy up this area. I understand from my colleagues that there is now a high degree of co-ordination between that sector and the Department.

I especially welcome the allocation of £20 million for the vocational education sector, especially post-leaving certificate courses and apprenticeships. These have mushroomed in every school. Those students who cannot achieve the high number of points necessary to immediately access the academic area now have a chance to take up courses in the Dublin Institute of Technology and the other new institutes of technology. In addition, those skilled in their trade now have the opportunity to upgrade them and engage in research. This is a great move. The post-leaving certificate courses are now working very well. Many young students are getting the opportunity to take up careers in technology. I welcome that.

While the area of apprenticeships is linked to FÁS and is the responsibility of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the provisions in the legislation touch on it. This area is still the weak cog in the machine. I spoke at length on the subject in the House last week. It is difficult for households to find plumbers, decorators, etc. As educationalists we have a role in the FÁS area in addressing how best matters may be co-ordinated. This is where partnership between the private and public sectors can be further enhanced. The Minister has recognised there are not enough skilled people and the need to tidy up this whole area. In this regard, the input of education to training must be looked at. There is much research into this area and the Minister's allocation of £20 million will help to identify the weaknesses.

With regard to the allocation of £25 million to the schools, not a school in the country has not praised the Minister for the way he introduced the information technology project. The introduction of students to all subjects through the computer is working well.

The idea of partnership is to get the community and business people involved. The huge numbers of courses available at third level, including the plethora of masters degrees, mean that people with primary degrees have great opportunities to do post-graduate work. The Minister has recognised this and has expanded the scope for research and development at third level and will expand it further, not only in the scientific and development area but the humanities and social sciences. That is to be welcomed because many technological skills require an input from the humanities.

The kind of post-graduate courses coming on stream today must be holistic in their approach in recognition of the fact that students will be required to mix in the world on a partnership basis. A social dimension is required and an important aspect of the Bill is the emphasis it places on extending research and technology while creating an atmosphere where people can become involved in post-graduate courses that will enhance their way of life. Success is about how we interact with the public and how we do our business. If we do not get that right we will fail. The Minister has acknowledged that by providing for the extension of research into this area.

The allocation of £30 million will include the buildings in UCD and UCC and information technology at NUI Maynooth and the University of Limerick. The Minister has got it right in extending the project in such a comprehensive manner. Hitherto we concentrated on areas in the cities. We now need to provide for rural development. Education should not concentrate in the bigger cities. It should allow young people to be educated closer to home to enable them build infrastructures in their own areas. The thrust of the Minister's approach indicates he is taking the country into account and not specific colleges and locations. He is to be commended for that.

We have started a very fine programme. Every college has the necessary expertise in the form of our third level professors and educationalists. There are fine young men and women with post-graduate courses coming onstream. They need to enhance their courses with an extra diploma or certificate course. These courses exist and money is being invested in them, whether they are run on a certificate or specialist basis.

We are the centre of excellence in education and we have the young people to prove it. We also have the variety of courses to reflect the needs that are out there. Our education system taps into what is needed. However, we cannot say we will be as successful tomorrow as we are today. We have the people, the courses, the research, the opportunities and now we have the money to match it. I commend this Bill to the House and I hope everyone will compliment the Minister on it.

A 100,000 welcomes to the Minister and the Bill. I congratulate him on this enormous initiative because the fund was set up in January and now we are getting another £30 million for it. It is also important to point out that the additional money provided in this Bill is specifically targeted towards the strategic research initiative which is being organised through the Higher Education Authority. This is a very important initiative because it represents a major Government commitment to third level colleges. It also means that the universities have joined together and contributed another £80 million towards the programme, and this will be available to all in the third level sector. The vision of the heads of the Irish universities should be applauded as well. This is a great day because this Bill is being processed.

Last Friday, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Treacy, announced that £4.5 million will be provided for the industrial research support programme. This initiative was most welcome. The past few days have been terrific for research.

However, the Minister did not mention one point and I would like to refer to it now. I thought the Scientific and Technological Education and Investment Fund would emphasise the important problem we have in relation to physics and chemistry at leaving certificate level. This issue needs to be tackled with some urgency because the numbers who are taking physics and chemistry at leaving certificate level decrease every year. This is very serious because, no matter how splendid our fund, we need people to take up this type of work. When the fund was established one of its functions was to address this issue. I look forward to seeing what progress is being made in this area when the first report issues.

