Student number surge to spark funding crisis
THE Government is facing a massive financial headache because of a projected explosion in student numbers at schools and colleges.
The number of enrolments over the coming years is estimated to be much higher than previously thought.
The Department of Education's latest predictions, seen by the Irish Independent, show that there will be an extra 80,000 students across all levels of education by 2014.
And by 2017, the number of students in primary and post-primary schools and third-level institutions will rise by 10pc to about 1.1 million.
In the next few years, it will require about 2,000 new teachers in primary and post-primary schools, as well as more third-level lecturers, to cope with the student boom.
It means education spending cuts will have to be even more severe than previously envisaged if the Government is to balance the books. It must also keep to the strict limits on staff numbers imposed by the EU/IMF bailout.
The increase in student numbers is higher than what was envisaged even late last year, when the four-year national recovery plan and bailout terms were drawn up.
The Government also faces the multi-million euro cost of building new schools -- up to 20 at second level alone, and many more at primary.
These will predominantly be built around the greater Dublin area.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will today provide details of where those schools will be located -- and then the Government faces the task of finding the money to build them.
On the thorny issue of teacher numbers, the stark options facing Mr Quinn are an increase in class sizes or further reductions in those resources in schools to support certain students.
The department believes enrolments will increase at primary level for at least the next five years, and at second level for a decade, contributing to ongoing growth at third level.
The department is already talking to teacher unions and school managers about the financial crisis and how to achieve the necessary savings.
Even before the latest projections, the department had warned that if schools could not come up with ways of reducing costs, class sizes would rise.
Already this year, schools have lost 1,200 teachers because of the economic crisis.
Third-level institutions suffered a 7pc cut in staffing in 2009-10, and a further 1pc cut is required by 2014 -- while dealing with a major student influx.
Latest Department of Education projections suggest that by 2014:
•Primary pupil numbers will grow by about 30,000, or 6pc, to reach 540,000.
•The increase at second level will be about 5pc, or 15,000-20,000, to reach a total of 335,000.
•In higher education, the increase will be 18pc, or 30,000. This means student numbers will reach 190,000 in 2014.
While the increase at primary level is about 12,000 less than had been allowed for in February 2010, the projected rise at second level will be more than double the 8,200 previously predicted.
Proportionately, the biggest surge will be at third level, with an increase of about 8,000 more than previously thought.
The higher-than-anticipated growth at second and third level is due to more students staying on to do the Leaving Cert, especially boys, and improved retention rates in the Institutes of Technology.
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