Cassells report on third-level funding lays out the options

Oireachtas committee is given mandate to act decisively in addressing crisis

Experts can propose but politicians must decide. For a minority government reliant on the goodwill of others – mainly Fianna Fáil – to pass legislation, the future financing of higher education presents a difficult political challenge. Two years ago, an expert group with Peter Cassells as chair, was asked to outline a funding strategy for the sector. That report, which came too late for the outgoing Fine Gael majority government to consider, has become a legacy issue for its politically-weakened successor, ultimately, to decide.

In the meantime, Education Minister, Richard Bruton hopes an Oireachtas committee can examine the report, and reach agreement on a sustainable funding model for higher education. That will prove a major early test of “new politics” in the 32nd Dáil. The sector, many contend with justification, is in crisis due to lack of adequate funding. Mr Cassells has said change in the funding model is inevitable, and outlined the scale of the challenge; with €1 billion required for investment in the sector over the next 15 years. As the expert group report makes clear, investment is needed both to ensure it can support national economic and social development, and facilitate increased public access to higher education.

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