A top European academic is warning that Ireland is one of two European countries with a third level education system classified as “in danger” due to the shortfall in funding while the number of students has increased.
The Director of Governance and Funding at the European Universities Association (IUA), Thomas Estermann will tell a meeting in Dublin today, that his research has found both Ireland and Serbia are "systems in danger".
Mr Estermann will tell the seminar, organised by the Irish Universities Association, that while funding to Irish universities has increased over the past year "after almost a decade of cuts, the long-term sustainability of the higher education system in Ireland remains an issue".
He told RTE’s Morning Ireland that in the nine years from 2008, as a result of the economic crisis, funding for Irish universities fell by 30 per cent, while the number of students increased steadily.
Other countries in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, have continued to increase investment in higher education, which is an investment in the future.
While he acknowledged it was difficult to compare countries “one to one”, it was possible to compare the absolute amount spent on higher education. It was also difficult to compare the amount spent per student from country to country as some systems have loans and other funding options.
Mr Estermann pointed out that although Portugal had also suffered from 2008, in 2012 a deliberate decision was made to invest in the education system.
In Ireland in the last two years “there has been some sort of reinvestment”, but between 2008 and 2016 there had been less investment.
“It will take a long time to catch up.”
He warned that the Irish third level system is in danger because of reduced funding while the number of students has grown.
The high numbers of young people in Ireland attending third level education is “a great chance” for the country. “The future will be in knowledge and research.
“It is great to have that potential, but it is clear that Ireland needs to invest more in third level education.”
Recent figures from the Department of Education show that third level funding in Ireland as a share of GDP in 2017 stood at just half of what it was in 2012 – despite the fact that the number of students in the system has increased by a quarter in ten years.