Wednesday, 3 July 1968
Seanad Eireann Debate
Acting Chairman (Mr. D.J. O'Sullivan): Before we take up consideration of Committee Stage of this Bill, I should like to indicate that the Cathaoirleach has ruled that amendments Nos. 2 and 7 standing in the name of Senator Quinlan, amendment No. 4 standing in the names of Senators Dooge and Brosnahan and amendments Nos. 11 and 13 standing in the name of Senator Dooge are out of order on the grounds that they involve a charge on State funds.
Professor Quinlan: Of course, this does not preclude us in any way from raising those issues on Committee Stage because while we are not free to impose a charge or to increase it if we make a good enough case no doubt the Minister can come back on Report Stage with the necessary amendment.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are similar in form but there is some difference between them and so while we can discuss them in the one debate, I should like to distinguish between them. Amendment No. 1 is concerned with the definition of an approved institution. Amendment No. 3 is concerned with the question of whether or not a course is equivalent to a university degree. The effect of both these amendments, if agreed to, would be not to compel the Minister but to empower the Minister to devolve to some other body the decision as to whether a particular institution should be classed as an approved institution and whether a particular course should be taken as being equivalent to a university course.
We had in the Report of the Commission on Higher Education a proposal that there be set up a Commission for Higher Education in this country which would be concerned with a number of questions, including general questions of the financing of institutions and of courses in regard to higher education. I think if such a commission were already in being that the Minister might well have given  to such a commission rather than have reserved to himself these two tasks of deciding what is an approved institution and what is a course equivalent to a university degree course. Such a commission has not yet been set up but there is every indication that the Minister will, in the reform of higher education, which he proposes to introduce, set up such a commission. We all hope that this will be a body of full academic standing, and as such it would be an extremely suitable body to determine both of those problems.
The Minister indicated, I think in reply to the Second Stage of this very Bill, that he hoped in setting up the Commission on Higher Education that this Commission would represent the universities in certain matters in which they had previously possessed independent autonomy, that this Commission would now represent them by means of a sort of group autonomy. This, of course, would be a Commission set up by the Minister in order to do certain things in the work of higher education and there are, I think, extra things which it might well do.
The Minister indicated on the Second Stage in reply to the debate that he intends this to be permanent legislation. He rebutted vigorously the suggestion that this was stop-gap legislation. If so, I think we should on this Committee Stage build into this particular measure all the flexibility that will be required. The proposal made here is not that those powers be handed over to a Commission on Higher Education, as soon as one is established. It is still a matter reserved to the Minister to designate, as he thinks fit, a body such as the Commission on Higher Education to carry out those particular functions. I hope as such it would recommend itself to the Minister.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: I would like to support the amendment although I must say I do not think it goes far enough, with respect to my colleague, Senator Dooge. It seems to me quite unsatisfactory that the question of what qualifications are equivalent to university degrees should be a matter for the Minister although I can see that at the present time there does not exist any  body other than the Minister and the Department which is in the position to take an overall view of university education and I can sympathise with the Minister, therefore, in drafting the Bill in this way at this point of time, but it seems to me an unsatisfactory arrangement and I would have preferred indeed if the amendment would have required the Minister, when a body is established with authority over higher education, to transfer this responsibility to them. However, I can see very great difficulties in drafting such an amendment and I can understand why my colleague Senator Dooge has drafted it in the way he has. I would urge on the Minister not alone to accept the amendment but to indicate his intention to hand over this power to any university authority that he may establish.
The question of what is equivalent to a university degree is an academic matter. It is not one in which the Minister can properly adjudicate and certainly he would have to do so on the basis of advice furnished to him, and many people in academic life would be dubious about this being a matter to be settled by a Minister on the advice of civil servants. Many doubts on this score have been expressed and I share them particularly as, when the Minister was here a fortnight ago, discussing this matter, he gave me an assurance, if I remember rightly in the debate, that in relation to the teacher-training colleges there would be no question, when their status is changed in a year's time, of their giving degrees which are not university degrees, up to the full standard of university degrees. I accepted that assurance, but then I discovered subsequently that earlier on that day in the Dáil he had spoken in very different terms when he said that those colleges would “give a type of university degree”. There is no such thing as “a type of university degree”. University degrees are accepted as being equivalent to university degrees given in this country. There is no other qualification. Below that is what is called a diploma. We must be clear about this issue.
I am very concerned about the apparent conflict in the Minister's mind  on this point. This is a very real issue. We are going to have, according to the Minister, all teacher-training colleges in the position of giving a type of a degree. I think anyone familiar with any of the teacher training colleges knows that in some of them it would be difficult, to the point of impossibility, within one year so to change the arrangements, the type of teaching, the type of courses and the staff that they would teach to the standard of university degrees given in the country at the present time.
They are simply not geared to that and they have not the staff. I think it is correct to say that in the case of that teacher training college which is nearest to being in the position of attaining university standard, they, I think, would recognise that there must be a period of tutelage during which they will operate on the basis of a link with some of the university colleges which would ensure maintenance of standards and supervise them during the period of transition. This I think is what they would think desirable. If that is the position with regard to the teacher training college which is nearest to University College, it is clear that in their case it is unlikely that anything could be done to put them in the position of teaching to a university degree in one year. In those circumstances with this confusion of thought apparent in the Minister's mind in the two Houses on the same day of the week I am concerned that the question should be left to the Minister. It is something which cannot be settled by a political Minister. It is something on which the advice of his professional advisers is not necessarily adequate for this purpose and where the institutions concerned would not be happy to leave the matter for a decision of that kind. So that in those particular circumstances at this present time in the absence of any other period one may accept that for the interim period, for some months, this matter would be left to the Minister to decide.
I would hope that the Minister would reconsider this and hand over this function to the Higher Education Authority, or whatever the body is  to be called, which he proposes to establish, and the details of which we look forward to hearing soon. I hope the Minister can accept this amendment and give us that assurance particularly in the light of confusion that has arisen in regard to the teacher training colleges. I would urge on him that whatever plans he has with regard to teacher training he would ensure within the short time, within a year, that teachers would be given an opportunity of acquiring university degrees and at the same time that he does not make the mistake of rushing the transformation of these colleges to produce the situation where they become second class institutions, in the university world, by not providing degrees of university standard. Degrees are only awarded by a university. These will be colleges and how can degrees be awarded by colleges? Certainly universities have not awarded degrees of the second class standard. Perhaps the Minister can verify this position for us.
Professor Quinlan: I am approaching this very widely because the whole section to my mind is wrong. The section as written will mean, in effect, that it will drive a coach and four through university autonomy and the rights and prerogatives of university institutions. In the first place, it applies to a number of institutions, not a university or university college. Why have these to be approved by the Minister for the purpose of the grant, in other words “which is for the time being”?
There is a suggestion here that the Minister can certainly simply approve certain courses in certain of the universities for award and rule out others and he can withdraw this approval at any particular time he wishes. That is not the intention of the Minister. Therefore, why not define an “approved institution” as a university or a university college? There is a need to qualify these. What use does the Minister intend to make of the qualifications he puts in? Why is he looking to designate courses? Again, the second power is “any other institution in so far as it provides courses leading to qualifications which in the opinion of  the Minister are equivalent to university degrees.” This to my mind shows that the Minister's advisers do not really understand the universities or do not understand the professional institutions in this country.
The idea of a Minister deciding that some course was equivalent to a university degree is not right. No university of any standing would give this right to any Minister and neither would the professional institutions. You can take the Institution of Civil Engineers, for example. The Minister says a course given in such a higher technological college is equivalent to a degree and the Institution rules lay down that a member of the Institution must have a recognised university degree. Where does the Minister stand? Would they accept the Minister's pronouncement of an equivalent degree? I do not wish to take a narrow view of this and I do not wish that all the recipients of the grants should be channelled into the university. I want to see every institution playing its full part, whether they are the higher technological colleges, the teacher training colleges or those giving special courses in poultry management or other courses that are regarded as a logical follow-up to a secondary training, up to and including the Leaving Certificate.
Therefore, what I suggest to the Minister is that he should not hide his hands. He should leave the section broad. Why does he have to say that a course is equivalent to a university degree course simply for the purpose of making a grant available to the students who take that course? If it is true that the taxpayer's money might profitably be spent on the course, then I say there is no need for any qualification. Simply let the Minister regard that course as desirable—full stop. We in the university will not quarrel with it. No professional institution will quarrel, but we will quarrel every time the Minister comes and says every course is the equivalent of a degree course. If the Act requires that the Minister has to make this declaration I appeal to him not to put this obstacle in the way of the development of this scheme. I put down an amendment to  this effect but it was ruled technically out of order due to the fact that it might involve additional charge. I ask the Minister to reconsider this and bring in a suitable amendment on Report Stage which he can do—No. 1 to define a university or university college, and No. 2 any other institution giving a post-secondary course which the Minister considers desirable and leave it as flexible as that.
Mr. B. Lenihan: First of all, I should like to direct the attention of the Seanad to the Title of the Bill which is “The Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Bill”. We are concerned with grants towards higher education that need not necessarily be equated to university education. I want to get this very fundamental point home. As we say in section 1, we regard an “approved institution” a “university” or “university college” or “any other institution in so far as it provides courses leading to qualifications which are, in the opinion of the Minister, equivalent to university degrees”. I do not say that they are university degrees. If the community decides at any time that these grants should be paid in order to assist students along particular lines of intellectual and educational development that may not necessarily be university lines I think that the community should have a right to say that it will pay out grants.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I have personally to decide that as the person charged with responsibility by the community. The community interest is surely the interest which devovles on the Minister for Education appointed by the Government elected by the Oireachtas.
Mr. B. Lenihan: This is just the background, and the point is that I propose to retain my ultimate responsibility in this matter. I feel, though, that I can be advised on this matter, and I propose to write it into the proposed legislation on higher education  when we are setting up our proposed Higher Education Authority that I would be advised on all these matters appertaining to higher education by the Higher Education Authority on which there will be substantial academic representation. In addition, we propose to set up a Council of Universities which would be concerned with establishing academic standards in the universities and this would be composed entirely of university people. I think that when the full picture emerges arising out of what we propose to do in the new Higher Education Bill linked with this it will be seen that, far from being anxious to arrogate powers to myself, I am most anxious and will be seen to be most anxious to devolve powers and functions relating to matters of higher education to the proposed Higher Education Authority. So in that context I feel that when our higher education proposals emerge the Seanad and the people will see that what we are doing, in fact, amounts very much to what Senator Dooge suggests.
Senator FitzGerald raised some other points concerning this question of teacher training colleges. I think that politicians are, perhaps, more straightforward than academics. Academics are inclined to read things that are not there. I intended no difference between the type of university degrees, and the Seanad will, perhaps, forgive me if I was not as clear as I intended to be. We are going to have a university degree which will be approved of by the universities in consultation with the teacher training colleges, and the two organisations, the training colleges and the universities will in this matter have their activities meshed in together so that we will have a single course suitable for teacher training organised by and approved by the universities in consultation with the training colleges whereby the professional competence in teaching, be it primary or post-primary, can be given at the same time as the academic university element in that teaching can also be imparted. This will be a university degree in which the existing professional teaching colleges will play a part, and impart the professional element to which  I hope the universities will make their contribution. Between them both we hope to organise courses which will be university courses and thereby basic courses for all teachers, and a necessary qualification for all teachers. Is that clear or is it not?
Professor Dooge: Perhaps, I shall now attempt to show that academics can be slightly more straightforward than full time politicians. We are not really in a sense divergent on this point except when it comes to the matter of putting it into legislative language. The Minister has said that he thinks it is right and proper that he as Minister should be able to decide that a particular course in higher education is equally deserving of a grant to a university degree, to which we all say: “Hear, hear”. If he decides that it is in the public interest for a certain course of higher education to be supported, then we will agree with him, but he is not, therefore, entitled to say that this course is equivalent to a university degree, because when he does he is saying that it is equivalent to it not merely in the single aspect of being equally desirable from the community point of view, equally deserving of support from public funds, but he is saying that it is equivalent. The Minister is going beyond this sense of a thing being equally desirable, equally worthy of support. He has brought in this pretty strong word “equivalent” and it is on this point that the debate arises. The Minister in paragraph B here has not even said “is equivalent” to a university degree for the purpose of this Act.
Professor Dooge: I must quarrel with the Minister here. It does not say that this is something which in the  opinion of the Minister is equivalent only for the purpose of this Act. If the Minister wants to hammer that home he must put in a phrase which would indicate that these institutions are institutions which in the opinion of the Minister give a qualification equivalent to university degrees for the purpose of this Act, that is, for the purpose of public support. I do not think that there would be any serious quarrel with what the Minister proposes if he narrowed himself to this sense. I would ask him to look to the consequences of what will happen if he leaves this as straight equivalent. He must admit from his own viewpoint on this matter that if somebody goes for a job before the Civil Service Commissioners or the local appointments commissioners which calls for a university degree he can come in and say: “I have not got a university degree but I have a qualification which the Minister for Education has declared to be equivalent to a university degree.”
That is only one instance, I think, of the troubles that might arise if the Minister adopts the blanket definition here, and I would urge the Minister to consider this matter extremely carefully. I think he will find that when the new organisation on higher education, the Higher Education Authority, is working it will be the appropriate body for these decisions.
I said, when introducing these amendments, that I would like to distinguish between them from the point of view that I think amendment No. 1 is desirable but I think that amendment No. 3 is a vital amendment if this Bill is not to be seen to be an invasion of the autonomy of the universities. I spoke at length here some months ago on the nature of and the limits to the autonomy of the universities. One does not in the universities look for autonomy for the sake of power or for the sake of looking after narrow interests. To my mind it is only persons of full academic standing who can declare what course is worthy of a university degree or in all respects equivalent to one. As this paragraph is drafted the Minister is saying more than that designated courses are worthy of support, but is  speaking of them as being fully equivalent to university degrees, and I think that he has done more than he intended. By this amendment No. 3 we wish to remedy that, by putting in a few words at the end such as “for the purpose of this Act” to ensure that there is not read into this section more than the Minister intends.
