Thursday, 22 March 1990
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): In dealing with the lack of library facilities in the Carlow Regional Technical College I will also be dealing with the library facilities in regional technical colleges in general. Last March a collection of facts  were published in a document entitled A National Scandal which dealt with the facilities in libraries in VEC colleges. Perhaps the term “a national scandal” is slightly strong language. The term “a national shambles” might be a fairer description of the library facilities in these colleges.
I want to make it quite clear that I have the utmost admiration for the regional technical colleges. The Carlow Regional Technical College has done a tremendous lot of good for the town and the students and has given a new aspect to education. In criticising the library facilities in the regional technical colleges I am trying to help them attain the high standards they should have.
I want to refer to three aspects of the library in the Carlow Regional Technical College. The Higher Education Authority and the Library Association of London, who seem to be the standards authority, recommend one staff member for every 200 students. When the 15 regional technical colleges are taken together it works out at an average of one staff member for every 536 students. In the Carlow Regional Technical College there is one staff member for every 600 students and the Waterford Regional Technical College seems to have hit the bottom of the pile with one staff member for every 900 students. I know we are talking about the ideal situation and that ideals cannot always be reached, but the recommendation is one staff member for every 200 students.
The cream of the universities, Maynooth, has one staff member for every 85 students and Trinity has one staff member for every 73 students. I know that Maynooth and Trinity College have been in existence for many years and it would not be easy for the third level colleges under the VEC to reach their standards. However, there is a terrible gap between Trinity College, which has one member for every 73 students, and Waterford Regional Technical College, which has one staff member for every 900 students. I am talking about third level colleges. I am not comparing third level with second level.
 Clearly the staffing of the libraries in the regional colleges is not up to standard. There are three staff members in Carlow Regional College library. If we were living up to the standard we should have nine. They have to be able to help the students who come in to do research work; they have to be able to do research work themselves. If there are three instead of nine there is obviously room for improvement without even reaching the ideal situation. Allowing for the fact that the regional colleges are much newer than the other third level colleges, the ideal number of books is 35 per student. Carlow has 18,000 books and a population of about 1,800. If they were to follow the standard of 35 books per student they would have 66,500. That is the ideal but there is a big gap between 66,000 and 18,000. There are lots of other figures I could give but we would only get mesmerised by too many figures. I am just pointing out the extremes to show that the library facilities at third level are not adequate.
UCC is established a long time, with 6,900 students and a total of 448,000 books, 75 per cent of them on display at any given time. The total VEC studentship is 29,000, which is roughly four times the number in Cork; yet the total number of books for VEC colleges is only 359,000 — less than Cork University. I am not just talking about Carlow but the total number of VEC colleges. The balance is completely wrong.
The big problem, which I have left until last, is the number of seats per student. The ideal seating accommodation should be one for every four students; obviously all four students would not be in at any given time. Carlow has 76 seats in the library for 1,850 students. Ideally they should have 460 seats. Again they might not be able to reach the ideal but to have just 76 for 1,850 students is a complete sham. These are not primary or second level students. They are students who are doing diplomas and degree courses. In this modern age third level students have to do research. They have to be able to go in and sit down and read and have  access to reference books. If there is room for 76 to sit down and another 1,800 who cannot go anywhere, they have to overflow and take books out into the corridor, sometimes into the canteen, and there is chaos. It is indefensible that it has got to this stage.
The students and the librarians have made their case before this. The staffing is wrong; the number of books is wrong, and the seating accommodation is blatantly wrong. I hope the Minister will accept that there is a serious problem. It is just not enough to talk about knocking a wall here or there because there might be some funds coming from Europe. The problem is such that new library facilities are needed. To a certain extent we are trying to use Mickey Mouse facilities for major third level educational buildings, and it is just not good enough. We must have the staff; we must have the equipment and we must let the students know that if they are going to third level colleges we are prepared to give them the facilities. There is no point in the public or the employers or anybody else expecting that these students can compete with those in places that have far better facilities. I hope the Minister will have some definite views on this.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. F. Fahey): First, I thank Deputy Browne for his contribution and apologise for the absence of the Minister who, unfortunately, cannot be present in the Dáil tonight.
The Minister is aware of the difficulties regarding library facilities at Carlow Regional Technical College and the Department are at present considering the best possible way in which this and other problems in the regional technical college can be overcome. It is pertinent to recall that the Minister recently announced a capital programme amounting to £72.5 million for developments in the third level sector of education. This programme, which will be funded on a pound for pound basis by the EC, includes, inter alia, a programme of enhancement for the regional technical  colleges. This regional technical college programme will put particular emphasis on the provision of library, computer science technology, hotel training, staff and lecture facilities. Discussions are at present taking place between the Department of Education and the regional technical college authorities regarding this enhancement programme. Carlow Regional Technical College is included in these discussions.
As the consultations are ongoing, the Deputy will appreciate that I am not in a position at present to give more detailed information. The Deputy, however, may rest assured that the Minister for Education is fully cognisant of the difficulties being experienced in Carlow and will bear their position in mind before the programme is finalised. The educational importance of library facilities, particularly in a third level institution, goes without saying. Everything will be done within the available resources to ensure that the best facility possible is provided in the regional technical college at Carlow. I will bring to the Minister's attention the points that have been made here this evening by the Deputy.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): In fairness, how could that be given as an answer to a serious question? I am not blaming the Minister of State, but surely that is not an answer to a serious problem that the Minister has known about for a long time?
Mr. F. Fahey: The Deputy will appreciate that while discussions are ongoing with the various regional technical college authorities it is not possible for me to pre-empt their outcome. The problem is not particular to Carlow but applies to regional technical colleges. all over the country. I take the point that the situation is serious. I can assure the Deputy that our Department, and especially the Minister, are working with all haste to find a solution to the problem.
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