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O'Keeffe plan to scrap NUI faces major new delays

EDUCATION Minister Batt O'Keeffe's plan to scrap the National University of Ireland faces major delays.

The NUI is a federal umbrella body that consists of four major universities and a number of colleges, including the Royal College of Surgeons.

Mr O'Keeffe's plan to disband the body -- announced last month -- has met with a cool reception from the university, many of its graduates and others.

But it now emerges that a number of hurdles have to be overcome, and that the NUI degrees and bursaries will still be issued into the future.

The minister has admitted that new arrangements will have to be put in place first to replace the three members of Seanad Eireann who are elected by NUI graduates.

"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," said Mr O'Keeffe, who added that a constitutional referendum would not be necessary to bring about the change.

The outgoing NUI senators are Joe O'Toole, Ronan Mullen and Feargal Quinn.

A second issue is resolving the rights of some professors and senior academics who were formally appointed prior to 1997 by the NUI Senate.

Those rights have to be retained in any new arrangement.

The Supreme Court has ruled that they can only be removed from their posts by the Senate, and many will insist that this, and other rights, are maintained.

A third issue is the position of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The minister told Fine Gael Education spokesman Brian Hayes in the Dail that the college was looking for degree-awarding powers on the basis of a by-law, which he could change. "It will have to undergo a review process like every other institution which wishes to award degrees. It has agreed to go through that process and I am putting that in place for it at present," he added.

Although the NUI will go, it now emerges that its awards will not.

The minister has agreed that the universities can continue to call their degrees NUI awards. He has also agreed that NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth can keep their existing titles and that the NUI brand name will be retained.

The minister insists that the dissolution of the NUI will not have any adverse effect on the international reputation of Irish education.

But Mr Hayes was scathing, saying: "Batt O'Keeffe's handling of this row reminds me of the late Tommy Cooper's 'now you see it, now you don't' approach to magic."

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