Professor Quinlan: I would suggest that the Minister should remove the phrase “equivalent to a university degree”. What is the necessity for it? If the Minister wishes to support a certain course in post-secondary work we would all be ready to agree that this course should be supported. What is the necessity to have to declare that this is equivalent to university degrees? The university will not ask for this and would not have asked for it, but they will be worried that the Minister should take to himself the right to say what would be equivalent to a university degree——
Professor Quinlan: We are trying to help the Minister and it is very rare to find this. We are trying to give the Minister more power, we are trying to save the Minister from himself, from walking into trouble. We all agree with the primary objective of the Bill which is to ensure that the post-leaving certificate students, after a satisfactory performance in the leaving certificate, are supported both in the university and in any other courses desirable from the national viewpoint. This includes teacher-training colleges, the higher technology schools and others.
I can see great opposition because in effect the universities are being asked to give degrees to students over whom they will have very little control or influence in their training. Why not leave that bridge to be crossed when we come to it? Why not leave the power in the Act to support any post-secondary course the Minister feels desirable?
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: I wish merely to add a little to what Senators Dooge and Quinlan have said. I can see how the Minister has got himself into this position. He was anxious to give himself power to give these grants to certain institutions of higher education which might not be technically university colleges, but he wished at the same time to avoid leaving the way open to every commercial college in the country; but in adopting this method of achieving this laudable objective, the Minister has walked into a hornets' nest. He must not have appreciated the extraordinary sensitivity of universities in matters such as this. The sensitivity to State influence in this area is very great, indeed, and in his desire to give himself flexibility in this matter of grants, the Minister has, unfortunately, created a position of sensitivity. The best thing we can do is to ask him to consider the position again between now and Report Stage to see whether he cannot manage to give himself the power he wants circumscribed in the degree he wants to circumscribe it.
First of all, we suggest that the adoption of these sensitive, emotive words could mean that people going for jobs in the public service could say that, as laid down in the statute, they had qualifications equivalent to university degrees. The Minister has not thought out the full implications of the situation these wor could involve and it would be useful if he reconsidered the matter and arrived at some other formula in which to arrive at his very laudable objective.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I can appreciate the point of view being put here. My purpose in framing the section as it is is more or less on the lines indicated by Senator FitzGerald in that I want to have higher education grants, paid for by the community, made available to all those students going to university courses and at the same time to have them made available to higher education courses which the Minister for Education of the day would decide were appropriate for grant assistance, in order to develop a particular type of training or a profession which might not have university status but which might be considered necessary in the  interests of the social and economic needs of the community at a particular time.
That is precisely the purpose of the section. At the same time, I wanted to avjoid the danger indicated by Senators and indicated in the Dáil by Deputies, that I should broaden this in a still wider way. Some of the advocates at the moment of giving it to teacher training are unwittingly broadening the issue because the training courses are only one of a number of professional courses which universities would not recognise as being equivalent to university courses. I can mention legal, accountancy and engineering courses, postal courses of all sorts and classes. We had to narrow this thing down in a way that would bring it within the direct definition of higher education, either university education or such higher education, not university education, which the community from time to time might deem to be equivalent to university education in relation to the needs of the community at that time.
Worry has been expressed here that we are writing into the Bill a judgment on the part of the Minister that any sort of course might become a university degree course and that this might be taken out of the context of the intention of the Bill. If we indicate in the section that the judgment made by the Minister at any time that a particular course is equivalent to a university degree course, we might meet the point. We might insert in the section that this was for the purposes of the Act. I might have a look at this and I am attracted by the idea of putting in an amendment for Report Stage inserting in the section the words “for the purposes of this Act”. I will look at the matter between now and Report Stage to see if that is adequate to meet what Senators have in mind. It is a suggestion which might meet the case made.
Professor Dooge: I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging that at least on this occasion academics have been able to make the position clear. It is my intention to withdraw amendments Nos. 1 and 3 and we shall  join the Minister in separate thought between now and Report Stage. A point which was raised originally and which was, indeed, the heart of the amendments was the question of whether this was a matter appropriate for the Minister to decide or whether it was something for a body like the Higher Education Authority. Once the Minister expresses a willingness to narrow the question of equivalence, the position is that if the Minister does narrow the question of equivalence, which means equivalence deserving public support, then the arguments for handing over these powers to the Minister are clearly weakened.
Nevertheless, if there is a body such as the Committee on Higher Education, which we hope there soon will be, there is a strong case for the Minister to do this after consultation with such a body and if the Minister were now able to tell us that he would, in such cases, take the advice though not necessarily follow it of that Committee, then my point on this would be fully met.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: It is essential, as a minimum requirement, to do what the Minister suggests—to add the words “For the purposes of this Act”. This would eliminate the particular danger of people applying for jobs. At the same time, I hope the Minister will look at it a bit further. It seems to me it is not necessary to use these words “equivalent to a university degree” because they are sensitive ones. The Minister might narrow it down and say that the institute concerned must provide a full-time course of not less than two years duration if he wants seriously to cut out post-school courses which might be pressing for recognition.
I think he could also phrase it in such a way as to take account of the recommendations of the Authority, although I see a difficulty in doing that when the Authority does not exist, although it may be set up in legislation to be introduced. The Minister can make a reasonable case if he is deciding to keep the power of distributing grants but he might also decide to delegate that power to the Authority to be set up as recommended in the  Report of the Commission on Higher Education. However, he might equally decide that he should take control. It is only a question of his expressing an opinion and I am sure it can be redrafted in a way which will not give him any more leeway than he wants.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: I should like to take a little further what the Minister said about training colleges. If I understood him aright, he suggested that the training colleges would confine themselves to providing the professional training in teaching techniques, theory and practice of education, and that the university course as such, the academic subjects, would be provided in a university college. I am not sure if I understood him aright on this but I think it would be useful to clarify the point. Of course, this would be satisfactory from the university point of view but I think it might not be entirely satisfactory from the point of view of the training colleges because where a training college has reached a stage where it might become acceptable as a university college and could in a period of years become a university college an arrangement which would prevent it from fulfilling that role by confining it solely to educational theory and practice and teaching techniques will I think be unsatisfactory.
It seems to me that we have got a situation here in the process of evolution and I would hope that the Minister would not insist on one solution for all cases. There will be some cases of training colleges which are not yet ready to become university colleges and would not claim they are; there may be other cases where they are and I would hope that whatever solution the Minister finds to this problem will be one which leaves open either of these two solutions and does not force a single homogeneous solution on the whole teacher training area.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I should agree broadly with what Senator FitzGerald has said that this is a matter that will obviously have to evolve out of consultation between training colleges and the universities. The training colleges obviously vary in the courses offered and universities in different centres may vary, too, so this is really a matter that will have to evolve through consultation between the training colleges and the universities.
Mr. B. Lenihan: ——so far as the grants in this Bill are concerned that is a community administration in which I, as Minister for Education, or whoever is Minister for Education, has no say. We are talking about what is primarily a university degree. I would hope we would have those consultations fairly quickly because I am very anxious to ensure that such a course is ready to start in October 12 months. Obviously this will require consultations between those teacher training colleges and everyone concerned.
Professor Dooge: We recognise the Minister's difficulty in regard to the position of training colleges but, nevertheless, many of us are worried about this particular body. It has been made clear in debates in this House that the entry standard to training colleges is very high, substantially higher than what the Minister proposes in his scheme for entry to the universities. The Minister indicates that he hopes an arrangement can be made very quickly and one gets the impression within 12 months, which would integrate training colleges into universities.
