Dáil Éireann - Volume 311 - 14 February, 1979
National Council for Educational Awards Bill, 1978: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. E. Collins Mr. E. Collins
Mr. E. Collins: We last discussed this Bill on 30 November and I will take up where I left off in speaking about the planning function. I came to the conclusion that the Higher Education Authority had had their say with the Minister on this matter and may have stated quite clearly that under section 3 of the Higher Education Act the Higher Education Authority have a function in relation to planning and financing of the third level sector. I should be grateful for the Minister's observations on this. I am  satisfied that the planning function should not be in the Bill.
The regional and other colleges have developed and evolved their own courses to suit different needs. It has been a flexible and successful system, judging by the degree of employment obtained after graduation. We should be responsive to demands for education at third level and promote a relatively loose system. We cannot afford the duplication of resources but a certain amount of flexibility must be allowed in order to encourage initiative. The regional colleges have grown successfully and have been very responsive to changes in society.
Basically, this Bill is promoting a binary system at third level and promoting a fragmented system. This is unfortunate. I believe in the comprehensive system and the Minister himself is, in the long run, in favour of a comprehensive system. He stated this when speaking on a motion on third level education. The system now being promoted is fragmented because of the three separate partners involved in this sector. The National Council for Educational Awards is to be established on a statutory basis. The Higher Education Authority have been established for some time and exert a considerable amount of influence, not only within the universities but also in the NIHE in Limerick. The HEA actually fund the NIHE in Limerick, while the NCEA award certificates, diplomas and degrees. This illustrates the fragmented approach. The HEA see their own overall function in relation to development and planning, and the NCEA will want their special functions to be seen to be operating.
A third power is at work in the non-university third level system, and this is the Department of Education. They have complete control in relation to the finances of regional technical colleges. These colleges work fairly happily with the NCEA. There is a most peculiar position in relation to the Dublin colleges, which have their own system of awards, yet the colleges cannot be seen to be anything other than third level colleges. According to the Minister's policy, the NCEA should have the power to  make awards there but apparently there is some resistence.
The present system is fragmented, and the Minister has lost an opportunity to unify, even to some degree, the present position in relation to the Dublin colleges, the regional technical colleges and the National Institute for Higher Education at Thomond College. The opportunity has been lost to create a unified system in relation to financing, staffing, and the utilisation of resources. Why should the Department of Education finance regional technical colleges, Dublin VEC colleges and Thomond College while the HEA fund the NIHE in Limerick and the National College of Art and Design? In saying this I correct the slight error which I made on this point in column 549 of the Official Report.
This is a regretful aspect of this Bill. It does nothing to bring together the various strands involved in the administration of third-level education. The Minister is to be faulted on this major error. If the HEA was amended as to its composition and if people from the non-university sector were brought on to the authority the HEA would be the proper vehicle through which State funds would be passed to all third level institutes and colleges.
I am fully aware of the reservations among the non-university sector in relation to the university orientation of the HEA. I understand this, but I see no reason why the HEA Act could not be amended so as to include people from the non-university sector. That would certainly reduce substantially, if not eliminate, the reservations held. Some people are in favour of the Department's funding the colleges, while others favour funding by the HEA. I believe that the Higher Education Authority was established as the developing and funding vehicle for third level education. That is a constructive attitude. This Bill does not tackle that question at all.
The position of the Higher Education Authority comes up twice in the Bill, and I should like the Minister to deal with this matter in his reply. Section 3 (2)(e) says:
 ... through an tÚdarás advise the Minister in relation to the cost of providing, or continuing to provide, or the financing of any study or instruction approved of by the Council....
In other words the council is to advise the Minister through an tÚdarás in relation to the costs and so on. The Higher Education Authority was established as an intermediate vehicle or contact between the National Council for Educational Awards and the Minister. I wonder why is that; I do not know what are the arguments for it. I would understand it if all the finances were going through the Higher Education Authority. If that were the case the Higher Education Authority would be in direct contact with the Minister. This suggests to me that the Minister has not thought out this Bill properly. If An tÚdarás was the financing and planning vehicle I would understand it, but it is not; there are a number of fragmented sources. I should be grateful for an explanation of the function and effect of An tÚdarás in the context of advising the Minister.
Section 16 deals with the financing of the National Council for Educational Awards, which I take to be their administration costs and is to be implemented through a grant from the Higher Education Authority. Again, why is that when the Higher Education Authority have no effective part to play within the NCEA system? It is another indication that the Bill was not well thought out, that no real attempt was made to rationalise the non-university system or to strive for a comprehensive system in the long-term. Section 16 states:
In each year there shall, in accordance with section 12 (2) of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971, be paid by An tÚdarás to the Council, out of moneys received by it under section 12 (1) of the said Act, a grant or grants of such amount as An tÚdarás thinks fit.
Why is that the case? Are the NCEA subservient to the Higher Education Authority? Will the Higher Education Authority manage the finances and  budget of the NCEA? If so, it will influence the budget of the NCEA and will impede the NCEA in carrying out their functions under this Bill, which is not to be desired. It is most peculiar phraseology, and I should like a full explanation from the Minister.
A major point arises also in the Bill relating to the awarding of degrees, the tremendous political angle about which the Minister seems so happy. This warrants clarification. May I take it that the Bill, as published, and when enacted, will mean that the non-university colleges and institutes will be in receipt of degrees solely from the NCEA, or will those colleges and institutes be in a position to seek and use existing awards—be they degrees, diplomas, certificates or whatever—from professional bodies or institutes outside the compass of the NCEA? My reading of the Bill is that the colleges in the non-university sector are still allowed to seek awards from institutes other than the NCEA. Perhaps that is a good thing; perhaps that option should be open to colleges; perhaps the competition is healthy. I have an open mind on it. I would prefer that the option exists for colleges and institutes to seek awards outside the NCEA.
A question arises under section 3 (2) (a) (ii) of the Bill which has caused serious concern to the non-university sector relating to the examining role of the National Council for Educational Awards. That subsection reads:
have either attained a standard regarded by the Council as satisfactory in examinations or other tests of knowledge or ability set by the Council or which for the time being stand so approved of and relate to such courses or have performed in a manner regarded by the Council as satisfactory other exercises so relating and for the time being standing so approved of,
This indicates that the Council will have an examining function. I do not believe that that is correct. It is unfortunate that that should be so. The colleges and institutes coming under the Bill, when enacted, should have freedom to develop their own faculties and courses. They  should have the right to organise their own courses' content, examinations and indeed the RTCs the right to appoint their own extern examiners. That is an independence highly cherished in the non-university sector. I see no good reason that it should not be maintained. I believe this subsection of the Bill is obnoxious and unnecessary. I believe it to be an attempt on the part of whoever drafted this Bill to give to the NCEA overriding powers which the Council should not have. The National Council for Educational Awards Bill has always been seen as an awards validating council. I do not think it was ever seen as an examining council. It should not be seen to be an examining council because if it is seen as such there would be great ill will caused among the colleges and institutes throughout the country. I would earnestly request the Minister to have this section looked at again with a view to deleting it, and I will certainly put a motion down myself because the matter is a serious one.
