Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Science, Technology, Research and Development, James Lawless, has said the lack of recognition for the looming crisis in third-level education is deeply frustrating.

Deputy Lawless was commenting following statements on Education in Dáil Éireann and said that Minister McHugh needs to acknowledge the hardship third-level institutions are facing.

He explained, “The challenges surrounding the Leaving Certificate were immense and I am glad that the Department have finally found a way forward in dealing with them. I believe the focus now needs to shift now to accommodating these students, along with researchers and staff in third-level education and dealing with the oncoming crisis in that sector.

“Long before the COVID-19 pandemic Universities were in crisis. For the past five years they have slipped down the international rankings or at the very least stayed stagnant. The aim of meeting our innovation 2020 targets of 2.5% GDP on research has gone out the window. Not a single Irish researcher won a European Research award last year and now the sector, exacerbated by COVID-19 is a further 490 million in debt.

“It’s less than inspiring to hear Minister Mitchell O’Connor effectively tell Universities that they are on their own and Minister McHugh, who in his Dáil contributions so far has avoided all mention of higher education, similarly say that higher education institutions ‘are autonomous with regard to management of their academic affairs.’

“We take such pride in having an educated workforce and participating in some of the most distinguished research and innovation projects worldwide and yet the third level sector appears to have been cast adrift by Government and left to deal with their half a billion-euro shortfall while also being expected to provide a top level of education to their students.

“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we value the contribution of our Universities, research centres and scientists. Not only have they proven central to talking COVID-19 but as the backbone of our knowledge economy they will be fundamental to rebuilding our economy. Now is the time to accelerate not abandon our supports for the sector,” he concluded.