Fine Gael pledges four further technological universities

Education policies include free primary school books and a 25% increase in capitation

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell-O’Connor during an outline by Fine Gael of its plans for education, at the City Assembly House, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell-O’Connor during an outline by Fine Gael of its plans for education, at the City Assembly House, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Fine Gael has said four further technological universities (TUs) will be established in the State within the lifetime of the next government.

At a briefing on its education policies on Wednesday, Minister for Education Joe McHugh and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor also promised a 25 per cent increase in capitation funding for schools, the abolition of charges in the school transport scheme and a new free school books scheme for all primary schools.

Mr McHugh also said Fine Gael would reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools below its current 25:1 level. However, unlike most other parties he would not specify a figure, saying that it would take further analysis to arrive at an accurate number.

The centrepiece of the announcement was the commitment to the four TUs over the next five years, with the backing of €90 million exchequer funding.

One TU, TU Dublin, has already been established following the introduction of new laws last year.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said the four new TUs would be located in the southeast, Munster, Connacht-Ulster, and Limerick-Athlone.

“I would hope that two or three of the TUs can be established in the next two to three years, but the fourth may take a little longer, as there are three Institutes of Technology involved,” she said.

Free transport

Party chairman Martin Heydon also attended the launch and spoke of a free schools transport scheme and reducing the pupil-teacher ratio. He also said the party would conduct a study this year to examine the feasibility of introducing free public transport for under 18s still in education. Both Fianna Fáil and the Greens have proposed versions of this policy for free travel for younger people.

All three TDs criticised Fianna Fáil for not producing figures although when asked if he was not being disingenuous in not committing to figures on the pupil-teacher ratio, Mr McHugh said numbers were falling naturally and a full analysis needed to be done before figures could be specified.

“My commitment is very much centred on us giving the best possible experience to young people and that means committing [to smaller classes].”

He added: ”We are going to look to reduce it further and I am not going to put a figure on it.

“I remember 2007 when Fianna Fáil said it would provide 4,000 teachers and they failed to do so.”

He said much of the pressure would be to provide sufficient school places in growing population centres such as Dublin city but also Ennis, Co Clare; Carrigtwoohil, Co Cork; Trim, Co Meath; Skerries, Co Dublin, and other places.

He rejected the charge that his party was engaged in “project fear” saying it was legitimate for Fine Gael to ask Fianna Fáil how it would fund its policy proposals.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said Fine Gael would not allow any increase in registration fees for students or introduce student loans. She said she did not want to make higher education so expensive for students that they had to move abroad to do degrees. She said the government would continue to increase funding to higher education from the exchequer and the national training fund.

Mr McHugh also said he is personally committed to ensuring Irish remains a compulsory subject in the Leaving Certificate. Asked about the Green policy to end homework in primary schools, he said it was an interesting conversation but added there were “major benefits to homework”.