I propose to take Questions Nos. 101 to 103, inclusive, together.
Universities are independent and autonomous bodies under the statutory framework set out in the Universities Act, 1997 and on that basis are responsible for the conduct of their day-to-day affairs, including in relation to borrowing activities. The performance of this role is subject to appropriate governance, oversight and accountability requirements. In this context, section 38 of the Universities Act, 1997 contains specific provision for a university to borrow within a framework agreed with the Higher Education Authority (HEA). This framework, which was agreed with my Department and the now Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, has been in operation for some time.
The function of the framework is:
- That a university can engage in borrowing, underwriting and guaranteeing activities provided that they impose no threat to, and do not create any contingent liabilities for the public purse.
- To ensure that the capacity of a university to function effectively is not endangered.
- That advanced approval by the HEA, or the Ministers for Education and Skills and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, of individual instances of borrowing, underwriting or guaranteeing by a university is not required.
Accordingly, a university is not required to notify my Department of borrowings or obtain prior consent from my Department, or the HEA, to engage in borrowing, underwriting or guaranteeing activities. In addition there is no recourse, implied or otherwise, to the Exchequer for any liabilities matured or maturing by these institutions.
The aggregate amount of monies borrowed by the universities in the 2016/17 accounting year was €637 million.
With regard to the Education and Training Boards (ETBs), section 49 of the Education and Training Boards Act 2013 states that ETBs may, with the consent of the Minister, accept a proposal, and borrow by means specified in the proposal, for the purposes of carrying out the functions of the board.
I can confirm that there are currently no moneys borrowed by any of the 16 ETBs. Some ETBs have sanction in place for an overdraft facility. The ETBs with that sanction have confirmed to officials in my Department last month that no overdraft facility is currently being utilised.