The Irish Times view on third-level funding: a vital investment for the future

Successive governments have failed to tackle the financing issue comprehensively, but not doing so will be costly in the longer term

Hugh Brady, a former UCD president and current president of Imperial College London, has warned about the financing crunch in Irish universities in an interview with The Irish Times. ( Photo: Imperial College London)

Hugh Brady, the former President of UCD and current President of Imperial College London, is one of Ireland’s foremost authorities on the third-level sector. Therefore, when he warns about the state of Irish universities, as he did in an interview with the Irish Times on Saturday, his views should be taken seriously.

He cited two areas of particular concern: core funding for universities and investment in research. The former was slashed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and has only been partially restored,while investment in third-level research is well below levels in other countries.

Brady quite rightly blames government prevarication on third-level funding as one of the main causes of the parlous state of the university sector. Successive administrations have parked the funding issue as there is no consensus on how the shortfall should be plugged and no political capital to be made in tackling the issue.

Yet there are potentially enormous consequences for the Irish economy. The corporate tax regime is coming under increasing strain and competition for investment is intensifying. Ireland needs to remain an attractive location for investors. In the past, a quality education system ensured that there were graduates to meet the demand for skilled labour. If that supply is threatened, it would have serious implications.


Irish universities have turned to attracting a greater number of foreign students – who pay higher fees – to make up the funding deficit. But this strategy carries risks as can be seen from the example of the UK, where a government-imposed cap on student visas has had serious consequences. Any threat to the flow of foreign students to Irish universities, could have similar consequences.

Ireland’s fiscal resources are among the healthiest in the OECD and how they are invested now will have a significant bearing on future economic growth. Properly funding third-level education is a route which will yield a significant economic and social return.