At least three State-funded third-level institutes of technology (ITs) have been ordered to draw up three-year financial recovery plans after it emerged they are millions of euro in debt — putting significant pressure on key frontline services.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) revealed the situation to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) amid heightened concerns over the need to protect funding levels for ITs, colleges, and universities across the country.
The HEA said that despite significant funding a number of ITs are struggling to remain within budget.
In a two-page overview to the committee the HEA said that, according to the latest figures available, of the 14 ITs in Ireland three were financially in the red to the tune of almost €9.5m.
It said the majority of ITs have millions of euro in additional funds available to them due, in part, to prudent spending levels, including Dublin Institute of Technology (€13.3m), IT Blanchardstown (€13.5m), and IT Sligo (€10m).
However, it said there are concerns relating to the overdraft levels at Waterford IT, Galway-Mayo IT, and IT Tralee, which at the end of 2016 — the latest full accounts available — were €4.4m, €3.29m, and €1.8m overdrawn, respectively.
The HEA insisted three-year financial plans are immediately introduced to tackle the situation.
“The HEA has been working closely monitoring the financial position of all institutes... to eliminate the deficit.
“The HEA has a policy framework for engaging with institutes in financial deficit which requires institutes to submit a three-year plan to return to a balanced budget situation.
“All institutes with deficits are engaged in this process,” said the HEA.
Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the PAC meeting that the financial problems relate to a “frictional deficit over several years” and that the Department of Education has been made “fully aware” of the risks involved.
While Mr McCarthy said the issues can be addressed, a number of PAC members said there are serious underlying issues which must be examined, with Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy raising the prospect of cuts in other areas.
“Purely in the case of deficits, if you have a deficit then you have to fund it from somewhere,” she said.
A number of TDs, including Labour’s Alan Kelly, Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry, and PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming, raised separate concerns over ongoing financial problems surrounding Cork Institute of Technology.
In particular, they said there are problems relating to how the IT has dealt with whistleblowers who raised concerns about a lavish retirement party for former president Brendan Murphy, which involved an expensive ice sculpture of a dolphin.
Mr MacSharry said the event should not have happened as “it’s not [former Zimbabwean leader] Robert Mugabe’s going away party”.