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Friday
4th November 2016
THEA Calls For Establishment of Stability Fund To Support Technological Sector and Opinion Piece by Professor Thomas Collins CEO (Interim) THEA

THEA Calls For Establishment of Stability Fund To Support Technological Sector and Opinion Piece by Professor Thomas Collins CEO (Interim) THEA

The Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), the representative Body of the 14 Institutes of Technology in Ireland, welcomes the publication today of the HEA’s Financial Review of the Institutes of Technology.  The Institutes have worked closely with the HEA over the past year in undertaking this study.  THEA notes in particular the acknowledgement in the report of the critical contribution of the sector to key national priorities of regional economic development, advances in STEM and social inclusion.

Professor Ciaran O’Cathain stated that “it is clear from this report that the Institutes of Technology have risen to the challenge over the last decade of managing a reduction in state funding of 34%, as a result of the crisis in the state’s finances, while simultaneously increasing student numbers by 24%.  Notwithstanding this effort, and the ingenuity and commitment of management and staff in the sector in addressing the unprecedented collapse in state funding, that the sector has been aware for some time of the precariousness of its financial position and warns that the main finding of the report that this approach has run out of road”.

 In light of the urgency of the issues confronting the sector as a whole as identified in the report, THEA has called on the Government to establish a Stability Fund of €130m.  This figure is based on a restoration of the State funding per student in the institutes of technology to the level which prevailed in 2009.  Such a fund would not only ensure that the Institutes of Technology remain solvent in the short term, but also provide the necessary financial base to meet the challenges in the coming years.  In this period alone, student numbers are expected to rise by at least another 9% on top of the increased intake already accommodated.

There is particular concern in the report with the need for increased funding in the STEM areas.  “Harnessing brain power and innovation will be at the heart of the new Irish economy”, according to Professor Willie Donnelly, President of Waterford IT. “It is essential that the capacity constraints surrounding STEM provision, ICT infrastructure and other targeted measures aimed at reinforcing the technological mission of the sector are addressed as a matter of urgency”.

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Note to editors

 The Technological Higher Education Association (THEA – formerly IOTI) is the representative body for Ireland’s 14 Institutes of Technology, which cater for 88,000 higher level students and employs close to 8,000 staff.

THEA’s regionally diverse member institutions are best positioned to ensure Ireland’s technological sector is the sector of choice amongst Irish higher education applicants as the country continues to shape new directions in its economic and social trajectory.

Institutes of Technology awards are integrated with the highest award levels of the Irish National Qualifications Framework, which in turn is aligned to the Bologna Framework.  The Institutes operate a unique system in that they allow students to progress from Levels 6 – 10.  They are to the forefront in ensuring that Ireland’s modern economy continues to have the requisite array of leading-edge sills demanded by our knowledge-based industries.

The Institutes reflect current and emerging knowledge and practices and promote self-management, critical analysis, decision-making and entrepreneurship.  They foster graduates ready to undertake roles, responsibilities and challenges in business, industry, the professions, public services and society.

Reflections on the HEA Funding Review

Professor Thomas Collins, CEO (Interim) THEA

From humble origins in the early 1970’s the institutes of technology have developed to become an integral part of the fabric of Irish higher education. With their wide regional dispersal and their deep links to the economic and social life of their respective regions, many have evolved as the developmental hubs of their respective hinterlands with a combination of the spin out of knowledge intensive new enterprises in their incubator centres and a ready supply of highly skilled, employment ready graduates enhancing the attractiveness of these centres to foreign direct investment. Three of the institutes - Sligo, Letterkenny and Dundalk -are located in the border region and were central to the sustainability of their respective hinterlands through the years of the troubles in Northern Ireland; have been to the fore in the regeneration of these areas in the years since and must now resume a new leadership position in the context of BREXIT. Similarly, in Waterford, Athlone  and Carlow the institutes are the only or main third level providers, providing less costly access to local learners  and providing high quality employment opportunities in new and innovative enterprises driven by the research agenda within these institutes. In Dublin, the regeneration and re -imagining of the Grangegorman campus by the DIT has succeeded as an inspirational and transformational initiative in urban regeneration through the dismal years of the recession.

The sector, therefore, can be proud of its achievements and contribution to date. And perhaps its greatest source of pride should lie in the contribution it has succeeded in making through the years of the recession since 2008. In this period the state grant fell by 35%, staffing numbers fell by 12% and student numbers rose by 34%.These achievements were against a background of an unprecedented national crisis; a collapse in capital funding for buildings and equipment within the institutes; a retraining and upskilling emergency in the context of 15% unemployment and a demographic bulge in the early life education sector. For all of these achievements, management and staff in the institutes should be applauded!

 But all of this has come at a cost. And this cost is captured in the HEA Financial Review of the sector published today. Considering the sector’s national strategic importance and its foundational significance to the ongoing national development hopes of the country, the review of the sector represents an urgent call for immediate action to redress the consequences of years of cut backs and underinvestment which now threaten its very viability.

The review points to a number of institutes  which, having to call on their accumulated reserves built up prior to 2008 to sustain them through the cut backs are now in a situation of having no, or greatly reduced reserves. Such reserves are essential for day to day operations of the institutes and also provide a ballast to protect against unanticipated contingencies.

Overall, the report points to a systemic and underlying problem in the funding of the sector. In a context where,  as pointed out in the Cassell’s report, there is an urgent need to address the funding requirements of the entire higher education sector, the needs of this particular sub sector are even more acute. It is for this reason that the Presidents of the institutes are now calling on the government to immediately establish a stability fund  of 130 million euro  which will enable the individual colleges to replenish their reserves; to  prime new income generating initiatives and to begin a meaningful process of reinvestment in buildings and equipment. This additional funding would merely bring the average funding per student in the institutes in line with what prevailed in 2010.

 Dealing with the immediate difficulties is one thing. Addressing the challenges of the future is another. In this regard, an ongoing increasing demand from a growing applicant population; the changing needs of industry and employers and the legacy of years of underinvestment combine to present a major challenge to the country if it is to adequately resource a sector upon which so much is riding.  The recognition in the report of the need to reflect the sector’s contribution to STEM and applied industry focused research and development activity, together with their distinctive regional development contribution in future funding models is welcome. As the report notes, successful institutes are characterised by programme renewal which keeps them employer and market focused; strong external partnerships with industry and investment in part-time and on line provision. In the current funding model to the institutes, no specific provision is made for any of those three priorities. This is no longer sustainable.

The recognition in the report of the need to reflect the sector’s contribution to STEM and applied industry focused research and development activity, together with their distinctive regional development contribution in future funding models, is welcome. As the report notes, successful institutes are characterised by programme renewal which keeps them employer and market focused; strong external partnerships with industry and investment in part-time and on line provision. In the current funding model to the institutes, no specific provision is made for any of those three priorities. This is no longer sustainable.