Tuesday, 12 December 2017
Institutes of Technology
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this topic and thank the Minister of State for attending to reply to my queries. All of us in the west know that the campus of GMIT has played a huge role in the economic, educational and social life of Castlebar, Mayo and the surrounding regions over the many years since it was founded in, I believe, the 1980s. Issues have arisen in recent times in regard to underinvestment and lack of upgrading of facilities, as well as the range of course development. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, visited the campus earlier this year, met the president and the staff and set up a working group.
To be fair to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, he gave a commitment that GMIT Castlebar would have a sustainable future on the Mayo campus. My understanding now is that the report has been completed but has not yet been signed off on or published. I raise this query because I believe that should happen at the earliest opportunity in order to provide certainty for staff and the current students, but, more importantly, for the students who will be filling out CAO forms in the early weeks in January. We need to provide that certainty immediately in order to maximise the potential of the Castlebar complex.
I thank Senator John O'Mahony for raising this issue. I also want to thank Senators Paddy Burke and Michelle Mulherin for raising this issue with me and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on numerous occasions.
At the outset, I would like to state that the Department and the HEA are fully committed to implementing a viable development plan for the future of the Castlebar campus of GMIT.Following the categorisation by the HEA of GMIT as a financially vulnerable institution in 2016 a number of actions were identified in order to address the financial position of the institute. In line with the HEA's policy for dealing with such institutes, it has agreed a three year financial plan with GMIT to reach a balanced budget. GMIT has also identified a number of areas to address its financial position. A particular area for concern was the Mayo campus in Castlebar which had demonstrated significant budget deficits in respect of its operations.
As a result of these concerns a working group was established in March 2017 to formulate a plan to develop a sustainable future for the Mayo campus. The GMIT working group was chaired by the HEA and comprised representatives of GMIT, the Department, Mayo County Council and other local stakeholders. The brief of the working group was to formulate a plan for a sustainable future and growth options for GMIT Mayo campus Castlebar. The working group engaged extensively with the local community, business interests, staff and students of GMIT, the executive and the board of GMIT, local public representatives, and other stakeholders. This included a number of meetings and open fora.
To inform the work of the group, a base of information was gathered including an analysis of labour market needs in the region, student supply and demand, the role of the further education section and the impact of the campus on the local and regional economy. The views of external stakeholders were sought in relation to these matters and 23 submissions were received. These views and submissions were considered by the working group and have fed into all deliberations resulting in the compilation of the final report.
The report of the GMIT working group has now been submitted to my Department. The report is intended to provide a roadmap towards a sustainable and vibrant Castlebar campus of GMIT. That is what we all want and it is in all our interests to ensure that the recommendations in the report are implemented. I will consider the findings and recommendations in conjunction with officials in my Department. I confirm that the report will be published before the end of 2017.
After a period without any significant investment in higher education, this Government has now started the process of reinvesting in higher education. There will be an additional €100 million in funding provided to higher education in 2018 compared to 2016. This additional funding will help to address the funding challenge facing the higher education sector and will support institutions such as GMIT in returning to financial sustainability.
This reinvestment will be supported by a review of the financial allocation model for higher education and a new systems performance framework that sets out the key strategic objectives for the first years. I intend to publish the review before the end of 2017 and the new framework early in 2018. They will provide the overall strategic context and funding allocation model to complement and support the future sustainability of the Castlebar campus of GMIT.
I would like to thank Senator John O'Mahony for affording me the opportunity to respond to the House on this matter. Senators Paddy Burke and Michelle Mulherin have also raised this issue with me and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on numerous occasions.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I presume I can take it from her response that the report will be published in the next few days. Can I also take it that the suggestion is there will be a pathway announced early in 2018 and there will be investment in the Castlebar campus?
Yes. The Senator can certainly take that. As I have said, I will publish the report before the end of the year. The Senator, in his earlier contribution, mentioned the students that would be applying.