I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It gives me great pleasure to bring forward these two Bills — the Dublin City University Bill, 1989, and the University of Limerick Bill, 1989.
Ireland has a long and proud tradition in the area of education. Our educational system, to a large degree, has withstood the test of time and the standards it has achieved at all levels are the result of the dedication of successive Governments and the investment of time and effort by parents and those who work within the education system devoted to teaching, research and, in general, to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge.
It can be argued that the monasteries of Ireland were the precursors of the mediaeval university as seats of learning and scholarship. However, the university at Bologna, established in the 12th century, and, then, Paris are generally regarded as the first of the mediaeval universities. It was not surprising, therefore that attempts were made to establish a university of scholars in Dublin during the early part of the 14th century. The inchoate University of St. Patrick was established by Papal Bull of Pope Clement Vth in the following terms:
By our apostolic authority we decide that in the same city of Dublin... there should be a university of scholars and...in every lawful science and faculty...in which masters may have liberty to teach and students to hear lectures in the same faculties.
There is evidence that lectures were given and that there was a formal conferring of degrees on teachers and on students who had been educated elsewhere. However there seems to be little evidence of activity by the university after 1320. In 1465 a parliament held in Drogheda, presided over by Thomas, the eighth Earl of Desmond, passed an Act to the effect: "...that there be a University in the town of Drogheda in which may be made Bachelors, Masters and Doctors in all sciences and faculties ...". Nothing came of the project, however. I hope nobody looks for that university now.
In 1475 a further attempt was made to establish a university in Dublin. Pope Sixtus IVth by Papal Bull of 27 April established a "university of theology and the liberal arts necessary for the knowledge thereof". Again, this project failed to develop further. Finally, in 1568 an attempt was made to revive the University of St. Patrick; this attempt also failed.
University education in Ireland has a distinguished history, notwithstanding these early unsuccessful attempts. This extraordinarily learned and successful history formally commenced with the granting of the charter to the University of Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, in 1592.
Further university colleges were established in the middle of the 19th century; these included the Queen's Colleges in Cork, Galway, Belfast and the Catholic University in Dublin 1854. In 1908 the National University was constituted, comprised of University Colleges in Dublin, Cork and Galway; in 1910 St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, which had been established in the final years of the 18th century, became a recognised college of the National University of Ireland.
The other long established sector of Ireland's higher education system and of general education — the vocational education committee system of colleges — can trace its roots to the 19th century. It was given an added impetus and developed particularly strongly following on the passing of the Vocational Education Act, 1930. The colleges of technology of the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee — now the Dublin Institute of Technology — for instance, developed from trade schools to institutions offering programmes over a broad range of disciplines from apprentice, to technician, degree and professional level.
The sixties saw a major thrust towards the development of technical education following the publication of Investment in Education, 1962, Training of Technicians in Ireland, 1964, and the report of the Steering Committee on Technicians in Ireland, 1964, and the report of the Steering Committee on Technical Education on the Regional Technical Colleges, 1967. The latter report forms the basis for the establishment of a network of regional technical colleges complementing the existing colleges of technology in Dublin in providing technical/technological manpower to meet the needs of an evolving industrialised economy.
The Robbins Committee in the United Kingdom during the sixties identified, inter alia, a major missing dimension in the United Kingdom higher education system, namely, the absence of a sufficiently strong emphasis on technological education at university level. This missing dimension was also evident in Ireland. NIHE Limerick developed in the early seventies following the announcement in 1969 of the intent to establish it. The Minister for Education of the day, Deputy Brian Lenihan, spoke of his vision for the NIHE and his expectation that it would be a new initiative, of which the country would be proud.
NIHE Limerick enrolled its first students in autumn 1972 on programmes in business, engineering, humanities and science. Indeed, I recall the enthusiasm with which the Limerick University Project Committee pursued its goal in the sixties which led to the decision to establish the first NIHE in Limerick.
In fact in the mid-19th century the then Mayor of Limerick, Pierce Shannon, led a delegation to Westminster to present their case for a university for Limerick. The demand and thrust for a university in Limerick has been fairly constant since that time.
The establishment of NIHE Dublin was embodied in a set of decisions made and promulgated in 1974 by the then Government regarding the restructuring of the higher education system. Specifically, it was stated that NIHE Dublin "should be a recognised College of the National University of Ireland with a capacity to evolve into a constituent college or to become an autonomous degree awarding institution".
As a result of the 1974 Government decisions the NIHE Limerick was established as a recognised college of the National University of Ireland in March 1976. The first degrees were awarded by the Chancellor of the University. However, the Government subsequently decided to establish the NIHEs as independent statutory bodies under the Higher Education Authority and also introduced legislation providing the National Council for Educational Awards with the degree-awarding function.
