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.

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30 Comments on “Assessing the Budget”

  1. Shane Says:

    Perhaps this will help clarify the situation:
    ‘ The 2011 provision for Universities, Institutes of Technology and other higher education institutions is €1.113 billion, which represents a gross reduction of 7% on the allocation for 2010. Net of adjustments for increased income in respect of the Student Contribution Charge of €2,000, the overall 2011 reduction is 2.2% (5%, or €14 million, in the non-pay grants payable to these bodies and a 1.5% pay cost reduction).’


    • Yes, I saw that, but these figures don’t add up. Elsewhere in the documentation the exact figure expected to be raised from the €500 increase in the charge is given, and if you net that off the grant allocation, you get around 4 per cent of a cut.

      • Shane Says:

        Thanks! I was a little worried that these were too good to be true! Any your point that third-level has again suffered much greater cuts than other parts of the education sector is well made.

  2. copernicus Says:


    As the days of your move to RGU get near, my suggestion is you should come and meet Professor Malcolm Grant the Prsident and Provost of UCL, and like you he was a law professor at Southampton and later in Cambridge as a senior manager as well. You could also see Professor Sir Keith O’Nions of Imperial. Your predecessor late Mike Pittilo knew them well too, and in his last days he was interested in arguments about funding. I am sure between the three of you, there will be much in common.

    • I don’t know Malcolm Grant personally, but I do know Keith O’Nions. I should however add that I am mightily suspicious of the Russell Group, which is in essence a price-fixing cartel (and such cartels tend to have an anti-innovation effect). However, I plan to network widely, both in Scotland and beyond.

      • copernicus Says:

        I am surprised by your comment on cartel and sans innovation. My experience in RG and post-92s is different. Scottish universities like UWS, RGU, Napier etc..are indulging in navel-gazing and blame apportioning exercises.
        Anyway, it is for post-92s to move up the ladder like Oxford Brookes which has healthy links with Oxbridge and RG.

        • I don’t think that there is a single culture in the post-92s, and some of them have been highly innovative. My problem with the Russell Group is that its main objective is to protect the status of its members, rather than to develop a new outlook on higher education. There is in that respect a significant contrast between the Russell Group and the 94 Group. In my experience almost any club that is based on its members’ self-belief in their superiority will operate in a counter-productive way. It’s inevitable. Of courser individually some Russell Group members have a good record of innovation. But some don’t.

        • copernicus Says:

          The RG like UCL and Imperial in my experience are innovative in science and technology, and the RG whether one like or not are research-intensive and most post-92s are mainly teaching universities. Having said that my children’s experiences in the above two universities are very positive in respect of teaching. As for Group94, many RG and Group94 work seamlessly together like UCL and Birkbeck and QMU for example.. I do not know what you mean by innovation. That is loaded word-a stick to beat RG. I have heard this from the VCs of post-92 who call themselves modern universities, but have full of byzantine practices, like straight jacket admin procedures and academic units withfirewalls (no joint courses in RGU computing and engineering, for example) centralised control etc.. Imperial’s Tanaka Business School cooperates with every department with joint modules, seminars, joint research.. unlike RGU’s Business School..

          • Copernicus, my experience would at least in some contexts be exactly the opposite of yours. I have worked in and with a large number of universities, and in my experience the older the university, the harder it is to break through the disciplinary barriers. Business schools are not a typical exam,ple, as they really have to work across disciplines. You are quite wrong about RGU in this context, by the way.

            The Russell Group is in its main purpose a cartel or a trade union, protecting its members from competition. As I said, that doesn’t mean that some Russell Group universities don’t do excellent things. But some are lazy.

  3. copernicus Says:


    My experience is different because I worked in the trenches most of the time, and in a few post-92s in England and Scotland, as well as group94 and RG. Old university does not mean they are inflexible. For example: see UCL Chemistry Department’s joint courses. I can understand your defence about RGU, but again I know what I am talking about being in constant touch with its schools. Let us have this conversation after you take charge of RGU, and when for example, computing and engineering really cooperte through joint courses.

    • Sorry, Copernicus, my experience is also from the trenches. There is no uniform pattern between pre- and post-92 universities.

      • copernicus Says:

        I do not call RG as a cartel, and a some what a similar termI have heard a post-92 VC in London use. The uniformity in all post-92s is the centralised admin structure with orders coming from the top on aspects that should be best left to academic departments, administrative firewalls in academic departments, etc.. The VCs who moved from post-92 like Prof Trainer (from Greenwich U to Kings College), cannot keep their sticky fingers out of meddling in departments as they do in post-92s, is an example.

