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Saturday 16 December 2017

Colleges 'face closure' if funding is not increased

John Walshe Education Editor

SOME Irish universities face potential insolvency and could close unless they are given increased funding, it was claimed last night.

"We cannot go on like this -- it's time to get real," DCU president Prof Ferdinand von Prondzynski warned.

The outspoken university chief was speaking as the group preparing a new a strategy for higher education finalises its report which recommended fees or a graduate contribution. "In Ireland, nobody is as yet raising doubts about the financial viability of any university. However, some of the institutions have recently recorded deficits which would, were they commercial enterprises, raise serious questions about whether they were 'going concerns'," Prof von Prondzynski wrote in his blog.

"And just as this is happening, public funding (on which Irish universities rely much more than either British or American ones) is being cut dramatically, thereby making a recovery of their financial positions much more difficult, and really impossible if high levels of quality are also to be maintained." Irish universities face accumulated deficits of around €30m.

Prof Prondzynski accused education authorities of failing to face up to the fact that they need to be financially solvent.

In good times, indeed even in the best of times, most universities can only record a very small surplus, he argued.

Prof Prondzynski said the current "knife-edge" operation makes institutions hugely vulnerable in bad times as they cannot build up sufficient reserves.

"We simply cannot maintain a healthy university system on that foundation. Maybe some of the very old universities have survived for a very long time, but right now almost none is secure. The financial basis for higher education has just now been shot out of the water. Furthermore, we have nothing to replace it; that is, nothing but insecurity and potential insolvency," he added.

However, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) last night said it would never allow a university to go bust or allow a situation to arise where it would need to be bailed out.

It insisted the universities were not operating current deficits and, where accumulated deficits had occurred, these were mainly due to building programmes. The HEA was working with the universities to remove these accumulated debts, a spokesperson told the Irish Independent.

Meanwhile, the strategy group which is due to report in two months' time on the future of higher education, will revive the issue of fees/graduate payments with a clear statement that they have to be considered to safeguard the funding of the system.

Officially, they are off the agenda following the renegotiation of the programme of government but are now seen as almost inevitable some time in the future.

Irish Independent

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