Euro funding cuts: Ministerial agenda questioned

Originally published in Volume I, Issue 1 on 7th October 1994 by Pat Leahy. Student leaders and academics have expressed dismay at interference by the Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreatnach, T.D., in the allocation of European Social Fund/Advanced Technical Skills programme resources to UCD. The Department of Education added Womens’ Studies to the list of courses in UCD to receive funding, despite the fact that UCD did not request that the course be funded. The Women’s Studies Centre has not applied for inclusion in the programme since 1989-90.When contacted, the Department of Education initially claimed that it was a decision of the Higher Education Authority (HEA). Sources in the HEA at first refused to comment, but a high ranking HEA official told this newspaper that ultimately, “The responsibility for that decision rests with the Minister.” Ailbhe Smyth, Director of the Women’s Studies course, also thought that the responsibility lay with the Minister. She herself was a member of the HEA for five years. Both Mr Brendan O’Dea and Ms Pauline Gildea in the ESF section of the Department of Education refused to comment on the matter.Academic administrators in the Postgraduate Studies Centre in UCD, who did not wish to be named, expressed anger at the decision, claiming that most of the Women’s Studies students qualified as recipients of Local Authority Grants anyway. This was disputed by Ailbhe Smyth.“Some of them do, but our students come from very diverse backgrounds. We attract a very atypical type of student, many of whom would not be able to attend the course without the ESF/ATS grants. This is the only funding for Women’s Studies in the country.”Malcolm Byrne, Students’ Union Education Officer, said, “This sort of blatant political interference in unwarranted and is insulting to those students whose courses have lost funding”.UCD allocation of ESF funding, under the Advanced Training Skills (ATS) programme, has been cut from £2.7m to £2.1m this year. This has led to a number of courses, which formerly received funding under the scheme, becoming fee-paying this year. They include the Teaching English as a Foreign Language course and the Masters of Mathematical Science. The Diploma in Business Studies, widely used as a postgraduate business qualification by Arts graduates, has been cut by 100 places. In all, 300 places in UCD have been cut.The Head of the Mathematics Department, Professor Don McQuillan, whose masters programme has had its grant cut, described the decision as “ludicrous”. He pointed out that 40% of the intending masters’ students had not been able to take up the course as a result of the cut in funding.Various academic centres and departments in UCD submitted applications to the President’s Office for inclusion in the scheme. A shortlist was then selected and forwarded to the Higher Education Authority who submitted a final list to the Minister for approval. It is at this stage, according to our sources, that the Minister’s intervention took place.The official Department of Education guidelines, a copy of which has been obtained by this newspaper, state, “Courses approved under this programme will address skills needs under the following areas: Management, Finance, Marketing, Production, Quality Control, Technology, Business Planning and Languages where skills deficiencies have been highlighted and Tourism, Services, Aquaculture, Horticulture and Food Technology which have been identified as possible growth areas.” There is no mention of gender education, although Ailbhe Smyth claims that the Women’s Studies graduates are able to bring their expertise in gender issues to the employment marketplace. This was echoed by a HEA source who said that Women’s Studies “often suited women returning to the workplace.”However, the three core courses of the Women’s Studies programme, Women, Society and the State in Contemporary Ireland; Theories and Practice of Feminism; and Methods and Perspectives in Womens’ Studies, make no mention of market or work-oriented skills. There are courses on Women and Work among the 13 options but these make no mention of the areas included in the Department of Education’s guidelines.