The announcement last Friday by the Minister of Education Mary Hanafin TD that she is to end the freeze on spending on third level capital projects and start implementing the Kelly Report on the capital needs of this sector has been welcomed by third-level institutions.
In announcing an end to the freeze, she gave immediate approval for key projects in the third-level sector. These include a number of new facilities to support the provision of additional health skills places and the expansion of teacher training places but capital projects running across all disciplines, including ICT, will be positively affected by the announcement.
The minister said that she would be considering the recommendations of the Kelly Report in relation to all other third-level projects in the context of the funding available to her when the capital allocation to the education sector is determined in the upcoming budget.
Speaking during a visit to the Tipperary Institute in Thurles, the minister said: “I have decided to commence the implementation of the Kelly Report on the capital needs of the third-level sector. I will begin doing so by prioritising the capital projects needed to support the significant expansion in recent years of teacher training places and those projects that relate to the delivery of the health strategy.”
The minister continued: “The Government is committed to supporting the national strategic interest by investing in the third-level sector as a key driver of economic and social progress. My announcement today is the first step in the process of addressing the infrastructure deficit in the third-level sector.”
The minister said that the end to the freeze was a signal of her determination to address the overall infrastructural needs of the higher education sector moving forward.
Commenting on the minister’s announcement, the chairman of the Council of Directors of the Institutes of Technology (IoTs), Paul Hannigan, said: “The council met the minister [recently] and we put forward the case for a single national policy framework in the third-level sector. We stressed to her our belief that the Kelly Report is an important step forward in identifying and addressing the needs of the IoTs in the context of national priorities. The minister indicated to us that a clearer picture of spending will emerge at the forthcoming Budget and we look forward to this.”
He added: “The Kelly Report’s emphasis on structured, multi-annual funding will strengthen the capacity of the IoT sector to forecast, plan and develop programmes that will meet the future skill needs of our economy, particularly at a regional level where the contribution of IoTs to economic development is very significant.”
The council believes that, among other things, the implementation of the Kelly Report maps the way ahead for the institutes to develop the physical infrastructure to reach their research and development potential.
Commenting on the funding announcement, Conor O’Carroll, head of research for the Confererence of Heads of Irish Universities, said: “It’s great news; it increases the universities’ capacity to provide teaching. But what we really need to see is going into 2005 is what the budget estimates will be for the total university sector.”
By Brian Skelly