As Minister for Education & Skills, I am committed to continuing the process of investing in our higher education system and to the development and implementation of a sustainable funding model for the sector for the future. The Government's commitment to investment in higher education is clearly demonstrated by the scale of investment in higher education over recent years.
Following the further planned increases in higher education spending for 2020 announced in the recent Estimates, planned current spending on higher education for 2020 will have increased by 25% compared to that planned for 2016 – an increase in the order of €370 million. This is estimated to bring current funding for the higher education sector to €1.88 billion in 2020. This exceeds the previous peak level of planned investment of €1.78 billion made in the sector in 2008.
A key part of this investment is the Human Capital Initiative which will be a transformative development for the third level sector. The HCI will invest €300 million in Higher Education over the period 2020 to 2024. Funded from the surplus in the National Training Fund, the HCI will help to realise the objectives of Project Ireland 2040, Future Jobs Ireland and the National Skills Strategy. At €60 million per year over the next 5 years, it will form a key part of our strategic response to addressing the skills needs of the economy, mitigating Brexit risks, responding to digitalisation and the future world of work, and preparing ourselves for other challenges that the economy may face.
The development of a sustainable funding model for higher education is essential in light of the centrality of higher education - both in terms of human capital development, research and innovation - to underpinning the future development of Ireland as a knowledge economy against the backdrop of rapid technological change.
In that context, a comprehensive economic evaluation of the funding options presented in the Report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education is now commencing supported under the European Commission Structural Reform Support Programme to be undertaken by an expert independent international consortium. We expect to have substantial work on this project completed by Quarter 3 in 2020.
The comprehensive and detailed analysis of funding options for higher education and the assessment of the appropriate balance between provision across the tertiary education system is expected to play a very important role in informing and advising Government decision-making. It will provide the basis for a national consensus on the appropriate policy approach which is fundamental to Ireland's economic and social sustainability and progress and the delivery of key policy objectives under Project Ireland 2040 and Future Jobs Ireland.