The €36.5m extra being invested by the Department of Education in higher education in 2017 marks the first rise to the sector in several years and a further €70m will be added in 2018 and 2019. In a year, he hopes to have agreement with employer groups on some form of extra contribution to the running of the system by autumn 2018, subject to consultations to be undertaken by himself and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe over the next seven months.
Additional funding from the State, from businesses, and from students were among various options set out by the recent report group chaired by Peter Cassells. The options in the report are to be considered by the all-party Oireachtas Education Committee in the next few months after which the minister hopes to get political consensus on a long-term model.
“One of the options [Cassells] outlined was 100% state funding. That was not the sole option, and we need to find models for investing in third-level that don’t have us just competing with housing and those other areas [but] that we have other sources of funding that make it sustainable into the medium term,” Mr Bruton said.
Under an income-contingent loan scheme, students would face hikes to fees set at €3,000, but would be able to borrow the amount and begin paying back only after reaching a certain salary level.
The extra funding announced by the minister fell well short of the €100m suggested by Fianna Fáil as being needed in 2017, to begin reversing the erosion of staffing numbers and quality in recent years while third-level enrolments rose. Its education spokesperson Thomas Byrne said the extra investment was a step in the right direction.
Union of Students in Ireland president Annie Hoey said, welcome as the €36.5m extra would be, it was significantly lower than the €140m it proposed should be invested above this year’s allocation.
She was pleased to see €4m set aside for grants for postgraduate students but said much further investment was needed as it will only assist 1,100 students.