The Irish Universities Association (IUA) welcomes the pledge by the government in the National Planning Framework “Project Ireland 2040” to invest €2.2 billion in capital expenditure in the higher education sector over the next decade. This marks a significant milestone for the sector following almost a decade of under-investment in the building facilities programme during the recession years.
The expansion in research funding is also welcome and the IUA looks forward to working with the government and other partners to agree the most effective use of those extra funds.
The seven universities represented by the IUA have managed to maintain a minimum level of capital investment during those years through a mix of public and private funding. However, relying on philanthropy or commercial loan funding from banks such as the European Investment Bank is not sustainable.
Today’s decision, provided it is followed through in successive budgets in the coming years, opens the way for the urgent upgrade of many outdated university facilities as well as expanding the building stock to cater for the expected influx of students with up to 40,000 extra students per year by 2030.
While the overall funding package is welcome, there is now a need to match this promised capital funding programme with a much-needed revised funding programme for the human capital in third level.
Jim Miley, Director General of the Irish Universities Association, said: “The government has laid down an ambition, which we share, for the Irish higher education system to be the ‘best in Europe’ by 2026. The capital expenditure programme is one of the key ingredients required to deliver on that goal. However, we cannot realistically achieve such an ambition unless it is matched by a robust investment plan to develop the human capital. Universities are the gateway to jobs and innovation in the Irish economy. We look forward to an early decision by government to match the capital investment programme with an overhaul of the operational funding model for higher education which is long overdue.”
A HEA report found that major repair or replacement is required on 41% of the total space in the higher education sector with 18% of buildings being over 50 years old.
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Extract from HEA First System Performance Report 2014-2016
“The HEA would warn that the current condition and extent of facilities and the absence of provision for new space, constitute a risk to the capacity of the system to deliver the very significant increase in new places that is required to meet growing demand.”
Extract from Cassells Report on the Future Funding of Higher Education
“A reduction in state capital grants along with reduced flexibility in core operating budgets since 2009 has resulted in a significant problem in the maintenance and upgrading of facilities over recent years. ….Enhanced recurrent funding will allow universities and IOTs to meet some of the costs of day-to-day maintenance, minor works and equipment renewal from core budgets”.