Dáil Éireann - Volume 441 - 12 April, 1994

Adjournment Debate. - Student Representation on UCC Governing Body.

Mr. Bradford: I am glad to have the opportunity to raise this important issue but I am disappointed that neither the Minister nor Minister of State is present. However, I realise this is due to constraints of work. The problem was caused by the attitude of the Minister. Hopefully she is prepared to reconsider her stance.

For almost 25 years UCC students have been represented on the governing body of the college by the president of the students union. Unfortunately this has not been the case since July 1993. The governing body met several times last year to discuss matters of importance to students who were not represented at those meetings.

It has been the tradition for the Minister for Education to appoint the president of the students union to the governing body under the National Universities Act, 1908. The current president [273] of the UCC students union. Mr. Fergal Shanahan, has been in constant correspondence with the Minister since his appointment in 1993 seeking clarification as to why he has not been appointed. Unfortunately he did not get a satisfactory response to his queries.

When I put down a written question to the Minister on 1 February she informed me that it had been the practice for the president of the students union to be appointed to the governing body as a Government nominee but consideration had to be given to the question of gender balance in relation to such appointees. The Minister's action has left students without representation on the governing body for the first time in 25 years.

Students at UCC who spend millions of pounds on college fees are being denied a say in how these moneys will be spent by a Minister who said last autumn in the run up to the National Educational Convention that she wished students to have a strong voice in the future of Irish education. In the next month or so the governing body will meet to discuss the fees structure for 1994-95 and the students will not be represented. The democratic wish of UCC students, male and female, is that they be represented on the governing body by the president of the students union, Mr. Shanahan, but unfortunately the Minister is going against the democratic wishes of the students. She is doing so on the basis of gender balance but it appears to me to be going overboard to be politically correct. The Minister should listen to the pleas of the students union. UCC students have democratically elected a president and he is entitled to sit on the governing body. The Minister should get off her high horse and respond to the demand of students to have their president, as was the case heretofore, on the governing body of UCC.

I do not expect a detailed response from the Minister of State but I hope she will transmit the strong pleas by UCC students that their democratically elected [274] president should be on the board of the UCC governing body.

Ms E. Fitzgerald: On behalf of the Minister for Education who cannot be here. I would like to reply to the points the Deputy made.

The National University of Ireland and its three constituent colleges at Dublin, Cork and Galway operate under the Irish Universities Act, 1908, and the associated charters. These charters, inter alia, prescribe the composition of the governing bodies of the colleges and the Minister has no discretionary power in relation to the matter.

The charter under which University College Cork operates provides for a governing body of 28 members and while there are provisions in the charter whereby the professors of the college elect six members and the graduates of the college elect four members, there is no provision for student representation.

There is a provision, however, whereby the Government appoints three members and in order to make up for the lack of provision for student representation it has been the practice for the Government since the early seventies to appoint the president of the students union in the college as a Government nominee.

As the Deputy is probably aware, the Government is anxious that there should be an appropriate gender balance on the boards or governing authorities of all public bodies. This creates certain difficulties in bodies where some of the members are elected and others appointed ex-officio. The charter provides for a governing body of 28 members and the question of an appropriate gender balance inevitably arises. The governing body consists of 24 males and three females and there is one vacancy. The current president of the students union is also male and his appointment would not contribute to improving the gender balance.

The Minister is concerned, however, [275] regarding the question of student representation and the Deputy will be aware that in the recent regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology legislation there are specific provisions for student representation. In the newer universities too. Dublin City University and the University of Limerick, there are provisions for student representation and [276] in the National College of Art and Design. In this context, therefore, a proposal will be put to Government next week to appoint a student representative to the governing body of University College, Cork.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 April 1994.