Adjournment Debate. - Higher Diploma in Education Courses.

Wednesday, 3 May 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 452 No. 3

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Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  I raise this issue to urge the Minister to immediately withdraw the quotas imposed on Higher Diploma in Education places in our universities. It is totally unacceptable that the Minister should arbitrarily decide on the future career options of thousands of students who wish to develop a teaching career. Many of the students will have started their courses in university in the expectation of being allowed to progress to the H.Dip. programme. It was a natural and traditional path to follow, one pursued for generations by students.

These students were not given any notice in their first year in college that there would be such a quota.

The quota arrangement is very unfair. Information received by me from a number of universities indicates that this year there were 1,058 applications to UCD with only 170 places available; there were 800 applications to UCC with only 165 places available and letters to this effect were sent out late last week to the students involved. In Maynooth there were 860 applications for 150 places.

Those figures illustrate the huge number of students who will be bitterly disappointed again this year. Some students who were debarred by the quota system last year have been unlucky again this year. A number of school principals have informed me that the quota system operates without reference to the subject needs of our schools. This has already been well articulated by the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland.

There is a shortage of teachers for [693] certain subjects such as Irish, woodwork, chemistry, physics and home economics and no cognisance has been taken of this fact. A few years from now there will be a grave shortage of qualified teachers in these subjects unless remedial action is taken urgently.

We are also concerned about the selection procedures to be adopted in deciding which students should be allowed to progress to the diploma programme. Universities adopt different criteria to decide which students should be allowed go forward, ranging from academic qualifications to the size of a curriculum vitae, etc. This will raise serious questions in the minds of students, parents and educationalists generally.

I urge the Minister to be more caring, compassionate and equitable in the treatment of these students.

Minister for Education (Ms. Bhreathnach): Information on Niamh Bhreathnach  Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach  The issue of the number of students who should be admitted to Higher Diploma in Education courses is a difficult one. My objectives are to ensure an adequate supply of teachers and to maintain some reasonable balance between the supply and demand for teachers.

In particular, I wish to avoid a situation where there is an oversupply of secondary teachers or outcry about the number of teachers who cannot get employment, such as happened not so long ago.

The exact forecasting of teacher requirements is a difficult exercise, but from the enrolment projections and other information available to me, it appears that the quota of Higher Diploma in Education students enrolled for the 1994-95 academic year will be adequate to fill the vacancies available.

In relation to the Higher Diploma in Education intake for the 1995-96 academic year, I am re-examining the position and I will take into account such factors as enrolment projections, the estimated teacher numbers required and other statistical information. Other features which will have a bearing on [694] the question are natural wastage of teachers, transition year take-up and the likely additional posts to be approved for schools for 1996-97. These issues will be balanced against the total teacher supply; the output from specialist teacher-training college, such as home economics, psysical education, and technology; and the output from the Higher Diploma in Education courses.

In attempting to make projections, it is impossible to guess how some schools will attempt to fill their vacancies — for example, how they will redeploy their existing staff and what subject mix they will seek in advertising the vacant post.

Another problem is that there are perceived shortages of teachers of certain subjects. The mobility of teachers comes into play here, and the location of the school may well have a bearing on the ease with which a particular vacant post can be filled. The output from Higher Diploma in Education courses does not ensure any particular mix of basic degrees.

It does not follow that the removal of the quota imposed on places in Higher Diploma in Education courses would enable more students to pursue a career in secondary school teaching. Rather, it might result in an oversupply of graduates qualified to teach in secondary schools. This is a situation which I should like to avoid if possible.

I expect to make a decision shortly on the question of the number of places on Higher Diploma in Education courses for the 1995-96 academic year.

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