Five third-level colleges financially vulnerable

Dundalk IT, Waterford IT, Letterkenny IT, Galway Mayo IT and NCAD are in difficulty

The institutions include  Dundalk IT, Waterford IT, Letterkenny IT and Galway Mayo IT – as well as the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

The institutions include Dundalk IT, Waterford IT, Letterkenny IT and Galway Mayo IT – as well as the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

At least five third-level institutions across Ireland are in financially vulnerable positions as they struggle to cope with cuts in State funding and rising student numbers.

They include four institutes of technology – Dundalk IT, Waterford IT, Letterkenny IT and Galway Mayo IT – as well as the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin.

While none of the colleges is in imminent danger of collapse, the Higher Education Authority has confirmed it is reviewing their systems and performance to help restore them to financial stability.

A spokesman for the authority said an increase in student numbers since 2008, combined with a reduction in overall funding, has placed significant pressure on higher education institutions.

Economic crisis

State funding for universities has fallen by about half since the economic crisis. Falling numbers of academics are affecting colleges’ ability to provide high-quality education and qualifications.

An added risk for smaller colleges this year is the potential for financial penalties for poor performance, such as running unacceptable deficits.

The HEA is tasked with measuring the performance of colleges against binding agreements which set out key goals and targets.

In 2016, the authority will be in a position for the first time to withhold up to 10 per cent of State funding if these targets are not met.

Performance discussions

The authority declined to comment on the outcome of its ongoing performance discussions, but confirmed there were operating deficits in a number of institutions.

Performance data for the 2012/2013 academic year – compiled in recent weeks – provides a new insight into how many are faring.

It shows larger universities are plugging State funding gaps by boosting income from private sources.

University College Dublin topped the table with a total of €84 million in contract research for companies or State bodies, followed by University College Cork (€80 million) and Trinity (€76 million).

Institutes of Technology generated comparatively modest amounts of income. The most, €17 million, was brought in by private research contracts at Waterford IT.