I am rather worried about what will happen during the year. If we look at the position the majority of those who would qualify competitively for a place in the training college would also qualify, with four honours in the Leaving  Certificate, for a grant under the Bill. I think, faced with the position of going into the training college or the university to do a BA, a large number would opt for the university. Whereas they might ultimately return to the teaching profession we would have for a short period here what might be an undesirable diversion of good teacher material from the training colleges.
We want to avoid at all costs the suggestion that we can afford to reduce the standard of those who enter training for teaching. We want to avoid at all costs the idea that those who go for teacher training with a view to becoming primary teachers do not get as high a standard as those who are going to the university, many of whom go ultimately for post-primary teaching. We must avoid at all costs anything which would lower the standard. The hiatus which will exist, and which might become more than that, which might become a divergence of certain valuable resources is something which worries me personally.
Mr. P. O'Reilly: (Longford): I am afraid Senator Dooge covered most of what I intended to say but there is one aspect I should like to raise. Who is to decide in the ultimate when a training college or any other college is equipped to give a degree equal to that of the university? Is the function of decision to be with the university, with the Minister for Education or with the college which so desire or so feel it is entitled to confer a degree? My view is that that is a matter which should rest with the Minister as being the custodian of public authority.
While I do not want to be rude, I feel that there is a sort of unconscious arrogance on the part of university people in that they are trying to express: “We are the only people who have a right to decide when other people are so equipped or are so organised as to give an educational service” or be in a position that they can confer an award which shall be regarded pari passu with an award of any constituent college of a university. There is that arrogance. While Senator Dooge covered some of the ground, I feel this is a fundamental point and  that in that particular regard it should be vested in the Minister.
Professor Dooge: I think in regard to this question of recognition of university degrees there are two levels of decision. We have had, as has been mentioned here before, to determine those two levels of decision. Firstly, the State has decided when it is appropriate to grant to an institution a charter which entitles it to grant degrees and decide what a degree is. It is for the State to decide whether an institution is not merely capable of deciding to give degrees, not only capable of training but also capable of deciding what is a degree. Having been given this power, it has been the practice over 1,000 years for those chartered bodies to decide.
Let me say straight away that this power has been used arrogantly and narrowly at times and there are down through the years in the history of our university system occasions when it has been necessary for the State to shake the universities out of their complacency. This has been done in many countries at many times down the years but the State has only found it necessary to as it were shake the complacency of the university out of its complacency but never found it necessary to take the power from the universities to decide whether or not a particular course of study warrants a degree.
It would be dangerous if there was any suggestion that we should establish a precedent in regard to a degree which receives the stamp of an academic body and is accepted through the university community on the basis of the credit of that body. If this credit were to be transferred from the university to the State there would be serious trouble. This has happened occasionally not very widely and not in countries whose tradition we are aligned to but it has happened. The result has been a complete collapse of  the credit of the institution awarding degrees.
Professor Quinlan: In an effort to clarify the position for Report Stage I should like to raise the question of teacher training colleges. In other words, I think we are all in agreement that students in the teacher training colleges should come under this Bill. As drafted, paragraph (b) of section I will prevent this until a satisfactory arrangement has been reached and university degrees are awarded based on the teacher training courses.
Professor Quinlan: If the Minister tries to force this and comes in next year and says that those in the teacher training colleges should qualify for grants and probably he designates their course as equivalent for university degree, whether for the purposes of this Act or any other, that will be resisted and rightly so, because the position of the university at present is that the courses as given fall a great deal short of the degree requirements. While all wish to see these lifted to degree standards very considerable improvements will have to be done to achieve that. It may take four to five years to work out these improvements and ensure that the courses are up to degree standard. We do not want fifth class degrees given. We want to ensure that the courses are adequate and that this should not be complicated by the Minister coming in next year and saying that as far as he is concerned the courses are equivalent for the purposes of this Act.
Professor Quinlan: Why make that statement? We are prepared to give the Minister all the power he needs if he considers the teacher training colleges as desirable. We are prepared to give all the power he wishes to bring them in under the grants scheme.
Mr. B. Lenihan: The Minister could decide from year to year what  particular course could be regarded as equivalent to a university course for the grants but if the community needs that I shall do it.
Professor Quinlan: I am not. It is perfectly straight-forward. Why complicate the issue? Why for the purpose of this Act or any other suggest that a course was equivalent to a university degree where the course as it exists at present is not and needs very considerable improvement and expansion before it could come up to the university degree standard?
Mr. B. Lenihan: I thought that Senators FitzGerald, Dooge and I had worked out precisely what we intended to do. I propose to bring in an amendment to meet their issues about this section in regard to the equivalent of a university degree. I hope between now and Report Stage to draft an amendment. Any opinion I give will be just for the purposes of this Act, to decide who should qualify for the student grants. This particular judgment is precisely the sort of judgment that should lie with the Minister for Education and with whatever type of education body there is, the overall responsibility to decide where the grants should go having regard to the needs of the community. I shall do precisely that. I shall bring in an  amendment and make it clear so that I am not making any judgment as to what is a degree outside the Act. I am making it for the purpose of issuing grants which is a community responsibility. This meets Senator Quinlan. Any subsequent Minister can make his or her decision at any particular time on what teacher training or any other professional training can be deemed for the purposes of securing these grants.
This can be done at any future date and that is why the section is framed in this manner. It is now phrased implying a judgment on equivalence to university degrees outside universities. I hope to clarify that.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: I thought the Minister had agreed as a minimum to do that but that he would look into the whole question at a time when he will need the co-operation of the universities in relation to the teacher training colleges. Not only is there undesirability of his doing this at a sensitive moment but the fact is that it is not necessary to do so. By avoiding these words he could adopt other words. He is doing this only to protect himself against certain pressures. There is nobody in the country who is trying to tell the Minister that he must not give grants to an institution unless it is equivalent to university because he thought it up himself. The Dáil and the Seanad will give him power to determine who should get grants for higher education. The Minister is trying to tie himself down and the Dáil and Seanad are trying to tie him down. The Minister is causing irritation between himself and the universities at a time when there are changes in relation to the teacher training colleges. I hope that the Minister between now and Report Stage, will change the whole wording.
Professor Quinlan: Before we leave the section I wish to ask the Minister what is the definition of “approved institution”. Is it that the institution must be approved by the Minister for the purposes of this Act or generally for any particular grant or class of  grant? It must be approved “for the time being”. What does this mean as applied to a university or a university college? I would have thought that under the Act an “approved institution” would be a university or a university college or whatever the Minister wishes to bring in under 1 (b).
Professor Quinlan: But I do not see why there should be any question of “the time being” or any question of approval when it is a fully certified university or university college conducting any accepted degree courses.
Professor Quinlan: For the second category? Would it be preferable that the wording would be redrafted to convery that clearly, to say that a particular institution as a university or a university college would cover the type of institution the Minister has in mind.
