Brexit may be a moveable feast. But the IFUT Annual Conference is here again on the second Saturday in May!
Brexit may become more confusing with every passing week. But for IFUT the issues facing higher education, academics and students alike remain crystal clear. We face a deepening crisis of funding and a clear lack of ambition from government to address the deteriorating education funding cliff.
2020 may be just around the corner. But our government is showing anything but 20:20 vision on the future of higher education.
IFUT, however, can clearly see the writing on the wall. And it’s not an IOU from the Minister for Finance!
As a consequence, ahead of last year’s Budget, IFUT proposed a major initiative to enhance co-operation among all those affected by underfunding. It led to an unprecedented statement issued jointly by the Irish Federation of University Teachers, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, Union of Students in Ireland, Irish Universities’ Association and Technological Higher Education Association, on the funding crisis at third level.
The statement warned that “higher education in Ireland is chronically under-funded” and called on the government “to address the funding crisis in Budget 2019 or we risk an irreversible slide.”
The issue of funding will be front and centre at this year’s IFUT Conference. A general election looms. The implications of Brexit raise a range of new and major opportunities and challenges for our higher level institutions. An Taoiseach has ruled out student fees as the funding solution, he now needs to spell out how the findings of the 2016 Cassells Report will be positively implemented, not whittled away piecemeal.
In keeping with IFUT’s approach of both listening to and engaging with others who have a genuine commitment to the future of higher education, the Conference will this year feature a panel discussion on the topic of Quality and Provision in Higher Education.
Professor Tom Collins, Chair of Technological University Dublin and former President of Maynooth University, Senator Lynn Ruane, TCD Senate panel member, Senator Aodháin O’Ríordáin, Labour Party spokesperson on Education, and the Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education, Mr Thomas Byrne, TD, will offer insights on the way forward for higher education.
But while we have major battles to fight the Conference will also reflect on the many achievements of the past year. These include:
- A number of successful cases on rights of individual members at WRC level from all the universities.
- Pay agreement for our members in RCSI of up to 7.5%.
- Victory in the Labour Court on the TCD holiday entitlement dispute.
- Resolution of issues arising from the creation of the new DCU.
- Resolution of the long running gender discrimination cases.
- Work of former General Secretary, Mike Jennings, on European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE).
- Increased involvement of our members in our work through the development of specialist committees on, for example, equality and research.
- Bringing the issue of researchers’ rights to the forefront of considerations at Department of Education and universities level.
- Continued steady growth in the number of members.
Work on these issues will continue as we approach the 2020’s. Conference will have an opportunity to focus on the further advancement of researchers’ rights. There is also the issue of an ever increasing level of individual cases arising from precarity of employment in all our universities. Indeed, this emerging major issue requires continued work and focus in the year ahead.
Finally, we are delighted to again welcome Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell-O’ConnorTD, to address our Conference in 2019. One of the main developments of the past year was the issuing by the Minister of a report to address gender equality issues for academics in the sector, which aimed to create both a framework and culture to address long standing grievances and shortcomings in universities.
The Minister also issued a report on the issue of consent and sexual harassment affecting students in third-level. We therefore very much look forward to her attendance and address to delegates in May.
The message then is clear. We have achieved much as a Union since our last Conference, from delivering on individual members’ issues to building greater and more effective links with other bodies with the same common goal of advancing higher education concerns. But there is a mountain to climb on a wide range of issues.
That is why we need YOUR attendance on Saturday, May 11thnext at Conference 2019- to Listen, Debate, Decide - and to make IFUT even stronger and more effective for the battles ahead.