The head of the representative body for Ireland’s seven universities has said that funding issues facing third level institutions will get “considerably worse” unless there is a significant step-up in investment.
Jim Miley, director general of the Irish Universities Association (IUA), told the Oireachtas Committee for Budgetary Oversight that in spite of modest funding increases in the last two budgets, the state funding per student remains 43% below where it was 10 years ago.
Mr Miley told the Budgetary Oversight Committee that the recent increases have been largely “mopped up” by rising student numbers.
“Given demographics, numbers attending third level will continue to increase over the next decade with 40,000 extra students to be catered for by 2030 as compared with 2015.
“There is now unanimous support for a comprehensive programme of investment amongst employer leaders, unions and students with IBEC, ICTU, USI and Chambers of Commerce, all advocating significantly increased state investment.”
The IUA presented its pre-budget submission to the Oversight Committee on Tuesday.
Making its case for investment in core and capital funding, the IUA highlighted the 9 billion euro that the universities contribute to the Irish economy each year.
The universities are seeking an investment package totalling 377 million euro in Budget 2020.
Politicians of all hues must take responsibility for addressing this imperativeJim Miley
Mr Miley added: “The requirement for significantly increased investment is now urgent.
“As a society, we cannot stand over any deterioration in our third level system.
“It would erode our competitiveness at a time when we need to invest in our future talent to compete globally.
“Politicians of all hues must take responsibility for addressing this imperative.”
Fianna Fail’s Lisa Chambers asked Mr Miley on his view on how third level education should be funded and what solutions they are committed to.
He told committee members that the only solution left on the table is to substantially increase state funding.
“Failing that, the other option is that numbers are restricted,” he added.
“So the places for students are restricted because if there isn’t money to pay for them, well then that is the only option – but that is an absolutely untenable option.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that we have one of the most educated populations in Europe, and one of the most educated workforces and we would want to continue that.”
He also put it to the committee whether it is acceptable that the son or daughter of a “very wealthy individual” is being subsidised by the state.
He continued: “There are schools in this country where as few as 9% of the Leaving Cert students are accessing third level and we think that the issue of access, as part of the funding solution, must be addressed.
“That inherently means that certain people who can afford to pay a little bit more should perhaps be asked to do so because if we don’t do that, and the state doesn’t have the capacity to pick up the tab as we continue to hear, then the only other option is we continue to restrict access to those who otherwise can’t afford to avail of third level education.”
Fine Gael’s Maria Bailey said she “fundamentally disagreed” with the idea that wealthy parents should pay more for university fees.
She added: “Coming from an area in Dun Laoghaire where a lot of our non-fee paying schools are at capacity, a lot of parents don’t have a choice but to send their kids to private schools and make massive sacrifices to do that.
“That doesn’t automatically mean that they can then afford more to send their children to college.”