Budget 2017: Extra funds for higher education after decade of cuts

Critics say extra €36.5 million falls well short of €100 million needed to boost sector

Higher education is set to receive the first significant funding increase next year after almost a decade of cuts.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said an additional €36.5 million will be invested in the sector this year. The sum, however, falls well short of the €100 million which many say is needed to significantly boost the standing of the sector. He said a three-year funding package – worth a total of €160 million – will see extra investment go towards increased demand, research and targeted funding for skills, apprenticeships and access programmes.

It will also help more than 3,000 students from poorer backgrounds attend higher level, along with the restoration of maintenance grants for about 1,100 postgraduate students on low incomes.

Mr Bruton pledged that an additional €36 million allocated to higher education in 2017 will rise by another €17 million in 2018 and a further €17 million in the following year. This, he said, would gives colleges and universities greater certainty in planning for the coming years.


He also signalled that the Government will seek a greater contribution to higher education from employers. He announced that the Department of Education will undertake a review and consultation on the matter to be concluded by April. This, he said, will complement the Oireachtas education committee's consideration of the Cassells report on the future of third-level funding.

At primary and secondary level, meanwhile, there will be no increase in capitation grants which means many schools will continue to seek “voluntary contributions” to help make ends meet.

However, there will be more than 2,400 extra teachers hired, the bulk of which will go towards meeting the needs of a rapidly-growing school population. Pupil-teacher ratio in schools – regularly criticised for being too high, especially at primary level – will remain unchanged. Others teaching posts will go to the partial restoration of guidance counselling and the special needs supports that were cut during the downturn.

Of the new teaching posts, most – some 680 – will be for teaching the 11,000 additional students projected to join the education system next year.

The equivalent of 100 additional guidance counselling posts will be restored by September 2017. This amounts to a gradual restoration of the ex-quota guidance counsellor provision for schools, which was controversially abolished in Budget 2012. This move had reduced students’ access to one-to-one counselling and other guidance services.

Special needs

In the area of special needs, Mr Bruton said an additional €18 million will be provided in 2017 to provide for around 900 resource teacher posts.

Funding is being allocated to provide for the recruitment of 115 additional special needs assistants from January, in addition to the 860 assistants recruited from September last.

There will also be funding to “strengthen school leadership”, such as additional deputy principal posts and the restoration of middle-management posts from next September. The deputy principal posts will be provided for in schools with enrolments of 700 students and over, totalling 170 posts.

ASTI schools, however, will not benefit from these measures unless the union signs up to the Lansdowne Road agreement, Mr Bruton confirmed.

Significant resources will be also invested in helping to train teachers in delivering junior-cycle reforms. To ensure class contact time is not reduced, the equivalent of some 550 whole-time posts will be allocated.

Again, ASTI schools will not benefit from these measures unless it drops its opposition to junior-cycle reform.

Mr Bruton confirmed the estimates for next year are based on the assumption that the union will both sign up to the reforms and the Lansdowne Road agreement.

The capital allocation for 2017 will be €690 million, with the focus on providing extra class places at both primary and post-primary levels.

In higher education, a modest amount of extra capital spending will go towards supporting research activities by providing postgraduate and postdoctoral funding. It will also go on public-private partnership projects at the DIT campus in Grangegorman, the Glucksman Library project at the University of Limerick and the Confucius Institute project at University College Dublin.

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