A Cork representative of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has warned that “big choices” will have to be made at University College Cork as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It comes as IFUT calls for the establishment of an all-stakeholder consultation process to address what it describes as the “education cliff around the corner.”
It is also calling for the introduction of emergency supports for higher education similar to those implemented for businesses.
The Federation said that decisions around both funding, as well as urgent non-cash issues, need to be prioritised “as the future of hundreds of thousands of students and thousands of staff are in jeopardy.”
It suggested a reduction in the intake of international students next year, as well as losses from certain courses, amongst other issues, could lead to staff lay-offs and the collapse of course delivery.
Dr Edward Lahiff, Chair of the UCC branch of IFUT, said “sterling work” was being done by university staff in delivering online lectures while adapting to new ways of working and pointed out that university staff, like those in other sectors, will be facing “a lot of change in working practices” in the months ahead.
This will be impacted by issues such as when students are due to complete their Leaving Certificate can start university.
Dr Lahiff acknowledged that there were serious concerns about funding of the sector, as there will be in the wider economy, and how this could impact on staff members such as those on short-term contracts, and said that as part of a wider discussion, “a grown-up conversation” is needed about how this is going to be addressed.
He also voiced concerns about the potential impacts of the current situation on the many researchers who could find themselves in a situation in the future where while a research project could be continuing, because many of these projects are currently "on ice", funding may have ended.
He pointed out that the third level sector is a huge employer in Cork and stressed that conversations need to happen both nationally and locally about what happens next.
“Meaningful consultation with stakeholders is needed at a local level. Big choices will have to be made. Staff will be asked to make sacrifices. All of these things will need to be discussed,’ said Dr Lahiff, adding, “together we will find a solution.”