NUI Galway is alone in climbing the QS World University Rankings while other Irish Universities take substantial falls. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is pointing towards budget cuts, increasing numbers of students and high ratios of students to teachers.
State Funding to the education sector has been slashed in recent years, with funding cut by up to a third since 2008, representing a fall from €1.4 billion to €923 million. Academic staff have also reportedly fallen by over 10,000 to just less than 8,000 over the same period. In addition to this, the amount of third-level students have increased by almost 40,000, now numbering over 190,000 across the country, with that number being expected to be increased further over the coming years. A contributing problem is the collapse of permanent academic positions being offered & the rise of temporary or contract work for academic staff. Senior Counsel Michael Cush conducted a government-commissioned report that outlined as many as two thirds of lecturing staff in some third level institutions who are temporary or on contracts.
Commenting on the issue, USI President Annie Hoey said that “Irish Universities falling in world rankings is directly linked to budget cuts, rising student numbers and high student-teacher ratios. Student numbers have increased by 18% and the rise of zero-hour contracts to employ academic staff doesn’t encourage or attract people to the profession. This has a negative effect on the quality of the teaching, the quality of the learning and the quality of the institutions. The consequence of under-funding the third level sector has been revealed again and again in the QS World University Rankings and it’s time for the government to act now – by reducing the student contribution fees by a minimum of €500; investing €140 million in higher education; and reinstating postgraduate grants.”
Related to problems, USI launched its own pre-budget submissions on September 6th outside Leinster House, and proposed a minimum €500 reduction in fees, a €140 million investment in higher education and the restoration of postgraduate grants. Ms.Hoey remarked that the government needs to match the talk of economic recovery with financial investment in third-level education.
A recently published report on ‘Investing in National Ambition for the Future’ identified funding for higher education as an “urgent” need, requiring €600 million over the next five years, in addition to an extra €100million for student support services. The USI, citing this report, called on the government to immediately commence with this additional funding & investment on a phased basis to ensure that support services can be improved, but also to ensure the quality & participation levels in the Irish third level educational system.