Assessing the Budget
It has been my practice on Irish Budget days to ignore the Minister’s Budget speech (no disrespect intended) and to head straight for the appended tables and data, as these give a more precise and comprehensive picture of the measures than the political narrative of the speech. However, while these reveal some headline trends, it is always difficult to work out what they mean more precisely, as the overall figures often contain funding for projects and programmes that are not immediately obvious. It is only when grants are distributed to the individual institutions, typically in January or February, that the precise details become clear.
The financial position of universities in 2011 is chiefly contained in the Estimates figures that I set out in my earlier post, and in this statement contained in the Summary of Budget Measures:
‘Replace Student Services Charge with a flat higher education student contribution of €2,000, and introduce €200 charge for PLC students. The higher Student Service charge will only apply to one child in a family at any one time.’
What is not clear, at least to me, is how the new ‘higher education student contribution’ (‘tuition fee’ to you and me) will be factored in to university and college recurrent grant allocations. However, the note in the Estimates that third level funding is being cut by 7 per cent suggests that the increase in the ‘contribution’ (compared with the prior student registration charge) is being used to replace some of that cut. While the details remain unclear, it is likely that universities will still in aggregate suffer a cut in funding. My own calculation suggests the net cut will be in the order of 4.2 per cent. It is worth pointing out in passing that this, once again, means that higher education is suffering a bigger cut than the rest of the education sector.
Given the financial pressures on the state, it is probably true that the cut could have been worse. But as a number of universities are now already in financial crisis, a further cut of this magnitude could have an increasingly serious effect.