It is obvious that, for the second year in a row, the universities have been singled out for punitive treatment with a 0% increase in the context of an overall 12% in the Education Budget. No provision whatever has been made for benchmarking or other pay increase costs. The effect is the equivalent of €55m to €60m cut in university recurrent funding. The proposal, and that’s all it can be, even though the Minister announced it as a decision, to increase the so-called registration fee by €80 from €670 to €750 is an empty gesture in the light of the estimated €830 increase required to meet the funding shortfall for 2004 over 2003.
The 2004 cuts in university funding come on top of the cuts of €1,240 per student in funding imposed on universities in the period 1995 -2001 seriously undermine the quality of teaching for students and the capacity of universities to contribute to the development of the knowledge economy. The 2004 cuts are perverse award for the economies effected and productivity gained by universities over the 1995-2003 period.
By its persistent failure to ensure adequate core funding of universities the government is wantonly conceding competitive advantage to other aspirant knowledge economies that, as a priority, are providing for increased investment in their universities.
In spite of the commitment in the Programme for Government that “we will continue to support…the physical renewal of our third-level campuses” the Minister plundered the 2003 capital provision for universities reducing the original Estimate figure of €56m, initially to €36m and in a second raid, to €14m. The commitment to fund facilities for medical therapies from the €20m provision for 2004 is welcomed. However, the €20m is insufficient to meet basic core requirements.
For instance, some universities are continuing to train science students in dilapidated laboratories on equipment that is over 30 years old. Equipment and maintenance grants were withdrawn completely last year. Try convincing prospective investors in the country that the graduates produced are top class and leading-edge. Unless funding is restored from the 2004 provision the government is set to repeat the own goal it conceded for the IDA in its competition with development agencies of other aspirant knowledge economies.
The Government is strangling its already disjointed strategy for developing a knowledge economy. For the second year in a row in the Estimates it has attacked the quality of provision and facilities for educating graduates who will be the brainpower for driving the economy into the future. The Government’s continues to exhibit only partial understanding of the urgent and sustained actions required to deliver an innovative society and knowledge economy, a failing that is undermining our economic potential