Over the past few years the State has steadily increased its investment in science and technology and now we are beginning to see it paying off in terms of the innovative research being carried out in colleges. Some of the research will pay dividends in terms of the products which derive from them, some will pay dividends in terms of the knowledge gained but all will pay dividends in terms of the graduates it helps to train. For example, I am sure the Minister is aware of the recent problems with multiple drug resistance in bacteria. The bacteria used to be easily controlled by antibiotics but they were becoming resistant to many, if not all, antibiotics used in normal medical practice. What began as methicillin staphylococcus aureus eventually became multiple resistant staphylococcus aureus which is a big problem in our hospitals. We were reaching a state where we were returning to the pre-antibiotic era. I am delighted to inform the House that recent developments in the University of Limerick may turn the bacterium's resistance upon itself. This development by Irish researchers in an Irish university is potentially the single most important breakthrough in the continuing struggle against infectious disease since the discovery of chemical antibiotics in the early years of this century.

Another example I mentioned when we were discussing overseas aid recently was the problem of vaccination and how frequently vaccinations were ineffective in the Third World because vaccines need to be kept in fridges for a considerable length of time. Here this problem is being tackled. The cold chain from production to use has probably been solved. Irish researchers have been intimately involved in efforts to develop vaccines and vaccine delivery systems which can do away with the need for a verifiable cold chain and provide life-saving vaccinations to children who cannot up to now avail of them.

Another example is the fundamental work being done on transplant immunology in this country and for which the Irish Research Scientists Association this year awarded its gold medal. Again research has been undertaken on the psychology of suicide in young people which is a very serious problem here. There is also research into the genetics of inherited eye disorders, etc. There are numerous incredibly important areas of research where people here have made international breakthroughs.

Public funds have been available for people to do this work and we have demonstrated that Irish research, with proper support, can play a leading role in international research. I deliberately used the word "investment" earlier in relation to this country's support for science and technology because for far too long we have looked on spending on this sector as simply a black hole into which we throw money with no prospect of a return.

In recent years we have seen an attitudinal change in both public and private perceptions of the reason supporting research is a good idea. For example, in 1995 the report of the Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council set the year 2000 as the target date by which industry was to double its research and development spend. We passed that target this year, two full years ahead of schedule. All I want to say about this sector is that we should be sure the industry knows what is available in third level institutions.

I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business and we had a lot of debate about the serious transport problems experienced by small suppliers and agents. In the Dublin Institute of Technology, with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, a national institute of transport and logistics has been set up. Unfortunately, there is one problem and that is it has not filtered through to industry that this help was available. We need to ensure there is a good publicity campaign for those areas, particularly technology. The Irish Scientist, edited by Dr. Charles Mullen, is a good publication which brings scientific research to the attention of the public. Perhaps we are not so good at publicising technology.

There is also an insatiable demand by industry for technically literate employees in all aspects of industry's operations. The IDA has identified specific target technologies that it wants to see establish research activities here. The intellectual capital that our graduates represent is worth more than tax relief or cheap labour.

The Minister's fund represents the means to satisfy all that demand. However, we must not lose sight of the need to encourage the development of new ideas that, by their nature, arise in a bottom-up way. The Minister, the Minister of State and other Ministers — the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh — have responsibility for peer reviewed research programmes in their Departments and these are endeavouring to ensure there is maximum support available for projects arising from individual researchers. This is a very important issue. We should never be afraid to support good people with good ideas because their ideas are the feedstock that will make the strategic research initiative a success.

Finally, we have good people in many areas ranging from astrophysics to zoology but, as I have said before, there is a need to set up a postdoctorate research fund so there is equity in the way funding is given to people working in various disciplines. It is very hard to have people on the same bench when one receives £4,000 while another receives £24,000. I know the Minister cannot address this issue today or use this fund to do so but perhaps he will ask his officials if public and private funds can be put into a scientific research fund in the way the health research fund is administered where the Wellcome research fund gives the money to the health research board and it is disbursed from there. This would encourage people working in the area. This is a great Christmas present for all those involved and I thank the Minister.

