Student and university teacher representatives condemned Budget 2020 this afternoon for failing to address higher education core funding and failing to significantly increase investment in the sector.
The government didn’t directly addresses core higher education funding in today’s Budget announcement. Instead, a previously announced increase in investment of €74 million for higher education through the National Training Fund was reiterated by Finance Minister Pascal Donohue.
Lorna Fitzpatrick, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President, reacted to the Budget announcement in a statement to Trinity News, saying that the USI is “extremely disappointed” with Budget 2020 in terms of higher education funding and student support.
“The investment through the National Training Fund was expected as it was announced in May 2018 and again in Budget 2019. There was no additional investment that had not previously been announced,” she said.
“This funding is extremely necessary but it is in no way near enough in terms of investing in higher education,” she continued. “Students have been forgotten about in Budget 2020 in terms of support. We have the second-highest fees in Europe, following Brexit, we will have the highest fees, SUSI grants were cut in 2011 and 2012 and no real investment has been made since.”
“Students are crying out for support, that is clear from the tens of thousands of students we spoke to over the past number of weeks but they have been ignored by this government and this budget.”
Frank Jones, Deputy General Secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) also condemned the government. He commented that “the failure again in today’s Budget to address the funding crisis in higher education highlights a continued policy paralysis in government on the sector, that threatens to undermine our universities and the education of tens of thousands of students countrywide”
Jones called the “continued shift in funding to private sector sources” and the National Training Fund increase “totally inadequate”, adding that they “mask the failure to restore state investment.”
“It again blatantly ignores the recommendations of the 2016 Cassells report and emphasises paralysis on decision making.” The Cassells report concluded that the current higher education funding model is inadequate and recommended three alternatives, none of which the government has committed to yet.
IFUT has proposed using a portion of corporation tax revenues to support universities, as graduates provide staff for many multinational corporations. “This Budget is another missed opportunity in that regard,” Jones said.
Budget 2020 did not meet the demands of the USI, nor the Irish Universities Association (IUA).
Prior to the budget announcement, the USI had called for an allocation of €14.9 million to restore the SUSI grant to pre-2011 levels, the establishment of capital grants to allow third level institutions to build purpose built student accommodation, and a reduction of the annual student contribution charge by a minimum of €500 per student.
In their Pre-Budget submission, the IUA, which represents Ireland’s universities, called for the core funding provided through direct grants and support to universities and other third-level institutions to rise to €377 million, an increase of €117 million.
Trinity had also hoped to see a significant increase in government funding, blaming a shortfall of investment when compared to international standards for College’s declining position in the world rankings.
USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick also commented on other aspects of the Budget in a statement to Trinity News. The national students union welcomed the increase in funding provided to the Rent Tenancy Board to investigate compliance with Rent Protection Zones (RPZ). She said: “This is positive for students who may face rent increases that are out of line with RPZs.”
With regards to carbon tax announcements, the USI “believe those who are most vulnerable, including students, should not be targeted,” Fizpatrcik said. “Large organisations and those who produce the most carbon should be responsible for contributing more to these but the main point is that carbon tax should only be one piece in a much more progressive and broader strategy.”