An insider's guide to education
* With six weeks to go until the Budget, Department of Education officials are casting around for some €77 million in savings.
It’s proving to be a very difficult task as close to 80 per cent of the Department’s €9 billion budget is absorbed by pay and pensions for the 90,000 who work in the education sector.
And there are other difficulties. After last year’s embarrassing U-turn on Deis or disadvantaged schools, Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn is mindful of other landmines.
Some in the Department might like to use “efficiency reports’’ and value-for-money audits to cut into the €1 billion invested in special-needs funding but Quinn knows any cuts in this area risk a ferocious and emotional public backlash.
Cuts in school transport are still possible but there is strong political opposition to any such move.
Quinn could, of course, increase class size but this will deliver real savings only in 2014, as any changes would not kick in until next September.
And, to complicate matters, more teachers might be needed to cope with the population boom.
The question now – what’s left to cut?
School supports, capitation and other non-pay elements are already chronically underfunded in Irish education.
Is there really scope for more cuts?
* Memo to private fee-paying schools and parents with children in those schools: you can ignore all those apocalyptic warnings about the end of State support.
And don’t pay any attention to anyone who warns of a 100 per cent hike in fee levels or the forced closure of schools in the leafy Dublin suburbs.
Here’s the reality from a senior education source.
“Some of these Labour guys like to throw shapes on this issue. To assuage these angry young men, Ruairi will inflict a little more pain on private schools. There might be a small increase in the pupil- teacher ratio in the budget . . . that kind of thing.
But Ruairi, a former pupil of Blackrock College (left), has no intention of dismantling this sector. And Fine Gael would never allow him to. So expect only minor changes.’’
* One footnote on private schools. While schools in Dublin are doing well, there is growing speculation about the future of three schools in rural areas. At least one is expected to “return’’ to the State supported sector before long.
Watch this space!
* More on rankings: UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School is the only Irish college to surface in the 2012 Financial Times Global Executive MBA Rankings.
The UCD school, which has consistently been ranked inside the elite top 100, is 88th this year. It’s all good news for Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, dean of the Smurfit schools and possible contender to replace UCD president, Hugh Brady, in January 2014.
* A remarkable turn of events in Germany where research and education minister Annette Schavan is accused of plagiarism.
The alleged offence related to Schavan’s 1980 PhD thesis on aspects of education. She is accused of paraphrasing the work of others without appropriate citation and passing it off as her own.
The case is the second of its kind to hit German parliament members. Defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was forced to resign in March 2011 after his thesis was considered to be “over 90 per cent cut-and-paste’’.