Section 2 of the Bill declares that a corporation or a county borough council or a county council shall make grants to persons who are ordinarily resident in the functional area of the corporation or the council. It goes on to deal with the  general framework within which these grants will be made. As drafted, this section appears to me to be unduly narrow and legalistic. It seems that by putting in the words “ordinarily resident” one gets into the realm of legal definitions, things which are very much more appropriate to matters like an income tax code and similar legislation than to legislation which deals with grants. If this section is to stand as it is, with the words “resident in” being qualified by the word “ordinarily” then we have the position that the question of whether a person is ordinarily resident in a particular area becomes a matter for decision in some cases by the Minister and in others by the courts, and this is undesirable.
What we are concerned with here is whether a person is resident within one county council area or another. There was some sense in drawing up legislation in this narrow way in the past, because in the past there were two elements; firstly, the schemes varied from county council area to county council area, and, secondly, for many years the cost fell completely on the county council or the corporation and in later years a great deal of the cost fell on them. Accordingly, it would be unfair to a county council to draw this so narrowly that the county council might be called on to support from the rates a person who was for strictly legal purposes resident in another functional area. Similarly, it would be unfair to a pupil—indeed there have been injustices to pupils—because of variations from area to area.
We are now coming to a time when there is to be a uniform scheme throughout the whole country. We are also coming to a time when a great deal of the cost will be borne from central funds, and as the years go on more and more of the cost will be borne from central funds. Therefore, it seems to me that the necessity of differentiating sharply between one functional area and another is very much diminished under these conditions. It would be a pity if there were in the administration of this Bill an undue amount of difficulty over the question of the definitions of functional areas. We would be liable to have cases from time to time in which persons  applying for scholarships at one time would have them granted at another time, and they would be renewed several times during the course of their work in the university. It should be possible administratively not to have undue fussiness about the question of residence in functional areas. Such is the purport of amendments Nos. 5 and 6.
Mr. B. Lenihan: The purpose of leaving “ordinarily” there is a very practical one, in that you have inevitably in the colleges and the novitiates, particularly in the novitiates throughout the country, people who are living in particular local authority areas that are not where they are ordinarily resident, and they are resident in these institutions for a considerable period, but not ordinarily resident.
Senator Dooge makes the point that now we are bringing in a national scheme and it may not be as relevant as heretofore. That may be true to a certain extent, but from a practical point of view we are leaving under the Bill to the local authorities the responsibility for assessing the means of applicants. Obviously, if you have a person resident in the Dublin local authority functional area and he or she is from Kerry, from the point of view of efficient administration the more appropriate thing is that the assessment should be made by the county council of the county in which he is ordinarily resident, namely, Kerry County Council, which will have the machinery to be able to ascertain the means of his or her parents and make a decision as far as the question of a grant is concerned into what income category he or she comes. This is obviously a function impossible for the Dublin local authorities in those circumstances. They would have no particular knowledge of the circumstances parentally or the other means background, and from this point of view of streamlined administration as regards ascertaining means it is much better to have the requirement about “ordinarily resident” incorporated in the Bill so that it is quite clear that the local authority responsible for  advising on an applicant's means is the local authority where he is ordinarily resident.
That is why we have retained this definition. I can understand Senator Dooge putting down an amendment, because, as he said, it would not appear to be necessary having regard to the fact that we are no longer making differences between councils as regards qualifications for grants. But we still leave to the local authorities this particular problem since they are the appropriate people to deal with it and to ascertain the means. For that reason “ordinarily resident” is necessary still to be inserted there.
Professor Dooge: I am in some difficulty, and I see the force of what the Minister has said, but my difficulty arises from what I think is a mistaken view taken by the Minister in drafting legislation leaving the administration of this to the local authorities. It exemplifies what I said on Second Stage, that there was an opportunity here to remove this from the local authorities.
I think that the Minister overestimates the extent to which local authorities have special knowledge in regard to the means test. It seems to me that what is involved is filling up a statutory form, making a statutory declaration in regard to means. The Minister seems to think that the local authorities will have at their disposal persons who will, from the knowledge which they already possess, be able to deal with such forms and statutory declarations more expeditiously and efficiently than the Minister's own Department could. I do not accept this at all. Those of whom they have special knowledge within the local authorities are persons whose inclusion in the scheme will not be in any doubt. The  cases of doubt that will arise will be the cases of persons whose means will not be a subject of investigation by the local authorities under the social welfare or other codes. It is this which has led the Minister to think that it is essential to this scheme for the administration to be in the hands of the local authorities. This is a particular feature of the present scheme which I think leads to difficulty here. I do not think there is much purpose in debating it at any great length, but I do feel that under this definition of “ordinarily resident” difficulties will arise which could possibly be avoided.
This amendment adds to the list of conditions set out in section 2 which form the overriding framework of the scheme—the condition that the persons to whom the grants will be made shall have been accepted for entry to or continuance in a course of study in an approved institution.
On Second Stage, many Senators, the Minister joining with them, pointed out the insufficiency of a purely academic test for determining those who are most worthy of support for purposes of receiving higher education. There was general agreement that it did not appear in the present circumstances that there was little option open to the Minister but to adopt an academic standard—four honours in the leaving certificate or some such standard.  Nevertheless, there was general agreement that there were disadvantages in this approach.
Those concerned with higher education have recognised the limitations of this purely academic, largely written examination, approach to the question of qualification for grants for higher education. In other countries these purely academic tests have been supplemented by others. In certain countries they have been supplemented by general intelligence and aptitude tests and in many countries they have been supplemented by selection by interview.
It is true to say, of course, that both these aptitude tests and a scheme of selection by interview are themselves open to criticism as being fallible human devices for selection. However, it is possible that our universities will decide either generally or in respect of particular faculties to introduce selection methods other than pure performance in leaving certificate examinations in the future. Though there is no difficulty at the moment, and there will not be in the next few years, difficulties may arise later.
At the moment, any person who qualifies for the Minister's grant by getting four honours in the leaving certificate, more than meets the standards of the universities. He more than meets the standard of three honours imposed by Trinity College and the standard of two honours imposed by the NUI. However, it may be that with the success of this scheme, with the availability of further resources for education, the Minister will decide it is not longer desirable to confine himself to the class of students he now proposes—those who get four honours in the leaving certificate—and that he might reduce the standard. He might decide he would give grants to all students who had got three honours.
It is equally likely, and I hope it will not be long before we see it, that the NUI might join Trinity College in looking for three honours. We should then have an equality between the standard the Minister will, I hope, propose in the future and the standard of the university. The universities at that stage might impose other tests for university entry. It would be undesirable  that we should get ourselves into a position in which the Minister, or indeed, the Oireachtas, is directing local authorities to make grants in accordance with the scheme laid down by the Minister to persons who for some legitimate reason are not accepted for entry to the universities. We might have again an area of friction, an area of sensitivity. Under the system of higher education we shall have, in which these new tests for entry would be approved by, if not initiated, a Higher Education Authority, it may be that these tests would have the result of putting universities and the Higher Education Authority who wish to set certain tests for the universities, in conflict with the Minister in this respect.
