Quinn warns on rising pupil numbers


MINISTER FOR Education Ruairí Quinn will brief the Cabinet shortly on the major population surge and the challenge it poses for schools.

Mr Quinn also conceded yesterday that it was “hard to see” how the third-level sector could achieve the ambitions set for it by Government within the existing funding framework.

Mr Quinn said he wanted to brief Cabinet colleagues on the major building programme required at second level. This would see the construction of 15-20 new schools – each accommodating 1,000 pupils – to cope with the increase in pupil numbers.

He said the cohort which had created the panic in north Co Dublin some years ago “had not gone away”. The new building programme, he said, would be funded from within existing resources.

He is due to make a major speech next Monday on the recent Hunt report, which sets out a 20-year strategy for the third-level sector.

He said: “Hunt is not a report that is going to sit on the shelf. While the report had been criticised by [former DCU president] Ferdinand von Prondzynski . . . and by others who have said it is a bit vague in relation to the financial side of things, it is the only document we have.”

The Minister said he was anxious to move the process forward on areas like closer collaboration among the institutes of technology and in defining the criteria for the proposed new technological university.

He said the third-level sector had already accommodated vastly increased student numbers and was facing a further 30 per cent increase in numbers over the next decade.

The Minister was speaking at the launch of Springboard, an initiative to provide 6,000 new places on higher-education programmes for the unemployed.

The initiative is targeted at those who lost their jobs and who, with some upskilling, could fill current or future job shortages.

To make it easier to apply for places, a single web portal for all Springboard-related activities is being used – bluebrick.ie. This will operate as a kind of mini-CAO for the Springboard courses.

Tony Donohoe, Ibec head of education policy, welcomed how many of the 200-plus courses were aimed at providing qualifications in areas of potential employment growth, such as supply chain management, environmental services and energy management.

“The largest increase in unemployment has occurred among qualified people who worked in sectors which have collapsed or continue to decline,” Mr Donohoe said. “These courses provide an opportunity for some of these people to build on existing qualifications so they can get new jobs in different areas.”