Sunday 26 October 2014

Painful lesson for students, colleges as axe falls

Published 06/12/2012 | 17:00

COLLEGES and students were both hit as budget cuts and fee hikes focused on third-level and further education.

Frontline services in the primary and second-level sector escaped the axe, apart from the higher pupil-teacher ratio in fee-paying schools and Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses.

The Budget confirmed a further €250-a-year increase in the third-level student contribution, bringing it to €2,500 next September. The income limits for eligibility for a student grant are being reduced by 3pc – from €41,110 to €39,875 for the maximum standard grant – to save €5m a year.

It will mean more than 6,000 of the 80,000 grant recipients will suffer cuts and about 220 will lose the grant altogether.

Slashed

Higher education and Vocational Education Committee (VEC) colleges are also facing a direct cut in their grants, on a one-off basis, and are being told to replace the funding from their own reserves.

In the case of third-level colleges, the reduction is €25m, and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said they had enough money in the bank to cover this.

The allocation to VECs will be down €13m, while the pupil-teacher ratio for PLC courses will rise from 17:1 to 19:1, the same as at second-level.

Despite avoiding the brunt of cuts, schools and PLC colleges will suffer further reductions in funding as a result of measures introduced in last year's Budget.

And teachers are facing a change in maternity and sick leave arrangements, saving the State €24m of the €90m being slashed from the education budget next year.

With no change in the general pupil-teacher ratio, and the ongoing rise in enrolments, there will be 900 extra teacher jobs next September.

Education unions and management bodies are bracing themselves for tough negotiations on an extension to the Croke Park deal where the Government is demanding more savings from the public service.

Mr Quinn indicated he would be looking for extra productivity from teachers and lecturers.

There will also be a reduction in supports for participants on VTOS, Youthreach and FAS training schemes.

An end to the arrangement where teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) enjoyed an extra 30 days off where maternity leave overlapped with holidays will save €20m a year. About 1,000 teachers are on maternity leave at any one time.

Another €4m saving is expected from changes in sick leave. It will reduce from 12 and eight weeks, respectively, the length of absence for teachers and SNAs before being referred to the occupational health service.

Fianna Fail education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said Mr Quinn had passed responsibility for 42pc of his cuts to the third-level and VEC colleges. The Union of Students in Ireland accused the minister of "stealth grant cuts" that would punish students on the margins.

Irish Independent Supplement

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