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Monday, April 11, 2011

Wayne Doyle Investigates the Education system in Wicklow

Austerity Cuts Seriously Hurting Wicklow Students

By Wayne Doyle

An investigation into the effect of the recent budget cuts on Wicklow students has revealed deep flaws within the education system in County Wicklow with over half of applicants for government assistance rejected.
Currently under half the applications made to Wicklow VEC requesting financial assistance are rejected.

In 2007 only 36 per cent of the applications made were financially assisted. Shockingly this is the case from 2004 to present with a mere 38 per cent of applicants given some or full financial assistance.

The proposed budget cuts in September 2011 will effectively cripple students whom are already struggling in and around the Wicklow area. Students in local schools have voiced their concerns in an independent survey with over 75 per cent of students expressing concerns about financial pressure.

An astonishing 62 per cent stated they would have had a better chance in college if they had attended between the years 2006-2009.
Political parties such as Fine Gael and Labour continue to speak about “The Knowledge Economy”, but the fact is that the factual information being provided is far from the much talked about Knowledge Economy.

Recent cuts which will come into full effect from next September have been branded "A sneaky change of the qualifying criteria for grants will means that many students living in Bray, Greystones, Kilcoole, Enniskerry and Delgany will experience a cut of about 50% in their grant from the next college year.

When you add this illogical change in criteria to the increase in the college registration fee which this Government has also presided over, it is clear that Wicklow students and their families are being left with a huge financial burden by this outgoing Government," stated Councillor Harris.

Government investment in this crucial field has fallen from 5.2 per cent of GDP in 1995 to just 4.6 per cent last year. Scandinavian countries, meanwhile, spend more than 7 per cent.

The sample schools which were questioned in areas such as student progression to third level of education obtained. Three of the schools whom cannot be named couldn’t provide any record of their students progressing to third, with the principal of one school stating that there “was never a record of any form kept”.

In response the Department of Education queried “Well what you want that for”, and “I will check with supervisors and email you”, bearing in mind the information sought was simple explanatory figures.

A Source in The Higher Education Authority who wishes to remain anonymous stated that “the figures and information records for the Wicklow area among the worst he/she has seen. The Numbers I have here in front of me are so small you could probably easily identify the individual’s, so for that reason I would be cautious as to how you use this information”.

It is the secondary schools and the college’s responsibility to ensure the information is logged with the HEA. Information that should be accurately logged by the department of education is only being done for the leader schools.

Employees whom questioned the destination of the information required advised that “in order to get the information you seek you might have to go through the freedom information act “.

However, when a manager or supervisor was requested Mrs Blaithin Dowling Finance Unit of the Department of Education and Skills, assisted with the required documentation, explaining that the query “should have been dealt with more efficiently”.

Funding is divided into two subheads which are explained below, which doesn’t give an accurate reading or provide the transparency which is evidently needed.

Subhead D.6 Annual Grants to Vocational Educational Committees - this caters for pay and non-pay grants. Subhead F.2. - Second Level Schools - Building Grants and Capital Costs. Additionally depending on educational activity from year to year other payments may issue from programme subheads in the Department's Vote to cater for ad hoc expenditure.
The Department's supplier payment history for the year 2005 to 2009 indicates that the following cumulative amounts were paid to Wicklow VEC.

The payments below were made to Wicklow VEC between a January to December basis.
 2005 €32,474,015.27
 2006 €44,593,226.34
 2007 €50,932,969.63
 2008 €46,172,460.33
 2009 €46,599,858.39
The amount of students whom received part of or a full grant Form Wicklow VEC

2004 2258(applications made) Grants Received 865
2005 1779 769
2006 1927 736
2007 1997 726
2008 `1402 827
2009 Not available

The graph above provides a clear illustration that students progressing into third level education are steadily declining. Colleges whom run programmes such as HEAR, New ERA and other equal access programmes are facing an uphill battle with helping students from ethnic minorities or financial difficulties progress to third level.

“Current student and students looking to progress to third level have always faced difficulties these are just some aspects of college life which challenge students”.

In conclusion to this investigation it must be noted, the current government is not investing in education in the Wicklow area to the extent it should. We have young very capable individuals being turned away by the system, a system with false promises and depictions.

It is time for representatives of the Wicklow area to address the current problem before it spirals out of control. How can we insist we provide equal opportunities to all when over half of potential gradates do not get the assistance they need. Currently one can only conclude the knowledge economy doesn’t exist and never did.

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