NUI senator Joe O’Toole described the lack of consultation with the Senate over proposals to dissolve the National Universiy of Ireland as “a completely unacceptable move” on the Education Minister’s behalf.
Speaking to The University Observer, Senator O’Toole expressed his confidence that the NUI would remain in existence in some form, citing the current constitutional situation, and predicted that the government would choose to retain the NUI in a token umbrella role rather than legislate for Seanad reform. Senator O’Toole also said that “recognition must be given to the extraordinary contribution the NUI has made to Irish economic growth over the past hundred years.”
Senator O’Toole was joined in his censure by Senator David Norris, a current Trinity College senator, who agreed that the abolition was an anticonstructive move, describing the proposal as “ludicrous” and expressing doubt that the move would result in any government savings.
Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe stated that he intends to tackle the issue of Seanad reform in its entirety, and would work with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley TD.
The proposal to dissolve the NUI has met with mixed reactions among member universities and the NUI’s senators. Minister O’Keeffe has cited the establishment of an amalgamated qualifications and quality assurance agency for higher education as the basis for his decision, announced two weeks ago. The Minister also stated that he felt the NUI is currently unsustainable. The NUI is comprised of four constitutent universities: UCD, University College Cork, NUI Galway, and NUI Maynooth.
Abolishing the NUI had been recommended by An Bord Snip Nua, chaired by UCD economist Dr Colm McCarthy, which estimated that the move could save the Irish government in the region of €3m per annum. O’Keeffe has stated, however, that the decision had been made for the sake of re-organising and streamlining a quality assurance agency for higher education, and conceded that no financial gain would be made from this move.
NUI Chancellor Dr Maurice Manning expressed his bitter disappointment at the proposed abolition, explaining that the dissolution of the NUI would impact negatively on higher education in Ireland.
UCD President Dr Hugh Brady said that “the constituent universities will be seeking clarification on the form of legislation that the Minister has in mind”, but said that UCD and the other constitutent universities were confident that “it will be possible to work with Government to come up with a solution that protects the integrity and international reputation of the NUI degree.”
The proposed abolition has led to renewed calls for reform of the membership of Seanad Éireann, to which graduates from NUI and Trinity College elect three members each. Though a Constitutional referendum in 1979 permits the government to enact legislation allowing graduates of other institutions to elect members to the Seanad, no such act has been passed. It is understood that a full abolition of the NUI would require the government to introduce legislation in this regard, paving the way for graduates of other universities such as DCU to elect senators.