State to invest nearly €100m in five third-level building projects

Higher-education construction schemes to generate 14,000 more places when complete

A demographic bubble means student numbers in Ireland are forecast to grow by almost 40,000 over the next decade. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A demographic bubble means student numbers in Ireland are forecast to grow by almost 40,000 over the next decade. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The State is to contribute almost €100 million towards five higher-education building projects that look set to provide 14,000 additional places for third-level students.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh will on Friday announce that some €96.6 million is to be invested by the Government to part-fund building projects at UCD, UCC, Maynooth University, NUI Galway and IT Sligo.

The bulk of the remainder of the costs –- about €400 million – will be financed by institutions themselves through borrowing or private finance.

Third-level institutions have warned in recent times that a crisis is looming in the sector due to underfunding and overcrowding.

A demographic bubble means student numbers are projected to grow by almost 40,000 over the next decade.

The schemes being backed through the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 plan include: €25 million for a technology society and innovation building at Maynooth; €25 million for a business school at UCC; €25 million for the future campus project at UCD; €15 million for the learning-commons project at NUI Galway; and €6.6 million for an extension to the central campus at IT Sligo.

Mr McHugh said the developments would significantly enhance the capacity of the third-level sector to advance Ireland’s national and regional ambitions.

“This will have a major positive impact on the sector’s ability to cater for significant increases in enrolments over the coming decade,” he said.

However, the funding for these buildings is unlikely to ease anxiety within the higher-education sector over what it sees as the absence of a sustainable funding model.

Mr McHugh recently ruled out a student loan scheme for the sector and also set out plans to freeze the student contribution fee over the coming years.

The Government has not acted on the findings of the Cassells report, which warned that the current system of third-level funding would not match ambitions to make the State’s higher-education sector compete with the world’s best.

Attracting private finance

However, Mr McHugh said ambition was “at the heart of these plans” to fund the projects.

“These projects and new buildings will have an important regional and national impact but they will also enhance the competitiveness of Ireland’s higher education system on the international stage,” he said.

The move to part-finance such projects is part of a Government effort to leverage more private finance. Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said private finance played a critical role in the development of university campuses during a time of difficulty for the public finances.

The Department of Education said five projects were selected following a detailed application and assessment process based on the capacity of the projects to deliver on national objectives.

Maynooth University’s development should lead to an increase of some 3,000 student places, with enrolment growth focused on areas seen as essential to economic and societal development. The NUI Galway funding will go towards upgrading library facilities.