By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent
The seven universities are taking their campaign for increased funding beyond Leinster House by seeking public support for a petition to back increased funding for higher education.
In a significant departure from traditional lobbying in the higher education sector, a €250,000-plus budget is being invested by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) in a multi-media campaign to promote awareness of the issues facing them.
Ads are being placed on national and regional radio stations, on public transport in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway, and on campuses of all seven IUA member universities.
A parallel social media campaign will involve a short video highlighting the issues promoted across YouTube and on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
A spokesperson said the budget of over €250,000 being allocated to the Save Our Spark campaign will come from a communications and advocacy budget at IUA.
The association is funded by subscriptions from the universities and it acts as a voice for the sector on policy, funding, and other matters affecting the sector.
“We’re kicking this campaign off now in the aftermath of a disappointing budget, and in the hope that the issue may be better addressed in future budgets,” said IUA director general Jim Miley.
“Our universities are where the Irish spark burns brightest and the key to protecting that spark is securing better State funding. The Government simply can’t continue to ignore this crisis.”
IUA wants students, parents, and anyone with an interest in the country’s future to visit the saveourspark.ie campaign website. It includes links to a petition calling on the Education Minister to address the under-funding of higher education, and contact links for public representatives, including identified TDs and senators who are their party education spokespersons or members of the Oireachtas Education Committee.
Despite an extra €57m of non-capital spending by Government in the third-level sector next year, the IUA said last week that Budget 2019 would barely allow them tread water as they deal with rising numbers of students on funding still below pre-recession levels.
A further €60m a year from 2020 to 2024 was also promised by Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor last week from surplus money in the National Training Fund.
The Cassells report published by Education Minister Richard Bruton in 2016 said an extra €600m a year is needed by the higher education sector by 2021, rising to €1bn extra annually by 2030.
The Oireachtas Education Committee asked last January for an economic evaluation of the options the report put forward to bridge that gap but it could be next summer before the Department of Education can provide the required analysis.
Last month, the IUA launched a six-point charter highlighting the need for greater flexibility around staffing and more public money to deliver the changes needed to meet the Government’s ambitions for the education system.
The charter commits the seven colleges to delivering on Government aspirations to have Europe’s best education system by 2026.
However, in return, the universities want more flexibility to replace many of the restrictions in place since the recession began.