Universities' funds for new staff eaten by State salary rises
More than half of the money universities got this year to employ extra staff to deal with rising student numbers was absorbed by the Government decision to bring forward the €1,000 pay rise in the public service to April.
The university sector received about €7m in the Budget specifically to cater for growing enrolments as part of the first additional State investment in higher education in a decade.
Overall, Budget 2017 included €36m extra for higher education, but according to the Irish Universities Association (IUA) most of that was not directed at addressing the underlying financial crisis in the sector.
While the €7m for staffing would have gone some way to meeting its needs, the IUA says €4m of it is now funding the €1,000 pay restoration measure that was brought forward by five months, rather than for the recruitment of more staff.
The Government decision to pay the increase earlier came after the Budget, so was not included in the arithmetic, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has made no commitment to reimburse the money diverted to the pay rise.
The financing of higher education is under the spotlight after a warning by UCD president Professor Andrew Deeks that if the issue is not resolved it would have to consider reducing the number of places for Irish students.
Prof Deeks said the only way for the university to increase the number of staff has been through using non-Exchequer income, raised primarily by recruiting additional non-EU students.
Non-EU students pay typically between €18,000-€24,000 a year at UCD for undergraduate study, and up to €52,000 a year for post-graduate medical school.
IUA chief executive Ned Costello said there was a systematic sustainability crisis in higher education funding which needed hundreds of millions of euro to fix.
"The crisis is the result of cutbacks in funding during austerity, combined with rising student numbers. This is what has put the student-staff ratio totally out of kilter," he said.
Mr Costello said the UCD president's comments were an indication of the general sense of frustration in the sector.
The Cassells report has set out options for putting higher education funding on a sustainable footing, and the big issue is whether students should be asked to pay more through a loan scheme or whether the State should pay a higher contribution.