The Irish Universities Association, the representative body for Ireland’s seven universities, has called for greater investment in higher education in Budget 2019.
According to Jim Miley, Director General of the Irish Universities Association, “This Budget must urgently address the underlying quality issues arising from a decade of underfunding as well as building capacity to absorb the significant growth in student numbers. We are seeking an increase of €130m in core current funding and €104m in essential capital upgrades in 2019. State funding per student now is just half what it was ten years ago".
“It is now 725 days since the Cassells Report was published and the sector cannot continue to deliver without the politicians of Ireland grasping the funding challenge for the university sector. Already this year, we have seen a decline in our position in international ranking systems. Without significant additional investment, universities cannot enhance their efforts to improve access and better respond to skills needs across the economy.”
The Cassells report, Investing in National Ambition, set out a clear rationale and strategy for the future funding of higher education and a choice of options to achieve that. The funding requirements for the sector, as laid out by Cassells, includes the following key elements:
• An additional €600 million per annum in core funding by 2021 as compared with 2015
• A capital investment programme of €5.5 billion by 2030
Jim Miley continued: “Budget 2018 brought a welcome but modest initial increase in core funding for higher level. However, the gap in core funding to 2021, based on the Cassells analysis, remains in excess of €550 million. That is a massive gap! It is essential that this funding gap is bridged if there is to be any meaningful progress on achieving the Government’s ambition to have a ‘best in Europe’ higher education system. Or to put it more bluntly, failure to bridge the gap leaves Ireland trailing behind competing nations.”
The €130m increase for core current funding for universities for Budget 2019 is comprised of €90m investment in capacity and quality and €40m to meet known unavoidable cost increases in 2019 arising from national pay awards and other centrally imposed cost increases.
The additional capital investment of €104m is required to address critical upgrades of essential equipment and infrastructure in order to provide facilities appropriate to the 2019 needs of students. The legacy of a decade-long neglect of essential repair and maintenance due to lack of money has resulted in a catalogue of ‘red-letter’ health and safety-related issues to be dealt with in university facilities. Failure to address the extensive refurbishment requirements at this point will inevitably lead to far more extensive costs in the medium term as capital stock may deteriorate beyond repair and may require complete replacement.
“Universities have a crucial role in producing the talent pool for the growing knowledge economy. This not only includes satisfying the skills needs of the workforce, but also seeding the creativity and innovation of the economy through an expanding world class research system. The Cassells Report provided an expertly researched and presented roadmap. We are calling on politicians across the Oireachtas to stop kicking the can down the road and to address the problem now. Failure to do so will damage students’ prospects and threaten the future competitiveness of the economy” Jim Miley concluded.