Minister concerned by lack of teaching time at third level


SOME THIRD-LEVEL lecturers are teaching for only four hours a week, Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe has said.

Expressing concern about the lack of contact time for students, he said two “high-profile academics” had recently briefed him about the workload of many lecturers.

The Minister has asked the Comptroller and Auditor General to conduct a “forensic audit” of spending at third level, suggesting he may may push for a renegotiation of the teaching contract.

Last year, the McCarthy report was very critical of the employment contracts of third-level academic staff, especially in institutes of technology. The report said current arrangements did not allow institute lecturers to comply with the minimum terms of their contracts on teaching hours.

Lecturers though say this analysis takes little account of research, preparatory work and other duties.

Mr O’Keeffe also stressed that third-level colleges could not charge in excess of the cost of services being provided. His comments came after the heads of the State’s main universities admitted the €1,500 student registration charge was being used to fund core services and was essentially a fee. The charge was originally introduced to fund student services after tuition fees were abolished in 1995.

Mr O’Keeffe was speaking at the IPPN conference where its director, Seán Cottrell, welcomed the Minister’s recent decision to make it obligatory for all schools to teach the Stay Safe programme. This was a vital element in safeguarding children from abuse, he said.

Mr Cottrell also reflected on the reality of children’s lives today. He warned that the “deliberate sexualisation of children in music, television, films and magazines” would have devastating consequences.

“We have become aware in the past year of at least three primary schools where children have ended their own life,” he said.

“Yet, the curriculum allocates just one hour per week to PE and just half an hour for social, personal and health education.”

Children, he said, must also contend with “peer pressure on alcohol and drugs as well as bullying, racism and homophobia. The challenges previously experienced in second-level are becoming very real in primary schools.”