Budget’s mixed messages to education sector

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5 December 2011 | 0

As I wrote earlier today one of the primary concerns of the tech sector in the Republic is the ability to source employees with the coping and problem solving skills necessary to function in the Smart Economy. I also mentioned how the work conducted by the National Council for Curriculum Assessment (NCCA) on the reform of the Junior Certificate could be undermined should any cuts to the education budget be introduced.

As such it fell to Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin to deliver the bad news about the shape of second and third level education for the next four years. Naturally, not everyone is pleased.

In the plus column second level teachers will be happy enough. The Government has accepted that there will be a need for more teachers as the numbers attending secondary schools increases again. There was also a stated commitment to reforming the Junior Cert, which will mean providing additional resources and training to teachers.

In the minus column is a 2% reduction in capitation grants, a phased withdrawal of supports in some disadvataged schools predated the current DEIS programme. The pupil/teacher ratio will remain unaffected.

 

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In third level the picture is more harsh. The student contribution will increase by €250 and there will be a core reduction in core funding for higher education by 2%. Inevitably student groups will cry foul, but lets look at this as an opportunity for universities to up their entrepreneurial skills.

With a (modest) reduction in goverment support third level institutions will have to engage in a bit of bootstrapping to monetise their research activities and, hopefully, feed back the profits to make up the shortfall from the State.

Howlin’s decision to rein in on third level is not necessarily a case of picking on students yet to begin their careers, it’s a challenge to academics to pull their weight commercially. It won’t be a popular option, but at least their commercial potential gives them the kind of fighting chance.

The reduction in fee and grant support for postgraduates is of concern. How the academic landscape will change over these points will be worth tracking.

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