Following a request from the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills for an economic examination of the three policy options proposed by the report on future funding of higher education (Cassells report), my Department engaged with the European Commission Structural Support Service throughout 2018 to ascertain the scope for the economic evaluation to be carried out with support from the European Commission Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP). The SRSP provides tailor-made support to all EU countries for their institutional, administrative and growth-enhancing reforms to carry out the analysis of the three policy options identified by the Expert Group.
A formal application for support under the SRSP was submitted in October 2018 and subsequently approved by the Commission. Officials of my Department are currently working with officials from the European Commission to assist in finalising the detailed terms of reference for the review which will commence thereafter. It is currently expected that the evaluation will be completed in Q2 2020.
Having this evaluation undertaken through the Commission’s SRSP will provide access to the type of independent international expertise and analysis that will be very beneficial to a major evaluation of this nature.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) closely monitors the financial position of higher education institutions and in particular works closely with any institution that experiences financial difficulties in order to ensure appropriate mechanisms are put in place to eliminate any deficit as quickly as possible.
The Government’s commitment to higher education is clearly demonstrated by the increase in current spending on higher education of almost €350m since 2015. This amounts to an increase approaching 25% over the period. In addition, the Government has already committed to a five year programme of increased investment amounting to €300m, commencing next year, under the Human Capital Initiative. It represents a significant response to projected demographic pressures impacting on the sector over the next five years, as highlighted in the report on future funding.