As the Deputy will be aware, in order to build a political consensus regarding the future funding of higher education on a fiscally sustainable basis, in July 2016 the then Minister for Education and Skills referred the expert group report on future funding of higher education to the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills. In January 2018 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.
Following the receipt of this request 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.
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 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.