Emergency action urged for third-level funding

An emergency action plan for higher education should be introduced by Education Minister Richard Bruton like the one he implemented for jobs, a leading academic has claimed.

Royal Irish Academy (RIA) president Mary Daly says the sector needs a strong inter-departmental initiative, as past failure to invest in infrastructure has brought higher education to a crisis point.

“No system can sustain a 38% decline in state grants [over the past seven years] and at the same time absorb a 25% increase in student numbers’, Prof Daly said at the RIA’s annual admittance day.

“There is no magic solution to these needs — they demand tough decisions on the part of Government. A decision is critical, but sadly not in prospect.”

An expert group spent nearly two years examining options to restore proper funding to the system. Mr Bruton has said their report will be sent for discussion by the Oireachtas Education Committee to help decide on funding policies, including a loan scheme to allow students pay back much higher fees than the current €3,000 annual charge.

Prof Daly suggested that, in the absence of a designated minister for the third-level sector or, any longer, for science, Mr Bruton should initiate an action plan on higher education.

The newly elected RIA members included former European Commission general secretary Catherine Day, now chair of University College Cork’s governing body. Also honoured were UCC history professor Geoff Roberts, elections expert Michael Marsh of Trinity College Dublin, and Dublin Institute of Technology president Brian Norton.

The academy’s honorary members now also include Louise Richardson from Waterford, who became the first female vice-chancellor of Oxford University.

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