An additional €150m is allocated in Budget 2019 for investment in higher education, further education, and research, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue has announced.
Laying out the new budget, Donohue also announced a 0.1% increase in the National Training Fund (NTF). He detailed that part of the NTF’s surplus funds are to be allocated to a multiannual human capital initiative which is to increase investment in higher education courses across the country, including during the Brexit time period.
In September, third level institutions across Ireland joined with staff and student unions to demand the government take action to resolve funding issues in higher education. The coalition called on the government to address the funding crisis in Budget 2019, warning that it would otherwise risk “an irreversible slide in the quality of our third level system”.
The government has allocated a total of €10.8bn to the Department of Education and Skills for 2019 for primary, second and third level education along with further education and training.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have openly condemned the setting aside of €500m as a “rainy day fund” elsewhere in the budget in case of a chaotic Brexit, arguing that the funds should instead be directed to students. USI President Síona Cahill stated that students have “felt the brunt of cuts to grants, lack of beds to lay their heads, and the second highest fees in Europe”. Protesting outside Leinster House this morning, USI called on the government to invest in the higher education system rather than allocating finances to a rainy day fund.
USI called on the government to reinstate the Jobseekers’ Allowance for under-26s to the maximum adult rate in their pre-budget submission, released in June. It also recommended that the government invest in publicly funded education for all by reducing the Student Contribution Charge and removing Apprenticeship fees, as well as allocating €14.9m towards increasing grant allocation through Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).
In their alternative budget published last week, Sinn Féin demanded a €500 reduction to the student contribution charge, which currently amounts to €3,000. The party recommended that at €1m be used to create 40 higher education places for students who have come through the direct provision system, alongside a Discretionary Assistance Fund.
In 2016, the Cassells Report outlined three options for how higher education in Ireland could be funded going forward. These included student loans, making higher education free at the point of access with state funding increasing from 64% to 80%, or an entirely state-funded system in which students would receive free education. A decision on the future of higher education funding is yet to be taken.