        • Than Says:

          Copernicus, with all respect I also disagree about your views about universities. I had told before that you are targeting aggresively post-92 some times with no reason. Especially for RGU’s Business school. ABS is working quite close with its engineering department and its school of art. I cannot see common patterns between RG and post-92. It really depends on the institution I think.

  4. Perry Share Says:

    aarrgh! can’t be reading this stuff – why not take it offline?

    Is O’Nions a real name, or are there also O’Ranges and McAronis to be found in the upper echelons of UK education?

    • Al Says:

      Dont mind me!
      I’m just sweeping up all the names that have been dropped.
      But under the new Green Party legislation, there is a disposal fee for each name dropped!!!!!!!!

      • copernicus Says:

        What is the problem with these names to show that some of them do a good job as VCs and some of them do not? Oh, I understand…, and hence the postings I see here!!

  5. copernicus Says:


    I know about RGU, and my opinions align with my former colleagues there. As for you branding me aggressive, that is your opinion as also my opinion about your blanket ignorance in many areas of post-92s, and yet to hear about your credentials in that area. Unlike you perhaps I worked in those universities.

    • Than Says:

      As before my “credentials” are the same. I work pretty much with all Scottish universities and some English especially the northern ones basically with their business schools and engineering departments. I know their collaborations and I know their output (students) and what feedback they have from the employers. But I dont know why should me or any other here explain the credentials here. You put some opinions here and me and others some opposite. But you never accept the opposite. You aggresively reject them. The fact that you had worked for a university 20 years ago doesn’t prove much for what it is now. Your “contact” may or not be credible but it is again their point of view.

      I wont’ reply anymore since it will be like trolling or similar.

      • copernicus Says:

        @Than. You are indeed fearful of a discussion as you have not put forward any credential and working “with” is not the same as “working in”. As for my contacts they are very much there now, and they are very frustrated with the lack of joint courses and I visit them a few times a year. I worked in many Post-92s and a few RGs. It appears you run an agency for employers and I know a few of them and their knowledge as I said is blanket ignorance. Your observation whether it is Liverpool distance learning courses which you dubbed as rubbish previously is flawed like those in any other agencies.

        • Than Says:

          OK Copernicus. We are ignorant. You know best. But don’t reject the “aggresive”. You can’t accept any opinion other than yours.
          At the very end just think how Kind (or not) it is to post that many basically negative comments for RGU when you know that Ferdinard is going there. You are pushing to…where?

          By the way the ignorant agencies that you know (since you know everything) are helping people to find jobs and have collaboration with some unis and feedback from employers. Both important these days…

  6. Than Says:

    And working with NOW is certenly different than working in 20 years ago.
    Your responses are rude and the same is your attitude to post what you post for RGU in a blog of the (near future) VC of RGU.

    End of story

    • copernicus Says:

      You never undrstand do you. If you call me aggressive that is not rude but If I call you as some one with a blanket ignorance about post-92s, it is rude!! I thought that you wouldn’t reply as you said you would be considered as a troll and you did! If you do not like arguments then no need to post here. I know RGU better than you who is running an employment agency.

  7. Al Says:

    Lads Lads Lads
    Watching this I have to ask a question!
    Russell Group Universities?
    Robert Gordon Universities?

  8. Than Says:

    @ Al

    RGU for Robert Gordon Uni
    RG for Rusell Group

  9. Derbie Says:

    @Than and Copernicus

    Different opinions from different persons.Relax!
    Copernicus I think that all that Than said is that that you are “aggresively” presenting your opinions not that you are aggresive yourself.
    Anyway I think that Than you are personalizing your debate too much against Copernicus and on the other hand Copernicus is too much focused on Robert gordon.

    But this was not a discussion for robert gordon.

    • copernicus Says:

      If you see my postings I concentrated on post-92s and commented on their straight jacket admin and academic departments firewalls. Robert Gordon came incidently. It was not focus at the beginning. Any way, I speak from my expereince of working across the binary divide pre and post-92s. But I do not care about what posters say, as I know I speak from my own intimate experience with the sectors.

  10. copernicus Says:

    That should be “what other posters say about me,…”.
    I am more interested in England,where we are more innovative and open-minded.

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