Amount spent on education falls to third worst in EU

Irish Independent

By John Walshe Education Editor

The share of our national wealth spent on education has dropped to the third lowest in Europe, new figures show.

Even before new cutbacks ordered by the Government, a major report reveals the percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) allocated to education has fallen sharply. Only Greece and the Slovak Republic spend less within the EU.

Mexico and Chile actually spend a higher percentage of GDP on education than we do, according to figures in the latest 'Education at a Glance' survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It shows that educational spending in Ireland as a percentage of GDP fell from 5.2pc in 1995 to 4.6pc a decade later. However, the picture is complicated by the fact that GDP in Ireland increased significantly as exports grew over that period and are included in the GDP benchmark.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report also:

l Gives a clear hint that tuition fees should return to higher education.

l Confirms that primary school class sizes in Ireland are still among the highest in Europe.

l Shows that the gender gap in educational attainment by females is widening.

l Reveals that we are one of the few OECD countries that has a national exam but does not publish league tables of results

l Some 82pc of 25-34 year olds in Ireland have completed upper secondary education compared to 78pc across the OECD.

Last night, Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe vigorously defended the Government's record. He said his department's spending had increased by 21pc between 2005 and 2007 -- up from €7bn to €8.4bn. The minister said the official Irish figures for 2005 differed from those published by OECD for a number of reasons, including different types of expenditure such as capital funding.

But teacher unions were unhappy with the explanation.

Peter MacMenamin, Teachers' Union of Ireland general secretary, said OECD's figures showed the Government had failed to invest in any strategic and meaningful manner when we enjoyed budget surpluses.


"Now with this self-generated need for budgetary constraint the Government has embarked on a mission of curtailment, hitting education services across the board with a significant blow. Cutbacks of the magnitude proposed will not just prevent further improvement but will negate many of the achievements to date."

Mr MacMenamin said that in relation to lifelong learning and workplace initiatives, it was worrying in the extreme that the report showed that ratio of hours spent in job-related training in Ireland was just 12pc, compared to the OECD average of 25pc. "This is an indictment of the Government's complete lack of commitment to the lifelong learning programme," he claimed.

ASTI General Secretary John White said the under-funding of our education system could not continue. "While Ireland's second-level education service is performing very well, the Government's stated objective of developing Ireland as a knowledge economy is only achieveable if we have adequately funded schools. Concerns about uptake of science and mathematics cannot be adequately addressed by a cash-starved system."

John Carr, INTO general secretary, said the latest report had shown that spending on education in Ireland had increased by more than 80pc between 1995 and 2005, but GDP more than doubled.


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