01 July, 2014 - Peter Cassells appointed chairperson of expert group to examine future funding for higher education

Expert group is expected to present options for higher education funding by end of 2015

The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., has appointed Peter Cassells, former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, as the independent chairperson of a new group to examine the future funding policy for higher education. 

The group is charged with identifying and considering the issues relating to the long term sustainable funding of Higher Education in Ireland and to identify options for change.

The group is expected to provide an interim report by end 2014 and to report in full no later than 31st December 2015.  The full membership of the group is:

Peter CassellsIndependent Chairperson   
Mary DoyleDeputy Chairperson – Department of Education & Skills
Prof. Ronan Powell   Professor of Finance, DCU
Tim CreedonFormer President of IT Tallaght
Joe O’Connor  Outgoing USI President
Brid HoranDeputy Chief Executive, ESB Ireland
Dr. Sara Cantillon  Director Equality Studies Centre, UCD
Tom Boland Higher Education Authority
Dr. Seán RowlandPresident of Hibernia College
TBC  Adviser to the Minister for Education & Skills
John Burke  Department of Public Expenditure & Reform

Minister Quinn said, “We have more people studying in higher education than ever before, and with our growing population these numbers will continue to rise in the medium term.  The expert group’s work therefore is important and timely.”

“The publication of the first ever performance report of higher education recently has shown that our institutions are working well and have responded to the financial crisis positively, but there are risks to quality which exist in the short to medium term.”

“The expert group will have to consider the options for the future funding of higher education based on rigorous analysis and international evidence.  This will not be an easy task as there are no simple solutions.  However, given the emphasis that we place on our knowledge economy and the high calibre of our graduates, it is critical work.”

The expert group is expected to present options on how to fund higher education to the Minister by the end of 2015, which will then be considered by Government. 

The independent chairperson will be supported by an expert secretariat.  The secretariat, made up of officials from the Department of Education and Skills and the Higher Education Authority, will also be attendees at meetings of the Expert Group, and will liaise with other Government Departments, including the Departments of Finance, Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, and Social Protection, as appropriate.


Editor’s Notes:

The majority of the members of the expert group have been appointed on a personal basis and not as representatives of their organisations. 

It is envisaged that the overall work programme of the expert group will be managed in six distinct modules:

1.   Demand. To spell out the anticipated demographic growth in the Higher Education sector, drawing on work previously undertaken by the HEA, DES, ESRI and elsewhere.  To review projected labour market requirements for graduates and the resulting implications for provision of places.

2.   Benefits. To identify the benefits of higher education to the individual graduate and to the wider Irish economy and society – with reference to relevant research already underway.

3.   Income/expenditure. To establish the total funding available to HEIs from the state, students, the EU, research bodies, philanthropy etc.  The work will also establish the current cost base, encompassing pay, non-pay and capital expenditure.

4.   Efficient and Effective Sector. To report on efficiencies achieved by the sector during the 2009-2014 period, and to assess the potential for additional efficiencies to be achieved through the 2014-2019 period, and beyond.

5.   Measuring financial performance. The work will identify benchmarks of financial performance, including a consideration of the merits of operating a unit cost approach.  These benchmarks will be designed to inform future analysis of institutional performance via performance compacts.

6.   Long Term Funding. The final module will provide an assessment of the long term funding requirements of the Higher Education sector, along with a set of funding options for consideration by the Minister for Education and Skills.

It is expected that an interim report will be provided to the Minister for Education and Skills by end 2014 and to report in full no later than 31st December 2015. 

At the discretion of the Independent Chairperson, interim reports may be submitted to the Minister for Education and Skills on each of the individual modules.