Higher Education Authority wants ITT budget plan

Simon Brouder

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has instructed the Institute of Technology in Tralee to submit a three-year plan to balance its budget.

The order was revealed during a discussion about funding and management at Ireland's 14 institutes of technology at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee last Thursday.

Correspondence from the HEA was provided to committee members including an overview of the financial situation of the various institutes.

IT Tralee is named as one of three institutes - along with Waterford IT and Galway-Mayo IT - that have a combined budget deficit of close to €9.5 million.

Tralee - which according to the HEA figures had a deficit of €1.843 million at the end of 2016 - is still in a markedly better financial position than Waterford and Galway-Mayo, which had deficits of €4.4milion and €3.2 million respectively.

PAC members were told that the HEA has insisted that three-year financial plans be drawn up at each of the three institutes to eliminate their deficits.

"The HEA has been working closely monitoring the financial position of all institutes," said the HEA report.

"The HEA has a policy framework for engaging with institutes in financial deficit which requires institutes to submit a three-year plan to return to a balanced budget situation. All institutes with deficits are engaged in this process," said the HEA.

The Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the committee that the deficits at the three institutes can be addressed and relate to "cumulated deficits" that built up over a number of years.

Mr McCarthy added that, according to Department of Education rules, ITs are required to operate in deficit and with an overdraft.

Waterford Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane suggested that the figures revealed a greater issue for the third level sector.

"The deficits have to be seen in the context of the size of the institutes, and I can see where there are problems," said Deputy Cullinane.

"Smaller institutes that have smaller numbers have big deficits, which shows that there is a bigger problem," Deputy Cullinane added.

During the meeting, several PAC members including Committee Chairman Sean Fleming of Fianna Fáil and Labour's Alan Kelly raised concerns about expenditure at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), with which IT Tralee is currently in the process of merging.

Marc McSharry of Fianna Fáil made reference to a "lavish" retirement function for former CIT President Brendan Murphy which he compared to a "going away party" for Robert Mugabe.