Universities want extra Irish student places to be funded by the Government in the coming academic year to replace a sharp drop in the number of international students.
The Irish Universities Association is seeking a €230 million stability fund which it says could provide additional student places in access programmes for those from under-represented backgrounds, as well as improved grants and wellbeing supports.
It says this funding would also include a fund to support a “major international marketing campaign” to attract international students whose value in export earnings for the universities alone is close to €400 million per year.
Latest available figures show there were about 17,000 international students enrolled in Irish universities last year.
About two-thirds of international students are based in undergraduate programmes.
Any move to provide significant numbers of additional student places would results in a drop in CAO points for some courses, especially those with high numbers of international students.
Some universities have estimated that international student numbers could fall by up to 80 per cent in the coming academic year.
Trinity College Dublin provost Prof Patrick Prendergast, for example, has forecast that its international students numbers will be "wiped out" due to the pandemic.
UCD has projected losses of up to €100 million this year and expects a significant drop in international student numbers on campus.
Irish universities overall have become increasingly reliant on revenue from international tuition fees due to a reduction in State investment per student over the past decade or so.
The bulk of most university income is now generated privately and international fees account for a large proportion of this.
For example, fees for non-EU undergraduate students range between €10,000-€20,000 for students studying business, engineering and science, while they climb to between €40,000-€55,000 for those studying medicine.
Post-graduate non-EU students typically pay between €10,000 and €35,000.
The Irish Universities Association also says funding is needed to go towards enhancing digital skill and infrastructure, while an €80 million “talent and innovation pipeline” is required to replace outdated research equipment and infrastructure.
The proposals are contained in a “partners in recovery” position paper, which the association has send to TDs and decision makers.
“The proven value of research and innovation during the Covid-19 response provides a compelling argument to invest now in our future capacity,” the document states.
“This is fundamental to maintaining our edge as a competitive FDI [foreign direct investment] destination. We propose a research and innovation fund with at least €80 million per year extra to support the future talent and innovation pipeline. The fund would also provide for the much-needed renewal of outdated research equipment and infrastructure.”
The association says such funding means the sector will be able to play a key role in the economic revival of the country.
“Our 16,000 staff remain more committed than ever to educate a 130,000-strong student population and to refocus our research programmes,” said the association, in a policy document prepared for Government.
“Our universities have a pivotal role to play in developing the knowledge and skill base of the country, fuelling economic growth by supporting job creation and partnering with industry in leading-edge research and innovation.”
It has also restated its support for a Fianna Fáil proposal to establish a new Department of Higher Education and Research, with a senior minister at the Cabinet table.
"Such a policy shift is needed if Ireland is to compete effectively as a knowledge economy," it said.