Covid 19: Universities warn of ‘devastating’ financial losses this year

Third-level institutions set to run combined deficit of €100m due to drop off in income

 Prof Patrick Prendergast, Trinity College Dublin’s Provost said commercial revenues have been devastated by Covid-19.  File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Prof Patrick Prendergast, Trinity College Dublin’s Provost said commercial revenues have been devastated by Covid-19. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Universities are due to run a combined deficit of more than €100 million this year due to a “devastating” drop-off in commercial income and vacant student accommodation.

The Irish Universities Association will the Oireachtas education committee on Thursday that emergency funding will be needed next year to cover unavoidable losses in the sector.

It is also working to provide more on-campus activities for students in the new year to protect their welfare and mental health.

In a submission to the committee, Prof Patrick Prendergast, Trinity College Dublin’s Provost and chair of the Irish Universities Association, said ancillary and commercial revenues have been devastated by Covid-19 and will likely remain that way for much of next year.

Student accommodation revenues have reduced significantly with average occupancy rates reduced to 65 per cent.

At the same time, he said costs have increased with greater online and digital investment and substantial public health measures.

In addition, the interruption of research work has resulted in the provision of cost extensions to research contracts.

The most recent estimate by the association is that its seven member universities will run a combined deficit between this and the last academic year of €102million.

Prof Prendergast said the provision of extra Government funding and support from Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris in recent months has been warmly welcomed.

However, the funding only extends to the end of this year and he said the sector will require additional funds in 2021 through a supplementary budget package to cover additional costs and revenue losses.

Prof Prendergast also said the university sector and the student population is ready to provide more on-campus activity in the new year in line with health advice.

“We have outlined to the Minister and his officials that we can safely provide some more on-campus activity and we would ask that, in support of overall student wellbeing, public health guidance facilitate us in providing that in the new year,” he said.

“This includes, not just classroom activity, but also some additional extracurricular activities to enable students to have at least some limited level of on-campus experience in order to protect their welfare and mental health.”

The representative body for the institutes of technology sector is also due to tell the committee of the impact Covid-19 has had on student life.

In a submission, Dr Joseph Ryan, chief executive of the Technological Higher Education Association, said increasing isolation and the reduction of the student experience have posed challenges for students.

He said institutes of technology should be allowed to participate in sport and activity on campus in a safe and controlled way.

Dr Ryan also said the sector was aiming to build up the capacity of new technological universities.

The institutes of technology have inherited an anachronistic system based on input hours and its goal is to work with partners to arrive at an alternative lecturing contract that can better reflect the advanced mission of technological universities.