Maybe these difficulties would not arise very readily but, nevertheless, we should in this instance follow the practice of other countries and largely the practice in Britain. The practice there in regard to grants is that they are made available to any person who has two A levels plus acceptance by an approved institution. This acceptance in Britain is now largely on the basis of selection by interview. It is quite probable we shall move in the same direction and I suggest we could follow the British method. The Minister can follow the intellectual standards in other places, as he is likely to do, and put other tests into his scheme. It is appropriate he should follow the example in Britain where one of the basic conditions for the giving of grants is that the person has been accepted by an approved institution and given a place in an institution.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I would have thought that the point of view of Senator Dooge was covered by paragraphs (a) and (d) of subsection (1) of this section. It was our thinking when we drafted these paragraphs—to leave the position as it is, very flexible. Paragraph (a) reads:
the persons reach such standard at the Leaving Certificate Examination of the Department of Education as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance.
This leaves the scheme flexible enough to deal with any situation that may arise in the future. Some of the situations envisaged by Senator Dooge would be welcome in the future but I should prefer to leave it as open as it is. As I said on Second Stage, the entire Bill is designed to be flexible, to enable changes in regard to qualifications, in regard to the type of institution that would be recognised, to be made by the Minister from time to time in the years ahead.
I suggest we have left it sufficiently flexible and for that reason I think the amendment, while I agree with the sentiments behind it, is superfluous. particularly having regard to the very wide terms of the paragraphs I have quoted.
Professor Dooge: Perhaps it is unkind of me to make the remark that I always have the suspicion, when a Minister says something is superfluous, that he has not got a very good argument against it. I ask him to reconsider this seriously because numerous difficulties could arise not only at entry but in continuance in universities. It is the practice of universities to impose discipline on their students. Some people may think they do not do the job very well at times, but for serious breaches of discipline it has been the practice to send down students for a matter of weeks, for a matter of a term, sometimes for a whole year. The university makes a decision that it is not willing to accept a student back during the next academic year.
How does the Minister view this position in the light of the Bill? On Second Stage he indicated that he considers the passing of one's examination to be sufficient qualification for the renewal of a grant. I think this is a case which might well come about; again, we may run into difficulties here—we may get conflict between the Minister and his Department on the  one hand and the university authorities on the other.
There are problems with certain courses, the numbers must be limited and certain persons who could not get into particular courses might not wish to go to the university at all because of that fact. I would ask the Minister what is his attitude to the university practice of sending down students for a complete year?
Mr. B. Lenihan: We would have to follow the course adopted by the universities in regard to funds paid for study at those universities. That is covered in section 5 of the Bill where we set out the facts to be followed in the scheme for higher grants which is to be made by the local authorities. I quote from a draft scheme already prepared by the Department for the guidance of local authorities:
Mr. B. Lenihan: I like to keep all these Bills tidy. This has always been the case heretofore with regard to scholarship schemes and these schemes have covered all this line of country. We propose to continue that and we are preparing specimen schemes to put before the local authorities. These schemes will be given force of law by section 5 of the Bill which puts the obligation on the local authorities to prepare schemes and to submit them to the Minister for approval. Any breach of the scheme will cause a loss of the grant.
Professor Dooge: I am concerned about this matter. Traditionally the universities have been masters in their own house in regard to whom they shall accept as students and this right has been unchallenged down through the years. While travelling by train  to attend the House today I read in a newspaper that in the United States, for the first time, the position is now that the academic decisions of the universities are being challenged in law, particularly in regard to the acceptance of entry. The practice of certain State universities of charging substantially higher fees for non-residents in the State as compared with State residents is being challenged in law and this is a completely new departure. If we had the position that a person who had been refused entry to the university although he had satisfied the leaving certificate requirements for a grant took action against the university he would be in the position of calling the Minister to witness that he had satisfied all the statutory requirements.
This matter of entry is one which the universities feel they must be free to decide because it is so essential to the maintenance of their standards that they feel there should be no doubt whatever about this particular problem. I would ask the Minister, who is perfectly willing to write into the scheme a requirement that people would comply with the entry requirements of an approved institution, to go further and put it into the Bill itself. I would ask him, even if he does consider it superfluous, to write it into the Bill.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Even if one approached this matter as a legislator rather than a university person, the section is unsatisfactory. It requires a local authority to give a grant to a person whether or not he has been accepted for entry by the university. It is true that the Minister intends to require, under (d), that these people should, in fact, have been accepted by the university, but from the point of view of the legislator it is unsatisfactory, particularly from the point of view of accountability. The idea that legislation be passed requiring grants to be paid to people without regard to whether they are acceptable is unworkable from the universities' point of view.
Mr. B. Lenihan: This whole matter is covered by section 5 which puts the onus on the local authorities to prepare  a scheme and the matter referred to by Senator Dooge will be written into that scheme. I could give the Senators a copy of the scheme which the local authorities will be compelled to adopt and provisions are written into that scheme which make it clear that students shall cease to be eligible for the grants if they do not comply with the scheme.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: I realise that this is going to be written into the scheme when it is drafted but, so far, we have only hearsay knowledge of the scheme. It is not unreasonable that we should require as a condition for the giving of this grant that the person concerned should have been accepted by the particular educational body. The fact that the Minister intends to introduce this in a particular scheme is not satisfactory enough. We should guard against grants being misapplied in this way. On those grounds also, apart altogether from the question of university economy, the Minister should consider inserting this in the Bill.
Mr. B. Lenihan: The scheme is in ease of the university authorities but we could not write all this into the Bill. We go into very great detail in this scheme in ensuring that such candidates are subject to university discipline and in the event of any departure from it the grant will be forfeited. In fact, the scheme is of greater benefit to the university authorities than what is proposed by the Senators in their amendment. This scheme will be obligatory on the local authorities.
Professor Dooge: I have no doubt that the Minister intends the scheme to be to the benefit of the universities but I have asked him to take out this one important aspect of the scheme, one which certainly will be viewed with importance, and to take it and it alone and to give statutory effect to it.
Professor Quinlan: I wish to support the case made by the previous Senators that it acknowledges the position of the university in this and the right of acceptance and the right of refusal or a continuance——
Mr. B. Lenihan: You are actually doing harm to the university interests in seeking to include this because you are emphasising one particular aspect of the scheme where there are dozens of other aspects.
Professor Quinlan: But we have at paragraph (c) “the persons are within the appropriate age limits prescribed from time to time by the Minister”. It could legitimately be held that this detail could very well be attended to in the schemes drawn up by the local authorities and it is much more relevant than the other section should be, in other words safeguarding the right of refusal and the right of the universities if their disciplinary code or other code calls for it.
Professor Quinlan: Let me return to the case of the secondary schools. We are told they are in the same position and we find that the position has slipped very much in the past year or year and a half about whether schools can accept or not and we in the university can see in the failure to put in this the same thin end of the wedge which would say: “These are grant holders and you must take them.” There are other requirements laid down. The university has to get two character references and for continuation has its own standards. I feel that in fairness to the universities and to allay any fears that there may be of encroachment by the Minister and his Department in this domain, in other words to say whom we should have the right to turn away for unsatisfactory conduct or behaviour, those simple 21 words should be inserted, and I feel that you certainly cannot hold that they are any less important than what is inserted before in paragraph (c) or elsewhere. I appeal to the Minister to put this in and to accept Senator Dooge's amendment.
