Departmentof Education & Skills print friedly logo

11 July 2016 - Minister Bruton welcomes the report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education

Plans for future funding of higher education to include significant increase in access to higher education for students from disadvantaged areas

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D. today welcomed the Report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education.

As committed to in the Programme for Government, the report will now be forwarded to the Oireachtas Committee for comprehensive examination and discussion, in an effort to build a consensus on a plan for the future direction of the funding model for higher education in Ireland.

The Expert Group, chaired by Mr Peter Cassells, was established to examine future funding requirements for higher education and to present options for developing a sustainable long term funding strategy for the sector.

The report concludes that current funding arrangements are not sufficient and it calls for the articulation and implementation of a clear funding strategy for the sector that will deliver a robust and steady base of funding to sustain the system into the future. It details a number of funding options for achieving this.

Welcoming the publication of the report, Minister Bruton indicated his belief that additional funding for the higher education sector must be accompanied by new performance-based funding mechanisms and new targets for improved outcomes for the users and funders of the service. Examples of targets that Minister Bruton believes should be adopted include:

  • Provide for 50,000 upskilling and reskilling places over the next 5 years to meet identified skills gaps in the economy and to support an increase in Lifelong Learning
  • Increase participation in higher education by the most disadvantaged socio economic groups by over 7 percentage points
  • Increasethe numbers of entrants studying on a flexible basis (online, part-time) by 25%
  • Increase the number of students undertaking a work placement or work based project as part of their course by 25%
  • Increase new research enrolments by 30%

The Minister said “Education is central to our ambition as a nation. Our central aim in education is to use our strong economy to improve equality of educational opportunity. Without a strong economy it is impossible for us to build a compassionate society; without a fair society it is impossible for us to create a growing economy. The higher education sector is at the heart of delivering on massive social and economic challenges including providing better life opportunities for people from disadvantaged areas, training the skilled workers needed for a growing economy, and delivering major research and innovation projects to help solve the big problems of our time.

“Over recent years, the higher education sector responded well to massively increased student numbers in the context of tightened budgets. This has been a great achievement but is not sustainable, and we are now starting to see difficulties emerge in achieving public policy goals in areas like skills and disadvantage.

“And in the coming decade the demographic bulge will start to come through to higher education, with numbers expected to be nearly 30% higher by 2030.

“If we are to deal with these issues, and if we are to fund higher education to the level necessary to help deal with these massive social and economic challenges, we are going to have to look at new funding models. This is a major challenge and I believe we need to try to find a broad consensus on how to address it. The report published today is a massive first step on this journey and I am very grateful to Peter Cassells and all members of the Group who put in massive effort to produce this major piece of work.

“I also believe that if we are going to pursue new funding models, we need to be clear on what new services the higher education system is going to provide for the people who pay for it and use it – in areas like research, skills and access for students from disadvantaged areas and other underrepresented groups. To this end my Department is now carrying out a piece of work to nail down priority goals and targets for the higher education sector for the next period and to develop new funding mechanisms to ensure we deliver on these”.

ENDS

Note for editors:

Link to report: Investing in National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education

Group members:

  • Peter Cassells, Independent Chairperson
  • Mary Doyle, Deputy Secretary General, Department of Education & Skills
  • Ronan Powell, Professor of Corporate Finance, University College Dublin
  • Tim Creedon, Former President, Institute of Technology, Tallaght
  • Joe O'Connor, Former President, Union of Students in Ireland
  • Brid Horan, Former Deputy Chief Executive, ESB
  • Sara Cantillon, Professor of Economics, Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Tom Boland, CEO, Higher Education Authority
  • Seán Rowland, President of Hibernia College
  • Neil Ward, Adviser to the former Minister for Education & Skills
  • John Burke, Principal Officer, Department of Public Expenditure & Reform

Goals and Targets for Higher Education

Minister Bruton is initiating a review of the performance framework which will establish clear goals for the system for the next 5 years across priority areas such as access, research and developing our pipeline of human capital. Key areas will include increased access from underrepresented groups, flexible and online learning, responsiveness to emerging skills needs, student retention, new apprenticeship models and a renewed focus on improving the quality of the student experience and learning outcomes.

This review will include consideration of what the priority areas for capital investment will be.

It will also consider new instruments to increase access to higher education for students from disadvantaged areas.

The Department will also undertake a review of current state funding mechanisms to ensure the right tools and incentives are in place to achieve these goals. This will include the use of performance- based funding instruments and targeted competitive funding programmes. Among the new funding mechanisms which will be considered are:

  • Ex ante bids for resources with criteria clearly connected to goals
  • New monies to be introduced primarily through purpose directed instruments (competitive calls, targeted subventions, seed funding), matching funding to delivery of goals

Among the targets which will be considered are the following:

Addressing Skills Needs

  • Develop innovative responses to skills gaps across key priorities areas of the economy including ICT, languages, biopharma
  • Provide for 50,000 upskilling and reskilling places over the next 5 years to meet identified skills gaps in the economy and to support an increase in Lifelong Learning
  • Institutions will develop employability statements for all courses by 2018, detailing discipline-specific and transversal skills

Access

  • Increase participation in higher education by the most disadvantaged socio economic groups by over 7 percentage points
  • Increase participation by underrepresented groups in initial teacher education by 5 percentage points
  • Increase participation by lone parents by 5 percentage points

Flexible Delivery

  • Increase the numbers of entrants studying on a flexible basis (online, part-time) by 25%

Enterprise – Academic Cooperation

  • Further embed new apprenticeship areas and double the number of apprenticeships by 2020
  • Increase the number of students undertaking a work placement or work based project as part of their course by 25%

Research

  • Increase research enrolments by 30%

Teaching and Learning

  • Significantly improve retention rates, with a specific focus on under-represented groups

Gender Equality

  • Arising from the recent report, introduce targets relating to improvements on gender equality which will directly influence performance funding for institutions