The Presidents of the Seven Universities today called on the Minister for Education and Science, Mr. Batt O’Keeffe to commit to a new “bold and imaginative” approach to the funding of Irish Higher Education. The Presidents noted the success of the Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation, as shown by recent high tech jobs announcements by IDA and Enterprise Ireland. They stressed that investment in our universities to support higher skills and more innovation is the best way to defeat the economic problems facing the country.
Meeting Minister O’Keeffe the Presidents expressed their grave concern at the emerging financial situation. They said that the latest round of cutbacks created a “tipping point” which made it impossible to shield students and frontline services from their impact. The Presidents outlined to the Minister a range of inevitable impacts. These include:
- Suppression of teaching posts across a range of disciplines in both the sciences and humanities;
- Emigration of leading teachers and researchers, denying students access to the best minds;
- Increased class sizes and reduced tutorials;
- Specific skills initiatives in areas such as medicine and IT jeopardised;
- Curtailed capacity for postgraduate supervision and reduced PhD output – with serious consequences for national targets;
- Shortened library opening hours and restricted weekend opening of key facilities;
- Cutbacks in student services such as access, medical and counselling or the introduction of charges to generate the revenue needed to maintain services;
- Non-replacement of obsolete equipment such as computers with consequent damage to the quality of the courses affected;
- Elimination of all but the most essential maintenance works on buildings and systems.
The Presidents confirmed their intention to continue to pursue efficiency and cost saving measures. However, they stressed that the scale of the cuts proposed went far beyond what could be offset in this way.
The Presidents discussed the future of research funding and stressed its “importance for competitiveness and confidence in the economy”. They stressed the need for enhanced research overhead funding and the importance of continuing investment in the PRTLI initiative as a foundation for growing innovation and collaboration with industry.
The Presidents discussed the Minister’s plans for a national strategy for higher education. IUA President, Dr. Hugh Brady, said: “This must be a bold plan of action, not another report to be quietly shelved. The plain fact is that Irish Higher Education is in decline in comparative terms as revealed by the latest OECD indicators. The Presidents expressed encouragement at the Minister’s commitment to the strategy process and to driving it forward in an open collaborative way.
The Presidents also discussed with the Minister their framework proposal for a system of income dependent deferred loans and top up fees. They stressed that the proposal must be developed as part of an overall funding commitment to Higher Education. “We need a major leap forward in funding terms both to do right by our students and to underpin future jobs and growth. This is urgent”, said IUA President Hugh Brady.
In the immediate term, the Presidents reiterated their grave concerns at the prospect of significant cutbacks in University funding. “It is also essential that we protect Third Level education and the future of our students” they said. The Presidents asked the Minister to act as a strong voice at the cabinet table in support of this. They called on the Minister to step up his efforts in the context of the Estimates/Budget 2009 to properly resource the sector. “We need to send a signal both at home and abroad that we remain committed to investing in students, knowledge and innovation-led growth”, they said.
The Presidents welcomed the Minister’s assurances that he and his officials would continue to have dialogue with the sector on the issues raised at the meeting.
For more information contact Lia O’Sullivan, Communications Manager, Irish Universities Association. firstname.lastname@example.org 01 676 4948