Another major criticism which I have of the Bill relates to the composition of the council. In the first instance let me refer to section 1 before I discuss the composition of the council. Section 1 states as follows:
“an institution to which this Act applies” means—
(a) the National College of Art and Design,
(b) the National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin,
(c) the National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick,
(d) Thomond College of Education, Limerick,
(e) any Regional Technical College,
(f) any institution specified in an order made under section 20 of this Act by the Minister;
There is an opinion that each regional technical college should have been specified and that the position of certain colleges should have been regularised. This should have been done. If the Minister had the courage he could have taken the question of the Dublin colleges  in hand and resolved the question for the long term. I regret that he did not have this courage on this occasion. The question of the Dublin colleges is a vexed one, and it is obvious from public readings, meetings and public utterings that there is severe friction between the Dublin City Vocational Education Committee and the Minister. The Minister should have taken the bull by the horns and resolved and regularised the position of the Dublin colleges. That, of course, is wound up in the whole question of the availability of non-university third-level colleges in Dublin. It is a serious matter and one which should be tackled. The Minister had an ideal opportunity to tackle this question under the Bill but he failed to do so.
The question of the composition of the council is the next thing I want to discuss. Let me say in the first instance that I am of the strong opinion that the director should not be a member of the National Council for Educational Awards. A director should be seen as a person who implements policy. Certainly he should be available to the council to give them advice on matters directly affecting the council, but he should not be a member of the council. I am quite satisfied that that is a serious matter.
Section 10 indicates that the director is being given inordinate powers. It is the first Bill that I have ever seen in the House which enshrines the name of a person in it as a director or as a functionary. I do not know what precedent there is for it. I assume there is some precedent. Section 10 (2) states:
The person first appointed to be director shall be Pádraig Uasal Mac Diarmada.
I wonder how many people there are of that name in the country. I am sure there is more than one, and which of them is intended in the Bill? There is a Pádraig Uasal Mac Diarmada who is the present acting director of the council, and I take it that he is the person intended, but certainly the Bill is faulty in its text.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: There was another one who used to play football for Cavan.
Mr. E. Collins Mr. E. Collins
 Mr. E. Collins: Yes and it could be he. Being a Cavan man, I would say he would have a very good chance of being appointed. However, the drafting of that subsection should be changed, and I would suggest—and I will suggest on Committee Stage—that the Bill should read “the person first appointed to be the director shall be the present acting director of the council”. That should be a simple formula and should meet the requirements of this section.
Section 10 (3) (a) refers to the powers of the director.
The Director shall, in accordance with any direction given to him in that behalf by the council, control and direct the activities of the council and staff of the council.
That is a most extraordinary power to give any director.
The Director shall, in accordance with any direction give to him in that behalf by the council—
which is peculiar phraseology anyway—
control and direct the activities of the council and the staff of the council.
This seems to be the reverse of what should be happening. A council should control the direct activities of the director. Maybe the director wrote this Bill, but it does not seem to be the correct position in relation to what should appertain as regards the relationship between the council and the director.
I will now move from the question of the powers of the director to the composition of the council itself. As I said, I believe that the director should not be a member of the council. He should be seen to be a chief executive of the council, and he should act on the instruction and at the discretion of the council in decision-making in the council. He should certainly have the facility for discussing matters with the council. I do not see why he should be a member of the council, and I will be moving an amendment to ensure that he is not a member of the council. It is just bad management. There is a chief executive to carry out instructions, to carry out general policy and specific policy; that is  the correct position, and there is no need for the director to be a member of the council.
Concerning the composition of the council, the first and obvious omission is the absence of a representative of the National College of Art and Design. That is a most glaring omission. This is the premier body involved in the national policy of art and design here. It is quite obvious that the colleges should have a representative on the council. I stated on 30 November that I would be moving an amendment to ensure that the NCAD would be represented directly on the council.
The second omission, which I consider an important one, is the lack of student representation on the council. I believe that at third level there should be student representation on policy making bodies, and in relation to the NCEA I believe there should be at least one student representative on the council. I would suggest that the simplest method of achieving that aim would be to state in the Bill that the Union of Students in Ireland would nominate a member of the council.
There should be rapport between the institutions and the people who use them, particularly the students. At third level there is no reason for students not being anxious to play a constructive role in evolving policy and in the evolution of non-university education. Admittedly under subsection (1) (a) of section 5 the Minister may appoint students to the board but students should, as of right, have representation, and the simplest manner of ensuring this is to specify in the section the USI.
The general balance of the council leaves much to be desired. I do not agree with the provision that four members be appointed by NIHE Limerick or by NIHE Dublin. I would prefer a good spread of representation. There is no reason for one person not being appointed by NIHE Limerick and one being appointed by NIHE Dublin or, indeed, by Thomond College. I am satisfied, though, with the appointment of one from the universities. Again, there is a glaring omission in respect of the Dublin colleges in relation to the RTC.
 There is not any specified recognition of their right to appoint a member to the council. Because of the importance of the Dublin colleges, they should be represented. I would prefer a provision whereby a member would be appointed by each of the regional colleges. There are not very many of them, and I do not think that to have them represented would upset the balance of the council, but it would preserve a sense of involvement among the regional technical colleges who would then have a direct link with the council. Consequently, they could partake directly in the discussions and the deliberations of the council. That is an important principle. Even now RTC authorities are concerned about the preference that might be given to a college because of its being represented on the council.
The easiest way of ensuring fair play is to have a representative from each regional technical college and by having a representative from all the colleges and institutions to which this legislation will apply. We are a small country. We are talking in terms of, perhaps, 15 different colleges and institutions. There should not be any attempt on the part of anyone to deny representation to any college or institution. In order to allow for such representation, the number provided for on the council could be changed. Perhaps a council made up of a chairman, a director and 23 other members is adequate. I agree with the Minister having the right to appoint a number of members direct to the council. This is an important function on his part, and I am convinced that in any such appointment he would have as his primary aim the interest of education. Indeed, it is necessary that he be in a position to appoint distinguished persons to the council in addition to what one might call representative members.
The lack of provision for the appointment of a registrar is a serious omission, especially when one is talking of a council as important as this who will be responsible for overseeing development in the non-university sector and who will be involved in the awarding of large numbers of certificates, diplomas and degrees. They will be undertaking  national policy in respect of the non-university sector. It is only proper that records of decisions reached and of action taken be safeguarded, and the proper way of ensuring this is by the establishing of an office of registrar. This is a practice that is well-established among large academic bodies. I shall be moving an amendment in an effort to put right this omission in the legislation. That amendment will not be political in any way. It will simply take the form of asking the Minister to establish an office that is seen to be obvious in the context of the functioning of the NCEA.
