The news this week that five courses at the Castlebar campus of GMIT are to be pulled has been greeted with shock and dismay in the county. On Monday afternoon staff at the college and elected officials in the county were told of the plans to cut the courses in Digital Media and Society, Sustainable Building Technology, Business with Administration and ICT, and heritage related programmes, History and Geography, Culture and the Environment.
The news has seen a Save Castlebar GMIT group set up by former students and a public meeting being organised for Friday March 10 in Castlebar, by Fianna Fáil TD, Lisa Chambers. Deputy Chambers told the Mayo Advertiser yesterday: "There have been widespread rumours of financial difficulty at GMIT and we heard rumours that courses were going to be axed at the Castlebar campus. There is public concern that cuts are being made at Castlebar to ensure Galway is unaffected and that the Castlebar campus is shouldering an unfair level of the cutbacks. At a briefing in Breaffy last Monday elected representatives were told by Dr Fergal Barry, president of GMIT, and Michael Gill, head of Castlebar campus, that they are fully committed to Castlebar and intend to bring new courses on line in the near future. Their reason for cutting the five courses is due to what they say are low numbers applying and taking up places which has made those course unviable.
"The question must be asked if these courses were properly marketed and given a fair chance of success. We also need to see details of what new courses they plan to offer at Castlebar. This is particularly important to save the reputation of the campus at a time when all people are hearing about is courses being axed and a college in financial difficulty. It is important we send a positive message about GMIT Castlebar and announce new courses as soon as possible. Prospective students need to hear loud and clear that GMIT Castlebar is open for business."
Independent Castlebar councillor Michael Kilycone also expressed his concerns for the future of the campus speaking to this paper saying: "I see this as a downgrading of the campus in Mayo and probably the only way forward for the campus is an an independent stand alone campus, because in Galway they see it as an outreach of the college there and outreaches can be closed down like that. Some of the decisions to drop these courses don't make senses either, we are constantly being told by Government the construction and building is coming back and we need skilled and trained people to work in this industry, but one of the courses they want to drop is a construction related one, now that doesn't make sense." Cllr Kilcoyne added: "A number of councillors have put forward a motion on the future of GMIT Mayo which will be top of the agenda at our next meeting."
Senator Michelle Mulherin (FG ) raised the issue with Minister of Education, Richard Bruton, this week and she said she was confident from her discussions with him that the Castlebar campus has a strong future. "I am delighted that the Minister assures there is a solid future for Mayo campus of GMIT and having met Dr Barry and Dr Gill, I believe they have a plan and vision for the Castlebar campus. There are underlying issues and disparities as regards how institutes of technology in general are funded compared to universities, which sees them obtain a way smaller portion from the government funding pot. These issues were acknowledged by the Minister and I am satisfied that these issues are being reviewed with a view to bringing more equity to the funding of ITs and towards levelling the playing field. It is most important to acknowledge the excellent and successful ongoing courses which already exist on the Mayo campus and the hardworking staff working staff delivering them."
The Mayo Advertiser contacted GMIT for comment on the issue, but none was available at time of going to print.