Deeks: Project Ireland 2040’s Capital Funding Projections may be ‘Inadequate’

UCD President Andrew Deeks has expressed concern that the government’s funding projections for capital developments in the education sector in its recent National Planning Framework – Project Ireland 2040 report may be ‘inadequate.’ He made the comment, alongside other observations, to staff in a recent Presidential Bulletin.

The government has pledged to invest €2.2 billion in capital expenditure into the higher education sector over the next decade, which Deeks observed ‘follows almost a decade of under-investment in the building facilities programme during the recession years.’ Deeks noted that ‘provided this statement of intention is followed through in successive budgets in the coming years’, it should ‘provide the source of the matching government contributions we have been counting on in our own Estates Strategy.’

However, Deeks observed that UCD is currently planning to invest almost €400 million for the construction of new academic facilities and student accommodation over the next ten years. Therefore, the amount ‘indicated in Project Ireland 2040 for the entire higher education sector appears to be inadequate.’

UCD’s increasing staff and student numbers will have to be met with new facilities and expansions to current buildings, yet a large part of UCD’s expenditure on capital development projects is required to maintain its ageing infrastructure. The Campus Development Plan 2016-2021-2026 notes that the university owns 389,000 square metres of building floor area with an insurance replacement value of circa €1.17 billion. Over 30% of its buildings were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, with an estimated 34% of its total building portfolio ‘in need of major refurbishment.’ The Newman Building, now one of the oldest operational educational buildings on campus, is frequently subject to repair and renovation projects.

The 2016 estimate for the total cost of capital developments to 2026 was €775 million, including €300 million for student accommodation. UCD aims to construct another 62,000 square metres covering new ‘education, research and innovation, public engagement, recreation and University support accommodation’ facilities within a decade. There is also UCD’s Residence Masterplan to double on-campus student accommodation to 6,000 spaces. Last week, UCD’s Governing Authority formally approved €145 million to build Phase 1. UCD aims to have three more buildings featuring 924 student beds ready for September 2020.

Project 2040 consists of the National Planning Framework (NPF) and National Development Plan (NDP). The NPF covers regional development in the major urban centres outside Dublin, while the NDP 2018-2027 is a €116 billion investment in infrastructure programme which features ten national strategic targets. Number five is a ‘Strong Economy, supported by Enterprise, Innovation and Skills’, under which page 65 of the NDP lists the €2.2 billion funding for capital projects in Ireland’s seven universities.

Cian Carton – Editor

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