The government used money gained from businesses to cut its own funding to third-level education by €15 million.
Since 2017, businesses have been hit with a training levy increase of 0.1 per cent for two consecutive years, bringing in an extra €92 million for the government. However, the Department of Education then used this to replace its own funding.
“The government has increased the National Training Fund levy which we supported and encouraged. But they have reduced the funding from general taxation, putting a greater share of the burden on business” said Thomas Byrne, the Fianna Fáil education spokesman.
The Department of Education used €51 million of the new income to subsidise its funding. It did provide an extra €36 million, comprising a sum of €20 million to cover pay rises for third level staff, under the public sector pay agreement, and €16 million for extra student numbers.
However, this still left a gap of €15 million. According to the government’s revised estimates, the “general grants” allocated to third level education was decreased from €1.007 billion last year to €991 million this year. Incidentally, the third level population has increased to 162,000.
The move has been criticised by both business group Ibec and the Irish Universities Association. “We need a political decision made about how we can develop a sustainable funding solution for third level and keeping the training fund for upskilling and retraining” said Claire McGee, Ibec’s senior education policy executive.
She also said that using money from the National Training Fund would not solve the third level funding crisis.
An expert report that was released in 2016 recommended either introducing higher student fees, a student loan scheme or increased state funding. The Oireachtas education committee was supposed to produce a cross party report in response but has not been able to.
The government has rejected two of these recommendations, with increased state funding remaining the only option. Opposition TDs have demanded to know how exactly the annual shortfall of €600 million outlined in the 2016 report will be met.
“His government has been unwilling to commit to the scale of investment needed over the last series of Budgets since 2016 to meet the Cassells’ Reports targets, and as it stands the state will be unlikely to meet the first benchmark of an additional €600m by 2021 over 2015 funding levels for the sector,” Catherine Martin, deputy leader of the Green Party, said.
Image Credit: Sabrine Donohoe