Irish universities in serious financial danger, but Brexit could help

29 Jan 2019

Image: © 孤飞的鹤/

There was a stark warning issued at a recent meeting of Irish universities that Ireland’s lack of funding will lead to an education crisis.

While student numbers continue to increase, the amount of funding available to help them achieve their goals remains at a level that leaves third-level education “in danger” of falling into a crisis.

Those were the sentiments expressed at the recent Irish Universities Association (IUA) seminar held in Dublin that focused on how Ireland’s system compares to other European third-level systems.

Perhaps the biggest talking point was made by Thomas Estermann, director of governance, funding and public policy development at the European Universities Association, who said that Ireland is now one of only two European nations (alongside Serbia) with a third-level education system in the most at-risk category.

His findings showed that funding to Ireland’s institutions in 2017 was half what was there in 2012, despite the number of students increasing by 25pc between 2008 and 2018.

“While recurrent funding to Irish universities increased in 2017 and 2018 after almost a decade of cuts, the long-term sustainability of the higher education system in Ireland remains an issue. Funding per student has declined, and third-level capital infrastructure is underfunded,” Estermann said.

“Meanwhile, restrictions remain on staff recruitment, leaving Ireland near the bottom for the autonomy of its universities to recruit staff. Ireland’s GDP growth suggests possibilities for renewed investment in its universities.”

The advantage of Brexit

One geopolitical event highlighted as being something Irish universities could take advantage of was, of course, Brexit. With students from continental Europe hoping to pursue a degree in the English language, Ireland’s EU status will give them a much easier transition than trying to apply to a UK outside of the EU.

The EU’s commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport, Tibor Navracsics, added that this would particularly apply to science and humanities subjects.

Commenting on Estermann’s figures, however, the director general of the IUA, Jim Miley, said: “These figures illustrate just how out of step Ireland is with our European neighbours when it comes to funding third-level education and supporting the autonomy of our third-level institutions.

“Despite the significant increase in third-level students, which now stands at an all-time high, the higher education sector in Ireland remains seriously underfunded.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic