09 October, 2019 – Minister Mitchell O’Connor announces €153 million increase in funding for Tertiary Education

Increase includes a multi-annual programme of €90 million for Technological Universities and a new initiative to promote Research Excellence

The Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (9 October 2019) announced an increase of over €153 million for tertiary education. This will provide for a wide range of measures to provide greater choice and opportunity to students, meet future skills needs, support student well-being and promote excellence in research.

This funding will provide:

  • For the launch of the Human Capital Initiative with €60 million in 2020, providing an additional 3,000 student places.
  • €19 million to address demographic pressures, accommodating a further 2,700 places.
  • A multi-annual fund of €90 million to assist the development and progression of Technological Universities (TUs).
  • Funding of €3.3 million to promote excellence in research.
  • Funding of €2 million for student mental health and wellbeing initiatives in the higher education sector.

The Minister said: “I am delighted to announce an additional €153m package in tertiary education. Overall the higher education spend has increased by 25% over the past four years. At €1.88bn, 2020 will see the highest level to date of spend on higher education in a single year.

“This targeted investment will support our institutions to address digital skills needs, to focus on upskilling, reskilling and lifelong learning. The continued investment will ensure our readiness to respond to the regional and other impacts of Brexit, as well as addressing growing demographic pressures.

"2020 will also see the launch of a major multi-annual transformation fund of €90 million for technological universities. €3.3m will be provided to promote excellence in research and €2m to establish a new annual commitment to support student mental health and wellbeing."

Human Capital Initiative

This initiative focuses on key priorities identified by Government through Future Jobs Ireland and will form a key part of the strategic response to a changing world of work and the challenges the economy will face. With a strong focus on innovation and agility, the programmes being supported will enable us to ensure that our graduates and the education system as a whole, are in a position to respond positively to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “The technological disruption transforming our workplaces at an incredible pace and fundamentally changing how we work is unprecedented. AI and automation are displacing tasks once exclusively undertaken by people, and as a result, we will unfortunately see some jobs disappear entirely over the coming years, but the digital transformation will also unlock enormous pent-up potential within our businesses, bringing with it new growth and creating new jobs, many of which don’t exist in 2019.  The HCI will help our higher education sector face this challenge, and equip our students for the future by incentivising continued reform and innovation in third level courses. It will help build on best practice nationally and internationally, and support innovation in programme design and delivery.”

Technological Universities Transformation Fund

This fund will assist TUs to deliver on national strategic priorities: broadening access to higher education, promoting quality research, and excellence in teaching and learning for our students. It will also support increased regional development and socio-economic progress with the long standing connections these institutions have in their regions with business, enterprise and local communities.

The Minister said: “Having piloted the TU legislation to a successful conclusion last year and witnessed the establishment of the State’s first TU in Technological University Dublin at the start of 2019, I consider this to be another pivotal moment in the development both of the existing TU and a number of other consortia endeavouring to attain TU status.”

Higher Education Research Excellence

The objective of the €3.3 million funding is to strengthen the international competitiveness and visibility of Ireland’s research capability.

Excellence in research emerges on the basis of international competition and collaboration, and these are increasingly important, especially in addressing today's global challenges. Ireland's research system is well regarded internationally in relation to factors such as academic freedom, a culture of open intellectual engagement and support for innovation.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor stated that, “The benefits that our higher education institutions bring to our economy are significant. They play a vital role in attracting and educating our young talent, facilitating their mobility in Europe and beyond, and in delivering talent to society. We need to ensure that in a post-Brexit world our third level institutions continue to collaborate effectively, and the funding I am providing will enhance their capacity in this regard.”

Student Mental Health & Wellbeing

Funding of €2 million is being provided for student mental health and wellbeing initiatives in the higher education sector.

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said: “While visiting all the institutions the length and breadth of the country and meeting with student representatives I have heard the same story at every meeting. That Student Counselling Services (SCS) are doing a good job but are highly stretched and under-resourced.

These services are highly valued by students but access to these services can be a challenge.  The objective of the initiative is to enhance the capacity of SCS, to reduce waiting time for students and supplementing the the funding that institutions already invest in the provision of these services to students.” 

Notes for Editors

Human Capital Initiative

This Initiative focuses on key priorities identified by Government through Future Jobs Ireland and will form a key part of the strategic response to a changing world of work and the challenges the economy will face in the period ahead. With a strong focus on innovation and agility, the programmes being supported will enable us to ensure that our graduates and the education system as a whole, are in a position to respond positively to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The primary objective of the Human Capital Initiative (HCI) is to underpin the provision of additional capacity across the Higher Education Sector to meet priority skill needs for enterprise. It represents an additional investment of €300m (€60m per annum from 2020 to 2024) from the surplus in the National Training Fund in line with recommendations contained in the independent review of the National Training Fund on the use of the surplus and the development of labour market skills.

Technological Universities Transformation Fund

The TURN group has been working since early 2019, and its report is expected to be launched shortly.

