Tuesday 17 September 2019

Employers to pay €47.5m more towards further education

Third-level education

Concern over funding for universities and staff-to-student ratios in sector.
Concern over funding for universities and staff-to-student ratios in sector.
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Employers will pay an additional €47.5m next year to fund higher and further education, as the first of three annual increases in a payroll tax, known as the National Training Fund (NTF) levy, kicks in.

The higher contribution from employers makes up most of the €64.5m being spent on higher and further education and training in 2018, with an additional €17m from the Exchequer.

However, the big question yet to be tackled is the thorny issue of whether students will also be asked to pay more, through a study now-pay later, income contingent student loan scheme.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said yesterday that the Government was "not sitting on our hands" and was waiting for the deliberations of the Oireachtas Education Committee on the matter.

Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor said they were expecting that report by Christmas or shortly afterwards.

The €64.5m increase in the allocation for day-to-day spending, across both higher and further education, represents about half of what the university sector alone said it would need next year. While the phased increase in the NTF levy, from 0.7pc to 1pc of payroll, was welcomed by the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) representing institutes of technology, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) issued no statement.

Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) general secretary Joan Donegan said: "[It was] especially disappointing there was no announcement of specific funds to tackle the serious deterioration in staffing levels and improve academic staff to student ratios, similar to announcements for other sectors of education."

On the capital side, the Budget brought a commitment to spend an additional €257m on higher and further education infrastructure between 2018-21.

This is over and above the €110m already promised, as well as €200m on public private partnerships (PPPs).

The additional funding, which includes support for researchers, has been made available after the Government's midterm review of the Capital Plan.

Irish Research council interim director Peter Brown, welcomed it as "another significant step by Government in redressing the paucity of opportunities for Ireland's most talented individual researchers to conduct world-class basic research".

Irish Independent

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