The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has warned that if enacted in its current form, the Technological Universities Bill would wreak considerable damage on the Institute of Technology sector.
Among the union’s key concerns are the undertaking of huge change without appropriate funding, the potential damage posed to individual institutes by the requirement to merge and dangers posed to the vital regional mission of the sector.
The union is lobbying public representatives to seek changes to the Bill ahead of its enactment.
TUI represents 4,000 lecturers and researchers in Institutes of Technology.
Speaking today, TUI President Gerry Quinn said:
‘TUI has always stated that it is not opposed to the concept of Technological Universities. However, if enacted in its current form, the Bill has the potential to wreak considerable damage on a sector already steeped in a crisis situation as a result of brutal austerity cutbacks.‘
Seismic change in an era of cutbacks
‘We remain gravely concerned about the potential consequences of this Bill given the current crisis of underfunding, understaffing and precarious employment in the institutes.’
‘Between 2008 and 2015, funding for the sector was cut by a massive 35%, or €190m. Over the same time period, lecturer numbers fell by 9.5% (535) while student numbers rose by a staggering 32% (21,411).’
‘As a result, many institutes are struggling to tread water. The intention to effect such huge additional change without appropriate resourcing in an era of hugely damaging cutbacks to the sector is, at best, ill-advised.’
Requirement to merge
‘We believe that the requirement that Institutes of Technology must merge before they can apply for Technological University status is more related to rationalisation of the institutes within the sector than to any academic considerations based on the particular missions, values and ethos of particular institutes. The exact rationale for this requirement has never been clearly established and it must be removed from the Bill.’
‘Those mergers which are envisaged must be appropriately funded and the regional mission including multiple programmes which is central to the institute of technology ethos must be retained.’
Protection of mission and preventing geographic inequity
‘Institutes have a proven track record of excellence in programme development and content as well as a significant commitment to regional equality and equity of access. They provide multiple programmes from National Framework of Qualifications Level 6 (Apprenticeship) to Level 10 (Doctorates/PhDs). The mission of the sector is distinct, with a strong focus on meeting local and regional needs.’
‘A rationalisation agenda will lead to a dramatic reduction in regional provision of programmes and a corresponding geographic inequity in respect of access to higher education.’
‘Towns and communities with an existing institute that is being coerced by the requirement to merge have real cause to worry. As matters stand, an invaluable local resource may effectively be down-graded or asset-stripped.’
‘Throughout this whole process, there has, in some institutes, been a consistent failure to consult properly with the real experts - the academic staff.’
‘The Bill is excessively focused on the concerns of business and enterprise. It would be a grave mistake to prioritise the short-term needs of employers over the long-term needs of students and society. An appropriate balance is required.’
‘We are also gravely concerned about the threats posed by the Bill to national collective bargaining and the terms and conditions of our members.’
‘Other concerns within the Bill include the weakening of staff and local representation on Governing Bodies and the weakening of the academic voice.’
Changes to the Bill a necessity
‘Amendments to the Bill to take account of these valid concerns are a necessity in the interests of maintaining and enhancing quality of educational provision by the institutes and of protecting the educational, economic, cultural and social infrastructure in the regions that they serve.’
‘TUI is currently lobbying public representatives to seek the required changes to the Bill.’