Government urged to reverse cuts in third level funding

Student numbers set to grow by 40,000 over coming decade, Oireachtas committee told

Irish universities have warned an Oireachtas committee that financial problems facing the third level sector will get "considerably worse" unless there is a significant step-up in investment to support growing student numbers.

Jim Miley, director-general of the Irish Universities Association, told the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight that student numbers are set to grow by 40,000 over the coming decade.

However, he said State funding per student remains more than 40 per cent below where it was a decade ago.

"Over the last decade, State funding per student in the third-level sector has been dramatically cut. The core grant from the Higher Education Authority to third-level institutions has dropped from almost €9,000 per student in 2008/09 to just over €5,000 per student now, a decline of 43 per cent.

“That €4,000 gap has been made up in two ways: half by an increase in the student registration fee and half by cost-cutting at universities and by generating new sources of income.”

Mopped up

While Mr Miley said there have been “modest” funding increases over the last two budgets, the State funding per student has “hardly moved” as the increases are largely mopped up by a growth in student numbers across the sector.

“That bulge in student numbers will continue to grow over the next decade with an estimated 40,000 extra students to be catered for by 2030 as compared with 2015.

“In that scenario, the funding problem will get considerably worse unless there’s a significant step-up in investment to support our growing student base.”

Mr Miley said there was unanimous support for a comprehensive programme of State investment among employer groups, trade unions and students.

The association wants an additional €377 million package to cover critical core funding requirements, research and urgent capital investment needs.

The association says a recent economic analysis it commissioned found that Irish universities contribute an estimated €9 billion to the economy each year.

The Irish Universities Association is the representative body of Dublin City University, Maynooth University, NUI Galway, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork, University College Dublin and University of Limerick.

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