Thomas Pringle TD

Dáil: Future of funding of third-level education

Dundalk IT

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For Oral Answer on : 28/11/2018
Question Number(s): 93 Question Reference(s): 49502/18
Department: Education and Skills
Asked by: Thomas Pringle T.D.
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QUESTION
To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the future of funding for third-level education here; if he will rule out the introduction of third-level education loans as a means of funding third level education here; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

In response to the combined demographic and funding challenge, my Department appointed an Expert Group to identify and consider issues related to the long term sustainable funding of higher education in Ireland and to identify funding options for the future.  The expert group report, “Investing in National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education” (2016) identified that increases in investment in higher education must be made to ensure that the sector can remain viable and provide the capacity to meet the major increase in student demand projected up to 2030.  It also identified a number of future funding options for consideration.

In order to build a political consensus regarding a future approach to funding the higher Education Sector the expert group report was referred to to the Parliamentary Committee on Education for their consideration.  The Committee requested that my Department undertake an economic examination of the three policy options proposed by the expert group to assist the Committee in forming its view of the most appropriate option.

My Department has applied for the support of the Structural Reform Support Programme 2017-2020 in undertaking this economic analysis of the policy options identified by the expert group.  The closing date for applications was 31st October 2018.  A decision is awaited on the outcome of the application.  Successful projects are expected to proceed in early 2019.  Having this evaluation undertaken through the Commission’s Structural Reform Support Programme will provide the type of international expertise, analysis, and objectivity that would be beneficial to a major evaluation of this nature.  No policy decisions will be taken pending the outcome of this economic evaluation.

Additionally my Department is working to continue re-investment in Higher Education in 2019 building on the progress made in Budgets 2017 & 2018.  Current expenditure on higher education, excluding pay restoration and pension provision, will increase by 10% in 2019 compared to 2016.  We are adopting a number of measures to address the financial challenges in higher education and to ensure that higher education investment is responsive to key strategic priorities.  This equates to €57million in additional current funding for the higher education sector in 2019. This is in addition to separate funding that has been provided for pay deals and pensions, amounting to an additional €41million.

This new current funding will be used to fund the following measures:

  • provision for 3,500 additional places in our higher education institutions
  • initiatives to support innovation and reward excellence
  • investment in teaching and learning capacity, and management and leadership
  • 1,000 additional places on Springboard+,
  • a new research fund for Institutes of Technology/TUs, and
  • an expansion of part-time and flexible learning opportunities.

Budget 2019 also announced a new Human Capital Initiative that will involve investment of €300 million in higher education over the 5 year period from 2020 to 2024, with €60m being made available in each of those years. This investment will be funded by the National Training Fund surplus.  A major objective of the Initiative is to incentivise continued reform and innovation drawing on international best practice through such mechanisms as graduate conversion, accelerated course completion, flexible and blended learning, intensified focus on employability and strengthened linkages and relationships with enterprise.  It represents a significant response to projected demographic pressures impacting on the HE sector over the next five years, as highlighted in the Expert Group Report on Future Funding.

The National Training Fund is being reformed to make it more labour market focused, responsive to skills needs and providing additional investment in Further and Higher Education. Progress in implementing reforms has enabled an increase in the NTF levy by 0.1% respectively in both 2018 and 2019, with a commitment to a further 0.1% increase in 2020.

In addition, my Department and the HEA are currently reforming the model by which funding is allocated to our higher education institutions.  The independent panel’s review provides a roadmap for transitioning towards a reformed funding model that is more transparent, consistent across higher education institutions, that incentivises actions in key strategic areas such as research and STEM provision, and supports improved accountability while also respecting institutional autonomy. This will ensure that the additional funding that has been made available for higher education is targeted effectively and that institutions are held accountable for how they use public resources.

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