Lecturers warn over college reforms

COLLEGE lecturers will only introduce reforms if changes being discussed with the Department of Education are acceptable to them, a union leader has said.

The National Strategy for Higher Education published on Tuesday stressed that reforms, efficiencies and other cost reducing measures will only having a relatively minor effect, with the biggest impact on the sector coming from increased investment, mostly from some form of student fees. But Ms Coughlan stressed internal reforms and improvements, including those facilitated by the Croke Park agreement, will be essential to any overall changes.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland president Bernie Ruane said when members rejected the Croke Park deal last summer, people had not been made fully aware of how bad the public finances were, but the union has reviewed its position since. The union represents thousands of lecturers in institutes of technology.

“We feel it’s close now to something to put to our members in a ballot. Our main interest is in protecting our members’ pay and their jobs and we will be seeking the protections of the Croke Park agreement in that regard if they agree to any deal,” she said.

Ms Ruane pointed out third level staff are already delivering more with less, as jobs are not being replaced but there are 6% more students in colleges each of the last couple of years.

With a “study now, pay later” model the most likely of any changes that might be introduced by the next government, the Department of Education is examining options that include loans funded directly from the European Investment Bank or administered by private education finance companies using public finances.

A 2009 loan scheme proposal getting closest consideration suggests a total cost of around €21,000 to €22,000 for a three-year arts degree paid back over 10 to 15 years by a teacher or middle-ranking civil servant. However, subsequent interest rate rises could mean slightly higher figures, with final costs closer to €25,000.

As well as greater productivity and commercial activity across campuses, the strategy report produced by a group chaired by economist Colin Hunt also seeks economies of scale and consolidation of some colleges. The institutes of technology face a major shake-up under the proposed formation of technological universities, to be formed by the merging or amalgamation of groups of institutes.

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