Country 'sitting on a timebomb' over crisis in third-level funding, says Trinity Provost

The third-level sector is currently underfunded, and a system of student loans should not be introduced, each of the major parties' spokespeople on education agree.

Country 'sitting on a timebomb' over crisis in third-level funding, says Trinity Provost

The third-level sector is currently underfunded, and a system of student loans should not be introduced, each of the major parties' spokespeople on education agree.

However, the parties remain divided on how best to address such a funding deficit, identified in the landmark Cassells report, first published in 2016.

At a debate at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) ahead of the general election, TCD Provost Patrick Prendergast said the future of funding Irish higher education and research should be an electoral priority for all political parties.

"Students, academics and researchers are at one on this issue: there is a crisis," he said.

"The crisis was spelled out in the Cassells report four years ago. A number of recommendations were made, which have not been acted on.

We are sitting on a timebomb, and when I say we, I don't just mean the higher education sector. I mean, we the country.

"It depends on cutting-edge research and groundbreaking innovation. The country, and our economic prosperity, depends on an educated and talented workforce."

The Cassells report found that by next year an extra €600 million annually will be needed to sustain the third-level sector, rising to €1 billion annually by 2030.

This shortfall should be addressed either by students, public finances or through a mixture of both, the report recommended. However, a decision on its recommendations has yet to be made.

The European Commission is currently carrying out an economic analysis of the options it put forward after the report was referred by the Department of Education.

Universities, Institutes of Technology and students recently united to call on the next government to address what they describe as an urgent funding crisis in the the higher education sector.

This marks the first time the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have joined forces under the same cause.

Minister of State for higher education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, denied kicking a decision on the Cassells report down the road.

“We’ve now sent it to Europe to have a look at it, and let me tell you it's not just all about higher education. It's about further education. It's about apprenticeships.

We can have all the drama we like but we need to know where is the money coming from, and where are we going to cut if we are going to put more money into higher education?

She then clarified her comments, saying “what I’m really saying is the money has to be found somewhere.”

“Everyone talks about [the Cassells report]. It's like the Bible, but nobody has read it," she added.

International students, who bring in €400 million in revenue annually, were not factored into the Cassells report, she added.

Meanwhile, University College Dublin (UCD) students' union has penned a letter to general election candidates, calling on them to listen to the concerns of students.

This includes addressing the housing crisis, ending direct provision, starting a radical green transition and stopping the commercialisation of higher education.

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