Thursday 8 December 2016

Universities are at crisis point

Published 02/10/2016 | 02:30

Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke
Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke

The significant falls of Ireland's universities in the world rankings has highlighted the severe impact that funding cuts have had on the ability of these universities to deliver a third-level education to an international standard. The numbers attending third-level are projected to grow by 30pc over the next 11 years. Experts say an extra €1bn is required to keep pace with demand. "They need big money and they need it now," Taoiseach Enda Kenny acknowledged in the Dail last week, adding: "Obviously, we do not have an endless pot here."

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There is widespread recognition that recent spending cuts have pushed some third-level colleges to crisis point. Indeed, some are said to be on the brink of insolvency. The contribution of higher education to Ireland's economic and social development is, therefore, severely threatened, which is an intolerable situation.

A report compiled for the Department of Education has outlined three funding options for third-level education: maintaining the current system with registration fees, introducing a student loan system, and switching to a 'free fees' system. Under the student loan system, colleges would be free at the point of access and graduates would repay their fees when their income reaches a set threshold. There is, however, little political appetite for such measures. There are also proposals for third-level colleges to meet performance targets to secure additional funding. Education Minister Richard Bruton has said there are no easy solutions. These issues are to be discussed before the Oireachtas education committee shortly. Solutions must be found. The funding crisis in Ireland's third-level colleges is a situation that can not be allowed to continue.

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