Representative bodies for the Irish public higher education system have been forced to unite under a single cause for the first time in history, as a seemingly endless state funding crisis in the Irish educational system threatens the future development of young Irish students.
State funding per student in the third level sector in Ireland currently stands at just over €5,000. This figure is 43% lower than what it was in 2007/08, when it stood at almost €9,000 per student. This significant drop in state funding has come as a result of dramatic cuts to the core grant received by third level institutions from the Higher Education Authority.
However, these figures become increasingly worrying when analysed comparatively with other European nations. Total public funding per student is in excess of €15,000 in Norway, Sweden and Finland, while Netherlands comes in just shy of the €15,000 mark. These are countries with whom Ireland are in direct competition for investment on an international level.
Representative bodies, such as the Irish University Association (IUA), Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) and Union of Students in Ireland (USI), have proposed a two-part solution that they hope can aid the situation for the next three years, while a more definitive and long-term funding model is decided upon by the Irish political system in that time. Part one encompasses at least a €100 million increase in core exchequer funding to the third level sector, which will require a commitment from the next government to take power in order to achieve. Part two involves the utilisation of at least an additional €200 million from the National Training Fund, which is funded by a levy on employer revenues and has a surplus valued at €1 billion by the end of 2020. THEA Chief Executive Dr Joseph Ryan has stated “It is unimaginable that such a Fund surplus would be allowed to sit in a government bank account while the crisis in third level funding continues.”
According to Jim Riley, the IUA Director General, the coming decade is set to see a 40,000 increase in student numbers. In the face of a funding crisis, the representative bodies are hoping that the upcoming election will bring a new approach towards the funding of this substantial growth.
Ian Walsh – Reporter