IUA highlight “disappointing” higher education funding gap measures in budget

The IUA welcomed aspects of Budget 2023 related to higher education, but highlighted its shortcomings

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) has said that the measures to address the funding gap in higher education included in Budget 2023 are “disappointing”.

A statement released by the IUA highlights that the €40m provided for the deficit in core funding represents just 13% of the €307m gap in funding identified by the government.

It said: “We need the government to accelerate their response to the funding crisis in the sector in line with the commitment given just 4 months ago in Funding the Future.”

The statement goes on to note the importance in remaining consistent with Funding the Future commitments, stating that though the provision of €32m to fund extra students arising from demographic growth is welcome, but must be at a higher rate.

The IUA, which is the representative body of the eight universities within Ireland, welcomed other aspects of the budget, including the “targeted approach to the student contribution cost”.

It continues: “It is essential that government resources are provided to those that need it most if we are to continue to expand access to higher education to those that cannot currently avail of it.”

The IUA also notes the commitment of Minister of Further Education Simon Harris, in his efforts to reimburse the loss of funding to universities that will result in decreased student contributions.

It notes appreciation for the “commitment to fully fund national pay awards for the sector”,  also welcoming measures to continue to address the funding of pension deficits in the sector.

The IUA further welcomes the once-off support for energy costs and the increases in the Student Support Fund next year.

It is critical of the PhD stipend increase, stating that the €500 addition “falls well short of what is needed by our doctoral students who are struggling like everyone else with the cost of living challenges”.

Further, the IUA notes the lack of specific provision for the expansion of “much-needed” student accommodation in the Budget, expressing the urgent need to address the crisis being experienced by students.

Director General of the IUA Jim Miley said: “There needs to be greater urgency in closing the funding gap in higher education. If the annual rate of funding increase were to continue at the Budget 2023 rate of €40m, it would take 8 years to close the gap. This is unacceptable.”

“An accelerated funding programme is required if we are to make a meaningful impact on student-staff ratios. At a time of major challenge to our economy, investment in higher education and research is absolutely critical to the future supply of our talent and our capacity to compete as a knowledge economy.”

President of UCD and Chair of IUA, Professor Mark Rogers, said: “Our students are struggling with the rising cost of living and we welcome the permanent reduction in student contribution for those below certain incomes and the once off measure for all undergraduate students.”

Rogers added: “The benefit of supporting higher education through core funding, research funding and student support connects directly to society and the national economy. The steps in this budget are welcome but our students and faculty will continue to seek parity with their counterparts in other EU countries.”

Sofia Ferrari Bravo

Sofia Ferarri Bravo is the Deputy News Analysis Editor for the 69th issue of Trinity News.