While commending the Minister for Education and Science for his commitment to funding for the disadvantaged, Dr. Art Cosgrove Chair, C.H.I.U on behalf of University Heads expressed deep concern over the extent and impact of cuts in recurrent and capital funding for university education and research. He criticised the government for the economic short sightedness that lay behind the cuts.
C.H.I.U. revealed that the purported cut of 1% in recurrent funding for universities masked what is in effect a cut of 8.3% based on costs for 2003 agreed between the universities and the HEA. When increased insurance costs are factored in the actual cut will be of the order of 9%. These cuts cannot be met from non-pay as the Minister suggested because they would in effect mean a 36% cut in non-pay which would be completely unsustainable.
C.H.I.U. pointed out that the cuts in recurrent funding amount to a shortfall of approximately €770 per student. This is additional to the shortfall for this current year which is being met from the increased student charge of €670 already being paid by students. Unless the cuts are reversed or the shortfall is made up from increased fees or other sources, staff cuts are inevitable. The Minister’s decision, if let stand, would severely undermine the quality of Irish university education and research.
Already universities are severely handicapped as they compete in an increasingly global higher education market with Ireland ranking as low as 25th of 30 OECD countries in expenditure on higher education per student relative to GDP.
The government’s much vaunted commitment to creating world class higher education and research in Ireland with universities as the key providers can only be realised by a consistent programme of investment. The government’s stop-go approach will completely undermine the hard-won progress to date. In the knowledge-based global economy the government’s cuts in higher education and research will send a strong negative message to the very knowledge industries we wish to attract and embed in Ireland and hand the advantage to our competitors.
The world is changing so rapidly that “pausing investment” in higher education research, as Minister Dempsey has termed his cutback, is tantamount to sprinting backwards in a race where we were already only playing catch-up with our competitors.
University education and research are tomorrow’s advance factory and increased investment in our intellectual infrastructure is required to create the country’s future. The government should not wait for the future to happen while it concentrates on a book-balancing exercise. Waiting would reveal a failure by Government to understand fully the knowledge society and its implications for increased investment in intellectual capital.
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