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College funding fury

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College funding fury


GMIT staff ‘furious’ DIT to run new art degree in Mayo

Áine Ryan

AT ‘a critical time in the development of GMIT Castlebar’, some staff are furious it has been overlooked in the running of a new art degree to be rolled out in Erris later this year by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and Mayo County Council. The Mayo News can exclusively reveal the new honours degree – which is being funded to the tune of €200,000 – has also caused controversy among some staff at DIT, who are unhappy that it is being part-funded by Shell monies.
We can confirm that some of the DIT academics programmed to deliver the course have objected to monies from the Corrib Gas Community Investment Fund being used for the course and have sought assurances from college management that funding from the giant oil and gas company would be used neither directly nor indirectly.
Moreover, one GMIT source has claimed the county council’s arrangement with DIT flouts the proposed ‘regional clustering’ of the Irish Higher Education system, announced by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn at the end of May. However, a spokesperson for the college said yesterday ‘there are currently no parameters in relation to part-time offerings by institutions in the region’.
The Mayo News understands that some GMIT staff are perplexed by the fact that Mayo County Council has chosen to engage with a third-level college outside the region while not consulting with GMIT.
“This course is incoherent in terms of both the existing and proposed development of art education at degree level within the region, is an intrusion into the strategic plan and mission of the Castlebar campus and is at odds with national higher-education policy,” a source said.
The source highlighted the fact that there was apparently no discussion with staff on the ground about the DIT proposal while Mayo County Council was participating in a consultative process about the new  course.
However, the GMIT spokesperson said that County Manager Peter Hynes had made GMIT aware of the DIT part-time course  during other discussions.
When contacted yesterday, Mr Paddy McGuinness, a former county councillor who lobbied for the establishment of the Castlebar campus of GMIT (then a Regional Technical College) over an 18-year period, said it was the first he had heard of the new DIT degree in Erris. Mr McGuinness is also chairman of the Western Development Commission, which, he explained, has developed a strong working relationship with the local authority and particularly its Enterprise and Investment Unit.  
Commenting on the new course  and the controversy surrounding it, he said, GMIT Castlebar is at a particularly sensitive and critical stage of its development and needs proactive support from all local and regional organisations, including Mayo County Council. “I would be annoyed, disappointed and surprised if Mayo County Council did anything but support it,” said Mr McGuinness.

Shell funding
THE Mayo News understands that €30,000 of the Corrib Community Gain Investment Fund will be allocated to the DIT course this year. The €8.5 million fund is being rolled out by Mayo County Council over five years (€1.7 million annually), from 2011 to 2015, as part of an An Bord Pleanála condition for giving planning permission for the last section of the route. Shell has nothing to do with the administration of this fund.  
Organisers of the course confirmed some weeks ago that the €200,000 investment ‘has been greeted with great enthusiasm in the Erris area’ and is viewed ‘as one of the most significant educational developments for the region’. They praised the positive input of local partners, Áras Inis Gluaire and Coláiste Chomáin, Rossport. The course will replicate a successful model pioneered by DIT on Sherkin Island, County Cork, over the past 14 years.
The new four-year modular honours degree programme in Erris will be delivered in four-day blocks on alternate weekends from September to May annually.

New GMIT course
Coincidentally, GMIT announced details yesterday of its new four-year part-time BA degree in Contemporary Art Practices at its Castlebar campus. The course, is a Level 7 programme (or pass degree), while the new DIT course will be Level 8 (an honours degree). The original part-time degree in Art and Design was introduced on both the Galway and Mayo campuses in 2000, with no intake of new students in Castlebar last year. This has caused concern among staff that there were plans to phase out the course.