Fees debate distracts from serious third-level tech cuts

13 Aug 2008

The Institutes of Technology have hit out at Education Minister Batt O’Keefe’s debate about third-level fees and labelled it a “distraction” from the fact that a pay budget cut has meant no new posts have been sanctioned at the institutes for many years.

At a time when the country should be boosting its investment in science and technology, especially to harness more second- and third-level interest in this area, the chair of the Institutes of Technology, Marion Coy, said O’Keefe’s “debate” on fees is a calculated distraction from the core issue.

“A pay budget cut is being implemented in a context where the institutes have effectively had no new posts sanctioned for many years,” Coy explained.

“The capacity for further ‘efficiencies’ is severely limited. The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has told all the institutes that all possible pay and non-pay efficiency measures which can yield savings beyond the 3pc announced by the Government should be identified.

“The HEA has also stated that it seems likely that “all options will need to be considered” to effect reductions,” Coy added.

Coy said the Institutes of Technology want to respond strongly to the increase this year in CAO applicants.

“The real short- and medium-term issue for Institutes of Technology is providing quality courses for these students. Cuts will have a negative impact on the range and number of programmes available.”

Coy said the institutes are particularly concerned that cuts will have a disproportionate impact on undergraduate students, and in particular disadvantaged students, “the group which must be educated to the highest standards to drive change in our rapidly evolving open economy.”

She said cuts will also make it inevitable that the Government’s own targets set out in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education are unlikely to be met.

“The Institutes of Technology Ireland are also dismayed that while the student services fee is being increased this year from €825 to €900, 75pc of the increased revenue is being clawed back by the department.

“This is a particularly negative development since this fee income is used exclusively for student services such as counselling and health, which will now be curtailed.

“Most of those at work in Ireland today will still need to be at work in 20 years time. The institutes also have major concerns that government cuts will hamper their efforts to provide for the upskilling and reskilling of the growing number of workers being made redundant,” Coy warned.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years