Third-level colleges generate €4 for every €1 they spend, and seven jobs for each person they employ, a study suggests.
The jobs impact of Dublin’s three universities is higher on the capital than the impact other universities have on their regions.
Brian Lucey, professor in finance at Trinity College Dublin’s business school and one of three authors of the article, published in Studies in Higher Education, said it was one of the first attempts to analyse the economic impact of the sector.
While the data is based on the 2010-2011 academic year, spending was €2.6bn, of which €1.5bn came from government sources.
But higher education contributed €10.6bn to the economy, 70% of it generated by the seven universities, and the remainder by the 14 institutes of technology.
The colleges employed 22,000 staff, but indirectly supported 150,000 jobs.
“While there has been a lot of talk about the financial sustainability of higher education, and the search for new funding models in universities and other higher education institutions in Ireland, little empirical evidence exists to guide policy-making,” said Prof Lucey, an Irish Examiner business columnist.
“The findings will contribute to the current national debate about the funding challenges facing the sector in a post-bailout environment.”
A major aspect of that debate is whether or not students should pay more fees to increase funding for higher education, given that government has cut spending and that student numbers have risen.
While speculation has focused on a student-loan scheme to finance increased private funding, this is just one of the possibilities that will face the incoming government after the spring election.
The study, co-written with Qiantao Zhang and Charles Larkin, finds that Irish figures are comparable to similar studies of higher education institutions in the UK. Along with the three Dublin universities, University of Limerick and Letterkenny Institute of Technology also feature in the top 20 of all UK and Irish institutions for levels of economic impact.
The researchers also suggest the findings could inform debate about mergers and co-location of Irish colleges, and how their income diversity will result in desirable, or undesirable, policy outcomes.
“Less-developed regions could concentrate more on developing a dense system of high-tech and innovative firms to enhance the interactions between universities and firms,” they wrote.
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