Professor Dooge: May I point out to the Minister why this seems to be  important? There are traditional areas in which the universities are particularly sensitive. These are areas in which universities have been interfered with in certain countries and almost invariably to the detriment of the work of the universities and sometimes with wider results even than that. The areas in which the universities are particularly sensitive are the control of entry conditions, the control of appointments to the university and the standards of degrees. Those are the three things which the universities feel are vital in order that they will be able to maintain their standards. Accordingly, this is the reason why out of all the things which could I believe be dealt with in the scheme I have asked that this particular one should be taken out to make it clear that the universities control of their entry will be respected by the Minister and by the Higher Education Authority in the future. It is asking for a clear declaration from the Minister that he has no intention whatsoever of attempting to impose on the universities as students persons whom the universities are unwilling to accept. The Minister has said that he sees no objection in principle to this. He is quite prepared to put it into the scheme. I feel that the Minister will be going a good distance in alleviating any fears which university authorities or individual academies may have in regard to the future dispensation in regard to our Irish universities if he includes this. Even if he thinks we are foolish in asking for this to be put in the Bill rather than the scheme I think he would calm us and do good for himself by giving in to what he might regard as folly.
Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: I would find myself less in sympathy with these amendments if it were not for paragraph (d) in the Bill before us where the Minister is asking for the right to insist that persons getting a grant shall subject to “such other requirements as may from time to time be prescribed by the Minister...” If he did not ask for that, then I feel there would be less force in these two amendments. There is a difference, of course, between the amendments. Senator Dooge is asking that the university be given a say. I  think Senator Quinlan's amendment goes a bit further because he is asking that the Minister's right to having a say in this matter shall have to be in agreement with the relevant education authorities. On the whole, I would prefer the second of these.
Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: I am sorry. I understood that they were being taken together. However, the point would seem to me that if the Minister is asking in paragraph (d) for the power to impose certain rather mysterious requirements, because everything else of relevance seems to be dealt with above, the age, the means and the educational standard, I am a bit reluctant to grant the Minister untrammelled powers and, therefore, both these amendments—the second one we have not reached—but the amendment now before us that the university itself shall have some say appears to me to be particularly relevant in the light of the powers that the Minister is asking under paragraph (d). If the Minister demands the right to lay down certain requirements, I feel it is only fair that the education authorities, the university in this case, should ask for similar rights. Therefore, I would find myself inclined to support the amendment though, perhaps, less so if paragraph (d) were to be dropped.
Mr. P. O'Reilly: (Longford): With regard to the argument made by Senator Dooge regarding the university requiring recommendations or references in respect of students before acceptance, I should like to inquire the number, if any, of students who have been refused by universities who were otherwise qualified and who wanted to enter the university because I feel that this is just a custom that grew up and as far as I am aware students were not, in fact, refused admission to universities. Perhaps Senator Dooge may be able to enlighten me and say that there have been so many cases, percentage-wise or any other way, who have been debarred, who had the necessary qualification which up to recently was the leaving certificate without honours as  far as I know and have students been debarred from university because they did not succeed in getting references or because of a decision of the university authority who for some reason felt that a particular student was not a person they wanted in their college. That would go some distance towards establishing the point of the argument.
Professor Dooge: In regard to this country it is quite true to say that there have not been cases of persons debarred who have the minimum requirements but I am on record more than once as expressing my dissatisfaction with the present arrangements for entry. Indeed, let me say here, that while I am anxious that the universities should have control of their own entry, I do not think they have exercised this power always judicially in the past. There are a number of reasons for this, some of which are outlined in the Fine Gael policy on education, and I do not intend to quote that now.
Tomás Ó Maoláin: Could we not continue? It would be better to continue this for another 15 or 20 minutes. The Minister is delayed for the Road Traffic Bill and perhaps we would make some progress if we continued the discussion on the Bill.
Professor Dooge: I should point out —and I have done so on previous occasions—that in other countries, notably in Britain, the practice has  been that large numbers who qualify in regard to educational qualifications for education in the universities are not accepted for places in the universities. This has been the practice in Britain where they have reached the stage in the development of educational grants, which we have not yet reached but which we hope to reach relatively soon, under the Butler Act of post-primary education and supporting the universities. They adopted a practice of a certain educational qualification for entrance to university but large numbers—this was the minimum qualification—of those were rejected by all universities, not only the first university they applied to but all universities. Those who have been accepted have either a higher academic standard than the minimum laid down or else have other qualifications. It is in regard to this future position rather than as regard the position in the past that I was addressing myself in regard to this particular point.
Professor Quinlan: To re-inforce what Senator Dooge has said there is another aspect here and I think the Minister and his advisers have not adverted to it. It is the case where selection is made not at entry but after the first year examination. This applies to pre-medical, pre-dental and preveterinary examinations. What is the position in the case of grant students who enter for the pre-medical and pass the examination but fail to get a place? The places are given strictly on performance in the examination and there may be some who rank high who fail to get grants on the leaving certificate performance, a leaving certificate performance which was below the standard. We want to ensure that universities have in the statutes the right to make their own decisions on the acceptance of that or not and solely in accordance with academic merit and, therefore, to have the right to refuse a student, whether he is a grant student or otherwise, who has passed the examination but for whom there is not a place available. The only way this can be done is to accept Senator Dooge's amendment thus making it quite clear that the university has the right to control both acceptance or continuance  in a course of study. That may be because of lack of space.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I thought I had said all this already. I quoted from the scheme which every local authority is obliged to adopt under section 5. This is the type of scheme which has been in existence since the start of scholarships in this country and which we are now transferring to grants. I quoted from the particular requirement on the first page of the scheme, which is stronger in language than Senator Dooge's amendment, and states that every candidate must comply with the entrance requirements laid down by the university. There are a number of other requirements in it, all of which are designed to ensure that the candidate starts and continues in his course at the university in compliance with the requirements laid down by the university.
It is far better it should be laid down in this manner. The universities may require in one year, two years or ten years time other requirements which they may wish to see inserted in the scheme. They may come to me as Minister for Education—and I hope I will still be there—or the Higher Education Authority to deal with this. They may say that A, B or C should be written into the scheme, which can be done, and the universities in that manner will be far better protected than they would be by picking out one particular aspect, as suggested by Senator Dooge, writing it into the Act, and giving it more importance than many other aspects. There is an annual obligation on the local authorities to adopt such a scheme and I would envisage that as being one in which the universities could make their requirements in the future known and have amended if they wished.
I should like to say one thing here and this annoyed me even before I ever became Minister for Education. It is the ultra suspicion that in some way the Minister for Education and Parliamentarians are engaged in mischief, that in their own way they have something against the university authorities. This is not so and I have learned since I became Minister for Education of the  co-operation that exists among the people in administration. I should like to say to the three very responsible university people who are Senators here that this is so and that the sooner they get this into their colleagues' heads the better progress we can make in regard to all aspects of university education which we so desire to improve.
