Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Third Level Education.

Gerry Reynolds


3 Mr. G. Reynolds asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will allow the Sligo Institute of Technology to further grow in student numbers. [2714/02]

The report of the steering committee on the future development of higher education, published in June 1995, outlined indicative student numbers for the academic years 2000-01 and 2006-07. The figures indicated a total of 2,800 full-time students for Sligo Institute of Technology for the 2000-01 academic year and a total of 3,000 full-time students for the 2006-07 academic year. These figures represent projections which inform my Department in terms of capital works and equipment provision. They do not represent a cap on student numbers for the institute.

The annual returns from the institute for 2000-01 indicate a stock of 3,021 wholetime students. Accordingly, the actual figures exceed expectations for 2000-01 and even for 2006-07.

My Department provides current funding to the institutes of technology on the basis of annual programme and budget submissions made by the institutes and within the limit of available resources. Over the past four academic years my Department has approved eight new degree courses, six new diploma courses and two new certificate courses in the institute. The institute has been allocated additional staff to support the delivery of these courses. The institute's current budget has been increased from €10.268 million in 1998 to €16.161 million in 2001 which represents a total increase of over 57% over a three year period.

My Department is also engaged in detailed consultation with the institute in relation to the implementation of a master plan for capital works. Recently completed building projects include a new engineering building, refurbishment of St. Columbus units 14-16 and extension of the general engineering wing. A major new apprentice facility is currently under construction at the institute and is expected to be completed in September. My Department is awaiting the master plan currently being undertaken by the institute which will indicate the development potential for the institute for the coming years.

At present there are 3,300 students in the Sligo Institute of Technology. A total of 75% of second level students in Leitrim and 65% of second level students in Sligo go on to third level education, with the vast majority going to colleges in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. The cap that currently applies prevents the Sligo Institute of Technology growing. If it is Government policy to restrict the growth of institutes of technology to these limits, will the Minister state whether the same policies are being applied to the university sector? In the context of the national development plan, does the Minister envisage the front-loading of investment into the institutes of technology, particularly Sligo Institute of Technology? The number of students in the institute currently exceeds the number envisaged in the development plan for 2006. If the college wants to grow and to provide proper facilities for extra students, it needs funding from the Department. Will the Minister provide that this year?

That process is under way. The third level building unit has agreed with Sligo Institute of Technology the implementation of a master plan based on the indicative numbers outlined by the Higher Education Authority steering committee report. Recently completed projects at the institute include the ones I mentioned earlier. In addition, the Department agreed funding of approximately £1.3 million in April last year for a piece of land along a public road, creating an opportunity for the possible provision of another entrance to the institute. The plan for the campus identified this land as being suitable for academic buildings and for car parking. The plan for the campus identified this land as suitable for academic buildings and car parking. A new major apprentice facility is currently under construction and should be ready in September. However, it is agreed that the institution is growing and that it should grow in principle. The institute needs to provide a master plan which the Department awaits. The master plan currently being undertaken by the institute will indicate the development potential for the college for the coming years. The Department's capital funding programme will be targeted to enhance that capacity.

The Higher Education Authority has asked Sligo Institute of Technology to produce a master plan which is limited to provision for 3,000 students. The institute currently caters for 3,300 students and, therefore, it cannot provide a master plan to the Higher Education Authority within that guideline. I ask the Minister and the Higher Education Authority to give permission to Sligo Institute of Technology to increase the number of institutes for which it plans. The institute has exceeded the cap on student numbers and, therefore, cannot produce a master plan. That does not make sense because the institute needs to increase student numbers.

I will take this up with the Higher Education Authority because the Deputy is saying the student population is in excess of 3,000. However, the plan is to develop the institute and the master plan should provide that.

Is the Higher Education Authority biased against institutes of technology? The authority has only recently taken up responsibility for institutes of technology in addition to universities.

I would be very concerned if that were the case. I envisage the development of institutes of technology and that is what we will try to do.