Speaking after the launch of the first ever Higher Education System Performance report, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, the Irish Federation of University Teachers, and the Union of Students in Ireland, said extra investment was needed if standards are to be maintained.
While all bodies acknowledged the Higher Education Authority’s findings that recession-era staff “flexibility” was protecting education levels, they said this cannot be relied on indefinitely.
And noting already apparent shortfalls in the system, they said the funding gaps among third level colleges and universities must be filled if Ireland’s strong educational reputation was to survive the recession and a predicted surge in the student population.
“The figures in today’s report are stark. Over a six-year period, the higher education system delivered 25,000 extra student spaces, with expenditure by student dropping by 15% and a reduction of almost 2,000 in staff numbers,” said Annette Dolan, deputy secretary general of the TUI, which represents institutes of technology, among other groups.
“Increased student participation is always a positive but it is absolutely crucial appropriate investment be made in the sector to allow it to meet the diverse needs of students and the future needs of the economy.
“Academic support has been identified as being critical in increasing student retention and completion rates, particularly during a student’s first year in higher education. However, class sizes have increased and lectures are often overcrowded.”
She said her union strongly advocates “considerably more substantial and strategic budgets” should be made available to address the issues.
The comment was echoed by IFUT, which insisted it is vital “we not over-congratulate ourselves on our ability to survive on meagre resources”, warning it is “not a long or even medium term option”.
And it was further backed by the USI, which said despite the positives to the HEA report, the “considerable pressures and stresses” highlighted must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
USI president Joe O’Connor said the student union will outline what funding changes it believes are necessary in a pre-budget submission to the Oireachtas finance committee over the coming days — with increased public investment top of the agenda.
“It is clear there are considerable pressures on the system and it is reasonable to assume further increased demand without matching additional funding will impact on the quality the system is able to deliver.
“The report identifies the sector has coped exceptionally well given the vast reduction in resources per student but, in short, this is unsustainable and cannot be allowed to continue.”