Mr. Ryan

Like Senator Ordmonde I seem to spend a lot of time complimenting the Minister on his various activities, which is not the natural job of the Opposition. I welcome the Bill. I spent the past hour digging out the original Bill to make sure I understand it. This Bill broadens the scope of the legislation and provides for the necessary funding.

I agree with Senator Henry that we can spend all we wish on equipment, facilities and technology, but if second level pupils are retreating in large numbers from science, particularly physics and chemistry, there will be a serious bottleneck in the area of the pharmaceutical, chemical and related industries. This is happening at a time when the numbers of young people doing the leaving certificate are increasing. The pharmaceutical and chemical industry is as big an investor on an annual basis as the information technology industry. There are no new pharmaceutical or chemical industries coming to Ireland because most of the international players are already here. Very few multinational pharmaceutical companies do not have a base in this country, therefore, there are no new companies to invite here. The scale of additional investment undertaken by this industry in any calendar year in recent years has been as big as the scale of investment taking place in the information technology sector. The unwillingness on the part of students to study physics and chemistry must be addressed because this will present a problem in terms of skilled people to work in the sector.

I hope we leave room for creative research, not just applied research in partnership with industry to meet a specific objective. I have no objection to that type of research. However, there must be room in a large fund for imaginative people, either in the educational or other sectors, who are following an idea. I teach a first year course in chemical engineering. In that course I quote a British scientist who spent his entire 40 years of academic life researching the properties of silicon. He concluded that he could see no commercial use to which his work could be put. In fact, his work became the basis of the microchip industry less than 20 years afterwards. He thought he did wonderful work, he enjoyed it immensely and he was very glad to have done the work but he believed it had no commercial benefit. I believe that there never has been a good idea that did not have some use.

The history of nylon is of Carruthers being given freedom by Du Pont to poke around his laboratory to see what he could do about making long chains of moth polymers. No one knew what he would produce, just that he had many interesting ideas. Out of that came the whole synthetic fibre industry. This came about because a man with particular talent was given scope and resources to potentially waste money. There was a certain sniff from the Department of Education and Science in recent years about some of the funding for research. We must not put time limits on people with strategic ideas. Senator Henry mentioned some of these people. There are people with such a capacity. Our system of secondary education produces people who go into third level education with a capacity to think laterally. A more narrowly focused second level education such as exists in Britain does not facilitate this. Our young people leave secondary school with a broad education.

I wish the Minister would take the opportunity to give us a more detailed assessment of the level of development of the projects he announced in the past 12 months. Some £120 million worth of investment has been announced — £90 million in the sector in which I work — but it would be interesting to know the progress of these projects. Many projects have been announced in my area. However, a year after the fund was set up not a sod has been turned. It would be interesting to know the progress of these projects. I hope the Minister will not tell me to ask the people of Cork.

That is because the Senator is adept at getting more funds.

Mr. Ryan

I will not criticise the Minister if he wishes to show preference to Cork.

I, too, welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on his work in this area.

I do not think there is anyone who cannot see the connection between investment in the education system and the current economic prosperity. In a relatively short period we have begun the process of transforming the economy into a high skilled, high tech economy rather than a low paid, low skilled economy. The problems in Fruit of the Loom should teach us to encourage high skilled, high paid industries. We are all aware of the transformation that has taken place as a result of free education. Generations of people have benefited from the broad education system referred to by Senator Ryan. Many are children of families who would otherwise not have aspired to third level education. The benefits of this are evident in their pay packets and in their self-confidence and self-worth. This is reflected also in the present economic climate.

The Celtic tiger has a high skilled, high-tech appetite. As a graduate of an arts department, I make a plea for the humanities in that context. It is important for Government to reflect the voice of industry through the schools in encouraging second level pupils to study computers, science, engineering, physics, chemistry and so on. We also need people who are more interested in literature and have a creative capacity in areas not related to science or engineering. They have a considerable contribution to make.

I look forward to the setting up of a third level institution in my constituency of north Tipperary in the TRBDI. I recently paid a visit, at the invitation of Shannon Development, to Shannon to see the excellent and productive relationship that has developed there between the University of Limerick and industry. It is the intention of the TRBDI to develop the same close links with local industry. It will provide incubator units and a high level of support for graduates to promote the skills which are the basis of an innovative economy with high skills industries.

