Wednesday, 25 March 1981
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. E. Collins: I want to thank you for affording me the opportunity to raise this matter here tonight and to thank the Minister for coming in to hear me. I feel obliged to raise this difficult question, in view of the reply which I received to question No. 22 on Thursday, 26 February last, where I asked the Minister for Education if he would make a statement on the setting of examination papers in the colleges which are known collectively as the Dublin Institute of Technology and if he was aware of the contractual functions of academic staff regarding the setting of its examination papers. The Minister in his reply stated as follows:
The Teachers' Union of Ireland, which is the recognised teacher organisation for the representation of the views of teachers in the third-level colleges administered by vocational education committee, has not informed me of a decision by teachers as mentioned in the question from the Deputy.
 I found his reply extraordinary. By 25 February last, the dogs in the street knew there was a serious situation developing in the colleges of technology and other colleges attached to the VEC in Dublin city.
The Minister had a letter delivered to him by academic staff dated 5 February 1981 which was signed by Mr. F.R. O'Neill, Chairman of the Dublin Colleges Academic Staff Association. In that letter, the Minister was informed that, because of a number of serious problems in the colleges which, together, constitute the Dublin Institute of Technology, members of that association refused to submit examination papers due on 2 February and that they had no intention of submitting these papers until reason prevailed in the Department. They also took up another matter in relation to examination papers and to their Easter break.
I am very well aware of the historical situation in relation to the representation of teachers in these colleges. I fully acknowledge the part which the Teachers' Union of Ireland have played in representing academic and other staff in these colleges. I do not wish to be drawn into the argument in relation to the Dublin Colleges Academic Staff Association vis-à-vis The Teachers' Union of Ireland. I realise there is a problem, not only between the association and the TUI, but also between the association and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The association are not recognised either by the Minister or by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee as representing the staff. It is a delicate point and I do not wish to say anything that would exacerbate the situation. However, I am compelled to say that there are in excess of 5,000 full-time equivalent students attending colleges in Dublin, nearly all of whom are to sit examinations in the summer or autumn. Because of this dispute, they now face the possibility of not being able to sit examinations. The Minister has a responsibility to these students. I have a responsibility to highlight their plight. There is nothing more aggravating and  disappointing to a student who has worked hard throughout the academic year than to find at the end of the year that he or she is not able to sit an examination.
The Minister appears not to want to become au fait with the situation, although by now he must be aware of the dispute. He has not done anything positive. He says he is awaiting the outcome of an arbitration hearing. I am satisfied that arbitration was necessary but, apparently, the arbitration hearing, as represented by the TUI, is not satisfactory to the academic staff association. I do not want to come between the association and the TUI. I do not want the Minister to represent me as being a divisive voice. My sole concern is the plight of the students attending these colleges. I want to give the Minister an opportunity of informing the House as to his intentions in relation to the setting of the examination papers and the taking of examination papers in these colleges in Dublin. He cannot ignore the present situation. There is an ongoing dispute. Whether the position is satisfactory to him or not, whether he wants to stick his head in the sand and recognise only the Teachers' Union of Ireland, he must take that decision. The House is entitled to know this position here tonight and as Opposition spokesman on behalf of the Fine Gael Party I want to know what the position is in regard to this dispute. What efforts is the Minister making to bring the two parties together in order to resolve the dispute? This thing has grown up because of an historical position in so far as these third level colleges arose really out of the second level colleges attached to the VECs. The Government down the years have got away on the cheap in respect of providing high quality third level courses in these colleges. The rates at which the college lecturers are being paid are something in the region of £2,000 to £3,000 less than those paid to their counterparts in a university college, and that is not acceptable any more. These people are providing high level courses in technology and doing an excellent job, yet the Government seem to be denying  them the level of pay which is demanded by equivalent lecturers in universities and in the NIHE. They are extremely dissatisfied with the position and will not put up with it any longer. People are also concerned about the space problem and the facilities in general in these colleges. For instance, I understand that 60 per cent of the course in the College of Commerce in Rathmines are given in pre-fabs. Surely that is unacceptable in third level education. The space available in Bolton Street and the College of Commmerce is only about 50 per cent, I understand, of the space required to ensure that the courses are properly provided for these third level students.
Mr. E. Collins: Finally, I find in the White Paper an increase of 50 per cent in the enrolments, in the participation rates in these colleges. Tonight I am giving the Minister an opportunity to tell the House where he stands in this dispute and what course he is going to take to resolve it, and particularly to ensure that the examinations are set and that the students attending these colleges have the opportunity of sitting for these examinations about which, rightly, they are concerned.
Minister for Education (Mr. Wilson): I am grateful to Deputy Collins for giving me an opportunity of making some points about this dispute. I crave to a certain extent his and the House's indulgence because certain positive and constructive measures are in the process of being taken now. These constructive measures of today and the next day or so will, in my opinion, bring about a resolution of this difficulty. I realise that Deputy Collins will not be fully au fait with such developments because they are so recent, and I appreciate the reasons for which he raised the issue in this debate on the Adjournment. I trust, however, that he will accept my assurance that all the parties with a legitimate right to be involved are fully committed to solving this problem  without delay.
However, in my defence I must refute any suggestion that I have been remiss in any way in connection with dealing with these questions over the last few months. I have been very closely in touch with the situation and have made very positive interventions in the whole matter. The officials of my Department have indicated to the Teachers' Union of Ireland and the Irish Vocational Education Association during the course of various discussions my view as to how the matters at issue could be resolved in so far as they fall within the ambit of the Teachers' Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme.
The Deputy is aware and has mentioned that a claim in relation to salaries for teachers in the third level colleges was discussed recently at arbitration. The findings of the arbitration board have not yet been formally—I emphasise formally — made available. When they are received they shall have my immediate attention and the attention of the Government. It is open to the teachers' side to submit a claim to the conciliation council for a review of the terms of Agreed Report 14/79, provided the terms of the scheme are complied with in connection with any such submission. A meeting of the Dublin City Vocational Education Committee is due to be held tomorrow night, 26 March, and I understand that certain proposals in relation to the restructuring of the staff of the third level colleges in accordance with the terms of agreed Report 14/79 of the conciliation council will come before the committee for consideration and adoption.
I would like to conclude by exhorting all concerned to pay particular attention to the circumstances of the students, whose future prospects and careers should be of particular concern to their teachers. I may add that the examinations in these colleges are not Department of Education examinations. Responsibility for their proper conduct and the presentation of results is primarily a collegiate responsibility of the staff in association with the NCEA or any other relevant external professional examining body, but the failure to discharge this responsibility  will affect adversely the future of the students. It will also have lasting and detrimental consequences for the status  and reputation of the colleges.
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