The National Institutes, established in Limerick and then in Dublin, were challenged to develop programmes of teaching and research at international standards equivalent to those of the established universities, while giving special attention to Ireland's emerging needs in the fields of science, technology and business.
The Government, on the advice of the Higher Education Authority, wished to ensure that there would also be a significant element of the humanities present, and from the outset programmes of study commenced, not only in science, engineering and business, but also in the arts. Indeed, Ireland's first arts degree in European studies commenced in Limerick in 1972. Degree programmes in communications and in languages and a postgraduate programme in journalism were developed in the NIHE Dublin. This development in Ireland paralleled the growth of new universities, some of them formally named technological universities, throughout Europe. The two institutes were established on a statutory basis under the NIHE, Limerick, Act, 1980, and the NIHE, Dublin, Act, 1980. Degrees, diplomas and certificates are awarded by the National Council for Educational Awards under its Act of 1979.
It is now 16 years since the first students were admitted to the National Institute in Limerick, and nine years since they were admitted to the National Institute in Dublin. Since then both bodies have emerged as institutions of high standing, both nationally and internationally. Time has permitted their graduates to demonstrate their abilities in a wide range of disciplines from the arts to the sciences, and at the highest academic level up to and including the doctorate.
The recognition of the achievements of the NIHEs is well known to parents and students and is reflected in the high level of competition for admission, the high quality of those students admitted and by the high demand for graduates. The breadth and depth of their academic standing is also attested to by the success with which they pursue postgraduate study at other universities, both within European Community countries and further afield.
The NIHEs have played their anticipated role in stimulating economic development, introducing educational innovation and, indeed, have been both directly and indirectly responsible for a wide range of new enterprises which have been attracted to this country, or been created by their graduates.
Some years ago it was proposed to Government that they should consider conferring a more appropriate title and granting the right to award degrees to the NIHEs, clearly defining the university level standing of the NIHEs internationally. In order rigorously to establish the justification for such a proposal, a distinguished panel of national and international experts was invited to examine the standing of both NIHEs and to advise the Government on the proposal to combine both NIHEs into a national technological university. The group's unambiguous findings have established that both NIHEs clearly operate at university level, whether viewed from a national or an international perspective and fully justify the conferring of university status. Furthermore, the international team recognised that the range of activities within both NIHEs encompassed not only the sciences, technology and business, but also the arts, and concluded that the national technological university title would not adequately reflect this comprehensive range. The team also advised that it would be more appropriate to establish each NIHE as an independent university with the power to award degrees and with the normal functions of a university.
When the Government decision was announced last January to set up the two NIHEs as universities the activities of the technological commission may not have got the attention which they warrant by the nature of their work and their findings. It was the previous Government who decided to set up the technological commission, composed of people internationally recognised and renowned in the field of study. The commission worked speedily and reported to the then Minister, Deputy Cooney. When I came into office the report was formally presented to me.
I make this point in a deliberate fashion because it may emerge from subsequent contributions to the debate that there may not be on the part of other persons a full commitment to the idea of establishing these two colleges as universities. The Government of the day, foreseeing that it was such an important issue, took the advice of an international body of experts. The Government gave them their brief. They studied it and it was submitted to me. The group's unambiguous findings have established that both NIHEs clearly operate at university level whether viewed from a national or international perspective and fully justify the conferring of university status.
During the past year the recommendation has been given careful consideration culminating in the Government's decision to confer full university status on both NIHE, Limerick, and NIHE, Dublin, with power to award degrees, diplomas and certificates and undertake the normal functions of universities, inter alia, including research towards the advancement of knowledge and research and development in the interests of business, industrial and national development.
The Government are deeply conscious of the historic nature of these proposals in view of the fact that these two new universities will be the first to be established since the foundation of the State. Government are also conscious of the clear benefits which will derive from the enactment of this legislation. It will convey to the international community Ireland's seriousness regarding industrial and business development in an increasingly competitive world; it will serve to emphasise the importance which Ireland attaches to excellence in learning and it will highlight the capability of Ireland's higher education sector. The establishment of the new universities represents a further underlining of Government commitment to industrial development. It is also a vote of confidence in and will be a significant help to the development of the communities in which the new universities are located.
The legislation will enhance the NIHEs ability to develop research and academic links with European and other foreign universities, will enhance their access to research support from international sources, will increase the number and extent of student exchange programmes, a matter of considerable relevance with the prospect of the single market in 1992 and will enhance the development of credit transfer arrangements and joint teaching programmes with EC and other universities.
