Despite a public appeal by more than 1,700 academics, as well as an intervention from Provost Patrick Prendergast, higher education is unlikely to get its own department under the next government.
A draft programme for government, agreed today by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens, contains no mention of a department of higher education and research – something called for by thousands of academics last month.
The document commits to developing “a long-term sustainable funding model” for third-level education, “in collaboration with the sector and informed by recent and ongoing research and analysis”.
But it makes no mention of the 2016 Cassells report – considered the definitive review of the way forward for higher education by many in the sector – and does not offer a specific model for funding third-level.
And college fees, at €3,000 the most expensive in the EU, will stay at the same level, Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil’s education spokesperson, told The University Times today.
The government seems intent on pushing ahead with controversial reforms to the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which have prompted widespread backlash across third-level. The document says the next government will continue to reform “the way our Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) operate” – and commits to “enhancing performance, financial management, governance and transparency”.
On the issue of student grants, the government will review the eligibility criteria for the controversial SUSI grants.
It has also promised to widen access routes to third-level for people living in direct provision centres, and to support initiatives on campus that deal with consent as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
Speaking to The University Times today, Byrne said the next government will put a “renewed focus” on higher education funding.
He said: “What we hope out of this government is a renewed focus on higher and further education. That includes the issue of funding, it includes the issue of student supports.”
“Those issues”, he added, “will be a matter for the government when and if it’s formed. But clearly the higher education system needs a significant boost – not just in the short term, but in the medium term as well”.