Irish higher education and the 2012 Budget

Throughout my time as President of Dublin City University the annual statement of public expenditure – the so-called Book of Estimates – was a nail biting event. It was also an odd one, because this was how I found out, nearly three months into the financial year, what allocation I could expect from the government for that year. It was never a process that made much sense.

Anyway, here I am in Scotland, but there goes the process again back in Ireland: yesterday the government announced, as the first stage in the annual Budget dance, what the public expenditure estimates are to be for the coming year; though on this occasion it has also announced what sort of thing will happen in the two years to follow. And overall it is not a pretty picture for the universities.

Last year the government allocated €1,177,032,000 to the sector. For 2012 the allocation is €1,119,694,000, which represents a cut of 5 per cent. This is a larger cut than that applying to education overall, at 3 per cent. The government has also announced that there will be further (albeit smaller) cuts in the two subsequent years.

The government has also declared that the ‘student contribution charge’ will go up by €250, but this will not come anywhere near compensating for the funding cut.

Irish higher education is already dangerously under-funded. Every survey conducted has found the same thing: that substantial additional money is needed to allow Irish universities to compete on an international stage. We have now been told that there will be continuing cuts over the coming three years. It has to be emphasized that this is not an environment in which Irish higher education can carry out the tasks necessary for economic and social revival. To avoid a major collapse in morale, the government needs to declare now how it intends to handle higher education through the rest of this decade, and how it will enable the sector to meet expectations made of it. Otherwise Ireland will slip into a third world higher education system by stealth. There is very little time.

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7 Comments on “Irish higher education and the 2012 Budget”

  1. Vincent Says:

    ‘compete on an international stage’. What does this mean. It seems to be the sister statement to ‘if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys’ and ‘we have to pay that amount, for that’s the level in the private sector’ or ‘this is standard industry practice’.
    Are we the current Irish soccer team, a hardy bunch. Are we flair-some rain-makers.
    Let me make it easier. If we closed down each and every institution of higher education would there be a queue of the very top institutions from over the world waiting to snap up the resulting scholars. And at the same pay levels.

    • arcticprawn Says:

      one important meaning of the statement Vincent would be our ability to compete in terms of the education we can offer our students. This has clearly already suffered, and will continue to suffer; which is very bad news for Irish society and the Irish economy. And I’m not comparing us with Harvard here, but with mid-ranking universities throughout the developed world.

      Although in answer to your other question, yes people are leaving, and in increasing numbers. Not everyone is able to (for personal reasons such as negative equity meaning they can’t leave their homes, for example), but those who can increasingly are doing.

      • Vincent Says:

        But that’s the students competing.

        And if they really wanted to stand out they would give up €1000 of pay to the institution. They might even gain financially if they played it correctly

  2. Jilly Says:

    “And if they really wanted to stand out they would give up €1000 of pay to the institution.”

    Vincent, in answer to this suggestion, I’ll outline my own position. It’s obviously personal and anecdotal, but I assure you it’s far from atypical in Irish higher education.

    I’m a lecturer at an Irish university. For this I receive a salary well above the average industrial wage, for which I’m thankful. However, I only got my first full-time, pensionable job at the age of 33, as is fairly normal in academia, because of the 8 years full-time study required to qualify, most of which I spent living on an income well below the poverty level (I literally couldn’t afford a winter coat for some of those years). I got that job via a hugely competitive process, in which my job was advertised internationally, and received 100+ applications (this was before the recession, and is a normal job-to-application ratio in academia), so there was nothing easy or guaranteed about my appointment. Also, for the first couple of years of my employment, I was paid barely the average industrial wage.

    Of my current gross salary, I pay a total of 48% in taxes and pension contributions. Of my net income, I pay 37% in mortgage payments each month – I bought (with my partner) my first home in 2005, at full-on Celtic Tiger prices. We bought because, into our mid-30s, we really wanted a home of our own, especially given the limited rights available to private tenants in Ireland. It’s a 2-bedroom apartment in Dublin, and we like it, but it’s hardly grand, and is barely large enough. Owning our own home seemed a modest ambition, for two qualified professionals, and thankfully we can still pay the mortgage, but buying it – on a 92% mortgage because all those years studying on poverty-level incomes had limited our ability to save for a deposit – was only just possible for us. It certainly does not count as ‘property speculation’, it is our home. It is now worth about 50% of what we paid for it, and it is unlikely that it will ever recover its value. So my share of that negative equity will be about 100,000 euro in mortgage payments which I will probably never see again. There’ll be no selling up and downsizing to release capital for my generation when we reach retirement age.

    Of my remaining (post-tax) salary, I spend probably 2000 euro a year on books essential to my research – research which my university expects me to do, and which I must do if I ever hope to be promoted or even move jobs. There is however no funding for these work-related expenditures. I also spend somewhere between 1000-2000 euro a year of my post-tax income travelling to academic conferences – my college provides less than 500 euro a year to support this other, essential part of my work, and I pay the rest. Friends of mine who work for a different university are, I discovered last week, buying books for their college library out of their own money, for use on undergraduate courses, because the library has no money left to buy new books. We may all be doing that within the next year.

    I am not pleading poverty, and I am not comparing my situation to that of people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads or feed their families. But I do deeply resent the suggestion that I should volunteer 1000 euro a year to my institution, as if I could afford it. I can’t.

    • Vincent Says:

      You cannot afford not to. Something like it anyway.
      And what in all the comments I’ve made on this blog of FvP’s that would give you the idea that I am unsympathetic. But what I have concluded, you within the industry need to box cute. You mistake the good that the government sees where it comes to dealing with you and err in your semi secretive dealings with government.
      You are not the civil service, but still you you play the neither fish fowl nor good red herring game. All of which brings out a historic anti-intellectualism even in those -now huge numbers- that have been trained at your hands. How you manage that I’ve no clue, but somehow you did it. You should have the group sympathy that would put the nurses to shame.
      However, you will have something like a year before the boom is lowered on the Croke Pk agreement. So you better have cobbled together some public sympathy between now and then.

  3. Ned Costello Says:

    As the Book of Estimates only represents proposed Exchequer outlays, the percentage reduction for higher education is two percent for next year when the projected income from the student charge is factored in. Obviously, this assumes that student intake at least holds steady and that all non grant eligible students pay the charge.

    However, the decision to remove post grad student grants could result in attrition in student numbers and associated income to the universities.

    Jilly – good post on the realities of life.

  4. otto Says:

    In terms of salaries, it is important for Ireland’s research universities to be able to offer salaries that can attract recent PhD graduates from leading international universities. If the starting salaries are too low, as they already are in some disciplines, these graduates will not even think about coming to Ireland from California or the LSE, and we will be reduced to hiring only from among PhD graduates from Irish universities. The competitiveness of starting salaries is much more important than competitiveness in compensation for later-stage academic superstars.

    In terms of university income as a whole, yes the undergraduate contribution needs to rise, and – also – the universities need to make the most of the opportunities for raising revenue by (expensive) masters degree programmes.

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