This question of over-emphasising the rights and prerogatives in regard to universities and other institutions in the State has only done harm, not only to themselves but to the whole community. Duties and obligations should be emphasised far more than rights and prerogatives. We all have a community interest in doing what is best for the community. The sooner we rid ourselves of those motives the better progress we will make not only in this respect but in all other aspects of education which we so desire to improve if the country is going to go ahead but if we are going to be bedevilled by organisational politics at all levels of our educational system, then be it on the heads of the people responsible.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: One can appreciate the Minister's feeling in regard to this sensitivity in academic circles and in some of those issues that may appear so. If we in anything we have said have encouraged him to feel that way we should regret it. I should like to make the point that I recognise that among my colleagues there exists, an excessive sensitivity and I can assure the Minister that I have endeavoured to persuade them that things are not done only as they like and that neither politicians nor civil servants are ill-disposed towards universities as some of my collegues seem to believe.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Having said that, I think it should be said that at times politicians have said things which have given reasonable grounds for concern to academics. I do not mind that on justified grounds but they have unnecessarily said things which have worried academics. I can remember two occasions recently. In this House the Taoiseach, then Minister for Finance, spoke on a Bill claiming the external right on behalf of Parliament to vet appointments to the universities. In fact, he clearly was under the impression that such a right existed and that he was advocating such a right. I pointed out to him that the right of Parliament is not to approve or disapprove of posts in universities and he did, in fact, give ground when that was pointed out to him.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: I am not referring to ad hoc legislation. It was brought in and regarded as essential. The whole thing lapsed and then we carried on as if it never had been a Bill. That particular case of incompetence we are not referring to. What I am talking about is a Bill called the Laying of Documents Bill, concerning the laying of documents before the House and Senator Dooge and my colleagues raised issues in regard to status and the Taoiseach, then Minister for Finance, in reply made this extraordinary statement. When it was pointed out that the Oireachtas did not have the right he claimed it had, he climbed down but still claimed that the Oireachtas had the right to vet appointments. The fact that that kind of claim can be made by a politician, a man who has no function in a university but unthinking can make such a claim does give rise to unwarranted anxiety among people concerned.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: Many are thin-skinned. Many are without experience of public life and the way public men work and they attach great importance to the casual statement of a Minister who expresses that. Most of us know that people should not take seriously all that politicians say.
Mr. Garret FitzGerald: The other day when Senator O'Kennedy expressed proper concern in regard to certain aspects of university education he was betrayed momentarily into saying that we should go to the Government on the performance of academics.
That kind of remark taken, perhaps, out of context but accurately reported gives rise again to unnecessary concern in academic circles. A number of people asked me who was Senator O'Kennedy and what kind of person was he. The whole attitude was misconstrued. There have been occasions when politicians have given cause for this kind of concern.
It is important also that academics should appreciate that there is not any conspiracy against them among politicians and civil servants. I shall make every contribution I can to get that point across.
Professor Dooge: I should like to say a few words on this point. Even though we may be straining the patience of the Chairman, I think it is important that we should be quite clear on what the attitude of the academics in this regard is. If I strain the Chairman, I can return to another section. The Minister is quite right in saying that many academics are sensitive and thin-skinned about these things. They are particularly sensitive in three areas, the question of who should be accepted in the institutions, those who should be appointed to teaching posts and the standard of degrees that should be awarded. It is true that not only academics misunderstand politicians but also that politicians misunderstand academics.
 I should like to make it quite clear that there is a basic reason why we should tolerate such sensitivity. We could say: “To heck with it; why should we bother with those sentiments at all?” The question of why there should be respect for university autonomy is not the fact that we are clinging on to rights. It is not that academics are better off but because there is a recognition of the peculiar— and it could be used in all senses in this regard—in universities; rather is it that the community is better off. I want to say, speaking for myself and speaking for all those who are academics in this House and speaking for the vast majority of our colleagues in the Irish universities, that our claim for respect in regard to these particular areas is based not on regard for rights which have been held down through the centuries but rather on recognition of the fact that there is ample testimoney that when academics are let free in regard to these matters which they consider essential they do a better job for the community.
It so happened that in the course of another debate here within the past few days another Minister taunted an academic Member of this House with the remark: “You fellows do not seem to be able to organise your jobs properly; all over the world there is academic revolt.”
I think, in fact, this is something worth examining. The position is that there has been academic revolt. There has been unease within universities but where has it occurred? The most notable example where an academic revolt has had political consequence has been in France and France is the typical example of the case where automony has been denied to the universities. It is in France that, with a centralised system of administration, we had determination of courses, determination of appointments, determination of increased entry standards, not by the academic community but by the central government. It is here that an explosion and revolt has occurred.
Professor Dooge: This is quite true. Nevertheless, I do wish to say this. I do not wish to argue this point at great length, but I wish to say that if it can be demonstrated to me, and I am sure that this is true of my colleagues also, that these particular rights are not in the community interests we will be prepared to abandon them. It has been the Western European experience that the peculiar—again I use the expression —peculiar contributions to the community which can be made by the universities and other institutions of higher learning flourish in a certain atmosphere and die when not given certain conditions of freedom.
Professor Quinlan: I invite the Minister to give practical weight to his words about co-operation and about thinking the best of one another by accepting this very reasonable amendment, which puts it beyond all shadow of doubt that the universities control entry standards and subsequent standards. As regards the Minister's statement that he will have these schemes by the local authorities, as far as the universities are concerned these schemes are secret documents worked out between the Minister and the county council concerned without any reference to the university. We know that, in fact, commonsense generally prevails, but we would like to feel that certain minimum safeguards are contained in the statutes if the schemes  worked out are not to lead to trouble, unless the amendment tabled by Senator Dooge, the later amendment No. 9, is agreed on. I agree with the Minister in his concern that we should not be so suspicious of one another, but I would ask the Minister and his Department to examine their own consciences. Nothing has wrecked the mutual trust and confidence that should exist between the Department and the educational community as much as the present business about reorganising the leaving certificate——
Mr. Yeats: As a non-academic, I shall endeavour to get a little closer to the point as regards this amendment. It strikes me, first of all, that it is completely irrelevant to the Bill and not needed, because, as I read this Bill, there is nothing in it about standards for entrance to universities or relating in any way to standards. It provides for payment of grants by local authorities. I am inspired to say a few words by this spate of oratory from our various academic Senators about the autonomy of the universities. I accept completely that the universities should be autonomous and should be able to run their own business without interference from outside. At the same time, they should accept, and I am sure they do accept, that they have duties as well as rights. They are very important to the community at large as to the way in which they conduct their business. This is of great importance to the community, particularly to the young people going to the universities or hoping to do so.
On this question of entrance it seems to me that in past years the universities, particularly the National University, have not been doing their business in a way which was to the benefit of the community at large. We had the situation where up to two years ago it was possible to enter the National University with no honours in the leaving certificate but merely a  pass. That seemed to me to be ludicrous. I have, in fact, thought that the various Governments which were in existence during this time were at fault in not exercising some pressure on the National University to remedy the situation, which inevitably led to many people entering university who were utterly unfitted for an academic education, which led to unnecessary overcrowding and which involved the State and the taxpayer in considerable sums spent on subsidising education for people who should not have been at university at all. I accept that the universities are fully entitled to complete autonomy, but they have duties too, and there may come times when some pressure or at least negotiation on the part of outside bodies, particularly the State, may well be necessary to see that the aims of the universities shall as far as possible be directed in a direction which is for the benefit of the community at large.
Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: It is reasonable that we should take what we were told we would take at 3 o'clock, but it is possible later that the House will change it and will be told that some Minister is not available. I should like to know where we are.
|Last Updated: 15/09/2010 09:37:01||Page of 8|