Teachers to work year-round in further education sector

Minister for Education plans to forge ahead with ‘technological universities’ by merging ITs

Wed, Apr 23, 2014, 20:47

Teachers in the further education sector will be asked to work throughout the summer under reforms announced by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn.

Mr Quinn outlined a radical reconfiguration of higher and further education and training at his speech to over 400 delegates at the Teachers’ Union of Ireland this afternoon.

Teachers, especially further education teachers, reacted with visible but silent dismay as Mr Quinn told them that year-round education will now be provided in the further education sector. Speaking after the conference, Mr. Quinn said the proposals are at a very early stage and that how they proceed will be a matter for negotiation.

In the higher education sector, Mr. Quinn said that he plans to forge ahead with the creation of “technological universities” (TU), which will involve mergers of regional clusters of institutes of technology. All institutions will be expected to develop structures for the new arrangements in the coming year, while a panel of international experts will adjudicate whether applications for TU status will be approved.

In a move that will have major repercussions for Ireland’s seven universities and all of its institutes of technology, the Minister said that he will improve the governance of the entire third-level sector with the publication of a new Bill in the coming months. He also announced plans to reform and overhaul the apprenticeship system in Ireland.

Delegates gave Mr. Quinn a respectful welcome during a speech that was notable for a complete absence of heckles or interruptions. This was in marked contrast to the hostile reception he received at yesterday’s Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland conference, which led to an apology from ASTI General Secretary Pat King this morning.

However, delegates loudly applauded TUI President Gerard Craughwell and gave him a number of standing ovations during his robust but relatively good-natured response to the Minister. “You have become the minister for announcements instead of the minister for negotiations,” Mr Craughwell said in reference to Mr. Quinn‘s surprise decisions on further education. “I am not going to stand by and watch somebody take further education apart.”

Mr. Quinn said that the reconfiguration of higher education and training would provide Irish people with pathways to work, and would help tackle entrenched social snobbery about the relative merits of vocational education compared to university education. “We need to persuade young people and their parents that the choice of a course in the further education and training sector is a rational and valuable one – not one that is lesser than to the higher education options which exist,” he said.

“For many years, the further education and training sectors have been the Cinderella of the broader education system. Solas will seek to rebuild the entire further education, brick by brick. As we work together to implement that strategy, choices will inevitably have to be made. Some of them will be difficult choices, and they may involve parking the practices of the past.” Solas will formally launch the new strategy in the coming weeks.

Mr Quinn conceded that the proposed Junior Cycle reforms were the dominant concern for teachers, but offered a robust and unwavering defence of his plans. “The current junior cycle is not providing an engaging and challenging experience for young people, and their learning is often well below its potential,” he told delegates. He said that the introduction of the new Junior Cycle was a long project, with almost a decade before implementation, and that teachers still had a chance to put their mark on this significant change. Repeating an accusation he made to delegates at the ASTI conference yesterday, he said it would be “dishonest to pretend that [the TUI] has been fully engaged” with the reform process. Mr Craughwell, however, told the Minister that he “must know that teachers see the proposals as flawed and will not cooperate with them.”

Mr Craughwell also said that lecturers and third-level staff had seen “no convincing rationale” for the proposal to create Technological Universities. He said that there had been no meaningful engagement with lecturers, and that lecturers in the sector are being pushed to breaking point by overcrowding, increased contact time, and a lack of resources.