Funding cuts cause widespread distress

By Caitriona Murphy

Heads of Schools and Departments have labelled funding cuts “crippling”, “dire”, “woeful” and “inadequate” in a survey carried out by Trinity News last week. The survey aimed to assess the current funding situation in Schools and Departments, and to identify the effects of funding cuts. Trinity News agreed to respect the anonymity of respondents where requested.

The survey identified several key issues in funding. Respondents highlighted widespread difficulty in developing Masters and postgraduate programmes due to lack of funding, inabilities to invest or upgrade equipment, module cuts and “taking on more students than is compatible with good pedagogy”.

The moratorium on hiring has prevented the replacement of staff who have left or retired. Staff that remain have been assigned additional teaching hours as a result, whilst in other departments, modules have been cancelled, resulting in fewer choices for Junior and Senior Sophister students.

The lack of choice also means that tutorial groups have now become much bigger. The survey found that several departments feel that there are now too many students to support in courses, and a lack of administration and secretarial staff has left a huge burden on lecturers.

Many administration staff have been working evenings and weekends to meet the demand. Peter Simons of the Philosophy Department said: “We are unable to plan decently for the future excellence. We are treading water and hoping we do not sink”.

The moratorium also prevents promotions, meaning junior staff and part-time staff have no prospect of advancement. This has left a feeling of “low morale”. Departments also claim they are relying too heavily on adjunct professors. Simons said that “we are unduly relying on adjunct teaching. This cannot be good for the students or the department in the long term”.

Funding cuts have also prevented the replacement of outdated equipment and the purchase of new materials, an issue that has seriously affected the Science departments. One department reported that staff now have to buy professional equipment out of their own payslip. One Science department stressed that fees in some form would have to return, as it is the only immediate solution to the funding problem. One of the Engineering departments responded that they had a deficit last year equivalent to 60 percent of their total budget.

The cuts have also seriously affected the development of Masters and postgraduate programmes. This has particularly affected the Engineering School and its the development of the five-year Masters degree programme. This programme will become an essential requirement for all students graduating from 2013 onwards, but lack of funding has seriously hampered the course. In the Department of Medicine there is no funding for postgraduates as “neither the HSE or HEA will accept them as part of their responsibility”.

Staff have also been discouraged from academic research through a decrease in sabbatical years, research awards and the amount of international guest lectures coming to the College. A diminution in scholarly contact owning to lack of funds for supporting visits and public lectures by international researchers was also raised as a cause for concern.

Dr Martin J. Burke, Head of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering commented that cuts “cannot be allowed to continue if it is truly the intention of the Government that the graduates of the next four to five years are to be highly trained individuals who are going to renew economic growth in the country.”

The as yet unpublished Hunt Report seems to agree that current funding for universities is entirely inadequate. In the Times Higher Education Magazine, Hannah Fearne writes that a draft form of the Hunt Report calls the universities’ funding model “unfit for purpose”.

She states that in the draft Hunt recommends the reintroduction of tuition fees. “It is recommended that arrangements for widening the resource base of higher education institutions over the term of this strategy will include a new form of direct student cost contribution. This could be based on an upfront fee and deferred payment system” the draft states.

Following queries by Trinity News to the Provost, an email was sent to staff and students last week, commenting on the financial situation that Trinity currently faces. The Provost announced that he had presented several plans to the Board at its monthly meeting on 10 November, predicting a worse-case and best-case scenario ranging from 20 percent to 10 percent cuts in the core grant.

The Provost wrote: “The impact of the financial situation on the quality of teaching and the overall student experience is a cause of grave concern and I am extremely appreciative of the efforts being made by staff in all areas of the College to cope with the reduced staff numbers already taking place over the last two years.” He stressed that as the College does not have a deficit, it is in a “relatively strong position to address the current funding crisis”.

In his comments he acknowledged concerns about morale, saying: “It is inevitable that personal cuts in pay, the current lack of promotional opportunities, the prospect of increased student charges as well as the adverse nature of much public commentary will have an impact on the morale of our College community.”