The Government will not cover Covid-19 losses of at least €500m facing third-level colleges, the Department of Education has warned.
Department officials have signalled support for extreme cases, where cash flow difficulties may be serious enough to threaten a college's viability.
But otherwise, universities, institutes of technology and other publicly funded colleges have been told to look to their own reserves, or any other financial mechanism available to them, to cushion Covid's financial fallout.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) recently sought a "significant government intervention in the form of a financial support package" to support the sector "through this crisis".
In a submission to the department, the HEA put the extent of Covid's "immense financial consequences" to higher education at an estimated €508m for 2020 and 2021.
Making the case, the HEA stressed that the recovery of the Irish knowledge-based economy was dependent on the delivery of highly skilled graduates.
But a reply from the department's higher education funding unit stated there was "no commitment or expectation of additional funding for the education sector at the present time".
It added that pending future decision-making by Government, "all additional costs/offsetting of revenue losses would need to be met from within existing budgetary allocations and through cost-saving measures/prioritisation of expenditure".
Almost half of the estimated loss facing the sector, €225m, is due to an anticipated downturn in international students, who have been a key revenue earner for Irish higher education in recent years, but are now not expected to travel in the same numbers.
Colleges are also budgeting for a €69m drop in other fees, such as from employers who pay for employee training, and expect to be down €44m in research funding and another €34m in student accommodation revenue.
The HEA factored in a further €116m for a range of additional costs, including the transition to online teaching, learning and assessment forced by Covid-19 and a delay in TU Dublin taking up residence in Grangegorman.
Another €15m is included for losses in commercial activities such as conferences and visitor attractions, while the sector puts at €5m the amount spent supporting the HSE's response to the pandemic, including contact tracing centres, research assistance and provision of PPE and medical equipment.
The HEA also points to future costs, such as for social distancing measures when colleges return, and payments to contractors for security or delays in construction arising from the lockdown.
The department's response referred to discussions on the situation, including with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
It stated that broad programmes of financial support for particular sectors, such as envisaged by the HEA, did not provide enough detail on which to base funding and budgetary decisions.
It also ran the risk of "not concentrating Government's fiscal firepower where it can be most effective in pre-empting failures and maintaining employment levels", it added.
The department noted discussions with the HEA, which identified a "number of institutes of technology and universities which would have potential cash flow issues owing to projected losses".
Officials told the HEA it wanted a detailed breakdown by institution, examining baseline funding needs to ensure the viability of each institute for the coming academic year in the first instance.
It is not known what institutions are considered most at risk.
In a note to its recently published annual accounts, UCD stated while there were significant uncertainties associated with coronavirus, the university believed it would "sustain its operations in the current volatile environment".