Budget 2017 does little to reverse effects of several years of austerity cuts

By piofficer, Tuesday, 11th October 2016 | 0 comments

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said that today’s Budget does little to reverse the effects of several years of austerity cutbacks to the education system.

Comments from TUI’s President Joanne Irwin.

Putting today’s announcement in context

Over several years, cutbacks have inflicted severe damage on the educational experience of students and the career prospects of recently qualified teachers.

Today’s Budget moves a very small distance towards reversing some of the cutbacks, but considerable additional investment must be made if the stated aim of the country’s education system becoming the best in Europe in a decade is to become anything more than an impossible pipedream.

Increase in teacher numbers

While welcome, the increase in teacher numbers at second level should come as little surprise. Much of the increase at second level will be required to take account of changing demographics as a result of the ongoing rise in student numbers and facilitating the ‘professional time’ required for teachers under the new Junior Cycle programme.

Failure to address pay inequality

Budget 2017 does nothing to tackle the pay inequality that exists between those who began in the profession before and after 2011. It is completely unacceptable that colleagues continue to be paid different rates for doing the same work. There is a real risk that graduates who might otherwise have been attracted to teaching will be deflected to industry unless this unacceptable situation is addressed. It is absolutely imperative that the Public Service Pay Commission resolves this inequality and that it also provides for a swift unwinding of the punitive, draconian FEMPI legislation.  

Third level funding

The announcement of an additional €36.5m for higher education in 2017 is wholly inadequate.

Savage cuts in funding have had a devastating effect on higher education in Ireland. In Institutes of Technology alone, funding fell by €190m between 2008 and 2015. Over the same time period, student numbers rose by over 21,400 (32%) while 535 (9.5%) lecturing positions were lost. Meanwhile, the recent OECD Education At A Glance indicators confirm that the ratio of students to teaching staff in Irish third level institutions is 20:1, significantly above the international average of 17:1.

An era of austerity cutbacks has clearly had an extremely damaging effect on the working conditions of lecturers, on student experience and on positioning of Irish institutions in international rankings.

It is regrettable in the extreme that today’s Budget does little to tackle the corrosive effects of these cutbacks. We reiterate our proposal that corporation tax be increased by a percentage point from 12.5% to 13.5% by way of a Higher Education Levy. This would allow corporations to make an entirely appropriate and meaningful contribution to the public education system from which they derive huge benefit.

Guidance counselling provision

As a result of cutbacks, it has become increasingly difficult for schools to make timely interventions to support students struggling with aspects of their education or even a personal crisis. In addition, a survey carried out two years ago by TUI showed that 91% of guidance counsellors spent less time than they previously did talking to students about subject choice. Practitioners felt that the role was becoming increasingly reactive rather than proactive

We welcome the addition of 100 new posts, but the total number of guidance counsellors will still be less than it was before the original 2012 cutback at a time when student numbers have increased significantly. The most vulnerable students will continue to suffer as a result of this unacceptable deficit.

Again, considerably greater investment is required in this regard.

Further education

It is deeply disappointing that there was no move towards lifting of either the artificial cap on Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) places or the €200 charge that continues to act as an impediment to participation for many students.

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