I propose to take Questions Nos. 1313 and 1314 together.
As Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and 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.
It is important to note that, in considering the total level of resource available to the sector, Universities are autonomous bodies under legislation and have significant income streams from activities pursued through academic freedom.
As the deputy is aware, Government investment in Higher Education is not specifically allocated against a per student metric and state investment in the sector is not limited to the recurrent grant funding of institutions. The provision of Higher Education funding on an annual basis is part of overall expenditure management and budgetary policy for Government.
In this regard, Government provides financial support to the higher education sector through direct recurrent grants, and indirectly through a number of specific parameters including free fees, policy initiatives, Springboard+, Human Capital Initiative, SUSI fee supports.
The student contribution, as paid annually by undergraduate students not in receipt of SUSI grants, is another element of the total resources available to the higher education sector.
Other income available to the institutions includes fees collected from tuition fees, part-time courses, postgraduate course fees and other onsite/offsite commercial activities. My Department does not have oversight of these funding arrangements.
Since 2015 there has been a significant programme of re-investment in higher education. Funding and policy developments taken in recent Budgets have taken significant steps to address the funding needs of the sector. Most notably, and in line with the recommendation of the Cassells report, a new stream of employer funding was introduced upon a review of the National Training Fund. This level of investment responded to demographic pressures and underpinned a range of initiatives in the higher education sector, including a new research initiative, a substantial investment in the evolution of Technological Universities, significant skills-enhancing opportunities for individuals, sectors and regions most vulnerable to Brexit as well as updating skills more generally to prepare Ireland’s society and economy for a future world of work transformed by technology and automation.
Government funding has demonstrably increased in the period 2016 to 2021, funding and policy developments taken in recent Budgets have taken significant steps to address the funding needs of the sector.
In 2021, exclusive of further education (programme A) and research allocations (programme C) total planned exchequer (programme B) and NTF funding of the HE sector for 2021 is in the order of €1.98billion. This represents an increase on the previous the peak level of expenditure on higher education previously achieved in 2008 prior to the economic downturn. This is a substantial increase from the ‘low point’ of planned HE expenditure (€1.42 billion) in 2015.
In 2021, in line with the two distinct policy goals that will need to be addressed in budgetary decisions over the medium term, additional funding had been provided for the core budgetary programmes and funding for Covid-19 related policy responses.
In terms of COVID 19 responses 2021 HE funding includes:
- 20million for expected additional demand on student grant scheme
- €7m for Springboard+ and €12m for HEA apprenticeships under the NTF.
I am confident that the significant additional funding already committed is delivering real benefits on the ground. However there is always a need to look to the future. This is why I am progressing the development of a sustainable funding model for higher education. This 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, the future funding needs of the sector are currently under further review through the Departments engagement with the European Commission/DG Reform. The review is a comprehensive economic evaluation of the various funding options presented in the Cassells Expert Group Report and is being undertaken by an expert independent international consortium of consultants including Indecon and LE Europe.
Department officials are working closely with the European Commission and the independently appointed consortia of consultants. The key aim of this review is to investigate methods of increasing the sustainability of higher and further education provision in Ireland, including an examination of the funding options. This review commenced in early 2020 and work is expected to be complete towards the latter part of Q2 2021.
Department officials will continue to work with stakeholders on this comprehensive analysis of funding options for higher education and the assessment of the appropriate balance in provision across the tertiary education system.
Completion of this work will allow for an informed debate on the appropriate policy approach to future planning and funding of higher and further education provision which is fundamental to Ireland's economic and social sustainability.
All of the foregoing highlights my commitment and that of Government to support students and learners in accessing and successfully participating in both higher and further