The government has announced a €36.5 million increase for third level education funding. The increase was announced by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, during his budget speech earlier today. He called the increase the “first significant investment” in third-level education since the economic collapse. There was no indication of immediate plans to introduce a change in fees.
Donohoe referenced the Cassells Report, and the need for an “intensified focus on a sustainable long-term model.” He continued on to say that the government plans to initiate a consultation process to explore the funding options presented in the report, which includes an Employer-Exchequer Investment mechanism. Following this process, the issue of third-level funding will be brought before the Dáil by the middle of next year.
Speaking to Trinity News, USI President Annie Hoey said: “We welcome the investment of €36.5 million into higher education. I am cautiously optimistic that this signals a commitment from this government to further look at investing in higher education, be that through the negotiations of how higher education itself is funded in the coming months and what we really mean about the future of the higher education sector.”
The government also announced plans for an additional package of €8.5 million to support disadvantaged students, including lone parents and Travellers, pursuing higher education. This includes the introduction, from September 2017, of a full maintenance grant worth €6000 for 1,100 students in the lowest income category.
The 2017 budget also includes a €2,000 increase in the cap on the Rent a Room scheme, which allows a tax exemption on rental income to homeowners renting rooms to students. This measure, increasing the cap from €12,000 to €14,000, aims to encourage homeowners to rent more rooms to students, in response to the lack of affordable accommodation for third-level students. Addressing the changes in the scheme, Hoey continued: “There’s the argument that the €2,000 increase will attract more people to participate in it. The increase […] is not going to increase supply I don’t think. Ultimately, the only way we’re going to tackle the student housing crisis is to get beds built.”
Last month USI submitted their annual budget proposal. In this, they proposed a €500 minimum reduction in fees; a €140 million investment in higher education; a reinstatement of postgraduate grants; and a €5 million investment in third-level mental health services. Hoey said of this proposal: “We have made a commitment internally that this pre-budget submission is not just for this budget, that pre-budget submission is what we want to see over the lifetime of this government so we’ll continue lobbying on this until Budget 2018, Budget 2019.”
Additional reporting by Eamonn Sweeney.