Education: €690m cuts will 'break the backs' of pinched schools
THIRD-LEVEL fees are definitely on the way back -- and the only decision to be taken now is how students will pay.
A €500 increase in the college registration charge to €2,000 next year, and a name change to higher education student contribution, paves the way for the return of fees by 2014.
The detail has yet to be worked out, but it is likely to take the form of a student loan scheme, whereby graduates would repay the cost of their higher education once they start working.
The four-year plan for education envisages massive cuts in overall teacher numbers, starting with a reduction of 1,200 teaching posts next year and with further payroll savings demanded in 2012/13.
While there will be no teacher redundancies, the cuts will be achieved mainly through the redeployment of support staff such as resource, language and Traveller teachers back into mainstream teaching.
Class sizes in primary and post-primary schools are untouched for the moment, but will only remain unscathed if teachers agree to the longer-term payroll savings in 2012/13.
The Government is putting it up to teachers and school managers to come up with the savings necessary if an increase in class sizes, involving a cut in teacher numbers, is to be avoided in 2012/13.
"If alternative feasible measures to deliver these savings cannot be identified, appropriate increases in the classroom teacher allocation schedule will be introduced," the plan states.
The number of special needs assistants in schools -- currently about 10,000 -- and the number of school psychologists are being capped at current levels.
Funding to schools is also taking a hit, while a €17m annual saving in the school transport bill is expected to lead to higher charges.
The 32,000 students on Post-Leaving Certificate courses face a fee of €200 for the first time in 2011, while a cut in the annual budget for third-level maintenance grants is an early warning of bad news for students when the detail emerges in the Budget on December 7.
Third-level colleges are also facing a 5pc cut in their non-pay grant.
Despite a 40pc reduction in construction costs being quoted to the Department of Education, and cheaper sites, the school building programme will also slow down, with a cut in the capital budget to €492m next year.
The cuts in day-to-day education spending amount to €182m in 2011 and €690m over the four years. The department's budget for 2011 is €9.2bn, and while up on its allocation in recent years , it now has responsibility for state training authority FAS.
The plan has caused shock in education circles, with the Joint Managerial Body, representing second-level school managers, warning that the cuts in grants will "break the backs" of schools, already depending on parents for 30pc of their running costs.
Teacher unions attacked it for targeting the most vulnerable and marginalised pupils.