Addressing the funding of higher education and research will be one of the themes of the rest of this Government’s term, according to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
An update on the Cassells report, which identified the need for an extra €600m a year by 2021 whether from public funds, student fees, or a mix of both, is expected back from Europe by the end of June, according to Mr Martin.
The European Commission has been carrying out an economic analysis of the options it put forward after the report was referred to by the Department of Education in 2019.
In his virtual address to the Irish Universities Association (IUA) ‘Future of Ireland’ event, Mr Martin said that while some aspects of the report have been implemented, the “more fundamental” issues of core funding and the balance between Exchequer and other sources of funding have not.
There have been a series of meetings between Mr Martin and Simon Harris, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, on the matter.
“I don’t want to pre-empt the Minister’s decision on this but I am determined that we do need to bring this to a close."
Demographic pressures on second-level education will ease, leading to a significant increase over time in the demographics on third level, he added.
“I think we do have to establish a base current level of funding," Mr Martin said.
“Very often I think the complaint from the sector has been that anytime there's an increase in the current base that the department might have historically used that to create new competitions and initiatives without bringing up the base.
“I think we do have to have a solid core base of revenue funding from the State that underpins quality in our third-level institutions.”
Speaking at the same event two years ago, then as leader of Fianna Fáil, Mr Martin called for a separate Department of Higher Education and Research.
The establishment of this department last year represents a “radical change” in the status of this area within government, and it has an ambitious agenda, Mr Martin said on Monday.