EU joins debate on education
The hot political potato of tackling the long-term funding needs of Irish universities and other third-level colleges is now going to the EU.
Brussels bureaucrats with an expertise in public sector reform are being called on to analyse what's needed and how it should be spent.
The Department of Education is seeking the assistance of the EU's Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS), which advises member states on tailor-made institutional, administrative and structural reform.
It is the latest step in the saga over how much more investment is required for higher education in Ireland - and who should pay.
The Department is optimistic of a favourable response, and expects that the evaluation will start early next year and will take several months to complete.
Whatever the EU officials may eventually recommend, with an election in the air, it gives the Government medium-term cover on this issue.
The initiative has emerged as part of Department's response to a request from the Oireachtas Education Committee for an economic evaluation of higher education funding options, presented in the 2015 Cassells Report.
In a letter to the chair of the committee, Fiona O'Loughlin, Education Minister Richard Bruton and Junior Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor, who has responsibility for higher education, said the SRSS examination would "facilitate the type of comprehensive examination of the Cassells funding options the committee had requested".