What is proposed, therefore, is minor amending legislation in respect of the NIHE, Limerick, Act, 1980, and the NIHE, Dublin, Act, 1980 in order to: change the titles of the institutes to universities, to change the titles of the directors to presidents, to confer the power to award degrees, diplomas and certificates on the new universities, to amplify the definitions of the functions of the universities, to give the governing bodies the authority to extend the functions of the universities, with the approval of the Minister for Education, and to extend the functions of the academic councils to make recommendations to the governing bodies on the conferment of degrees, diplomas and certificates.
The authorities of the institutes and the Irish Federation of University Teachers have been consulted and they concur with the proposal to introduce the amending legislation.
It is right that I pay due and proper tribute to the National Council for Educational Awards under whose aegis the NIHEs have developed. The acknowledgement of excellence which is the basis for this legislation is, at the same time, an endorsement of the quality and standing of the National Council for Educational Awards, its processes, its awards at all levels — certificate, diploma and degree — and also of the colleges and institutions which are designated institutions of NCEA.
As I have been at pains to do in any of the fora in which the development of the universities has been discussed, I want to pay formal tribute to the NCEA on their strong commitment and work with the NIHEs in their formative stages of growth. I have consulted also with the NCEA and they have many imaginative ideas on moving forward within their various areas of work. Should the occasion arise in the future to amend the NCEA Act to allow them to amplify their functions in whatever way is deemed to be proper by the Government of the day, they will be willingly listened to and their needs addressed by all concerned.
Given the historic nature of these proposals and the important development they represent for the third level education system of the country, I am sure the House will welcome the Government's initiative in introducing these Bills.
I welcome the broad agreement which emerged about these decisions when they were announced publicly last January in Limerick and Dublin by the representatives of the various parties who freely acknowledged the wisdom of the decisions and said they would participate in the passage of the legislation but would not seek to unduly hinder it because they saw the need for it and the dynamism of the action being taken.
I want to also put on record my acknowledgement of that generosity of spirit with which the news was greeted and the further generosity of all the parties in the House in facilitating us when we sought to have the legislation brought to the House this week. There were many reasons for that. Deputy Birmingham, the spokesman for the main Opposition Party, has been asking since January when it was introduced, when we would be bringing it to the House so that the young people being conferred in the autumn would be conferred from whatever would be the title of the two new universities. I pay tribute to the Deputy's tenacity in asking about that so many times. In the meantime, I was beavering away in my Department to produce the finished product. Deputy O'Malley also asked in the House on many occasions when the Bill was to be progressed, as did Deputy Higgins and Deputy De Rossa.
I make these points not in a placatory sense but to show that there are occasions when legislation is right for the time. From my discussions with the interested groups and the various political parties it seems there is agreement. I hope that will not preclude a lively and informed debate on the review and scrutiny of the amendments before us and the various other suggestions which may come forward in the Second Stage debate and into the Committee and Report Stages.
I wish to put on record my thanks for that generosity of spirit and my appreciation of the speed with which everybody, not least my own Department, the Attorney General's Office and the draftspeople concerned, got their work done. This was not a decision plucked out of the sky. It was a very carefully considered decision. The NIHEs have evolved over a very long time. They have won their spurs. They have shown what they can do. They have far outstripped their brief. As is the way with all educational institutions particularly the ones who want to prove themselves, they went beyond their brief in many cases to the chagrin perhaps of other establishments and the Department of Education who would have noted that they had roamed far and wide. In doing so they have won the admiration and respect of the country.
I want to lay to rest that this is in any way detrimental to any other university. It seems that frissons have emerged in the debate on the role of NIHEs and their academic standing. I will go no further than to say that by their fruits one should know them and certainly the fruits of the NIHEs have proved them. They have travelled a long road since the idea was introduced 20 years ago following on various reports in the sixties. We had very wide expert technological advice from the expert committee set up by the previous Government and it has shown unequivocally that the NIHEs have established themselves not just in technological, science and allied areas but in the arts, the humanities, research and development and in all the areas which are proper to universities and to the pursuit of advancement of knowledge.
The Chair may think I have laboured these points. There will be time to return to them later in the debate. It was necessary to make these points. The Government see the setting up of these universities as part of a pattern of evolving third level university education, a pattern which will also arise from the technological commission relating to the colleges Bill for the whole of the country.
I am greatly privileged and honoured that it falls on me to bring forward and to steer successfully through the House a Bill to create the new universities for this country. The titles proposed for the new universities are Ollscoil Chathair Bhaile Átha Cliath, Dublin City University and Ollscoil Luimnigh, University of Limerick. I commend these Bills to the House.