Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Other Questions

National University of Ireland.

2:00 pm

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
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Question 11: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he has calculated the rebranding and re-signing costs to constituent colleges of the decision to close the National University of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4226/10]

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Question 13: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he will reconsider his decision to abolish the National University of Ireland; if his attention has been drawn to the repercussions such a decision could have on the international reputation of higher education here; the way he will abolish the NUI without amending Article 18.4 of Bunreacht na hÉireann; if he will hold a referendum to change the Constitution accordingly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4138/10]

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to answer Questions Nos. 11 and 13 together.

I stand by the Government's decision to dissolve the National University of Ireland. Since 1997, the NUI has not been a federal university in any real sense. All significant powers ordinarily associated with a university are directly assigned to the four constituent universities of the NUI. They make awards themselves and have their own quality assurance procedures which are externally reviewed not by NUI but by the Irish Universities Quality Board.

While the NUI Senate provides a forum for discussion, on most major issues, the universities themselves make the decisions. Awards of the four constituent universities may continue to be titled NUI awards and I have commenced discussions with the constituent universities about an appropriate mechanism to ensure the protection of the national and international reputation of the NUI degree.

NUI performs a wider range of functions for its recognised colleges - Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), National College of Art and Design, Institute of Public Administration, Shannon College of Hotel Management and Milltown Institute. This includes making awards and acting as an external quality assurance agent. In the context of the new qualifications and quality assurance agency that is being established, I consider that the arrangement where a separate awarding and quality assurance framework is maintained by NUI for a small number of recognised colleges is not sustainable. When the awarding and quality assurance functions are removed, it is difficult to support the continuation of NUI to carry out its remaining functions, the bulk of which would most likely be performed by the constituent universities themselves, as they are by non-NUI universities.

The three then constituent colleges became constituent universities of NUI, along with NUI Maynooth, in the Universities Act, 1997. Two of those universities chose to use "NUI" in their working title. I have no objection to their continuing to do so. No re-branding arises. Most of the five recognised colleges of NUI have already been exploring possible future options for award making and when the dissolution is completed these colleges will need to enter new awarding arrangements. The recognised colleges could enter a quality assurance and award making relationship with the new qualifications and quality assurance agency or with an existing university. However, the names of these colleges will not change and I expect that any re-branding costs would be minimal. Furthermore, the RCSI is seeking to have its statutory degree-awarding powers commenced and I am now moving to have an appropriate review process put in place in this regard.

The international reputation of Irish education must be based on the quality of teaching and research as well as the wider experience offered to international students. I do not believe that the dissolution of the NUI will have any adverse effect in this regard. Indeed, the new qualifications and quality assurance agency will be uniquely placed to employ an integrated approach to securing international recognition of Irish qualifications on the National Framework of Qualifications and providing external assurance of the quality of our educational institutions. In addition, the new agency will be given statutory responsibility for the administration of a new Code of Practice and Quality Mark for International Education.

Provisions to dissolve NUI will be contained in the qualifications and quality assurance (education and training) Bill, which is included in the legislative programme. Government approved the general scheme of the Bill recently and it is hoped that it will be published before the summer recess. Article 18.4 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that three members of Seanad Éireann be elected by the National University of Ireland. However, it goes on to say that this franchise may be reassigned to any or all of the institutes of higher education in the State. In fact, it specifically provides that nothing in Article 18 can be invoked to prohibit the dissolution by law of any University mentioned in the article. I acknowledge that alternative arrangements to the NUI's role in electing members of Seanad Éireann need to be put in place in law in advance of NUI dissolution but a constitutional referendum is not required. I will work closely with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on this issue in the context of wider work on Seanad reform.