Budget 2019 Pledges A Massive Increase To Third Level Funding

Today is the day that Paschal Donohoe lives for. Like an Olympic diver, standing on the precipice of the board, gazing down at the water in the Olympic finals; like a footballer taking a moment for a few measured breaths before kick-off in a World Cup final; like an earnest second-hand car salesman from Essex in the Love Island villa preparing to do ‘hand-stuff’ under the covers with a personal trainer from Hull – this day, the day of the budget, represents the apogee of Paschal Donohoe. It is for this he breaths; it is of this day he dreams and, right now in the Dáil, he is currently addressing the assembled TDs on the government’s changes to fiscal policy for the forthcoming year – his body thrumming with excitement, his muscles twitching, cold rivulets of adrenaline laced sweat seeping down his spine. Paschal Donohoe is right now more alive than he ever has been.

As part of the budget for 2019 – among the many other aspects of it set to affect students – there is set to be an additional €300 million to be made available for third-level funding between 2020 and 2024. This will help provide a much needed shot in the arm to ensure Irish universities remain competitive on the global stage.

While investment in third-level education has been marginally increasing over the last couple of years, it is still reeling from the drastic cuts made during the height of the recession. The dirth of governmental funding forced many universities to look for alternate sources of revenue. This led to many being forced to change their inherent attitude toward students from simply being the people to whom they are ostensibly there to provide a service for, to viewing students as a possible additional source of revenue. Consequently, students saw increases in the fees they were asked to pay to repeat exams; the cost of on-campus accommodation, and numerous other surcharges and costs particular to each individual university imposed on them to help the universities redress this funding shortfall.

This change in attitude toward students seemingly culminated this year with the TakeBackTrinity protests where the proposed introduction of repeat exam fees proved to be the breaking point for many students in Trinity College Dublin, heralding widespread protests. Their actions successfully forced the college announce that it was to reverse its decision.

While it would be naive to expect that the extra funding offered to Irish universities will see the additional charges that have been introduced recently immediately overturned, it will hopefully allow universities to cease exploiting students as possible sources of revenue.

Indeed, the additional funding will hopefully see Ireland’s universities begin to regain some stability in university world rankings. The Times Higher Education recently released its list of the top 1,000 universities globally and, the majority of Irish universities saw themselves dip in the rankings compared to last year. This was primarily attributed, not to a decline in the standard of education here in Ireland, rather to greater investment and funding being piled into other institutions – particularly in Asia – allowing them to leapfrog Irish universities in the rankings. This will hopefully go some way toward redressing Ireland’s drop in the rankings.

However, while any investment is evidently better than nothing, €300 million falls a long way short of what was recommended in the landmark Cassells Report on the Irish education system, published in 2016. Indeed, the Union of Students in Ireland protested today outside the Dáil over the creation of a ‘rainy day’ fund of €1.5 billion, arguing that it was foolhardy to stow money away when there were evidently massive issues left unaddressed in education funding as well as, perhaps more pressingly, in social housing. It can only be hoped that this marks the beginning of a greater trend toward re-investing in third-level education to undo the damage done over the last 10 years.