Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education Thomas Byrne TD has said that the demotion of Mary Mitchell O’Connor to a newly created ‘super junior’ post in the Department of Education has left the whole higher education sector unsure about where Ministerial authority and responsibility lies.
Speaking today, Deputy Byrne called on the Government to clearly define what role the new Junior Minister is expected to have.
Deputy Byrne said, “The Taoiseach created this post for political expediency and has not done anything to reassure the sector that someone is in charge. The post is very ill-defined and there are real concerns in the sector that Higher Education will not have a powerful Minister advocating on their behalf in Budget 2018.
“We all know the deep financial crisis facing Institutes of Technology and Universities. I believe the creation of this new post on a whim, simply to satisfy Fine Gael egos, is a slap in the face to the sector. It gives no assurance that the new Taoiseach fully appreciates the gravity of the crisis facing higher education in this country.
“To add insult to injury, we are yet to hear a word from the new junior Minister on her plans for higher education. The Government do not even have a strategic policy document on the higher education sector and I see no evidence of a roadmap for resolving the severe financial difficulties. I will be raising this issue with Minister Bruton in the Dáil on Thursday and I expect him to set out the division of responsibilities in his Department.
“I have yet to be contacted by the new Minister on how she intends to fulfill the commitment in the Confidence and Supply Arrangement to restore postgraduate student loans. While there was some restoration in Budget 2017 for students from less advantaged backgrounds, we will need to see more effort in Budget 2018.
“The resurgence of the right-wing within the Fine Gael Party is leading to fears among students that the new Minister may attempt to ramp up student fees and introduce a new student loan system.
“I can say categorically that student contributions cannot be increased. The bulk of the estimated €600m (2021) to €1 billion (2030) in recurrent funding for Universities and Institutes of Technology should come from the Exchequer and other sources, not from additional student contributions.”