HEA to conduct full review into funding

Announcement follows publication of Cassells report on future funding for third-level

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is to conduct a full review into the way it funds third-level institutions on foot of a recommendation by the expert group report on the future funding of higher education.

The advisory group, chaired by former union leader Mr Peter Cassells, was charged with identifying the issues relating to the long term sustainable funding of the third level sector and proposing options for change.

The report, launched on Monday by Minister for Education Richard Bruton, points out that there is an “ongoing debate” around the core source of funding for third level institutions, also known as the block grant.

This, the report says, includes facets such as “the block grant’s role in supporting research, the merits of having a combined block grant for teaching and research, the appropriate balance between teaching and research metrics used in allocations, and the effectiveness of the metrics used to recognise research performance.”


The report said the expert group was “satisfied” that the current approach of a combined grant for teaching and research “is appropriate”.

However, it said attention “needs to be given to the appropriate methods for measuring research excellence and impact”.

The report made a recommendation that the current allocation mechanism for block grant funding should be reviewed.

The HEA review should be “ in consultation with relevant stakeholders to ensure that it is structured so as to support the high level priorities of mission diversity, quality outcomes for students, innovation, employability and access.”

In a statement issued following publication of the report, the HEA said it “acknowledges” the recommendation made in the report adding that it would initiate a “full review” of its funding approach later in 2016.

Welcoming publication of the report, Tom Boland, CEO of the HEA and also a member of the expert group, said: "The (expert) group has clearly articulated the role, value and contribution of higher education; the efficiencies that have and can continue to be achieved; and the different funding approaches to address what the report recognises as a serious deficit in the level of investment in our universities, institutes of technology and specialist colleges.

Paying tribute to Mr Cassells, who was appointed to chair the group in July 2014 by then Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, Mr Boland said: “It is to the chair’s credit that he has been able to bring a group of stakeholders with diverse views to a point where the report can conclude with a clear range of options to address the funding situation, based on a range of principles including the need for the funding system to reflect the balance between the public, private and enterprise benefits of higher education.”

Mr Boland said: “There can be no question that urgent intervention is required to address a rapidly deteriorating financial situation across all of our institutions.

“This poses an immediate risk to their ability to maintain high quality provision and to meet the continuing growth of student demand which, as the report makes clear, will place significant pressure on the sector over the next 15 years.”

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí is an Irish Times journalist and editor of the Irish Times Student Hub