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The Battle for Tipperary Institute

Green ThoughtsUPDATED 12 OCT 09 in the €100m paragraph.

EVEN WITH THE GREATEST number of recent graduates and the highest amount of incoming students in a decade, Tipperary Institute faces real scrutiny by the Irish government. The government has spent approximately €100 million (on third level education if you consider Tipperary Institute a purely third level institution) in County Tipperary since 1999. [1]  Using just an accountant's weighing scales, the McCarthy report says the college should be closed and its property sold off. McCarthy's crude analysis has been called into question because his quantitative analysis fails its sanity check on several levels. Specifically, a significant part of the millions poured into Tipperary education were sunk costs of establishing the third level institution. Start-up costs are better factored out as sunk costs, yet McCarthy lumps them into one pile and gives the insinuation that the money poured in for daily operations. As reported on local radio, in regional newspapers and by several national broadsheets, the locals are outraged. And they have powerful allies in Tipperary TD Michael Lowry and in the Green Party, the coalition party opposed to any major reduction in the education sector.

The crosshairs are trained on Tipperary Institute at a time when enrollment trendlines are increasing. In 2008, the Higher Education Training and Awards Council approved a new suite of programmes, including a Microsoft-sponsored degree in computer game design and development, and a master’s in business management practice. The Irish Times explains what happened. "As a result, first-preference figures from the CAO received a boost of 68 per cent. Student numbers are increasing, with 450 full-timers enrolled this year. Projections indicate that figure will be about 600 next year, bringing the full-time equivalent figure closer to the 1,000 mark and vastly improving the value for money per student."

But according to An Bord Snip Nua, because Tippeary Institute is located within an easy commute of the Waterford and Limerick Institutes of Technology, it should be rolled up, students should be redistributed and campus lands should be disposed of for the benefit of the Exchequer. The accountancy perspective that formed this report does not factor in the constraints felt by mature students, a significant percentage of the student population in Tipperary Institute. Over the next six weeks, I intend to capture some of those student opinions and to put faces and voices to mature students who are trying to upskill in a severely depressed employment market. For the most part, those voices represent people who could be looking at long terms of unemployment, unless they can earn a qualification that makes them more competitive in a tight jobs market.

1. Grainne Faller -- "Tense times in Tipperary as institute battles for survival" in the Irish Times, 6 Oct 09.

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