The position concerning membership of the council is interesting.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Sean Browne
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would suggest to the Deputy that much of this discussion would be more appropriate to the Committee Stage.
Mr. E. Collins Mr. E. Collins
Mr. E. Collins: It is not my intention to go into detail on the sections. I shall endeavour to speak in general on the Bill. I understand the provision in section 7 whereby anybody who is not ordinarily resident in the State cannot qualify for membership of the council, and I understand also the same provision in respect of members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Therefore, I do not agree with those who argue that there should not be any bar to membership. The provision, too, in relation to an undischarged bankrupt is understandable, but the provision in paragraph (d) is rather odd as it reads. It provides that a person shall not be eligible for membership of the council if within the immediate preceding period of three years he has made a composition or arrangement with his creditors. I know many people who have made either a composition or arrangement with their creditors. I see nothing wrong with that. I take it that what is intended is the exclusion of anyone who has made a composition or arrangement with his creditors under backruptcy law. The wording of the subsection is rather funny to say the least of it and should be changed. The bankruptcy laws should be mentioned. Section 7 (e) states:
 ... within the immediately preceding period of five years he has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment by a court of competent jurisdiction.
A person was jailed for seven days for not paying his television licence because it was not printed in Irish. According to paragraph (e) that person would be debarred from becoming a member of the council if he was so jailed for seven days within the preceding five years. A specified period of imprisonment should be made, as has been the practice, and paragraph (e) should read:
within the immediately preceding period of five years he has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment by a court of competent jurisdiction for a period of not less than six months.
There is one other peculiar omission which relates to an insane person. Apparently if you are insane you can be a member of the council. I do not think this is intended, and perhaps an additional paragraph (f) should be inserted stating that if a person is insane or is certified insane he should not be allowed be a member of the council, unless the Minister wishes to have an insane person on the council, which I doubt. The same qualifications in section 7 also relate to a certain extent to section 8 (6) and would, consequently, need amending.
The director should have a retirement age of 65 like most other officers in the civil service. He should not be like Idi Amin and be director for life. I do not think the Minister intended that. There should be a compulsory age for retirement, and I suggest 65 which is the age most wise people decide to retire from a very active scene.
Under section 13 (4) (a) the question of the protection of staff arises. It is important that the staff should be protected and that they should not have to be performing duties at the whim of the council. It is important, especially in relation to transferred staff, that they should not be engaged or involved in tasks other than those for which they were originally intended. Problems of superannuation for transferred staff may also arise.  Some may prefer to receive a gratuity in lieu of superannuation upon being transferred to the new council. This is a technical matter which was brought to my attention.
The question of standards has arisen under the Bill in respect of degrees. In section 3 (2) (b) (ii) in relation to degrees the phrase: “corresponds or is analogous to any relevant standards for the time being in force in universities” is used. What universities are meant by that? Are they Irish, English or European universities? In section 9 (4) (g) in relation to standards the phraseology: “shall have regard to any corresponding standard required by a university in the State” is used. The council may be pursuing courses which are not available in a university and may have to adopt other standards. A better phraseology would have been obtained if the words “standards should be those which are nationally and internationally recognised” in respect of a discipline were used. That is a simpler and more meaningful phraseology in the context of the NCEA and the non-university sector. A phrase like the one I have just used is a clearer phrase because you are not necessarily referring to university courses but to professional and craftsmen's courses and to new courses which may not be available to either a professional or university institute. The phraseology used in respect of standards is an important matter, and the words used in the Bill are unsatisfactory.
Section 3 (1) specifies a number of areas:
... technical, industrial, scientific, technological and commercial education provided outside the universities, whether professional, vocational or technical, and in association with the aforesaid education to encourage and promote liberal education.
That subsection lacks a number of references, for example, to complementary studies and art and design. The words “art and design” have been omitted, and that is a serious omission in view of the existence of the National College of Art and Design. Legal studies, catering, applied humanities, public administration, business and  management education and agricultural studies are all areas which the NCEA are involved in, and yet there is no specific reference to them in subsection (1). It is a glaring omission. In drafting a Bill of this nature greater care should have been taken to ensure that all the disciplines and courses of study were spelled out in greater detail. The Bill is all the weaker for this.
It is a sloppy Bill, as I said before. I will be putting down a long list of amendments in an effort to correct this. I regret that the fragmented state of third level education in Ireland will remain. The Minister made no attempt to come to grips with a comprehensive system of third level education in both the non-university and the university sectors. A great opportunity was lost. This is an important Bill which will affect the non-university sector for many years to come. The Minister would have received the plaudits of this House if he had tackled the real problems of third level education and the stopping of the fragmentation which exists. In not doing so, I believe that he is doing justice neither to himself nor to his Department. I am not opposing it on Second Stage, but I shall have a long list of amendments.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: This is a trojan horse of a Bill. On the face of it nothing could appear simpler than to introduce a piece of legislation to give statutory existence to an organisation which has had a fruitful and ad hoc existence for several years. There is much more to the Bill than ratifying the present status of the National Council for Educational Awards or restoring to that Council the facilities to award degrees.
In some of its small print—and some of its print is very small indeed—the Bill has implications for some parts of the third-level sector in education that go beyond the Government's election commitment in this regard and open up many new fields for querying what precisely the long-term intentions are in relation to third-level education outside the universities. It is obvious that the Minister, when he was Opposition spokesman for education, was under the  impression that the business of not just restoring to the NCEA their degree-awarding powers but of establishing them on a statutory basis was something which could be accomplished at the stroke of a pen.
The Government's election manifesto announced that it would immediately establish the NCEA by statute. I do not know what happened after the Government assumed office to delay the necessary preparation of the Bill. It may be that the Minister discovered that things were not as simple as he thought they were; indeed, we have his word for it that he took a personal interest in the progress of this Bill during its drafting and made weekly inquiries about it.
There was a strange contrast between the delay in producing the Bill and the speed with which in November last the Minister expected us to take it. As far as I recall, I did not object at that time but I thought it was anomalous that the Minister should have spent the better part of the year and a half producing the Bill and then expect us to take it nine days after its publication. I was all the more suspicious of this tactic because of the absence of an explanatory memorandum accompanying the Bill. If any Bill needs an explanatory memorandum it is this one, not necessarily for Deputy Collins or myself. In so far as this Bill is going to affect the institutional structures and the working conditions of people involved in the entire third-level educational system outside the universities, it is less than good enough of the Minister to produce a document the basic intent of which is swathed in the traditional jargon of the parliamentary draftsman. I suspect that the Minister would go down in history if he could ever produce a piece of legislation that was written in plain English or in plain Irish. It is not impossible in other legislatures—the American one is a classic example. I sometimes think that we are too hamstrung by the British tradition of parliamentary drafting. Hamstrung or not, we are stuck with it for the time being.
