As governments disinvest in higher education, and in the absence of student contributions, major financial issues will begin to arise. A few months ago the Principal of Glasgow University, Professor Anton Muscatelli, declared that the university would run out of cash by 2013. And now the latest institution to sound a warning is Trinity College Dublin, with the Provost, Dr John Hegarty, warning that by 2015 TCD would have an accumulated deficit of between €80 and €100 million.
It is understandable that concerns should be expressed about the levels of graduate debt that may arise with tuition fees, but we also need to be aware of the growth of institutional debt. If TCD’s Provost is right, the level of debt that the College may be facing is unsustainable. Universities, even in good times, tend to run knife-edge budgets, and the prospect of having to recover such sums from general revenues would be frightening. It is vital that we do not allow higher education to slide into a situation in which its key institutions cease to be financially viable.