The IUA welcomes a number of aspects of Budget 2024 for higher education including the measures to reduce the costs for students and the provisions to fund the cost of government-controlled pay awards. However, the €60m increase in core funding for universities falls well short of the government’s own promise. In addition, the failure to unlock the growing €1.5 billion surplus in the National Training Fund (NTF) is a real missed opportunity.
Last year, the government itself confirmed that there is a €307m annual shortfall in core funding of universities but, between last year (€40m) and this year’s (€60m) Budget, barely one-third of that shortfall has been delivered. The one-off provisions for energy costs and for pension deficits are very welcome but, it is frustrating that the government’s promise to bridge the €307m gap in core funding has not been more fulsome, especially given the €1.5 billion NTF surplus that remains unspent.
The Chair of IUA Council and President of University of Limerick, Prof. Kerstin Mey said: “We fully recognise the positive moves on reducing higher education costs for students but it doesn’t work if you make it more affordable for students to go into universities that are still underfunded by more than €200m per year. Our universities have clearly outlined to government what more we can do to support a whole range of national priorities if extra funding is provided. It seems bizarre that the €1.5 billion NTF surplus continues to grow while there are skills shortages across every part of the public and private sector. Our universities can play a key role in addressing those shortages if we are funded properly.”
Prof. Mey continued: “We also welcome the fact that government is reimbursing universities for the full cost of public pay awards, something we have long campaigned for. It is important that this has been done so that we are covered to pay those awards to our dedicated staff who have continued to deliver an excellent service to the growing student population.”
The improvements in SUSI grants, including making part-time students eligible for grant support for the first time, is a very welcome move. The IUA and its member universities have always supported measures that target those most in need of support such as those included in this year’s Budget.
However, the expenditure estimates (see pg 233) show a planned reduction in spend of 3% for research, innovation and science. This is regrettable in the year in which the new research agency will be formed from the merger of SFI and IRC.
The IUA welcomes the statement in the Budget that government intends to set up a process to deal with the NTF surplus. This must be done without delay. We propose that the appropriate changes to the Finance Bill are made to enable the NTF surplus to be unlocked with accelerated drawdown to commence from 2024. It would be regrettable if there is any delay in this process or if the changes are postponed beyond the lifetime of this government.
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Lia O’Sullivan, Head of Communications, IUA 085 7141414 email@example.com