Saturday 7 December 2019

Consultants to review funding of universities

Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath
Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A Dublin-based firm of financial management consultants has been given the task of providing more figures to help decide the future funding needs of higher education.

The Government pushed the thorny issue of funding down the road last year when it called in the EU to carry out an evaluation, following on from the Cassells Report in 2016 and subsequent consideration of the issue by the Oireachtas Education Committee.

Now, the EU's Structural Reform Support Service, which provides tailor-made support to member states, has awarded a contract for that evaluation to a consortium led by Dublin-based AARC and also including Indecon, an economic research organisation, and LE Europe, a policy and economics consultancy.

The final deadline for completion of the contract is about 12 months away, which means there will be no firm proposals for debate during next year's general election.

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Education Minister Joe McHugh and Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor will announce the awarding of the contract today.

Austerity-era cuts to university funding have not been reversed and grants for daily running costs are 43pc lower than in 2010, while universities also say researchers are not getting the level of State support they need.

Universities blame the fall in funding after 2008 for big drops by UCD and Trinity in global rankings and the tender document for this contract accepts that "the relative position of Irish higher education institutions in the international rankings could be perceived as evidence of a lower effectiveness of the Irish higher education system".

However, the terms of reference for this review have a broader remit and put the focus on striking a balance between the funding needs of higher education and other options, such as further education and apprenticeships.

In the first instance, the consultants are asked to produce a draft report analysing how well higher and further education are meeting the skills needs of the economy, to be followed by a final report with policy recommendations for the higher education and further education system to address the demands of the labour market "to ensure inclusive, smart and sustainable growth".

The brief also includes analysing the three funding options for higher education in the Cassells Report - one of which involved higher student fees facilitated by a student loan system - and to come up with a recommendation.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor said the review would "be pivotal to the development of a new strategic approach and an integrated future funding framework".

Irish Independent

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