Increase in student numbers will put strain on third level institutions, union warns

The Teachers' Union of Ireland is warning that a significant projected increase in the number of students in the country's third level institutions will greatly worsen the current crisis in the sector unless urgent action is taken.

Next week, the TUI hosts its annual congress in Killarney. Speaking ahead of the congress, the TUI warned that the expected increase in student numbers will put even greater strain on academic conditions.

The Department of Education & Skills has forecast that full-time student numbers at third-level could grow by 54,000 by 2029 - representing an increase of almost 30%.

In recent weeks, staff and students at third-level institutions all over the country protested the current issues in the sector, including imbalanced student: teacher ratios and cuts to essential services.

Since 2008, third-level bodies have faced funding cuts which have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated services in some colleges.

TUI president, Seamus Lahart, said: "Increased participation at third-level should be something to be celebrated, but the abject failure of successive Governments to address the sector’s funding crisis make the latest projections a ticking timebomb for a sector that has already been ravaged by cutbacks.

In such a situation, those students who might struggle with aspects of their course lose out and in too many cases drop-out before completion of their course.

Gallingly for lecturers, such opportunity to interact has been a major strength of the Institute sector, which benefits students from diverse social and educational backgrounds.

Mr Lahart said that issues cited by members include larger class sizes, reduced contact hours and cuts to budgets for classroom and laboratory materials, maintenance, library facilities and tutorials: "The quality of service is only being sustained by conscientious lecturers and other staff going above and beyond the call of duty.

"Of course, the development of new courses, the updating of existing courses and the strengthening of research capacity are also severely hindered by cutbacks."

The TUI has expressed concern about the introduction of technological universities amid current budget constraints. The creation of four technological universities is allowed for under the Technological Universities Act.

Mr Lahart described the current funding allocation as 'a shoestring' and said that failing to inject more substantial sums will prevent technological universities 'fulfilling their mission as laid out in legislation.'

The TUI congress takes place in Killarney from April 23 to 25. The union represents 4,000 members in Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities.

Next week, the other teaching unions will also meet, with the financing of the sector high on the agenda. ASTI will meet in Wexford from April 23 to 25.

The union has already called for a national training programme for all teachers to support the full inclusion of students with special educational needs in schools. INTO will meet in Galway from April 22 to 24.

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