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New Mayo art degree part-funded by Shell causes controversy

€30,000 of €200,000 course funding to come from Corrib Gas Community Gain Investment Fund

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Wednesday Jun 26, 2013

An innovative new art degree, to be part-funded by Shell, is causing controversy among staff at two third-level colleges. The proposed new visual art degree in Erris, Co Mayo, is being offered by the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and Mayo County Council, which administers the €8.5 million Corrib Gas Community Gain Investment Fund.

A DIT staff member has said that €30,000 of the €200,000 course funding – the bulk of which is from DIT – will come from the Corrib fund. This fund, which is to benefit the people of Erris, is being rolled out over five years by the council as an An Bord Pleanála condition for planning permission for the last phase of the Corrib gas pipeline. Its administration has nothing to do with Shell.

However, some DIT staff have objected to the use of Shell monies at a recent staff meeting. “The issue of the funding of the programme has been discussed internally in the DIT at a meeting two weeks ago and concern was raised about the gas fund and Shell’s involvement by the very staff timetabled to deliver the course,” the source said.

He said staff had sought assurances that the programme would not be funded by the Corrib monies “either directly or indirectly” and that a request was made to convey this to Mayo County Council.

At the same time, some staff at the Castlebar campus of the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) say they are perplexed by the fact that the local authority chose to engage with a third-level college outside the region while not consulting with them during a period where there was interaction with the council about its new art degree. The college, which has offered a part-time BA in art and design since 2000, has just announced a new degree in contemporary art practices.

However, a spokeswoman for GMIT confirmed in a statement that Peter Hynes, the Mayo county manager, “made GMIT aware of the DIT part-time course as part of a briefing on a separate unrelated project”.

The GMIT source also says the arrangement with DIT flouts the proposed “regional clustering” of the Irish Higher Education system announced by Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn in May.

“This course is incoherent in terms of both the existing and proposed development of art education as degree level within the region, is an intrusion into the strategic plan and mission of the Castlebar campus and at odds with national higher education policy,” the GMIT staff member said.

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