The Minister was less than generous when he sought to defend his decision  not to produce an explanatory memorandum for the Bill. He remarked, no doubt in the heat of the moment, that if the National Coalition Government had produced any education legislation of any substance we might be in a better position. The implication is that because there was no substantial education legislation from the National Coalition Government this was in some sense an excuse for the absence of the document which in courtesy is produced with most major pieces of legislation. That courtesy was not extended to the House on that occasion. It is now three months since the Bill was first introduced. The Minister could have instructed his officials to produce an explanatory memorandum during that period, and I am quite sure that it would have been within their competence to do so regardless of the volume or otherwise of the legislation thrust upon them by the National Coalition Government. That we have not got it three months later is a sign of discourtesy to the many people who will be affected by the Bill.
It is essentially a Committee Stage Bill. I do not want to weary the House unduly on matters of detail, but there are a few observations which should be made at this stage. The first observation, which has already been made, relates to the naming of the first director in the Bill. I am aware that there is a precedent for this, probably in the 1908 Universities Act, for some kind of carry-over of function relating to somebody who was a member of one organisation that has been superseded by another and given a statutory basis. This section of the Bill is less than clear, and it would have taken very little to clarify it. Deputy Collins wondered how many Pádraig Mac Diarmadas there were in the country. I can tell him that none of them appears to be on the telephone, because there is not a single Pádraig Mac Diarmada in either the city or the country part of the telephone directory. There are 14 Patrick McDermotts in Dublin and three in the country, and he can take his choice from that.
There is another aspect relating to that which should be mentioned. I find it an oddity but perhaps the Minister can  tell me why it should not be so. Apart from naming the director, there are no provisions for his remuneration, for his dismissal or for his retirement. This seems to be unusual. In terms of the public service generally it is not desirable. In politics we operate on the basis that none of us is indispensable. The same is true effectively of the public service. This is a principle which should be firmly stated in the Bill in relation to such an important person as a director.
I was sorry to find in November when we were beginning to discuss this Bill that, owing to some oversight which I am glad to say has since been rectified, the ad hoc National Council for Educational Awards had not made any of its annual reports available in the Library of the House. Apart from that, the NCEA with its ad hoc basis has performed a very difficult job, which was affected by changes in Government policy from time to time, with considerable application, and its members and the members of its boards of studies have given very generously of their time to the creation, organisation and rationalisation of a system of third level education outside the universities which can, and I am sure will, continue to hold its own with similar systems of education anywhere.
There are two main aspects in relation to the principle of the Bill that need to be mentioned. The first is a simple one, to make the National Council for Educational Awards a statutory body. There is no disagreement about that in this House. The second relates to the restoration to the NCEA of the power to award degrees. This decision relates in turn to another decision which is implicit in the Bill, and that is to plan at Governmental level for the development of third level education on a binary basis. Deputy Collins has expressed his regret that the Minister did not choose the comprehensive option. It is certainly true that in choosing the binary option the Minister has explicitly—he got the endorsement of the electorate for this, in a sense—rejected the comprehensive option chosen by the previous administration.
I suspect the Minister will agree that a  cogent intellectual argument can be made for either form of development of third level education and that the final decision is possibly not one which is made initially in principle but on the basis of the particular circumstances of the case, the particular problems that institutions and the people who run them face in Ireland today. The decision by the previous Government to opt for the comprehensive system was taken in 1974. Late in 1975 I became a member of a party which supported that Government. I think anybody who scrutinises the pages of the journal I edited during that period will be under no illusion about my position and that in a sense—and this is true of anybody who joins any political party—one joins some political parties in spite of some decision they have taken rather than because of it.
I believed then and I still believe that on balance—and it is a very close balance—the binary system probably offers the best model for the development of third level education generally in this country for some time ahead. Our non-university sector is a thriving youngster, but still a youngster. It needs to grow and develop on its own terms. It needs to develop its particular strength, to sort out and solve the teething problems that may affect it. Then, hopefully, we might in the future be able to talk realistically again about the prospects of a comprehensive third level system. If that situation came to pass we would be talking about a comprehensive third level system on the basis of equality of partnership. There would be a great danger—a danger not entirely absent from the present Bill—that in a premature comprehensive system the non-university sector, partly because of institutional weakness, partly because of financial weakness and partly because of the ever present danger of academic escalation would find itself sucked into the university aura and its special strength and special charisms attenuated and ultimately negatived by the influence of a university system which does its own thing very well but which is not necessarily doing everything that a third level education system needs to do.
 I suspect, in spite of the fact that the decision to restore degree awarding powers to the NCEA was effectively a part of the Government's pre-election commitment, that it was not really an election issue and that here, as in so many other cases, it is the interplay of interest groups and politicians on a comparatively small basis that often form the basis for wide-ranging decisions relating to future development in education or elsewhere. It was a natural corollary of the Government's decision to opt for the binary system that they should restore degree-awarding powers to the NCEA, and I hope that the binary system which the Government are intent on statutorily recognising here and, hopefully, developing financially with adequate resources will always be an open one, one in which the university and the non-university sector of our third level system remain open to each other, not one in which the virus of academic escalation takes root or in which the two parts of the system will close in upon each other.
There are two other basic points of principle to which I would like to refer. The first relates to the overwhelmingly institutional character of the Bill. It deals with institutions; it empowers the NCEA to deal with institutions. It designates institutes. It does not take sufficient or any cognisance of the fact that there may be situations in which in order to do full justice to the development of third level education there may be some institutions which might not be designated by the Minister but which organise courses which the NCEA might see fit to recognise.
In section 3 of the Bill there is reference to the recognition of degrees, diplomas, certificates or other educational awards. It states that the council may:
confer, grant or give degrees, diplomas, certificates or other educational awards to or on persons who—
(i) the Council is satisfied have attended or otherwise pursued or followed courses of study or instruction conducted by, or provided  under the supervision of, an institution to which this Act applies....
In the definition section we are given a list of the institutions to which this Act applies. Generally speaking the institutions concerned are technological institutions teaching at third level. Unless I am mistaken, there is already at least one institution to which this Act does not apply and to which the Minister has not given any indication of designation, which has been in touch with the ad hoc National Council for Educational Awards and which has had a course validated by the NCEA. I am referring to the Irish School of Ecumenics which as far as I know has recognition for a qualification in ecumenical theology. This is a classic example of an institution which does not need to be designated by the Minister but which has the right to apply to the NCEA for validation of a particular course. There may be many other such institutions. I am concerned at this point that the Minister should not close the door to the possibility that any such institution, without having to go through the perhaps complicated necessity of being designated by the Minister officially by order, should be able to submit courses that they consider of appropriate standard to the NCEA and have them validated by that council.
The other main point that might be made at this juncture is that there does not seem to be any restriction in the Bill in regard to the work of the NCEA effectively being carried on at third level. There is no specific reference to third level education as such or third level institutions as such. There are one or two references which could be open to the interpretation that the NCEA could, if they so wished, or if the Minister permitted, extend their activities downwards into second level, perhaps even taking over the leaving certificate. That might not be an unmixed blessing, but I wonder what the Minister has in mind as a possibility for the NCEA. This is what I mean when I say that the Bill is something of a Trojan horse. There are all sorts of grey areas; all sorts of portmanteau powers are being given to the NCEA and we do not know whether the Minister intends seriously giving them  this kind of power or whether he is aware that this section of the Bill might be open to the kind of interpretation.
