Trade unions call for emergency funding to tackle ‘crisis’ facing third level colleges (Irish Times)

ICTU education group says long-term plan needed to place sector on sustainable footing

Carl O'Brien (Education Editor), Irish Times, 4th June 2020

Original Article can be found here:

Trade unions representing staff at all levels of the education system have joined forces to call for emergency funding to ease the “crisis” facing third level institutions. The Irish Congress of Trade Union’s education sector group - which includes unions representing staff at primary, secondary and tertiary level - says the coronavirus pandemic has exposed serious flaws at the heart of thethird level system. It says these can only be addressed through the development of a long-term plan and vision, involving all key stakeholders in the sector, to ensure the sector is placed on a sustainable footing. The group has called for a third level forum to be established which could also look at the creation of greater security of employment across the sector by tackling issues around short-term contracts and precarious employment.

Speaking on behalf of SIPTU, divisional organiser Adrian Kane said: “The sector faces a number of major challenges, not least the funding shortfall at the universities arising from the Covid 19 emergency and the need to address how we fund the system into the future. “The entirely negative response we have heard from the Department on this so far is both unhelpful and untenable.” He said further education, training and lifelong learning systems will have a “pivotal” role to play in the recovery after the emergency. To help meet longer-term challenges, he said a new vision for the sector is urgently required.
Higher education institutions are estimated to be facing a euro500 million shortfall this year and next due to the pandemic, according to the Higher Education Authority, However. Government departments have signalled that there is nowhere near this kind of funding  available.

Frank Jones of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) said the university sector had entered the pandemic  already in a deep state of crisis.
“Its frailties have now been exposed and exacerbated. A genuine resolution must be based on social dialogue with all key actors involved,” he said. “The proposal to establish a new Department of Higher Education has potential. It could be capable of addressing these challenges if its approach was to be rooted in social dialogue, if it was to be suitably resourced and was to move with urgency to tackle the issues identified.” Seamus Lahart, president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), added that cuts to funding have been very damaging for both the educational experience of students and the working conditions of academic staff.
He cautioned that any move to address this should not negatively impact or neglect the early years, primary, post primary, further education and lifelong learning sectors, which have also been under-resourced for many year years. “Now more than ever, we need a fully-integrated, coherent and properly funded education system,’ he said.

ICTU's education sector group includes the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), TUI, IFUT, Forsa, SIPTU, INTO and Unite.