‘Engineering, science struggling over funding shortfalls’

Engineering and science programmes have been struggling to cope with funding shortfalls, the acting president of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) has said.

Barry O’Connor suggested new funding approaches to incentivise lifelong learning and collaboration between colleges need to be considered.

He said there is now a realisation that specific shortfalls have been felt in all areas of engineering and applied science education.

Mr O’Connor was referring to changes to how provision of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) is funded, saying that it does not match the weighting allocated to those areas before the increases to undergraduate fees that now stand at €3,000 a year.

“As the single biggest engineering school on the island of Ireland, CIT has had to work hard to stay true to the State’s mission of developing a strong engineering, technology, and ICT sector,” he said.

Mr O’Connor was speaking to science and engineering graduates at the first of four days of conferrings at the college yesterday.

However, he said his concerns were not restricted to STEM education, as he said that CIT has had to cope with similar funding deficiencies in music and art.

CIT operates Cork School of Music and Crawford College of Art and Design (CCAD) in the city centre.

“It is a credit to all CIT staff that these areas have continued to thrive in terms of student numbers, initiation of new programmes, improved student experience, academic success, and retention rates, all in the teeth of probably the most significant funding crisis ever to hit higher education,” Mr O’Connor said.

He said the development of a new apprentice programme in manufacturing engineering was a good example of the kind of lifelong learning championed at the Unesco learning cities conference hosted by Cork last month. Such models of apprenticeship, he said, mark a start towards implementing flexible pathways to higher education.

He said the State could help widen that flexibility in the delivery of third-level education with a credit allowance scheme like that used in other countries, where each learner would be supported.

Students who have completed some of the joint degrees awarded by CIT in partnership with University College Cork will be conferred at this evening’s ceremony.

The colleges introduced the first jointly-awarded degrees in the country in the biomedical science area, and have subsequently partnered on architecture, art and design, and a new industrial physics degree whose first students were enrolled last month.

“If the State were to effectively encourage inter-institutional academic collaborations, as it incentivises collaborative research, it would release a large portfolio of innovative programmes by partnering complementary teams of hitherto unconnected academics designing and delivering new degree programmes on a regional or national basis,” said Mr O’Connor.

“The new model of industry-based university-level apprenticeships shows a certain move in this direction, which is very welcome.”

CIT was one of 11 institutes of technology to be told this week that its capital projects are being included in a $200m public-private partnership announced by the Department of Education.

It will provide a learning resource centre to allow an increase in capacity across STEM, business and humanities subjects at the main CIT campus in Bishopstown.

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