Incorporation spells job cuts

April 3, 1998

A Northern Ireland college is facing job losses as incorporation finally dawned in the province this week.

From Wednesday - "appropriately, April Fools' Day", one union official said - the 17 further and higher education colleges gained incorporated status, in effect taking over responsibility for their own budgets from Northern Ireland's five education and library boards, which are watered-down versions of mainland local education authorities.

A total of 160 people from business, industry and the professions has been appointed to join college boards of governors for the next four years.

Omagh College, in the west, is seeking ten voluntary redundancies and a lecturers' union spokeman said other colleges were preparing redundancy packages.

But Jim McKeown, regional officer of Natfhe, warned that proposals to cut college staff could cause serious conflict.

His comments came against the background of a confidential report, drawn up for the Department of Education by consultants Coopers & Lybrand, which is believed to conclude that as many as seven colleges will not survive under incorporation and are likely to face the prospect of amalgamation, or even closure, within three to five years.

A memorandum sent to staff by Omagh principal, Seamus Devlin, warned that the budgetary situation at his college was "extremely serious". He said efforts had been made to cut expenditure but a shortfall of Pounds 316,000 remained.

The memo stressed, however, that even that figure did not take account of another Pounds 220,000 that the education department is attempting to recoup after it was "accidentally allocated because of a miscalculation in the number of students".

Natfhe's spokesman in Omagh, David Kennedy, said he did not believe there would be sufficient applications for voluntary redundancies. "This is being rushed and management must bear some responsibility for the crisis," he said.

Education minister Tony Worthington said he had been disappointed at the level of applications to become governors from women - only 23 per cent of the total.

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