I turn to the question of the function of the NCEA and their powers. Here one must express some reservation about the very wide nature of the powers being given to the NCEA, particularly in relation to the regional technical colleges. Section 3 (1) of the Bill says:
The functions of the Council shall be generally to encourage, facilitate, promote, co-ordinate and develop technical, industrial, scientific, technological and commercial education provided outside the universities, whether professional, vocational or technical, and in association with the aforesaid education to encourage and promote liberal education.
Subsection (2) of that section goes into considerable detail about the council's functions but it is prefaced by a sentence which says:
Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section,...
That means effectively that, even if the council want to do something which is not specifically authorised under subsection (2), it is their business to appeal to subsection (1). It might have been simpler to put in an entirely new subsection saying that the council may do almost anything they like, because effectively that is the implication of that first phrase in subsection (2), and that phrase has enormous implications for the development of third level education, especially in the regional technical colleges.
Mention has already been made of the long-standing debate about exactly how far the powers of the NCEA extend. Deputy Collins, before he moved the adjournment before Christmas, noted that the power to plan third level education outside a university was not included. This afternoon he has gone on record as saying that he thinks that the power to plan would not be an appropriate power to give to a reconstituted NCEA. The Union of Students in Ireland have advocated the planning function for the NCEA, but I also believe that this function would not be appropriate for the  council in the general context in which they are being asked to play a part in the development of third level education. The Irish Federation of University Teachers in their policy statement on the NCEA issued on 23 November commented on this issue as follows:
IFUT believes that there is a need for a single body which is competent and has the authority to plan the development of 3rd level education in both the university and non-university sector. It further believes that the Higher Education Authority, suitably modified, is the appropriate body to undertake this role. In order to carry out this enlarged function properly it will be necessary that the authority undergoes a significant expansion of its facilities. In addition it will be necessary that the membership of the Authority be adjusted to take account of its expanded role.
A corollary of this proposal is that the NCEA would revert to its original role as an academic validating body for the non-university sector.
One can agree with the federation that the basic function of the NCEA should be a validating one and, I would add, a co-ordinating one, without necessarily agreeing that in present circumstances at any rate and as presently constituted the HEA should be the planning authority for higher education in this country. I tend to believe that the Minister, advised by the Department of Education and the HEA, is probably the best planning authority for higher education here. I am speaking in general terms, not specific terms, because I believe that there can and ought to be a creative tension and dialogue between the HEA, the Department and the Minister for Education in relation to resource allocation for higher education. In that dialogue the voice of the NCEA would not be entirely absent, but its main input would be on the co-ordination and validation side. It is, of course, effectively impossible for the Minister properly to plan the development of third level education without paying attention to the views of the NCEA on co-ordination and validation, and I have no doubt that any responsible Minister will do at least as much. I will  come back later to the question of the regional technical colleges when I talk about the question of the composition of the council.
There is one single problem which the Minister does not appear to have cleared up by this Bill, and it will continue to fester until he solves it. The problem is, that for all the attempted rationalisation that we had in this Bill we still have a situation in which as a matter of policy teacher qualifications will now be validated formally by two different validating bodies. The teachers who come from Thomond College in Limerick will receive an NCEA validation for their degrees, and most if not all of the other teachers will receive university validation for their academic and professional qualifications. This goes way back to 1968 when a tribunal established by the then Government and headed by Professor Ryan went into, among other things, the whole question of teacher remuneration and made a recommendation which broke parity between the teachers of the traditional, as they are rather slightingly called, hand and eye subjects—as if one could utilise one's hands and eyes without using one's brain—and the teachers who worked on the more academic side. A predecessor of the present Minister, Deputy Faulkner, suggested in 1971 that the NCEA should perhaps validate all teacher educational qualifications or at least that they should all be validated in the same way. We have here a failure to grasp that situation, which has, of course, implications in terms of paying teachers an appropriate wage, a situation which will help to put off the day when we will have a unified teaching profession, which is something that should not be delayed any longer than necessary, because it is something which will have a powerful influence on the development of national policy in relation to education and expenditure on education.
Reference has already been made to the question of standards to be expected for the degrees which are to be awarded by the National Council for Educational Awards after the passing of this Bill. The  Minister in his original contribution pointed out that the advice of the Higher Educational Authority was to the effect that the establishment of a national council for educational awards should be accompanied by the safeguard that the standard of the diplomas and degrees awarded by them be in no way inferior to those of the universities. This is a kind of educational provincialism which implies that universities are the be-all and end-all of our educational aspirations and qualifications, and that we have to match up to the universities if we are to get any credence at all for anything we do outside. It was almost inevitable that the Higher Education Authority, given their composition, tended to take this point of view. I am sorry to see a Minister virtually adopting the same point of view and suggesting in circumstances where the comparison may not be relevant at all that we should match one kind of qualification against another. The idea that the university degree is the pinnacle of perfection is a 19th century attitude which we should have outgrown by now. We now know better the strengths of the non-university system and how to retain them. It is particularly anomalous that the Bill should imply that sub-degree work should be in some sense comparable to university standards. The universities have traditionally paid very little attention to sub-degree work. They rarely have diplomas or certificates that are studied for by any substantial number of their students. We are being asked here to tie the National Council for Educational Awards and their standards to standards which the universities have by and large not thought appropriate to even define. There may be an argument for allowing a certain correspondence at the degree level, but even here we must be careful, because over the years the curricular and syllabus content of many of our non-university degree level courses has diverged quite substantially for very good vocational and occupational reasons from the content courses organised by and held in the universities which are similarly titled. We must be very slow to allow the universities to continue or to extend hegemony in this area. The Bill will bear very close looking  at in that regard at a later stage.
There is a problem in relation to the Dublin situation. Educationally the Dublin situation is something of a can of worms at the moment. There is so much uisce fé thalamh about it that it is rather difficult for the outsider to discern either the intentions of the various institutions involved in relation to the future organisation of higher education in Dublin or more importantly the intentions of the Minister. The Minister has in this Bill given himself the power to sort out the problem in part by designating colleges, but he has not given us any indication of how he proposes to do this or whether he proposes to designate any of the major institutions which we are talking about under this Bill. We are literally being asked to sign a blank cheque for the Minister in relation to the co-ordination and planning of higher education in Dublin. Just how blank a cheque it is can be seen by the fact that as the Bill is presently constituted the Minister has the power to designate colleges not presently designated without giving them any statutory right to representation on the council.
