An increase in investment of €74 million for higher education has been announced by the Finance Minister Paschal Donohue in today’s budget statement.
The additional funding will be provided by a 0.1% increase to the National Training Fund, a levy on employers.
The government has allocated over €11 billion to the Department of Education and Skills for 2020 to fund primary, second and third level education along with further education and training. This figure is up from €10.8 billion last year and an increase of nearly €2 billion since 2016.
Introducing Budget 2020, Minister of Finance Paschal Donohue said it was “a budget without precedent” that was “developed in the shadow of Brexit”. He added that a no-deal Brexit was now the “central assumption” of the government.
While higher education will see an increase in funding for 2020, the government’s proposals do not meet the demands of colleges and student unions who claim the sector is in crisis.
Prior to the budget announcement, the Union of Students in Ireland (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.
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 global rankings.
In their Pre-Budget Submission, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) which represents Ireland’s seven universities, including Trinity, 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.
The IUA also called for an immediate increase in research funding of €50 million, stating that this funding should be “ring-fenced for investigator-led / frontier research that is critical to the needs of a developing smart economy”.
Presenting the IUA submission to the Oireachtas Committee for Budgetary Oversight in September, the Director General of the Irish Universities Association, Jim Miley said: “The requirement for significantly increased investment is now urgent.”
As expected, today’s budget announcements have once again put off the decision set out in the Cassells report on the long term funding of the higher education sector.
The Cassels report, published in 2016 concluded that the current model of funding is unsustainable and outlined three possible options 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.