The undermining of the contributions made by institutes of technology to society and to the economy was blamed for yesterday’s strike by 4,000 lecturers and researchers.
The 14 ITs were picketed by members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), following a ballot in December backing the industrial action.
TUI president Gerry Quinn said the move was not taken lightly, but several years of budgetary cuts meant students had larger class sizes, and reduced access to labs, equipment, libraries and tutorials.
“Despite the ongoing rhetoric about economic recovery, lecturers and students continue to suffer the damage that austerity cuts have wreaked on the education system,” he said.
“Institutes of technology have made an enormous contribution to the country’s social, economic and cultural development.
“However, this success is being consistently, and dangerously, undermined by short-sighted, and anti-educational, austerity cuts,” Mr Quinn said.
He said student numbers in the sector had risen by 21,411, or almost one-third, between 2008 and 2015. But, in the same period, funding fell by €190m (35%), and 535, or 9.5%, of lecturing positions had been lost, resulting in unsustainable workloads for lecturers and severe damage to staff morale.
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In response to the union’s call for meaningful engagement on the issues, the Department of Education said it had been in regular contact with the TUI and continued to be available to engage with the union.
“It is regrettable that the TUI has decided to engage in this industrial action, which will be disruptive for some 80,000 institute-of-technology students,” a spokesperson said. “Nearly €1bn was provided in direct funding for current and capital purposes in higher education institutions in 2015, plus a further €400m in student support,” she said.
She said an expert group considering funding arrangements for higher education, to achieve a sustainable funding system, was in the final stages of its deliberations and its report is expected to be submitted soon.
Mr Quinn said low hours and insecure employment meant a sizeable proportion of academic staff suffered income poverty.
The Department said an independent expert report on part-time lecturing in third-level was being finalised, under a commitment of the Haddington Road Agreement.
Sinn Féin education spokesperson, Jonathan O’Brien, backed the union’s call for meaningful negotiation on the issues by the Department of Education.
He said Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan had rushed through a complex bill, to establish technological universities, since Christmas, but it was more about rationalisation and cutbacks than providing decent educational standards for students.
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