A matter of 4 billion Euro, give or take a fiver

Yesterday’s Irish Times published details from an internal report prepared by the Higher Education Authority (HEA)  suggesting that higher education institutions would need a capital investment of €4 billion in order to accommodate the additional students now expected to be recruited over the coming decade, and in order to bring the existing stock of buildings to an acceptable standard. This sum, it should be emphasised, is not the amount needed to provide sufficient funding for the cost of actually teaching the students, it is just the investment in infrastructure that is needed to make the teaching possible in the first place.

I have not seen the report, and so I cannot judge whether the calculations are correct; but I certainly know that we now have serious building, equipment and infrastructure problems across the whole sector, before ever admitting any additional students. But far from anyone investing in any of this, the signs are that capital budgets are about to be slashed to near-nothingness, just as the pressure comes on to take in more and more students without any new funding to pay for them. This is, as I have already pointed out, a perfect storm producing a likely catastrophe.

In the meantime the Higher Education Strategic Review, which could produce some sort of forum for debating these issues, is not complete and there is as yet no report or any sign of one. Whatever the right national strategy may be for higher education, what we are facing right now isn’t it. Realistically, we either need substantial new funding streams ( inevitably including fees), or else we need to scale down the sector. But rapid unfunded growth with no capital support is not the way to go!

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2 Comments on “A matter of 4 billion Euro, give or take a fiver”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    To be Devil’s Advocate:
    Any such investment has to be borrowed. This is particularly expensive for us. There is even the possibility that we can’t borrow at all. If you’re government bonds are labelled “junk”, as in the Greek case, then thats saying to lenders that you may never get your money back. We’re not there yet but its becoming a possibility. The “bond spread”, a measure of how risky our government borrowing is, has risen significantly. So it really could go (even more) pear-shaped.
    Holding off on investments that the HEA are talking about (& that we would all dearly love & can rationalize in normal circumstances) may not be such a bad idea. I’m reminded of the Irish saying Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scoilbe which translates as “The windy day is not the day for thatching”.
    So what is second best? Well perhaps the sector needs to make clear that we cannot take on additional students. Maybe we just have to make do for a little while longer – funnily enough, the newspapers were announcing the death of the “points race” only about a year ago. So rather than whining that nobody loves us, a more responsible & ultimately more fruitful, approach might be to think about how we can muddle through.

    Colm McCarthy’s comments below are worth reading:

  2. Perry Share Says:

    I wonder (not having time to read the HEA report) if the estimation re building costs engaged with the sort of issues that the Learning Landscapes conference <a href= https://universitydiary.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/using-space-in-higher-education/I wrote about last week focused on. For example it was pointed out at that event that the utilisation of teaching space within core teaching hours in UK universities was of the order of 15-20%. In other words rooms lay empty about four days out of five. I wonder if the figures are similar for here, and if not, why not?

    There needs to be a thoroughgoing discussion about the construction of teaching and learning spaces before another major round of investment goes in. While it may not have been enough, or not always the right type of investment, anyone can see that there was a huge investment in tertiary sector buildings during the Tiger years. This may provide a good basis for our institutions in the future, if the spaces are well used.

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