Third level funding: Yet another call to action in wake of latest university rankings

Funding cuts and increasing student numbers exact a heavy toll

 

The higher education system and the Government share a common interest in ensuring that all students receive the best education. In that context, the decline in the QS World University Rankings by six of Ireland’s seven universities, though no surprise given the established trend, represents another call to action on the part of a political system that has studiously dodged the issue.

With the notable exception of NUI Galway, which rose 22 places to 249th overall, all Irish universities fell in the rankings. Trinity College Dublin is the only Irish third-level institution to feature in the top 100 list.

Seven years of continuous funding cuts and increasing student numbers are the main factors contributing to Ireland’s slide in the 81 country list of 916 universities.

State funding has been reduced by about half since the economic crisis and the cost of going to college for students continues to rise. The estimated annual cost for those living away from home this year is €11,000. This includes a €3,000 student registration charge.

The Cassells Report on third level funding outlines options for improving access to the sector and highlights the need for an investment of €1 billion to ensure it can meet the economic and social development needs of the State.

The Government has a responsibility to ensure the financial health of higher education institutions. Likewise Minister for Education Richard Bruton and the new Oireachtas Education Committee as they consider the contents of the Cassells Report.

There is an onus too on the institutions themselves to address their own shortcomings: in agreement with the Higher Education Authority, they have to meet specific goals to improve the quality of teaching and learning as well as access, drop-out rates and gender balance.

For those with the acumen, the attainment of a third-level degree can improve life chances considerably. At the same time, a highly educated workforce is an essential part of a competitive economy. In another test of new politics, the sector’s funding issues can no longer be avoided.

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