The Minister may say that he will never do such a thing; he may say he has the right to appoint persons to the council and that naturally he would not designate any college without making sure they had an appropriate degree of representation on the National Council for Educational Awards, but the Minister has only nine places on the National Council for Educational Awards and the calls on those places are mounting daily. There is no way in which the Minister can possibly reconcile all the demands, many of them very valid demands, and at the same time stick to his limited nine places. That must be looked at as well.
In relation to the Dublin problem, which is general and a classic symptom of which has been the refusal of the vocational colleges in all but a few cases to submit courses to the NCEA for validation. There is the other problem that some of the vocational third-level institutions have been submitting courses to university institutions—and one in particular—for validation. A  question has been raised both inside and outside this House as to whether the Minister intends to stop this. I have examined this question in some detail and it appears that it is impossible for the Minister, within currently accepted definitions of the meaning of university autonomy, to prevent any university institution in this country from recognising any course they choose, whether or not it is provided by an institution designated under this Bill. There is one thing the Minister can do; he has quite recently given himself the power to do it. He can refuse to recognise such courses for grant purposes.
When some time ago we passed the innocent looking Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Bill, 1978, I examined the wording because it seemed to represent a change from the original Bill in a substantive aspect. Whereas before the passage of that Bill any university degree-level course was automatically eligible for grant purposes, after the passage of this Bill no university degree-level course is eligible for a grant unless the Minister specifically says it is so eligible. This effectively gives the Minister the possibility of choking off the development of such courses and of such links between university and non-university institutions without interfering with university autonomy. He simply declines to recognise the course for grant purposes for students who would otherwise be entitled. If I am right in my original suspicions, this is why the original Bill was passed in that form and why it came to us before this Bill. If this Bill had come to us first we would have seen more clearly the implications of the other Bill.
In this discussion of the relationship between the university and non-university sectors, there is one critical question. It is particularly critical in the light of the option to take the binary course. That is the question of whether or not, and the degree to which, students can transfer between institutions in the technological sector and between such institutions and the universities.
During his speech the Minister said:
I consider it also extremely important that arrangements should be  worked out to facilitate the transfer of students as appropriate from one institution to another and the co-ordination of courses between the regional technical colleges and the national institutes for higher education, as well as where appropriate the National College of Art and Design, and, in certain instances, the universities, to facilitate the students and secure the maximum opportunities for advancement throughout the whole range of third-level education.
I could not agree more with this statement by the Minister but I must express the doubt and concern that it represents little more at this stage than a pious aspiration. It is an aspiration we all share but it is on the implementation of that aspiration, whether by the Minister or the NCEA or by whomsoever, that this decision to establish the binary system will stand or fall. At present there is virtually no statutory mechanism which will enable the NCEA, even under this Bill, to achieve the necessary degree of collaboration from the universities so that there can be transfers not only from the technological to the university sector but also, and perhaps in some cases more importantly, in the reverse direction so as to ensure that the talent and brains of this country are not wasted because people have been put into an educational cul de sac at the age of 17 or 18. We must not burn bridges between the two sectors but rather build bridges, but not on the basis of a slavish adherence to a nineteenth-century, old fashioned idea of the supremacy of the universities.
I now turn to the question of the competition and the representability of the NCEA. Shortly after the Bill was published the Minister received a letter from a friend saying it was the best possible Bill and would be more lasting than Brown's.
Mr. E. Collins Mr. E. Collins
Mr. E. Collins: A distinguished academic.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: All I can say about the letter in question is that it was probably  written on the basis of a very cursory examination of the Bill because the Minister seemed to receive it very soon after the Bill was published.
We face one very important point of principle and that is whether the NCEA should be a representative body. There are different models here for our examination. The original model for the HEA, for example, was deliberately set up in such a way that even though people were appointed to the HEA who were members of the staff or adminstration of particular institutions falling under the general purview of the authority, they did not represent the institutions from which they came and they were so instructed by the Minister of the day in his inaugural statement. That is one option. The other option is that an authority or council is set up to which people are not only appointed from particular institutions but on which they are expected, allowed and even encouraged to represent the point of view of their own institutions.
I have difficulties with the representative idea for a couple of reasons. First of all, the NCEA is precisely that; it is a national council and it is not a parliament. Secondly, there is the real difficulty of ensuring the degree of representativity which would be appropriate if it were to be a fully representative council of education at third level, outside the universities. Although I think some compromise can probably be worked out, my initial reaction would be more in favour of the council idea rather than the representative idea.
I have no doubt that on some occasions in the internal workings of the HEA certain members of that authority were not entirely immune to the temptation of representing institutional interests but—and this is important—they were not appointed by the Higher Education Authority on the recommendation of that institution. Therefore, the decision as to whether or not they represented the interests of that institution in the internal councils of the Higher Education Authority was basically a matter for themselves. We are setting up a system here providing that a substantial majority  of the members of the National Council for Educational Awards are going to be appointed on the recommendation of one institution or another. It would be very difficult for persons so appointed to reject the institutional claims of the institution from which they came in the name of the greater good of the development of third-level technological education in general.
The Minister said in his original speech that the original members were not being appointed to promote individual interests of any separate institution, that their allegiance was to the council, and not to the institution on the recommendation of which they may have been appointed by the Government. Later on in his speech he said that his concern was that the provisions in the Bill would make for a well balanced and competent council representative of the main areas of professional and academic activities involved. The Minister may fail here in that he is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, he is introducing a principle of representativity by inviting institutions to nominate members to the council. On the other hand he is saying: nominated or not, when you get there, you have to forget the fact that you have been effectively nominated or elected by the institution. To put it mildly, it is putting a strain on people to ask them to try and ride both those horses simultaneously. I wonder whether the Minister's attempt to steer a middle course in this will succeed. It might be better—and no doubt he will be thinking about this between now and Committee Stage—for him to go back to the old Higher Education Authority formulation. If he does not, if he insists on maintaining this para-representative quality of the council, then we open up a much wider area for debate. That is the area in which there have been already very many statements by people who feel, with considerable justification, that they have not been given a fair crack of the whip in terms of representation.
The first such complaint came from the Board of the National College of Art and Design, a board appointed only very  recently by the Minister and headed by somebody who is no doubt a friend and mentor of his, Professor John O'Meara. It was a tribute both to the Minister, to the calibre of his appointees to this board, and especially to the chairman, that he should not have felt inhibited in any way from making the statement that he did. Indeed he is a former mentor of mine. From what I know of him I would not have expected anything else on a matter of principle. It is rare enough in those days that moral courage of that kind is shown, and it should be seen for what it is. There were already signs in his Second Reading speech that the Minister was conscious that there was a certain legitimacy in this claim. He has already, at least in principle, opened the door to changing the composition or to perhaps giving statutory recognition to the right of the National College of Art and Design to membership on the council.
