The minister for further and higher education has dismissed criticism that the budget does little to address a major gap in university core funding identified by the Government.
Should annual funding continue to increase at the same rate as Budget 2023, it will take eight years to close the gap in core funding identified in ‘Funding Our Future’, universities warned this week.
The paper, published recently by the Department of Further and Higher Education, said €307m is necessary to bring annual university funding into line with their international peers.
Speaking at a budget briefing on Thursday, Simon Harris said he is “proud” to be the minister for an ambitious sector.
“At the same time, we also have to recognize the circumstances in which we live. This is a budget in the context of a war in Europe, and it's in the budget in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, where we want to make sure no one goes cold this winter.
“There’s a lot of really important urgent things we have to do, urgent and important in general and more so in the context of a very significant cost-of-living crisis and possibly the largest inflationary situation, definitely since the 1970s, and probably more so. There does need to be a dose of reality in that regard.”
In Budget 2023, €40m was allocated to addressing the deficit in core funding. Mr Harris said the university sector is to receive a lot more in funding than just this figure, including €10m for energy costs.
If universities hadn't received a "very, very significant uplift" in demographic funding, they are "just going to grow a new funding gap", he added. "That's not a good idea."
Every new student will be funded €8,000, as committed to in ‘Funding Our Future’, up from €6,500.
"€307m is the figure, there is no doubt about that," he added.
"€307m is where we need to get to. We've paid €40 million of that, but we've done other things to help them as well."
Speaking in the Seanad on Thursday, Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne said he is “disappointed” that the Government has not committed to a timeframe for investing the €307m.
The budget figures are a “long way short” of figures proposed in the future funding report published by the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
“I have no doubt that the principle of the commitment is there,” Mr. Byrne said. “Show me the money."