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Students and staff at WIT are being penalised for Government cuts – David Cullinane TD

1 June, 2017 - by David Cullinane TD

Sinn Féin TD for Waterford Deputy David Cullinane has accused the Department of Education and the HEA of making students and staff at Waterford Institute of Technology pay for sustained Government cuts since 2008. He said news of cost cutting measures being considered by WIT is causing anger and concern within the institute. 

Speaking today Deputy Cullinane said:

“In 2008 the total state funding for WIT from core grants and fees was €50,338,226. This was reduced to €32,682,246 by 2016. These cuts are the main reason why the institute is now in deficit. Rather than accepting this reality and re-investing in WIT the Department and the HEA are overseeing drastic cost containment measures at the institute. 

“It is being reported that programme hours will be cut, the opening of the College Street Campus will be curtailed and redundancies are on the table. This is deeply worrying and could not come at a worse time for the institute. 

“The HEA have appointed an external financial adviser to oversee the cuts and has put WIT in a three year cost cutting programme. It is making students and staff pay the price for Government cuts.

“This is completely unacceptable and must be challenged. I am calling on all local Government TDs to fight for WIT and ensure it gets the funding its needs to thrive and transition to a University.”

Note to Editor – please see PQ response from the Minister for Education

My Department allocates recurrent funding to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for direct disbursement to the HEA designated higher education institutions, including Institutes of Technology (IoTs) such as Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT). The HEA allocates this funding to the institutions and the internal disbursement of funding is then a matter for the individual institution. 

IoTs are autonomous bodies and are responsible for the management of the Institute, including the allocation of all of its income (both public and private) and for the day to day operations of the Institute.

The HEA has been closely monitoring the financial position of all of the IoTs and in particular are working closely with those Institutes operating in deficit to ensure appropriate mechanisms are put in place to eliminate the deficit as quickly as possible. 

The Financial Review of the Institutes, published last year by the HEA, was carried out in order to provide an overview of the financial health of the sector, to consider capacity issues and to examine the challenges for the institutions given their respective plans for the future. The report makes a number of recommendations on how some of the issues which contribute to funding problems in the IoT sector can be addressed and my Department is working with the HEA in relation to those recommendations. 

This includes the establishment of a Working Group in order to consider the recommendations of the report. The report’s recommendations will also feed into the work being currently undertaken by the HEA on developing a sustainable funding model for the sector.

With regard to WIT, they are in year one of a three-year plan, agreed with the HEA, to return the institute to a balanced budget. The plan encompasses a range of activities to address declining student numbers. These include a reinvigorated targeting of the CAO market, focused retention measures and closer enterprise engagement. The HEA are monitoring progress of the three year plan to return WIT to a balanced budget, through quarterly reports, regular meetings and communication with the senior management. In addition, an external financial advisor has been appointed to WIT and he commenced engagement with senior management in February.

In line with normal business practices, I understand that WIT is reviewing its running costs and part of that process involves working through multiple scenarios for optimising resources. Third-level institutions have autonomy in relation to promotion policies and other human resource policies, subject to the requirement to comply with Government policy in respect of employment numbers. Employers in the higher education sector are also required to operate in accordance with the provisions of national industrial relations agreements including the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA). In the event that a union believes that an employer in the higher education sector is not acting in accordance with the terms of the LRA, that union can seek to have the matter addressed using the dispute resolution procedures provided for in the Agreement, and any individuals who have issues of dispute have a variety of dispute resolution options open to them.

The appointment of a new chair of the governing body at WIT is currently underway in my Department with the co-operation of the Public Appointments Service. The current chair expressed his wish to resign from the position, however, he is continuing in his role until such time as his replacement has been appointed.

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