Funding fears put college’s island degree in jeopardy

Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) has given a commitment that students will be able to finish an art degree on a West Cork island despite uncertainty over funding for technical support.

Sherkin Island Development Society (SIDS) employs four local people to offer administrative help and facilities in support of the course, but had to put them on protective notice a week ago because it could not guarantee the jobs into the future.

The 34 second- and fourth-year students of the Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts take classes on Sherkin at weekends, and some elements are delivered online.

DIT pays for teaching and other academic elements, but SIDS has depended for its input in the past on €60,000 a year from Cork County Council and the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.

However, it has yet to get any commitment for this year from the council, on whose contribution the department funding is also contingent.

As well as three technical staff and an administrative worker, this covers maintenance, equipment, insurance, and other expenses to ensure the course can run on the island.

SIDS said it has been doing all it can to continue the partnership with DIT’s BA programme, but the loss of the programme to Sherkin Island would have devastating effects beyond the loss of jobs.

“It also potentially means families moving off the island, as four students live on the island full-time and others rent houses at weekends in the winter months,” said a spokesperson.

DIT said the facilities and administrative assistance that SIDS provides for the running of the course are invaluable, and it was unfortunate that funding for that assistance is not guaranteed for this year.

“While this is very concerning, the commitment of DIT to the cohort of students currently on the programme will absolutely continue to graduation,” said a spokesperson. “Students have been informed that this commitment is guaranteed under the policy for protection of enrolled learners in DIT.

In response to a further query, DIT clarified that it plans to continue providing the programme in Sherkin.

Cork County Council and the department previously equally shared the €60,000 cost but it was agreed last year that the council would reduce its share to €20,000 for the 2016/17 academic year. A long-term funding commitment was to be the subject of further discussions with SIDS.

It is understood that SIDS sought meetings with Cork County Council to discuss the issue from last January, but that it was July before any meeting took place.

An economic development report supplied by SIDS to the council in September only secured a commitment to funding for the last academic year.

With no funding yet committed for the present college year, Fine Gael councillor John O’Sullivan has put a motion down for Monday’s meeting of the council’s West Cork municipal district committee to secure the required commitment.

“I am asking, in light of the decision to put staff on protective notice, that the council continue to support the arts degree on Sherkin. It has been a huge boost to the island community,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

Cork County Council told the Irish Examiner that SIDS is aware from its meetings that it has not made any commitment to fund their involvement in the course into the future.

It said: “SIDS have made an application for funding into the future which will be assessed under the terms of the economic development funding scheme.”

DIT’s BA in visual arts was established in 2007 following the success of a pilot programme that began in 2000, and a new class of students is enrolled every two years. More than 70 people have graduated from the four-year course to date.



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