I will take this opportunity to put my queries to the Minister. He referred to developing the concept of partnership between the public and private sectors in this area. To what extent has the private sector already contributed? I welcome the extension of the fund to regional technical colleges and institutes of technology. Can the principle of the George Mitchell scholarship fund, under which US citizens might take up positions in Northern Ireland under that educational umbrella, be utilised in this Bill or could a parallel fund be set up to support the excellent principles being put forward elsewhere?

The Bill is welcome. It is one of a number of excellent initiatives by the Department in this area. I wish the Minister well in this and future initiatives.

I thank the Senators for their kind comments and for the welcome they gave the Bill. Senator Caffrey and Senator Ormonde referred to apprenticeships. We have sanctioned the spending of £10 million from the £250 million scientific and technology investment fund on increasing apprenticeships. There are now about 5,500 apprenticeship places throughout the country, between FÁS and the institutes of technology, a doubling of the number over a two year period. However, there is still great need for skills in industry. I will examine the auto turning sector which Senator Caffrey identified.

Senator Ormonde referred to CERT. A sum of £20 million from the fund has been designated for a number of the institutes of technology to increase and upgrade their facilities in this area. Senator Ryan is correct that the buildings in some institutes are up and running while in others they are not. In the case of Cork Instititute of Technology the design plans are nearly finalised. The people in the catering sector in Cork Institute of Technology are stretching the yard a little. That is why it is not built yet.

Mr. Ryan

I am sure the Minister has other channels to convey that message.

In fairness, the building is a sensitive matter because it relates to the facade of the new entrance. However, it will go ahead.

Senator Henry and Senator Ryan identified a key issue, science education at second level. This fund will not address that but we intend to announce an initiative in January on science in both first and second levels. The revised primary school curriculum will be sent to me in January by the National Council for Curriculum Assessment. That will see the introduction of science in primary schools.

In the Estimates we secured funding for teaching science in primary schools. That will include a capital grant to enable schools to purchase equipment and materials. A key initiative is also required at second level. The numbers of students studying science over the past 15 or 20 years have not changed but the percentages they represent are significantly decreasing. The percentage studying chemistry and physics, for example, has been declining for the past ten years.

We intend to announce an initiative in the Estimates for science, particularly physics and chemistry, at second level. It will involve in-service training for teachers and an investment programme in scientific laboratories in second level schools. It will also involve the creation of more places in the higher diploma in education course and more incentives for physics and chemistry graduates. A reserve quota of places will be required so these graduates will not be obliged to scramble with other graduates for places. We started this last year and we intend to progress it further. Extra capitation for schools will also be required to give them incentives to opt for the chemistry and physics option. The key element is the revised syllabus which will be introduced in the two subjects next year. That will be important in dealing with the unfortunate perception of students that physics and chemistry are too difficult for getting points in their leaving certificate.

Both Senator Ryan and Senator O'Meara spoke about the humanities. This Bill is about broadening the legislation to include the humanities. There was a spirited debate about this in the Lower House yesterday. Some Members said I was wrong to move too far in including the humanities. However, what is involved is the addition of £30 million to an existing fund of £20 million, made up of the £15 million allocated for research last year and £5 million for equipment.

We are developing a £180 million fund for research. The institutes and universities are confident that they will raise £75 million. Over the past three years £50 million has been committed to the fund by the private sector in a number of projects. Dublin City University, for example, has a £23 million project to which the State made a contribution of approximately £4 million. DCU raised nearly £11 million from the private sector and through tax relief under the Finance Acts. It demonstrates how the State can stimulate a larger investment by making a certain amount of State funding available. The institution uses it to attract private funding and utilises the tax relief measures in the Finance Acts. That is the type of mix we are seeking.

The humanities, however, is a key area. I believe that some of the rigid demarcations between the humanities and sciences are beginning to break down. We would like to see cross-faculty and interdisciplinary research as well as cross-institutional research. We are anxious to have the institutes of technology working jointly with the universities in some of the research projects which will be submitted as a result of the establishment of this fund.

I thank the Senators and I hope to be before the House next year with more money for education.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.