Seanad debates

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

9:00 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Power, to the House. His endurance has been tested today. I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter on behalf not just of the students, parents and teachers of the Cork School of Music but of the people of Cork. Cutbacks affect people and in this case it is young people, be they boys and girls at primary level or second level, teenagers, adults, parents and staff. It is a concern that in a changing economic environment and in a climate where we are reducing expenditure, we are taking a stance against creativity, arts, culture and music. Any cuts in teaching hours are regrettable but especially so in the case of the Cork School of Music. I hope the Minister of State will be able to tell the House there will be no cuts with regard to part-time teaching hours at the school.

The school, which is a constituent college of Cork Institute of Technology, is celebrating 130 years of the provision of music but concerns now arise in that regard. A year ago, there was a fanfare to welcome the opening of the new school of music, which was built through public private partnership. Many people campaigned for what is a magnificent facility, and its reputation, integrity and provision of service in terms of music go beyond Cork. There are now more than 2,000 students at primary and post-primary level, along with third and fourth level students, resulting in a college that is vibrant, active and has waiting lists for many of its courses. What will happen now?

It is ironic that there are cutbacks. There is a reduction of 2,000 teaching hours, which will have a profound and immediate impact on teachers, students and parents as well as on the world of music and arts in Cork. There will be a lay-off of temporary teachers and a reduction in the enrolment in many classes, including no harp enrolment, no new wind enrolment and a 50% reduction in both piano and violin enrolment. Choirs and musicianship classes will be cut and current students will not be offered second instruments. While I had hoped this would not have an impact on third and fourth level, I am sure it will. After campaigning for years for a new school of music, we are reducing service and output, and dumbing down the entire service and the provision of facilities.

The Higher Education Authority is providing funding and the Cork Institute of Technology is trying to manage its budget, but what happens? There is a restriction of the student intake and a complete, systematic rowing back of the provision for the school for the 2007-08 academic year.

I am disappointed the Minister for Education and Science is not present because this is a matter of grave importance to the people of Cork and beyond. Will the Minster of State ask the Minister for Education and Science to confirm how the Cork School of Music can continue to provide the full range of music tuition currently available when there will be no intake of students?

In conclusion, this is a matter that requires urgent attention. We have a wonderful facility, a dedicated staff who are the best in Europe and a renowned school. We are taking this away and affecting people through cutbacks which are a consequence of bad economic management. For the sake of a percentage of a budget and on behalf of the parents, students and staff, I appeal to the Minister of State not to proceed with the cuts. I look forward to his reply because this is the beginning of a change in education policy. It does not augur well in a time of economic change if we treat education negatively. It is a bad way to proceed.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank Senator Buttimer for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I will reply on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe.

As the Senator will be aware, the Cork School of Music is a constituent part of Cork Institute of Technology, CIT. As institutes of technology are autonomous institutions, the Department of Education and Science has no role in their operational affairs. The institutes of technology receive a block grant from the Higher Education Authority and it is a matter for each institution to determine how this is allocated internally. In the case of the Cork School of Music, the CIT will determine the level of funding to be allocated to the school.

The Minister is aware of the annual demands for additional resources for the higher education sector and he has afforded priority to investments in this area. Spending on higher education has increased dramatically over the past decade. When all higher education funding is taken into account, the overall provision by the Department for the sector amounts to €2 billion for 2008. This is an increase of 25% since 2005, when the provision amounted to €1.6 billion, and an increase of 135% on the €850 million provided in 1997.

I understand that recurrent funding for CIT has been increased in recent years from €57 million in 2005 to almost €64 million this year. Its 2008 allocation represents an increase of 2.5% over its 2007 funding and an increase of 12% since 2005. CIT has also benefited from substantial capital funding of €80 million allocated since 1997. In addition, the Cork School of Music was one of three pilot public private partnership projects undertaken by the Department and was completed in 2007 at a cost amounting to €51 million, excluding VAT.

It is understood from CIT that in the context of the normal cycle of review and planning for next year, all faculties and constituent colleges have been requested to achieve efficiencies. It is also understood that while there will be some small reduction in new part-time student intake, the Cork School of Music will continue to offer the full range of music tuition currently available, including for first and second level students.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Minister for his reply and appreciate this is not his brief. However, three quarters of his reply was irrelevant to the matter I raised. There will be a reduction in the number of part-time students. I impress upon him the need to ask the Minister for Education and Science how the Cork School of Music can continue to provide the full range of music tuition given that there will be no intake of students. That is the question to which the pupils, parents and teachers need an answer.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I am sorry if the reply I gave to the Senator was not exactly what he expected. I have outlined the commitment that has been made to the Cork School of Music and the vast sums of money that have been made available. I am not familiar with the plans for the future intake of students but I will consult the Minister and revert to the Senator on the issue.