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Dublin: 13 °C Friday 27 May, 2016

‘We come back to work every year to find fewer and fewer lecturers’

Classes are off for most students at the country’s 14 technology institutes as lecturers go on strike.

INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY staff are taking to picket lines across the country today in a protest over cuts to funding and staffing levels.

Outside DIT Aungier Street this morning, some of the 4,000 striking members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) marched up and down past windows overlooking empty corridors and classrooms.

Harry Browne, a lecturer in journalism, said he was on strike because of concerns about reduced resources, combined with increasing student numbers.

009 Source: Catherine Healy

“ITs have always been about learning in smaller classes. As we lose that, we lose students,” he said.

We try our best to fight high attrition rates, but when you bring in too many students and don’t have the facilities or lecturers for them, a high proportion of people are going to find they’re not getting what they need.

At the start of every academic year, he told TheJournal.ie, staff come back to work to find “fewer and fewer lecturers” among their ranks.

The lecturers who leave aren’t replaced and instead very poorly paid part-timers are squeezed in without adequate compensation for their prep time.

Browne has a permanent, full-time job, but he said he recognises other colleagues are in less fortunate positions.

I spend my weekends answering emails from students and giving feedback on assignments. If I were a casual lecturer getting paid to teach two to three hours a week, I’d find it very hard to justify that level of involvement with students.

Cutting costs

Tom O’Connor, also from the DIT School of Media, estimates that his class sizes have gone up by about 50% since the financial crisis in 2008.

Capture Source: Catherine Healy

“It’s not fair on the students. They work hard to get into courses and we have to teach them regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in,” he said.

Our salaries are down and that doesn’t help morale, but the main reason we’re out here is that we feel the students are getting a raw deal.

His colleague, Richard Fitzsimons, said IT staff numbers have dropped by almost 10% since 2008, while student numbers have increase by a third.

“Savage” cuts to funding, he said, have left many academics struggling to make a living in temporary, part-time positions.

“I know of another lecturer who has only been able to get part-time hours here. She’s earning so little money that she’s seriously considering taking a management job at Lidl where she would immediately get a higher salary and car,” he said.

The notion of employing full-time staff has been replaced with this cost-cutting measure of taking on part-time, assistant lecturers on much lower salaries instead.

Student support

With classes off for the day, the corridors of DIT Aungier Street lay empty when TheJournal.ie went for a walkabout.

One person we did find inside the building was Simon Auffret, a 20-year-old Erasmus student from France who is covering the TUI strike for the student-run Liberty news website.

“It’s great for me because I’m French and this is my first time to see a strike here,” he said.

I understand why they are doing this. They are feeling like the economy is getting better after the crisis, but work is still difficult for them. I support them.

013 Source: Catherine Healy

The one-day action, which is supported by the Union of Students in Ireland, comes after 92% of TUI members voted in December to support industrial action over education cuts.

The teachers’ union says underfunding of the sector has been “hugely detrimental” to the quality of services available to students, resulting in larger class sizes, less access to labs, fewer tutorials and inadequate student support.

The TUI has pointed to the precarious employment status, income poverty and exploitation of many academic staff as other key concerns.

It says “critically low staffing levels” at a time of increasing student numbers has created an unacceptable workload for lecturers.

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