Saturday 3 December 2016

Universities want urgent funds to halt league slide

Published 21/09/2016 | 02:30

Mr Bruton has linked any restoration of funding to the third-level sector to reforms, but the clear message from the universities is that they have delivered all the cost savings possible, while also boosting income from non-State sources. Photo: Tom Burke
Mr Bruton has linked any restoration of funding to the third-level sector to reforms, but the clear message from the universities is that they have delivered all the cost savings possible, while also boosting income from non-State sources. Photo: Tom Burke

Ireland's university presidents have written a strongly worded letter to Education Minister Richard Bruton warning they need immediate funding with no strings attached.

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After eight years of cutbacks, the seven universities are receiving €1,838 less per student than they did in 2007/08. This is a result of a 50pc cut in grants amid rising student numbers.

The lack of investment is blamed for the continuing decline of Irish universities in international league tables and worries about the impact on Ireland's reputation.

Earlier this month, all Irish universities, except NUI Galway, tumbled in the QS World University Rankings and a similar picture is expected when the prestigious UK-based 'Times Higher Education' table is published later today.

Read more: Rankings don't tell whole story - but Ireland's slide down chart can't be ignored

Mr Bruton has linked any restoration of funding to the third-level sector to reforms, but the clear message from the universities is that they have delivered all the cost savings possible, while also boosting income from non-State sources.

The letter, signed by the seven presidents, was sent with an eye on the upcoming Budget, and what they describe as a need for "urgent action" on funding for both day-to-day spending and building works.

The letter states: "We need to be frank: it is simply impossible to deliver an internationally competitive educational experience with a funding and regulatory model which is structurally unsound.

"In essence, we need to repair the foundation of our higher education system by rebuilding its staffing base and improving the student-staff ratio."

While a report on longer-term funding on higher education is under consideration - it has been referred to the Oireachtas education committee for discussion - the letter states that "an immediate start is needed to tackle the problem".

The universities alone are seeking an injection of €75m next year for day-day-spending, and with similar issues in other third-level colleges, they reckon that double that amount is probably needed for the sector.

They say the funding would allow for a meaningful start to hire additional staff, with the aim of reaching more acceptable levels by international standards.

The seven presidents are also pressing for a further €30m in 2017, merely to cover essential refurbishment, health and safety works, facility improvements and building upgrades.

Innovate

In the letter, sent from the offices of the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the presidents said that despite the funding cuts, they have been pressing forward, have continued to innovate and have enhanced institutional accountability.

"Unfortunately, as we strive to move forward, our resourcing and regulatory system has been moving backwards," the letter states.

They say while acknowledging the limitations of international rankings, "there is an essential truth underlying the universities' decline, linked to a failure to invest".

According to the presidents, "this is in sharp contrast to the ambition which many of our competitors show for their universities. "Our decline is already damaging the credibility of Ireland's capacity to compete for investment based on access to talent, both in universities and the wider economy."

Irish Independent

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