Various other institutions have complained about the lack of representation. For example, the Association of Vocational Education Colleges has complained that there is no representation for it, as of right, on the National Council for Educational Awards as we have in this Bill. The Minister would have to take all of these complaints—and some of them are very valid ones—into account when he is making his appointments. Here, however, we come back to the fact that he has nine only out of 25. He will have to think seriously about the overall structure of the council if he is to ensure that, given the principle of representativity which, in a sense he is introducing in this Bill, he will afford membership of the council to all organisations and institutions which can legitimately feel they have a role to play. A particular case has been made in this regard by the regional technical colleges. There is one aspect of that claim I do not think has been sufficiently adverted to. Section 5 (2) of the Bill suggests that before making a recommendation as regards an appointment by the Government under this section—that is the ministerial nine—the Minister should consider to what extent industry, agriculture, fisheries, commerce, any of the professions, or the staff or students  of regional technical colleges need representation on the council. The irony of this, quite apart from the fact that he will have to find a great many more places than nine perhaps if he is going to meet all these needs, is that the statutory recognition—which is being given to various institutions in relation to the appointment of members—relates to the management body of these institutions, not to their staff or students. If the Minister is going to give representation to the management bodies of the various institutions designated and non-designated, such as the universities, it seems only fair that he should be open to the importance and necessity of supplying some kind of adequate recognition or place for the management of the regional technical colleges. I do not mean by saying this to exclude the legitimate rights of staff members and of students. In passing I would say that the principle of student involvement in the overall national development and administration of higher education in this country has been universally successful since it was first introduced. It is not so long ago since it was first introduced. It is fair to say that when the claims were made for representation, whether on the governing bodies of the universities or indeed on the original ad hoc NCA itself there were quite a few faint hearts who anticipated that all these revolting students would do would be to throw stink bombs, generally disrupting the affairs of a serious and responsible body. The intervening period has shown that student involvement in higher education on an administrative level is as we might have expected, and certainly is as I would have expected, commensurate with the degree of importance for the students concerned of the whole higher education system. It has been an act of faith, if you like, in the principle of student involvement and representation, perhaps a minimal one, but certainly one which has worked very well in practice.
I tend to disagree with Deputy Collins' suggestion that the restriction of membership of the council to persons who are normally resident in the State is an appropriate one. I do not disbelieve  for a moment that we can supply adequate personnel in this country to act as members of such a council, to staff it and run it, but we should not be too provincial about it. If a certain admixture of expertise from abroad were to be thought useful there should not be a legal bar on the Minister appointing such a person to the council.
If, for example, the present president of the Union of Students in Ireland were to be appointed to such a council we might have an ironic situation, in that the present president of the Union of Students in Ireland is effectively a non-national or attended a third level education institution which is not only not technological but a university and outside the confines of the State and might therefore be in some sense adjudged in-appropriate for membership of the council. I do not think anybody in this House would like to see that kind of problem arising.
There is another particular difficulty in relation to membership which I will mention before leaving this section, and that is the confining in section 5 (2) to the staff and students of regional technical colleges. If as seems at least possible—and I repeat we should have some indication of the Minister's intention in this regard—any or all of the higher education institutions in Dublin run by the Vocational Education Committees are designated under this Bill and are designated without explicit representation on the council one would need to alter or at least widen the scope of this subsection to include vocational colleges as well as regional technical colleges to ensure that the Minister could appoint them in any way in which he saw fit.
I suspect that the Committee Stage of this Bill will be a fairly lengthy one. I welcome it for some of the things it does. Some of the other things that it purports to do are by no means clear. Some of them may not be necessary, and above all the Minister will have to clarify his mind and this Bill on the question of whether or not the council is to be a representative body or not, because if it is to be representative—and this seems to be the way his mind is going—we will have to have a far wider spread of interest  so that the really vital, young and growing parts of the technological education sector are not stifled by an academic or institutional top-heaviness. Like Deputy Collins I shall be preparing amendments to the Bill in due course. This party certainly does not intend to vote against it at this stage and, while we are sorry that the Bill took so long to prepare, we are glad to see it, and I would argue that by the time that it leaves this House it will be a monument not to the Minister but to the Dáil.
Minister for Education (Mr. Wilson) John P. Wilson
Minister for Education (Mr. Wilson): A Cheann Comhairle, I want to thank Deputies Horgan and Collins for their contributions. I notice that Deputy Collins, while not coming down fully on the side of comprehensive third level education before Christmas, did say today that he was in favour of full comprehensive third level education. Deputy Horgan on the other hand stated at one stage when editing the quite prestigious Education Times that he was in favour of the comprehensive approach and he now backs the binary system.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: I said the opposite. With respect, a Cheann Comhairle, the point I was making was that my point of view before I joined the Labour Party was that I was in favour of a binary system but that point of view was expressed in the columns of that paper at that time.
Mr. Wilson Mr. Wilson
Mr. Wilson: I see. I was very pleased to hear the contribution by Deputy Horgan, because it is a rather unfruitful thing to dedicate oneself to binarism or any other ism but as Deputy Horgan outlined his views today, namely, that the technological area is young and growing, that it needs time to build up its muscle, that there would be a danger of its being smothered by the traditional third level education institutions, I am in total accord with the Deputy in his thinking there. I have stated on numerous occasions that that is my approach. I would hope that there would be no conflict or even an apparent conflict in the objectives of the system because, unlike the universities on the Continent, our university institutions have quite a big technological input.  Quite recently the IAESTE (the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) people were here and I was speaking to some of them. They naturally are very interested in their own technological sphere, and they pointed out to me that it was the exception rather than the rule in continental universities in many countries to have any technological sectors at all. We have developed, as the British universities have developed, a strong technological sector in the universities, engineering, science and so on, and I cannot see that we should be making a big thing of either comprehensive or binary or making one or the other into an ism. They are both involved in the business of higher third level education. They are both specific objectives and they should nurture each other and cross-fertilise, cross-pollenate, and this would be to the advantage of third level education in general.
I just want to take up a few points made by Deputy Collins first and then go on to points made by Deputy Horgan. The idea that the director of the National Council for Education awards should not be a member of the council is a strange one. The director in his avocation would be inhibited if he was not a member of the council. The council will be the better for having him a member and he will be the better for having experience on the council itself. In fact, if Deputy Collins reflects on it he will find that his own Minister, during the period of office of the National Coalition, followed the policy of putting the director on the council as far as the NIHE in Limerick, for example, was concerned.
We had a very strange thing from Deputy Collins, the idea that the HEA should fund all third-level education. I should like him on Committee Stage to explain exactly what he meant. Did he mean, for example, that the HEA should fund the regional technical colleges and take them away from the VECs? This would be a major departure, and I would be interested to know if that is the point he was making. I should like to know if he has tried to find out if the VECs in general agree with this view. Does he think the Vocational Education Act  should be amended in such a way as to allow the RTCs, for example, to be financed not directly by the committees but by the HEA?
Deputies Horgan and Collins found it hard to identify Pádraig Mac Diarmada, the director mentioned in the Bill, and I was more than shocked to find Deputy Horgan applying the bourgeois criterion of looking for him in the telephone book and deciding that because he was not in it he did not exist.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: It is not a more bourgeois idea than having an unlisted number.
