TUI members at institutes of technology set for one-day strike

Industrial action on February 3rd part of campaign over underfunding of sector

Gerry Quinn, TUI president. Members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland working at third level  are due to stage a one-day strike on Wednesday, February 3rd, as part of a campaign to highlight underfunding of the sector. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Gerry Quinn, TUI president. Members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland working at third level are due to stage a one-day strike on Wednesday, February 3rd, as part of a campaign to highlight underfunding of the sector. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Institutes of technology face the threat of ongoing disruption as a result of industrial action by academic staff concerned over “crisis-level” cuts to third-level funding and staffing numbers.

Members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland - which represents 4,000 lecturers and researchers - are due to stage a one-day strike on Wednesday, February 3rd, as part of a campaign to highlight underfunding of the sector.

The union’s executive committee is due to meet on Friday to discuss the possibility of further forms of industrial action over the coming weeks and months.

Last December, the union’s third-level members voted in a national ballot by a margin of 92 per cent in favour of a campaign of industrial action up to and including strike action.

Key concerns

Among its key concerns include a rapid rise in student numbers over a time when lecturer numbers have been cut, as well as the precarious employment status of many lecturers.

The union is urging the Department of Education and Skills to engage with them and to urgently address the issues.

Annette Dolan, the TUI’s deputy general secretary, said the sector had been battered by an era of anti-educational cutbacks.

She said funding had been cut by 35 per between 2008 and 2015. During this time, student numbers had risen by some 32 per cent. Lecturer numbers, meanwhile, had fallen by almost 10 per cent over the same period.

“This has had a direct effect on the quality of service to students and the working conditions of academics,” she said.

Ms Dolan said students now faced larger class sizes, reduced access to laboratories and libraries and sharp cuts to tutorials and other student supports.

Vulnerable students

Cuts to support services also meant more vulnerable students were at a higher risk of dropping out of college.

In a statement, the Department of Education said it was always available to engage constructively with unions and other stakeholders on the funding of higher education.

It said an expert group was considering funding arrangements for the sector and has been tasked with identifying a range of approaches that, combined, will achieve a sustainable funding base into the future.

In addition, a group chaired by Michael Cush SC is examining the issue of casualisation at third level. Its report is due soon.

Aidan Kenny, an assistant general secretary with the TUI, said spending cuts were reaching a tipping point where they risked undermining the very basis of the higher education system.

No option

He said staff in institutes of technology had been left with no option but to take strike action.

Separately, the union has called on the Government to postpone plans to enact legislation which would pave the way for a new category of technological university.

The Technological Universities Bill is due to be debated in the Oireachtas on Thursday and is on course to be enacted in advance of the general election.

The TUI said the intention to effect such change without proper resourcing in an era of hugely damaging cutbacks to the sector was ill-advised.

It said mergers must not be forced. If they do progress, they must be appropriately funded, it added.

The rationale for the requirement has never been clearly established and it must be removed from the Bill, according to the union.