The provost, Patrick Prendergast, has said that he is now in favour of an “income-contingent student loan scheme” as his preferred option proposed in the Cassells report to plug the gap in third-level education funding.
The provost made this announcement in an interview with the Sunday Business Post where he also warned that Trinity may have to cut student numbers to improve its position in the global rankings.
The statement of support for a loan system represents a shift in the provost’s position as he had previously said in an interview with the University Times: “I’m not advocating loans” but that loans schemes “should be investigated further.”
Prendergast told the Sunday Business Post: “It would open up university to more people. Many of our students are doing part-time jobs, which takes them away from their studies. If they had access to an income-contingent loan system, they may prefer to do that rather than lose study time.”
The Cassells report laid out three options for addressing the higher education funding crisis: a loan scheme; partially funded through a student contribution and partially State funded; and fully State funded education. The report was published in 2016, but a decision has yet to be made on higher education funding.
Prendergast also told the paper that Trinity may have to cut the number of Irish students by 5% a year over the next 10 years in order to improve College’s student to staff ratio and hopefully recover its place in global university rankings.
Referring to Trinity’s recent fall of 44 places in the Times Higher Education rankings to 164th place globally, the provost said: “We have to ask ourselves now, what are we going to do? Are we going to shave back numbers? If we do they we will reduce our student-staff ratio and that will help us providing high quality education and the rankings.”
Prendergast says that option “would be terrible…because we are here to serve all our students” but warned that the issue may be forced if the government fails to properly fund third level institutions.
Trinity’s current student to staff ratio is 18 to 1, which the provost described as “way out of kilter” compared to 10 to one in the highest ranked universities.
He said that all Irish universities are having to ask these questions as government funding has fallen from €9,0000 per student 10 years ago to €5,000 now.
Following Trinity’s fall in the global rankings, Trinity’s dean of research, Professor Linda Doyle, also blamed a lack of government funding, stating: “This is not good enough in a world that sees many of our global competitors improve their scores through focused and sustained investment by their governments. There is no denying that continuing underinvestment in university education and research in Ireland is catching up with us.”
The provost also bemoaned that fact that grants for individual research investigators from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) had been cancelled for the past three years with the money redirected to SFI’s “big industry centres”. The provost called for “a proper balance”.
“We need 50% going into industry centres and another 50% going into blue sky research and diverse disciplines. Every other country in Europe has these.”
He said the Department of Business was directing money into industry research, leaving universities the “poor relation”.