A dramatic shortage of college places is set to affect the academic future of applicants unless urgent action is taken. The launch of a new report investigating higher-education funding has sparked a national debate on the existing system of third-level funding, a factor that may be of significance to the 2015 election.
The report predicts a shortfall of 20,000 college places by the year 2028 if no action is taken. The explanation provided by the report for this dramatic decrease in available college mentions the 16% increase in the number of students as a major factor. At present, 56% of 18-19 year olds continue their education in third level. If this number remains unchanged, the demand for first year college can be expected to rise from 42,000 to 56,000 in 2028.
Recent financial cutbacks have already affected the higher education system, with a 9% cut in income and an 11% cut in staff. The report warns that the lack of funds available to higher education institutions will not only render the colleges unable to anticipate this growth with an increase of college places, but will also force them to decrease their number of available places to a mere 35,000. This will result in an 11% decrease in the number of students able to attend college.
The expert group responsible for the publication of six reports critically assessing the existing higher-education funding, was initiated by former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, and is chaired by former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions Peter Cassells. In the final report that is to be presented later this year, all viable options for the funding of higher education will be considered. At present, no decisions regarding the issue of a financial resolution have been taken. However, the return of third-level fees or a student loan system, are not yet excluded from the debate.
The report emphasises the need for a significant investment in education, and has highlighted the value of higher education to economy, society, and the individual. Efforts will thus be made to ensure a diverse and informed discussion, and the prospective students’ interests will be communicated by a range of representatives of third-level education, including students and parents.