Universities say they need an extra €418m a year from the Government to cover day-to-day costs, as well as €490m for buildings and other capital projects.
A new Exchequer funding plan for higher education is imminent and the Irish Universities Association (IUA) says it must be “ambitious, sustainable and reflect the realities of the current challenges facing the sector”.
The Government package will include an increase in State funding along with a reduction in the annual €3,000 annual student charge and reform of the SUSI grant scheme.
Investment in higher education in Ireland continues to lag international competitors and is second last of more than 30 countries in the developed world.
The IUA, which is setting out its stall at meeting today of the Oireachtas Committee on Education, says universities need a multi-annual funding plan on which future governments will deliver.
The 2016 Cassells report called for extra €600m a year for higher education, but IUA director Jim Miley says the actual increase in state recurrent grant funding in real terms in 2021 amounted to €121m.
A levy on employers generates additional annual investment through the National Training Fund of €190m.
Mr Miley notes that additional funding to the sector in recent years has come, to a significant extent, from employers and “State investment to date is only a fraction of that recommended by Cassells”.
He says much of the reinvestment in the sector since 2016 has been absorbed by ‘stand still’ requirements such as costs for national pay agreements and additional student places.
“Stand still is no longer good enough if we are serious about the future talent and innovation needs of the country,” he says.
The IUA director says universities have clearly shown their value to the country and to society in the national response to Covid-19.
“The value of our skills and our research was never more relevant to the lives of our people. As we now seek to recover from the pandemic, our universities have an equally important role to play,” he says.
Mr Miley says high-skilled jobs, centred on talent and innovation, will underpin Ireland’s future economic, social and cultural development.
“As a nation, we face a range of challenges in the areas of climate change, housing, healthcare and social services and balanced regional development. The higher education and research system will provide the bedrock of talent and innovation to meet those challenges,” he says.
“The need for a sustainable funding model for the sector, repeatedly emphasised by this Committee, must now be delivered if the potential of the sector is to be fully realised.”
Total public expenditure on tertiary education as a proportion of gross national income in Ireland was 0.6pc as opposed to an average of 1pc in the EU and across the OECD, representing the developed world.
Public investment in research also lags well behind key competitor countries.