Trinity College Dublin bucks trends with surplus but warns of rising costs across third level

Government urged to honour pledge to boost core funding for higher education sector

Trinity College Dublin has bucked a trend of deficits across many higher education institutions by recording a surplus of almost €4 million last year.

But the university says the sector remains under “huge pressure” from rising costs and underfunded public sector pay increases. While its annual results have yet to be published, a financial statement reflecting a €3.9m surplus has been approved by Trinity’s board.

While Trinity flagged a projected deficit to the Higher Education Authority last year, the university’s provost Dr Linda Doyle said it was able to record a surplus for the 2022/23 year thanks to “careful cost management, increased income and lower energy prices on average than had been expected”.

However, she warned that the wider higher education sector remains under “huge pressure” from rising costs.


“The public service pay agreements, which are very welcome, will have to be funded from our already tight budgets unless the additional support we received last year is repeated,” she said.

Ms Doyle said there was “no escaping the reality” that Government needs to honour the commitment it made to provide annual core funding of €307 million for the higher education sector, made under the then minister for higher education, now Taoiseach, Simon Harris.

“Bridging this gap would give Irish universities the opportunity to improve much-needed services for students and staff and bring us in line with our international peers,” she said.

The surplus for 2022/23 compares to a net deficit of €200,000 at Trinity in the previous year.

Overall, universities are projected to run combined deficits this year of about €15 million as some colleges struggle to cope with rising costs. About eight publicly funded higher education institutions were projected to be in the red last year based on financial projections provided to the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Some of the biggest spending concerns are focused at TU Dublin, University College Cork (UCC) and University of Limerick (UL). All three of these institutions are the subject of scrutiny by the authority after financial issues of concern came to light over recent months.

Colleges say they are facing cost pressures due to several factors including rising costs, public sector pay increases, delayed expenditure linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing staff numbers on foot of rising enrolments.

While the Government maintains that sufficient funding has been made available to the higher education sector, universities argue that there is a gap of between €25-€30 million in what they received in State funding versus the real cost of public sector pay increases.

All institutions running deficits have confirmed that they have sufficient cash resources to meet their liabilities in full until the end of this year.

Much of the concern within the HEA over financial performance relates to “unplanned” deficits, where universities unexpectedly find themselves in the red.

This was the situation at UCC, for example, which is understood to have flagged concerns with education authorities that it was on course to record a €11.2 million deficit last year, which was attributed to “rising costs”. It has since launched a cost-containment plan aimed at containing a deficit this year to €16 million followed by a return to a surplus of €2 million next year.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent