Crucial research fund puts spending on pause

Trinity College faces further huge funding cuts as a large government research fund has been ordrered to ‘pause’ spending on Irish universities.

Trinity College faces further huge funding cuts as a large government research fund has been ordrered to ‘pause’ spending on Irish universities.

The Department of Education has ordered the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) – a multi-annual fund directed towards support for innovation in higher education institutions – to temporarily pause spending.

The SIF amounts to €510million over a seven year period and is now in its second cycle of funding. It had been expected to provide €97 million in funding to 21 higher education institutions throughout the country. Specific figures are not yet available but colleges have been ordered not to enter into new SIF contracts.

The purposes of the Strategic Innovation Fund include improving teaching and learning, supporting institutional reform and promoting access to higher education institutions. SIF Cycle I began in 2006 and provided €42 million worth of grants to higher educational institutions. Trinity has been allocated more than €7 million under SIF Cycle II for a diverse range of projects. These face an uncertain future if the funding is to be halted.

A major focus of SIF Cycle II is the Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance (DRHEA), for which €44 million was to be provided. This is a programme run jointly by the four Universities and four Institutes of Technology in the Dublin area. The aim is to encourage institutions to collaborate and share knowledge and resources. The focus of this in Trinity is to be the Dublin Centre for Academic Development, an initiative aimed at improving academic standards in the participating institutions.

SIF Cycle II also promised funds for Trinity’s Online Mental Health proposal. This innovative project aims to improve access to mental health services and psycho-educational supports for an increasingly diverse student population. With student mental health a constant concern for the college authorities and the student body, this portal is expected to make a real difference to the ability and willingness of students to seek mental health care and advice.

Another programme which may not survive without the support of SIF is the Centre for Deaf Studies which existed as a pilot project until 30 September 2008. The Centre has developed diploma courses to improve education and career opportunities for deaf students. SIF Funding was to make these diploma courses available nationwide and to implement a BA degree option.

The National Institute for Intellectual Disability (NIID) in Trinity has pioneered the highly acclaimed Certificate in Contemporary Living course for students with intellectual disability. SIF Cycle II allocated extra resources for this initiative to focus on researching access to quality third level education for people with intellectual disability and the development of best practice in life long learning.

Trinity News asked college authorities to comment on the situation, specifically as to whether the projects expected to be funded by SIF will be discontinued. The Communications office responded that it would be premature to make any comment at this stage. Lack of resources is a constant concern for Trinity, and SIF funding will be sorely missed if it is withdrawn.

Yet while the Irish Universities appear to be beginning to be drawn into poverty, an article in the Sunday Times on 12th October revealed that University heads have no similar crisis in their own paypackets. Over the past 8 years they have enjoyed a 120% increase in wages. Malcolm Byrne, a spokesman for HEA defended this saying ‘These institutions are key to the development of the country.’