Irish universities ‘struggling to cope’ as funding cuts bite

A decade of budget reductions and surging student numbers leaves sector ill-prepared for further increases, institutions warn

September 19, 2018
Tattered Irish flag
Source: iStock

Irish universities have sounded an urgent warning that they need more funding to cope with a rise in student numbers following nearly a decade of deep budget cuts.

In a charter outlining their medium-term plans, the Irish Universities Association predicts that they will have to cope with 25,000 extra students by 2030.

“This surge in numbers, arising from the demographic bulge, will place huge strain on a system already struggling to cope, having absorbed 30 per cent more students while funding was cut over the past decade,” says the charter.

It includes figures from the European University Association, which show that Irish universities suffered a funding squeeze of nearly 40 per cent between 2008 and 2016, but had to cope with an increase in student numbers equivalent to more than 20 per cent.

“The scale of the funding deficit will increase year by year as the number of students entering the system grows,” the document warns. “While the government has made a start on reversing the funding decline, long-awaited policy decisions on revamping the overall structure of funding have been delayed despite clear options proposed by government-appointed expert groups.”

It calls for a €150 million (£133.4 million) core funding boost for higher education in the next budget, and even more in the following two years.

The charter also sets a number of other targets. Universities want to improve levels of lifelong learning to the European Union average and educate 10.7 per cent of adults aged 25-64 by 2030, an increase from 6.5 per cent now.

It also calls for a dramatic increase in research and development spending to bring it up to at least 2 per cent of GDP. Ireland spends just 1.2 per cent of its GDP on R&D, half the average of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, according to the report, Ireland’s Future Talent: a Charter for Irish Universities.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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