College bosses say further reductions in student services to follow

Ireland“THIRD-level college bosses have warned of further reductions in student services after the sector was hit by another €20 million cut in the supplementary budget.

College presidents have already been battling deficits which have reached up to e20m on some campuses and their 2009 budgets were cut by 2% by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe in October. The bulk of the cuts will be in the form of a e16m drop in e1.35bn current funding, which mostly covers payroll costs, as well as e2m each cut from research budgets and from the Strategic Innovation Fund.

The Irish Universities Association, which represents the seven university presidents, said the latest cuts will place the sector under extreme strain.

“It will accelerate the need to bring forward measures to reduce the dependence of the sector on the exchequer,” said association chief executive Ned Costello, in a lightly-veiled message to Mr O’Keeffe to bring forward some form of tuition fees as the universities have proposed a mix of fees and a loan system to help fund the sector.

Institutes of Technology Ireland said it was examining the impact of the funding cuts on the services it provides for students, but IOTI chief executive Gerry Murray said that would be happening in the context of a likely increase in third-level student numbers next autumn.

Mr O’Keeffe’s spokesperson said all colleges would have to operate within tighter budgets and effect economies.

He has said he will bring proposals on the possible reintroduction of fees to cabinet later this month.

There was better news for the further education sector, with the lifting of a long-standing cap of just over 30,000 places to provide training for unemployed people.

The extra 1,500 places on Post Leaving Certificate courses was given a cautious welcome by the Irish Vocational Education Association, which said an additional 10,000 places should have been provided.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland general secretary Peter MacMenamin likened a e5m saving from a ban on school management promotions and a review of special needs assistant posts to ruining the engine for the want of a few drops of oil.

The school building programme — which received a e65m boost in February — has been cut again by e30m to e513m, but Mr O’Keeffe said he expects all projects already announced to go to tender will proceed this year.

Although frontline schools services avoided the axe, Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland general secretary, John White, warned that the full impact of cutbacks announced in recent months will only be clear in September when students have less subject choice, teaching staff and funding.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said middle income earners were taking a massive hit.”

[Niall Murray, Irish Examiner, 8 April]

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