Posted tagged ‘Minister for Finance’

Budget and Estimates woes?

October 14, 2008

It is probably better to comment in more detail on today’s announcement of the Budget for 2009 and the Book of Estimates after I have had an opportunity to study the fine print a little more. As far as I can see from the announcement by the Minister for Finance and the accompanying documentation, third level education has been hit in a number of ways – but we must await a more detailed explanation of some of the elements before we can offer a balanced assessment. The Education and Science vote as a whole did not fare too badly, with an increase over 2008 of 2.7 per cent. However, the allocations made through the HEA (i.e. the grants paid to universities and institutes of technology) have been cut in nominal terms by 2 per cent, which in real terms is a cut of not far off 10 per cent. Whether this turns out to be the position will depend somewhat on what happens to the revenues generated by the increase of the so-called ‘registration charge’ to €1,500. If this is clawed back by the government, then things are as stated above. If it (or any of it) goes to the institutions, then the position may be better.

However, it is tempting to identify in this a message to the third level sector that it is not seen as a significant contributor to national strategic aims at this time. Allowing also for the fact that many of the institutions are already in financial crisis, the worse case scenario above would have a catastrophic effect on the system.

To balance this a little, I should point to the sum made available for capital projects (which is quite substantial), and the increase in funding for Science Foundation Ireland. The Minister in his speech also made a passing and slightly veiled reference to the possibility of the return of tuition fees.

Other than that, seems like bad news. We all had to expect a very tough outcome today, but overall the government’s approach to public spending as a whole turned out to be less tough than some had anticipated – so putting into relief the treatment of third level education.

In addition, the Budget documents announce the abolition of the Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB) – though whether this can be done that simply remains to be seen…

I shall make some more informed comments when I had studied the documentation more closely, and when the IUA has had the benefit of a briefing from the HEA.