I thank the Chairman and members for giving me the opportunity to address the committee. We have submitted our opening statement. I propose to touch on some of the points made in it, rather than going through it in detail.
There is a broad range of alliances across the European Union in which Irish universities are involved. The best known are the Erasmus+ programme and the Horizon programme on the research side. I want to reflect on both programmes, as well as speaking about the post-Brexit scenario and the broader alliance building undertaken across Europe.
The Erasmus programme has been running since 1987. Close to 500,000 students have crossed borders in Europe to participate in the programme during the years. In the Irish context approximately 90,000 students and staff have travelled to one of 32 countries during that time. During the same period approximately 115,000 learners have come to Ireland, cementing Ireland's reputation as a high quality study destination, as well as laying key foundations in forging working relationships with future leaders. As I am sure members are aware. there are many prominent political leaders across Europe who were Erasmus programme participants in Ireland in the past.
The overall impact of international students in Ireland is worth noting. Recently we published an independent report produced by Indecon economic consultants, a copy of which has been sent to all Members of the Oireachtas. In it Indecon shows that international students who include those who participate in the Erasmus programme are worth an aggregate €387 million a year in export earnings to the economy. It has become a very significant economic driver for the economy, apart from the intrinsic education value that comes from it. It is worth noting that European Commission data show that 40% or more of Erasmus trainees are offered a position by the company in which they train. In addition, the unemployment rate among young graduates who participated in the Erasmus programme is 23% lower than that among their non-mobile peers. The value of international travel, both inward and outward, is unquestionable.
The outgoing European Parliament confirmed that funds for the next Erasmus programme should be tripled to allow more young people take part in the different learning mobility schemes. Obviously, it will be subject to the next European Parliament agreeing the fine print of the proposal, but it is an indication of the ambition for the programme.
For the IUA, the emphasis is not just on the numbers who travel but also on who travels. In particular, there is and will be emphasis in the next Erasmus programme on broadening access to it. Major success has been generated in Irish universities in broadening access across social strata. Currently, in Irish universities one out of four new entrants is coming through dedicated special access programmes, either through HEAR, higher education access route, that targets socio-economic disadvantage or DARE, disability access route to education, or other special access programmes. These students are under-represented when it comes to participation in the international Erasmus programme. We propose that the Government prioritise and incentivise in order that more of these access students can participate in and avail of the Erasmus programme.
It is worth noting that the Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, who launched the report, Enhancing Mobility for Access Students Ireland, called for national targets to be introduced for the mobility of non-traditional students such as mature students, student with disabilities and so on. We strongly support her in that regard. The IUA launched a charter for Irish universities last year in which the seven universities represented by the IUA committed to enabling 20% of students to undertake study or a placement abroad. That would represent a significant increase. We also wish to increase the number of international students to 15% of the total student population. The successes of the Erasmus programme and the benefits to both the economy and the students were recognised and we should focus on expanding them.
I move to research and innovation, or the Horizon agenda. As members are probably aware, the first Horizon programme, FP7, ran from 2007 to 2013. The Irish drawdown from the programme was €625 million. The current programme will run out next year. The target drawdown is €1.2 billion. The drawdown is just over €700 million, but there is an upward trend.
The seven universities we represent have drawn down 55% of that drawdown of €700 million. The crucial emphasis needs to be on the next Horizon Europe programme which will run from 2021 to 2027. We think it will present significant opportunities for Irish industry and the third level sector in this country. We emphasise that our capacity to draw down more EU funding cannot be optimised unless more funding is provided from domestic budgets. In our budget submission we are asking for an additional €50 million in domestic money to be provided each year. This money should be targeted specifically at investigator-led research. A number of our best scientists are not getting any funding from the Government. This is inhibiting their capacity to draw down EU funding. If one does not have other sources of funding, one cannot qualify for Horizon Europe funding. The provision of domestic funding is a particularly important priority for the economy as we seek to build our innovation capacity for the future.
As other speakers outlined, Brexit presents challenges and opportunities in all sectors. The third level sector is no different. There is a long-standing positive relationship between Irish and UK universities. The United Kingdom is our biggest partner in this sector. That is to be expected, given that it is our closest neighbour. Almost 10,000 Irish students are studying in the United Kingdom. Their terms and conditions, including their fees, have been guaranteed in the short to medium term as a result of the work of the Irish and British Governments. There are real opportunities and substantial risks, depending on the outcome of Brexit. One such risk will arise if the fee structure is changed substantially on either side of the relationship. As Deputy Durkan will be aware, the 10,000-strong Irish student body in the United Kingdom is almost as large as the total enrolment at Maynooth University. An intolerable strain will be placed on the third level system which is already under pressure if it has to absorb some of these 10,000 students. In the post-Brexit scenario we are emphasising the strengthening of our existing ties with other European partners, while continuing to manage our relationship with our closest neighbour. Regardless of Brexit, it is of great importance for our system that our relationship with our UK partners be maintained.
On broader alliance building, it is worth noting that the results of the European universities initiative were announced a couple of hours ago. Members of the joint committee will recall that President Macron inspired this initiative which seeks to build formal alliances among universities across borders. Approximately 20 consortia have been announced as successful bidders under the initiative. I am pleased to inform the committee that two Irish universities - Dublin City University and Trinity College Dublin, both of which are members of our association - have succeeded in winning funding under the programme as part of their respective alliances. Between €5 million and €6 million is being provided for each alliance as part of the pilot phase of the programme. If the programme which comes specifically under the Erasmus programme is successful, it is intended that the alliances will be strengthened and that more will be built in the future. This links with what I said about the future of Horizon Europe and the Erasmus programme. It is a significant achievement for two Irish universities to be included in the first phase.
Ireland could take a lead in European co-operation in the areas of higher education, research and innovation. The building of alliances is not limited to governments and parliamentary relationships. As I have shown, universities have a pivotal role to play. If we are engage effectively with our European partners in a way that will enable us to realise our ambitions, the gap in State funding for higher education must be addressed. In the last decade the amount of money provided in direct State grants across the system - all third level institutions, not just universities - has decreased from approximately €9,000 per student to just over €5,000 per student. We need an investment programme to begin to close that gap and ensure the system will be in a position to avail of the alliance opportunities that will arise in the future.