Thursday, 17 December 2015
Technological Universities Bill 2015: Second Stage
That was an excellent contribution from Deputy Boyd Barrett. He was very passionate as usual. I have to agree with him that there should be no student loans and that the corporate sector should make a substantial contribution to our third level institutions because more and more they locate themselves in the vicinity of third level institutions to obtain the best in research and qualified students who graduate from the colleges.
It is, however, very important to recognise the contribution that the international sector has made to Ireland. That was one of the major contributors in a period when there was nothing in the country over the past seven or eight years. Foreign direct investment was maintained at an all-time high although many punters were saying that the country was going down the tubes. The foreign direct investment and the Irish diaspora sectors were out front in ensuring that direct investment was maintained at a strong level.
I welcome the legislation and see it as a glass half full rather than a glass half empty. I do not want to see cuts and I do not believe the legislation is being introduced in any way to effect cuts to the third level sector. It is being introduced on the basis of rationalisation. When we consider the history of the institute sector we see why that is necessary. Many of the Members will remember that the regional colleges were developed at more or less the same time as we joined the European Union. We were very fortunate that the strategy and foresight of the people who were in government at the time saw the importance of having a necklace of institutes of technology, which were called regional colleges, around the country.
The colleges in question were located at Letterkenny, Sligo, Mayo, Tralee, Cork, Waterford, Dún Laoghaire and Louth. They were built not just with the goodwill of the EU but also with funding it provided. The EU helped to build and staff the colleges, as well as paying the students. It was a win-win situation so that by the time the computer IT revolution hit across the globe, Ireland was best placed - more than any other country in the world - to have students graduating from these colleges who were fit for the new job markets then coming on stream.
That is the real reason foreign direct investment interests have been so willing and enthusiastic to come to Ireland. From the very beginning they became embedded in the process. One can see how so many of those IT companies have been here for over 20 years. We had wonderful work experience both in terms of qualified students entering the workplace and the ability to source experience, as well as the development of laboratory and other academic facilities in those colleges.
It was essential that somewhere down the line there would be a consolidation of those colleges which are located throughout the country. When that was happening, the Dublin Institute of Technology required its own consolidation because it consisted of six faculties scattered across the city, three of them in my own constituency, namely, Bolton Street College of Engineering, the College of Catering in Cathal Brugha Street and the College of Marketing and Design in Mountjoy Square. That consolidation process, which has been ongoing for a long period, is about to take extend to the new Grangegorman campus.
When I first entered politics and was elected to the local authority in 1991, I became chairman of the City of Dublin VEC and held the position until 1999. At that time, the Dublin Institute of Technology came under the aegis of the City of Dublin VEC. It was not a stand-alone college. The 1992 Act was necessary to enable the Dublin Institute of Technology to operate as a third-level college on a stand-alone basis. The process allowed it to thrive through consolidating the various faculties. The college then began seeking a common campus so that all the faculties could come together. It has taken all that time, since 1992, to achieve it. No attempt was made to build the DIT campus at Grangegorman before the current Government took office.
In 1993, I recall that the National Museum was seeking a new site to expand from its location beside Leinster House in order to display all the social paraphernalia that had been accumulated over the years to indicate that aspect of the country's legacy. Dr. Pat Wallace was the museum's director at that point. Discussions on the possible location were held between the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and the then Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and our current President, Michael D. Higgins. Mr. Higgins came to me to inquire whether there was a suitable location in my constituency - which there was - for both projects. The National Museum is now located at Collins Barracks, which was then being emptied of soldiers, and the DIT campus is now in Grangegorman. Unfortunately, for very many reasons, nothing was built in that period but the consolidation of the DIT is now taking place at last and who would not say that is a good thing?
We should take the extra step to consolidate the institutes of technology into a single technological university for the city of Dublin, including Blanchardstown and Tallaght with the DIT. That makes sense to my mind. As well as cutting costs, it would avoid duplicating services. It would bring together staff, students and facilities in order to develop a co-ordinated, whole-of-city technological university, allowing further diversification on a streamlined basis. That is a desirable way forward that would enhance the quality of education and service, as well as providing more diverse resources to meet the educational needs of students and the community at large.
Universities should be embedded in their communities and not just for third-level purposes. Wherever there is an institute of education or a university, one can see thepro rataintake of third-level students in those areas. However, third-level institutions should be involved at every level of the education system, including primary and secondary, thus providing pathways towards the courses and facilities on their doorstep. That is the way forward. It is time we discussed having community-based universities as well as primary and secondary schools. If that was done, the quality of education would be so much better, as would the quantity of the intake.
The Bill represents a desirable way forward. I understand that the Minister's next step will be to examine the south-east sector and the Connacht-Ulster alliance, as well as seeing what can be done to consolidate the provision of technological expertise in the future university framework. I commend the Bill to the House.