Dáil Éireann - Volume 535 - 02 May, 2001

Priority Questions. - Institutes of Technology.

48. Mr. G. Reynolds asked the Minister for Education and Science if, in view of the economic benefits which would accrue to the north-west region from the establishment of a university in Sligo, the Government will, under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997, appoint the necessary body to advise the Higher Education Authority on the upgrading of Sligo Institute of Technology to university status. [12399/01]

Dr. Woods: There are no plans at present to change the status of the Institute of Technology in Sligo. In July 1996, the Government approved in principle the recommendations in the report of the steering committee on the future development of higher education as a benchmark for future planning in the sector, subject to regular review. The steering committee report endorsed the maintenance of a diversified system of higher education to meet the varying needs of students, society and the economy. The report did not recommend any change in status for the institutes of technology.

Subsequent to publication of the steering committee's report, arrangements were put in place for a process to enable institutes to apply for delegated authority to make awards within a national qualifications framework. This process was initiated through the appointment of an interim review group chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly. As part of this process, the interim review group undertook an academic review of the institute of technology in Sligo. This academic review, which was published in March 2000, recommended that the institute of technology in Sligo would have the delegated power to make awards in respect of national certificate and diploma courses.

The provisions of section 29(8) of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, 1999, will enable me to give effect to the recommendations of the review group and I propose to do so when the relevant sections of the Act are brought into operation in the near future.

My policy is to continue to develop a framework for the structured development of institutions in the technological sector to address changing local and national demands, while ensuring the maintenance of the complementary third level systems of university and technological education. The diversity of institutions and the separate missions of the two broad sectors will be maintained so as to ensure maximum flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of students and to the wide variety of social and economic requirements. The institute of technology in Sligo will continue to play a major role in Irish higher education.

[575] Mr. G. Reynolds: I am disappointed with the reply because it did not answer the question I asked as to whether the Minister would consider putting together a committee from the Higher Education Authority to consider the establishment of a university in the north-west region. Of all third level educated graduates in the north-west, only 6.6% find work in the north-west region, while 65% find work on the east coast. Of all third level educated graduates from Leitrim, only 7.4% find work in their own county, 6.8% in Roscommon and 14% in Sligo. It is imperative for the economic and educational development of the north-west region that a university is established. I ask the Minister to step up a committee within the Higher Education Authority to investigate this as a matter of urgency.

Dr. Woods: I explained that this matter has been considered and that a study has been done. We have a report on that. I went on to say that the review group submitted a report on the institute of technology in Sligo recommending that the institute should have the delegated power to make awards in respect of all NCEA validated national certificate and diploma courses. The Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, 1999, which has recently been brought into operation, enables the Minister to formally implement this recommendation for delegated authority, and that is for degree awarding status. That is what I hope to be able to do shortly. That qualifications body is now in place.

Mr. G. Reynolds: There is a brain drain from the north-west region. Does the Minister agree that a university campus would attract high value added companies to the area, because that is not happening in the north-west? There is also the issue of cross-Border co-operation. A number of students from Border counties such as Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry attend third level education in the South. If a university was established in the north-west region, many of those students could attend university there. Will the Minister look at this unique situation in relation to Sligo IT and St. Angela's College which are providing third level education in the region and have them upgraded to university status? It is something that the Higher Education Authority should be requested to investigate specifically.

Dr. Woods: The academic review is the kind of review that is necessary before one can do that. It has been reviewed, as have a number of other institutes, including the Dublin Institute of Technology. A considerable amount of development has to take place before it reaches university status. There are two separate lines here in any event. If Sligo Institute of Technology wants to become a university, it has to qualify under the academic criteria and that was the purpose of the academic review.

[576] Mr. G. Reynolds: Under section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997, will the Minister appoint the necessary body to advise the Higher Education Authority on the upgrading of the Sligo Institute of Technology to university status?

Dr. Woods: I have no difficulty if it can comply with the requirements. There was a steering committee to see if that applies at present. If it believes it has reached that stage after such a recent examination and if it comes to me to put its proposals, I will consider them favourably.

Mr. G. Reynolds: The Minister will not establish a body.

Dr. Woods: The first development is for it to be a degree awarding body in its own right.