University heads have warned the Irish government that they will be unable to cope with extra student numbers unless they get a lot more resources.
They have expressed surprise at leaked projections prepared by the education ministry that envisage significant expansion in each of the country's seven university institutions.
The confidential paper predicts that full-time enrolments in universities and other colleges will increase from 80,800 in 1992/93 to 107,300 by the year 2000/01.
It forsees the percentage of 18-year-olds going on to higher education rising from 40 per cent to 50 per cent over the same period and then climbing to 60 per cent by the year 2010/2011. The projections were made for a committee which is examining the future direction and development of higher education. A separate leaked memo from the finance ministry queries the figures -- it warns of the cost implications and suggests that the figures do not take account of different study options for secondary school leavers.
It also predicts that more school-leavers will go directly into work given the upturn in the economy.
The committee is due to report to education minister Niamh Bhreathnach shortly. She is putting forward detailed proposals to cabinet in a few weeks for the abolition of university tuition fees and reform of student support.
Some university administrators were surprised at the detail of her department's projections which set out the expected increase for each of the colleges and the exact numbers in each academic discipline.
Full-time equivalent student numbers are projected to rise from 43,725 in 1991/92 in the university sector to 65,268 by the academic year 2000/01, an increase of almost 50 per cent. The projected increases vary from 12 per cent in the biggest institution -- University College Dublin -- to 144 per cent in the smallest, Dublin City University.
However, the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities has warned more money is needed for more students. Chairman Thomas Mitchell, provost of Trinity College Dublin, said that this was the first time in 12 years that the universities had not expanded intake. This was because of funding.
He said that student numbers had doubled in the universities from 1981 to 1993. But capital funding per student had dropped from a current equivalent of IRLPounds 11,000 in 1982 to IRLPounds 1,950 last year.
Only 18 per cent of applicants got in to university, significantly lower than other developed countries. Many others went to technical and other colleges. The percentage of Irish students going to university was significantly lower than in Britain and in most other developed countries.