University presidents brace for more cuts


UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS are bracing themselves for another round of funding cuts in the budget after a "business-like" meeting with Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe yesterday.

Sources say the Minister tends to favour the return of third-level fees, rather than the student loan scheme championed by the college heads.

The Minister was slow to commit to another meeting with the college heads next month, despite a specific request from UCD president Dr Hugh Brady.

Some college heads emerged from the meeting convinced that another round of cutbacks is coming.

One source said: "The Minister spoke a great deal about value for money in higher education. There was little mention of the funding crisis we are facing."

Last night, Dr Brady stressed the severity of the funding challenge facing higher education:

"We need a major leap forward in funding terms, both to do right by our students and to underpin future jobs and growth. This is urgent."

Last night, a ministerial spokesman said both sides were working "constructively and in partnership" on the funding issue.

Earlier this week, TCD Provost Dr John Hegarty told staff the college faced a €7 million funding deficit this year. Other colleges have debts totalling almost €20 million.

The presidents told the Minister yesterday that the 3 per cent payroll cut, imposed last month, had created a "tipping point" which made it impossible to shield students and frontline services from its impact.

The presidents outlined to the Minister a range of inevitable impacts.

These include:

• Suppression of teaching posts across a range of disciplines in both the sciences and humanities;

• Emigration of leading teachers and researchers, denying students access to the best minds;

• Increased class sizes and reduced tutorials;

• Specific skills initiatives in areas such as medicine and IT jeopardised;

• Curtailed capacity for postgraduate supervision and reduced PhD output - with serious consequences for national targets;

• Shortened library opening hours and restricted weekend opening of key facilities;

• Cutbacks in student services such as access, medical and counselling or the introduction of charges to generate the revenue needed to maintain services;

• Elimination of all but the most essential maintenance works on buildings and systems.

The presidents confirmed their intention to continue to pursue efficiency and cost-saving measures.

However, they stressed that the scale of the cuts proposed went far beyond what could be offset in this way.