Education chiefs outline need for major investment for reforms

Third-level chiefs have warned the Government they need major investment to deliver reforms aimed at making colleges more responsive to economic and societal needs.

Education Minister Richard Bruton

They welcomed changes announced by Education Minister Richard Bruton and Higher Education Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor to how each college’s share of €1bn annual public funding is decided.

Although most of the details are not yet finalised, the ministers backed recommendations of experts who reviewed how funding is divided.

The changes would see more money allocated for courses in science, technology and related fields (STEM), and financial incentives to increase student numbers on distance and part-time courses, or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But the experts included stipulations that many of their proposals are only possible if funding to the sector is significantly increased.

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) highlighted those views as it welcomed the expert panel’s report.

“Our members have delivered a substantial amount of reform and introduced largescale efficiencies over the last decade,” said IUA director general Jim Miley.

“This reform agenda will continue but it must be accompanied by meaningful investment measures if we are to deliver on [Mr Bruton’s] goal of having the best education system in Europe by 2026,” he said.

Mr Miley pointed to an expected 30% increase in students by 2030, which the 2016 Cassells Report estimates will require an extra €1bn a year in the sector.

The Government has yet to decide whether extra funding of that scale will come mainly from taxpayers or from students, with the 2016 report including a system of income-contingent student loans as one option.

Mr Miley said IUA supports the national objective of increasing STEM graduates but that it is critical to nurture the broader contribution of other disciplines.

He stressed the importance of non-STEM graduates for innovation in business, education, health, public service and other economic sectors, and in social and cultural life.

The proposals being adopted by the ministers could also see more favourable funding for institutes of technology by allowing them to borrow for capital purposes and to get a bigger share of overall third-level funding.

Their representative body, Technological Higher Education Association, said plans to increase support for applied research will help develop the sector’s close alignment with enterprise.

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