Mr. Wilson Mr. Wilson
Mr. Wilson: The director concerned has given good service and is reasonably well known in the technological world because of the work both he and his council have done since the council were set up as an ad hoc body. Though it may be unusual to name a person in a Bill, this will not be the last time when I will be doing this.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: I wonder if he has been waiting for a telephone as long as some of my constituents.
Mr. Wilson Mr. Wilson
Mr. Wilson: Another point that surprises me is that about the reports of the NCEA. I cannot understand the reference, because the reports have been published and copies of them are available in the Dáil Library.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: They were not there last November.
Mr. Wilson Mr. Wilson
Mr. Wilson: That surprises me, because I read a report in the Dáil Library during the consulship of the previous Minister.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: Perhaps the Minister forgot to bring it back.
Mr. Wilson Mr. Wilson
Mr. Wilson: I do not do that kind of thing, purloining documents from the Library.
Mr. Horgan Mr. Horgan
Mr. Horgan: I would not seriously make an accusation of that kind against the Minister.
Mr. Wilson Mr. Wilson
 Mr. Wilson: The point made by Deputy Horgan about the Irish School of Ecumenism is a good one. I would envisage the role of the council as being adaptable in this respect. Adaptability has not necessarily been written into the Bill; but the fact that the council will provide validation for a course which has been assessed is sufficient justification for their existence and the performance of this very useful role of filling a vacuum in the assessment, validation and awards area.
Detailed discussion of the sections can be left to Committee Stage. However, Deputies Collins and Horgan went into some detail on some sections. In particular, Deputy Horgan referred at some length to the word “plan”. He said that planning was not appropriate for the NCEA. We must not forget that the council are a body for educational awards and that any powers given to them are being given in the context of there being a council for educational awards and are related to the council's role as a council for educational awards. It is important to remember that when discussing the Bill.
A point was made about giving teacher qualifications and that Thomond College would be under the umbrella of the NCEA while other teachers will be getting their awards from the universities. This point was made by Deputy Horgan. I do not think this will have any effect on the status or qualifications of the teachers in either sector. Indeed the whole purpose and thrust of the Bill is to have a council for making educational awards, assessing and validating, which will be internationally recognised and respected at home, second to none in this area, and it is for that reason that we are pleased that the teachers in Thomond—the physical education, metalwork, rural science and woodwork teachers—will come under the aegis of the NCEA.
Deputy Horgan made an interesting remark on the reference in the Bill to the universities. I fail to understand it. He said it is a form of provincialism—I forget the adjective he put before “provincialism”. I do not have to give a thumbnail sketch of the development of  the universities in western Europe. The universities evolved and grew into the consciousness of western Europe, and when we talk of universities in the Irish context we have a yardstick, a criterion—we are talking in a certain universal discourse, as the philosophers called it, and it is accepted that we mean excellences in certain ways, and it is precisely because we are aiming at that kind of universal discourse that the word “universities” has been mentioned in the Bill. It does not mean that the universities are to have any kind of influence, any baleful influence, on the technological sector. It does not mean that the content of courses will be or should be influenced unduly by the universities. There is a specific technological ethos with which we do not want the universities to interfere, and it was precisely because of that that I opposed in this House the policy of my predecessor who wanted to sit down—this is the simile I used at the time—like a pitchcap the university system on the head of the technological system by his proposals for legislation when he was in power.
I am very pleased that Deputy Horgan referred to the mobility aspect and to the role of the NCEA in producing this mobility. The council's assessing role, validating role and awarding role can be the lubricant which will enable easy mobility from the regional technical colleges to the national institutes for higher education. There is the horizontal mobility to which the Deputy referred also as between the institutes of higher education or the RTC's and the universities and also the other way from the universities through to the technological sector. It is possible that the council will have a role in that regard. I am confident that they will perform that role.
In my opening speech I referred to the non-representative role of those whom we shall appoint to the council. I do not think it is beyond the powers of the people from institutions to prescind from whatever institutions to which they belong, to take what is laid down in the Bill as a role for the council to which they will belong, and to dedicate themselves to the objectives expressed in  the legislation without being prejudiced in favour of their own institutions or to the ethos of the institutions to which they belong. I trust that the Deputy will accept that. We know that everyone has his share of human weaknesses, but when accepting a position on a council such as the NCEA a person from an institution will know exactly what the council is designed for, what is their business and how they pursue their business. I would presume that if a person appointed to the council was under the impression that he could not contribute effectively to the working of the council he would not take membership of the council. That is the attitude I would expect at this level of operation.
Regarding the NCAD it is as well to say that there were other proposals from that college in regard to their future, their role and their relationship to the NCEA and also to the universities. That explains why I was chary about including them in the first place but, as has been said, the scene has changed.
The provision about living in the country was put in specifically for the reason that it was considered that particularly in the technological field it would be useful for a member to be resident in the country, to know the exact state of the technological education in the country, to know of the institutions, to know the strength and weaknesses and to know what demands are being made on the sector by bodies such as the IDA. It was in this kind of context that the idea was put forward of the desirability of members of the council living in the country.
The final point made by Deputy Horgan can be summarised by the word “academic”. The point he was making is one that has been made frequently, that is, that the institutions to which the council will relate will not be swamped in academicism. The provisions of the Bill and the various references to the type of person who will be appointed to the council will ensure that there will not be grounds for that fear. Time and again there has been a repetition of the idea that there was necessarily a conflict at post-primary level between what is called “academic” and what is known as  “practical” education. I have not been able ever to see the situation divisively but I think there has been an acceptance of the pushing of a role in the past on holders of leaving certificates. In other words they were type-casted on the basis of the kind of leaving certificates they held. But that is not necessarily so, and I should like to see the holders of the leaving certificate putting themselves forward for apprenticeships, for certificates, for diplomas and for degrees in the technological field. The necessary input at leaving certificate stage need not be great to qualify a person for such studies. I should hope that in the future more people holding the leaving certificate would regard themselves as right for a lot of areas for which traditionally they did not consider themselves right. While in opposition I visited the AnCO centre at Ballyfermot and I was pleased to find there a number of people who had leaving certificates and who were being trained in trades. In one case the apprentice had a university degree. I am giving those examples in order to put forward my views on this matter and also in reference to the final point made by Deputy Horgan.
I thank the Deputies for their contributions. As has been said rightly, this is a Committee Stage Bill and we shall have plenty of time at that stage to tease out the various sections. I trust that it will not be too long before that stage is under way. I assure the Deputies that I will welcome their constructive contributions and I trust that the Bill on reaching the Statute Book will deserve the praise that Deputy Horgan has forecast for it.
Question put and agreed to.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Sean Browne
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: When is it proposed to take the Committee Stage?
Mr. E. Collins Mr. E. Collins
Mr. E. Collins: I will be putting down a number of amendments.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday 27 February 1979.
Dáil Éireann 311 National Council for Educational Awards Bill, 1978: Second Stage (Resumed).