The President of UCD Andrew Deeks and the Trinity college President Patrick Prendergast yesterday issued a statement to politicians in Ireland, calling for an urgent increase in funding for higher education.
The joint-call to both government and the political opposition is the boldest step made to demand more funding for third level education since the financial crash. Over the past six years colleges have been reluctant to reveal how dire the funding crisis is in Ireland’s universities.
The latest round of QS World Rankings, which rank universities in the world against each other saw UCD and Trinity both fall down the charts. UCD fell from 154th to 176th, and Trinity slipped from 78 to 98 in the table.
The call from the heads of Ireland’s two biggest colleges comes as state funding into third-level education has declined by 22% in the last six years. The results of this funding shortage has seen student staff ratios rise sharply in UCD. The specific ranking for the number of staff members relative to students showed up a serious decline, with UCD dropping from 86th in 2008, to 501 place on that marker this year.
A moratorium on hiring more academic staff the government placed on universities during the recession means rising student numbers are not being met with similar increases in lecturers. The number of students enrolled in colleges in Ireland has risen by 18% since 2013, and are projected to rise substantially in the coming years. This growing disparity between staff and student numbers mean the quality and quantity of teaching is suffering in colleges.
Recent figures from the Department of Education also outline that the annual spend by the state (per student enrolled) on third-level education placed Ireland 29th out of 32 OECD countries when compared relative to GDP.
The Cassells Report was a key expert report that looked into the funding crisis in Irish higher education. The report highlighted that state funding needed to be increased, and called for an immediate injection of €600 million into higher education by 2021. It also teed up the possibility of a student loan scheme to help meet the funding shortfall. Its recommendations are currently begin considered by an all-party Dail education committee.
The Trinity and UCD Presidents claim that colleges can no longer cut back any further within themselves, and can’t continue to survive if the decline in state funding continues. Deeks and Prendergast said increased efficiency measures and cost cutting have been exhausted.
In the joint statement the two college Presidents said “universities have done everything they can to mitigate the collapse in funding … [other] revenue from commercial activities has also soared and account for an increasingly large share of university budgets.”
The two heads of UCD and Trinity, Andrew Deeks and Patrick Prendergast stated “as the presidents of the two highest ranked universities we now take the unusual step of calling jointly on the Government and opposition parties to implement the Cassells report.”
The statement concluded to say “the political system must now make the difficult choices that are needed to improve the funding given to universities and in the manner in which this funding is distributed.”
Jack Power | Editor