Urgent need to tackle underfunding of higher education, universities warn

Government needs to tackle ‘structural deficit’ in funding , universities association says

Minister For Education Richard Bruton said universities would not lose out under the new funding model for third level. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Irish universities have warned of the “urgent need” to deal with underfunding of higher education.

While they welcomed a new funding model for the sector, they said ambitious Government targets to become the best education system in Europe could be delivered only with increased investment.

The Irish Universities Association said there was now an urgent need for the Government to deal with the "underlying structural deficit in funding in the higher education sector".

Jim Miley, the association's director general, said: "It is almost two years since the Cassells report presented three clear funding options, all of which will require an increase in State investment.


“Our members have delivered a substantial amount of reform and introduced large-scale efficiencies over the last decade.

“This reform agenda will continue but it must be accompanied by meaningful investment measures if we are to deliver on the Minister’s goal of having the best education system in Europe by 2026.”

He said the need for additional investment was urgent given a projected 30 per cent increase in students numbers at higher education over the next decade or so.

Funding model

Minister for Education Richard Bruton published details of the new funding allocation model which incentivises colleges to deliver Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) courses, along with lifelong learning and more places for disadvantaged students.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the Oireachtas education committee was examining the Cassells report. It looked forward to recommendations which will assist in shaping the future direction of funding for higher education.

She added that the Government’s commitment to securing resources for the sector included €60 million in additional funding this year.

“In total, we will be investing more than €100 million in higher education in 2018 than in 2016,” the spokeswoman added.

Some universities, privately, are worried that they will lose out under the new funding model. This is because the reforms do away with a 60/40 funding split between universities and institutes of technology. Instead, funding will be adjusted annually, based on the proportion of students in different sectors.

‘Inflexible system’

Speaking to reporters, Mr Bruton said he did not accept that universities would suffer losses.

“What is being removed is the very inflexible system where 60 per cent went to one and 40 per cent to the other, regardless.

“ There are a lot of very positive things for any institution that expands its research activities, that expands its capacity to fill skills gaps, to take in more disadvantaged students, to be more innovative. This is all about incentivising individual colleges to give more of what’s important.”

The Irish Federation of University Teachers, meanwhile, said a more comprehensive plan on third-level funding was needed instead of "piecemeal announcements that perpetuate uncertainty and underfunding".

The federation's general secretary, Joan Donegan, said: "The continued emphasis on more competitive funding for higher education and stronger links with the needs of industry will accentuate the imbalance that has been developing in third-level education and overemphasises a 'training' attitude to the role of universities."

The federation has previously proposed that a set proportion of corporation tax be ring-fenced for the sector.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland, which lecturers in institutes of technology, also said 1 per cent of corporation taxes should be set aside for investment in higher education.

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