The TURN group has examined the case for a state change in higher education reform for the delivery of national strategic priorities such as are elaborated in Project Ireland 2040, the National Development Plan and Future Jobs Ireland. This is to be achieved through the connectedness, particularly at regional level, collaboration and connectivity of technological universities (TUs) and their unique delivery of programmes across the full range of the National Framework of Qualifications from apprenticeships to doctoral degrees.

The critical issues analysed by the TURN centre upon three thematic areas that have been identified as the essential building blocks for successful TU’s.

  • prioritisation of capital investment in TUs and funding for integrated multi-campus digital infrastructure;
  • investment in research capacity building in the form of developing researcher human capital, facilitating research activity and opportunities for existing academic staff and implementing a new researcher career development and employment framework, addressing infrastructural deficits and prioritising research strategies within TUs, exploiting fully the mutually supporting roles of teaching and research; and
  • expansion of institutional autonomy and support for reform through the implementation of TU-apposite career structures with the support of the Department of Education and Skills, the reform of the grant allocation model to accommodate TUs, the creation of post-designation TU funding streams and the creation of a borrowing framework for TUs. 

Progress in relation to these priority themes can only be achieved through a structured, system-wide, relevant and dynamic process that will ensure value for money, underpinned by a robust and evidence-based set of monitoring and evaluation arrangements.

TU Dublin was established on 1 January 2019 and is the largest Higher Education Institution in the State with over 28,000 students.

TU development consortia currently include:

-        The MTU consortium comprising Cork IT and IT Tralee. Their application was submitted in February 2019. Minister McHugh decided to postpone the granting of the application to the first quarter of 2020 subject to compliance by the consortium with specified conditions to achieve the required eligibility criteria under the Technological Universities Act 2018. 

-        The TUSEI consortium, comprising IT Carlow and Waterford IT, is developing an application which it is expected will be submitted in the coming months. 

-        The Connaught Ulster Alliance consortium, comprising Galway-Mayo IT, Letterkenny IT and IT Sligo, is in the earlier stages of developing its proposals with a view to submitting an application in the course of the 2020/21 academic year.

In addition, Athlone IT and Limerick IT have applied for landscape funding for proposals earlier this year to initiate a TU development consortium. The application under the 2019 HEA call for higher education landscape restructuring submissions would see the two institutions coming together to jointly form a consortium with a view to making an application for designation under the Technological Universities Act 2018.

To date the Exchequer has provided €19.22 million to consortia of Institutes of Technology and to TU Dublin for the development and progression of TU proposals. Funding in 2018 amounted to €9.2m in for TU development. Funding allocations in relation to TUs and other landscape proposals under the 2019 HEA landscape restructuring funding call will shortly be issued by Minister Mitchell O’Connor totalling €14m. The majority of funding will again be directed at TU development and progression. Other landscape projects such as North-South strategic alliances, the completion of the incorporation of St. Angela’s College Sligo into NUI Galway, and regional cluster projects in support of regional development objectives of Project Ireland 2040 will be funded in 2019 and continue to be funded by Government going forward.

Higher Education Research Excellence

This competitive initiative is aimed at encouraging our third level institutions to develop excellence strategies in research performance through for example:-          

  • intensified collaboration with research intensive universities internationally      
  • new approaches under the new EU research funding programme Horizon Europe and which would be expected to deliver the greatest reach and benefit
  • raising the profile of Irish research capabilities in other EU Member States
  • building the expertise and capacity of Irish researchers in successfully accessing international research funding

Experience from other European countries, and further afield, shows that higher education institutions perform best when they collaborate with other leading institutions internationally, but also compete with one another at home.

Research-intensive institutions connect their education, research and innovation activities -

  • education - shaping future generations of society’s most talented, creative and analytical minds
  • research - creating exciting and ground-breaking knowledge, which opens up new understanding and is the ultimate source of innovation in society
  • innovation - prolific sources of technological, economic and societal entrepreneurship

Details of the scheme will be finalised by my Department in the coming weeks, following which a competitive call will be issued to the third level sector by the Higher Education Authority. 

Student Mental Health & Wellbeing

Serious mental health difficulties emerge for young people between the ages of 18-25, with 75% of adults with mental illness first experiencing symptoms before the age of 25. In the academic year 2017/18, upwards of 12,000 students availed of Student Counselling Services (SCS) in higher education institutions. On that basis these services are by far the largest national provider of psychologically based mental health services to this age group.

The Youth Mental Health Task Force recommended in 2017 that provision of counselling and mental health supports in higher education institutions should be enhanced. Mental health and psychological services currently provided by SCS in higher education institutions are highly valued by students, but access to these services can be a challenge.

The objective of the initiative is to enhance the capacity of SCS, for example by providing funding for the recruitment of additional counsellors, and to reduce waiting time for students by supplementing the funding that institutions already invest in the provision of services to students. This investment will help institutions progress towards the achievement of international best practice ratios of student counsellors to students.

Each higher education institution will benefit from this funding, which will enable them to enhance the range of services they are currently offering to their students.

All Institutions are required to have in place appropriate student services, which includes counselling services and health promotion.

As part of their services to students, each institution considers what is most appropriate in the particular context of their own institution and their student’s needs, while also considering best practice models such as peer-led support programmes and seeking to liaise with external services to the fullest extent possible.