UCD warns it may cut number of places available to Irish students
Fees for foreigners subsidise Irish places as funding crisis bites
University College Dublin has warned it may have to reduce the number of places available for Irish students if it does not get more funds.
There is no threat to the intake for this year, but UCD president Professor Andrew Deeks has sent a clear signal that patience is running thin on the issue of sorting out the financing of higher education.
Increasingly, fees paid by growing numbers of international students - typically €18-24,000 for undergraduates, rising to more than €50,000 for graduate-entry medical students - subsidise Irish students.
"Unless there is movement on the funding of Irish students soon, the university will have to consider the option of reducing the number of places available to Irish students in order to preserve quality," Prof Deeks said.
The warning comes as figures show Leaving Certificate numbers will rise again over the next two to three years, creating more demand for colleges.
The population boom sees more than 62,000 students entered for this year's Junior Cert exams, up more than 1,500 on 2016, and the highest number for at least 15 years. They will be sitting the Leaving in two or three years and most will expect to get into college.
Increasing demand for third-level means more competition for each college place, which pushes up points.
There is a general acceptance that Ireland's higher education system is in financial crisis, but there is controversy over who should pay to fix it.
After years of cuts, the Government has started putting additional funding in while employers are also facing a higher contribution. The thorny questions are what should students pay and if there should be a loan scheme for them.
Ironically, Prof Deeks' comments came in response to a new global league table showing that UCD is one of three Irish universities which have improved their positions.
The QS World University Rankings 2018 credits the better showing by Ireland to the Brexit effect, with across-the-board gains in the measure that records how employers view graduates from a particular university.
Trinity College Dublin has risen 10 places to 88th in the rankings and is the best placed Irish entry. UCD is up eight places to 168th, while NUI Galway has risen six to 243rd. University College Cork and the University of Limerick remain stable, while Dublin City University and Maynooth University have dropped slightly. The Dublin Institute of Technology also features and its position remains unchanged.
QS said the improvement in scores under the employer reputation measure, suggested "the increased desirability of Ireland among employers both domestic and international since the Brexit vote, and the consequently increased imperative to hire from Irish institutions".
As well as gains for UCD in both the academic and employer reputation surveys, Prof Deeks credits its gains on some recovery in the university's staff-student ratio measure, which has climbed to 439 from a position outside the top 500 last year.
But it is a far cry from 86, which is how UCD ranked in this measure in 2008 before the austerity era.
Staff-student ratio accounts for 20pc of the overall QS score and so plays a crucial role in determining a university's placing.
Prof Deeks said "because of the failure of the Government to address the funding issue facing the sector", the only way for UCD to increase the number of staff has been through using non-exchequer income, raised primarily by recruiting additional non-EU students.
He said this had directly improved UCD's ranking under the staff-student ratio criterion, but the ratio remained unacceptably poor compared with competitors overseas. He went on to warn that limiting places for Irish students may soon be considered.