Simon Harris says universities criticizing €40m funding ‘need a dose of reality’

Further and Further Education Minister Simon Harris responded to criticism from universities over budget funding for higher education by saying “we need to keep the lights on and make sure no one gets cold”.

r Harris said the budget was crafted against the backdrop of a war in Europe and a cost-of-living crisis and “there has to be a dose of reality”.

Earlier this week the Irish Universities Association (IUA) said it was “very disappointed” with the €40m included in the budget to address the sector’s historic underfunding.

A report to the government identified a funding shortfall of €307m, largely the result of austerity cuts a decade ago. The government is committed to closing this gap.

The IUA requested that this budget draw funding to fill the gap and requested €170 million to enable the recruitment of 730 additional academics, as well as support staff, to improve student:staff ratios.

Student:staff ratios in Ireland are well below international averages and are responsible for the relatively poor performance of Irish universities in international rankings.

The €40 million is part of an additional overall investment of €150 million in the higher education sector this year.

While most of the 40 million euros will go to staff in universities and technological universities and other colleges, 2 million euros will be used to forge stronger bridges between higher education and higher education, a work intensive on which is in progress.

Defending the €40million, Mr Harris said it would get around 300 people into higher education, and said ‘there was a lot more money’ in the budget for the sector.

In a reference to the energy grant for the area, Mr Harris said: ‘If I hadn’t given them money to keep the lights on, it would have come out of core funding.’

He also spoke of additional capitation funding for all new students from next year, as part of the government’s future funding strategy for the sector. The state grant to the college for each new student will increase from €6,500 this year to €8,200 next year at a cost of €32 million.

“They have to look at this as a complete package,” he said.

The Minister has confirmed that scholarship students will receive their double monthly payment to help dampen inflation again in December, while scholarship increases of 10% to 14% will take effect from the new year, as part of longer-term reforms.

Other measures to support students and apprentices stemming from this year’s budget include:

  • All apprenticeship fees will be reduced by a third this year
  • For mature “second chance” students, the period of complete interruption of studies will be reduced from five to three years.
  • Income up to €14,000 generated under the room rental program will not be considered when calculating accounting income for the 2023/24 scholarship program;
  • A one-time reduction of €1,000 on the undergraduate student contribution fee for students eligible for the fee waiver initiative
  • One-time increase of €1,000 to support postgraduate students who meet the eligibility criteria for a postgraduate cost contribution scholarship, raising it from €3,500 to €4,500
  • An additional €8 million investment in the Student Aid Fund for the 2022/23 academic year.
  • There will be a permanent reduction of €500 in the undergraduate student contribution from next year for families with an income of less than €100,000, and for households with an annual income between €55,240 and €62,000, the contribution will be capped at €1,500.

“Giving students and their families some peace of mind during these trying times is at the heart of everything we’re trying to do with these budget measures,” Harris said.