18 November, 2019 – Ministers announce awarding of EU contract for review regarding increasing the sustainability of higher and further education provision in Ireland

The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD have today (Monday 18 November 2019) announced that a contract has been awarded by the Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS) of the European Commission for an economic review to be conducted on increasing future sustainability of higher and further education provision in Ireland and the associated assessment of future funding options for the tertiary education sector. 

Following a competitive tendering process, the SRSS has confirmed that the contract to undertake the review has been awarded to a consortium led by AARC and which also includes Indecon and LE Europe. 

Building on the Cassells Expert Group report (2016) and following on consultation with the Oireachtas committee on Education, the SRSS review will undertake an economic evaluation of the future funding options for tertiary education in Ireland. 

A key focus will be getting the right balance between higher education and other options to ensure learners have the right skills to be successful in the Future Jobs workforce. 

Minister McHugh said: “This review of our third level sector is a vital piece of work. 

“Support from the SRSS following a highly competitive selection demonstrates the value of the study, not only for Ireland but across the wider EU landscape. 

“The independent international expertise and analysis that the AARC consortium can bring to bear on this review will be extremely beneficial in informing our way forward to ensuring a more effective, efficient and sustainable higher and further education system.” 

The Minister thanked the EU Commission for their assistance to the Department in setting up the review. 

Minister Mitchell O’Connor welcomed the announcement of the contract award, “I am delighted that the procurement process for this review has been completed and a contract has been signed by the successful bidder. This review will be pivotal to the development of a new strategic approach and an integrated future funding framework for tertiary education in Ireland.” 

The awarding of the contract follows a period of close engagement with the SRSS of the European Commission, which provides tailor-made support to all EU countries for their institutional, administrative and growth-enhancing reforms. This process involved the submission of a formal application for support to the SRSS, finalisation of the terms of reference for the review and awaiting the results of the EU Commission’s procurement process to award the contract for the review.  

Following a meeting between representatives of the Department and the successful consortium following the award of the contract, it is expected that work on the review will commence shortly. Following the review process, a report will be made available to the Minister. 

In terms of investment in higher education, the Department has secured an additional allocation of €153 million for higher and further education and training in 2020.  This significant level of investment will be used to respond to demographic pressures and to underpin a range of initiatives in the higher education sector, including key enhancements for teaching and learning, as well as providing skills-enhancing opportunities for individuals, sectors and regions most vulnerable to Brexit or requiring updated skills in the world of work transformed by technology and automation.

This funding builds on progress made in previous budgets. Overall the planned 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. 


Notes to the Editor 

Key Deliverables 

The terms of reference for the review sets the key deliverables of the project as: 

       I.          A draft report on the analysis of the variance between the qualifications and skills provided by higher education and further education and training (FET)ET in Ireland and the skills’ demand of the labour market.

     II.          A final report with policy recommendations to provide a higher education and FET system that will respond to and address the Irish labour market’s demand to ensure inclusive, smart and sustainable growth.

    III.          Development of a model to test the cost implications of policy decisions regarding the funding and the design of higher education programmes and to assess the macroeconomic impacts of these policy decisions. This deliverable will include the report on the assumptions and features of the model and on the results of the background analytical work. 

The full terms of reference can be accessed at the following link: https://www.education.ie/en/The-Education-System/Higher-Education/Appendix-A-Final-Terms-of-Reference-SRSP-project.pdf 


AARC Ltd is a respected international consultancy house established to address the growing market for financial management services in the public and private sector in developed and developing nations. AARC delivers high quality technical support across a range of sectors and has extensive experience working with global institutions in supporting the reform and enhancement of public authorities worldwide.


Indecon is a leading independent economic research organisation. Since it was established in 1988, Indecon has provided exceptionally high quality and independent economic research to voluntary organisations, government departments, local authorities and other clients.

LE Europe

LE Europe is one of Europe’s leading specialist policy and economics consultancies, advising clients in both the public and private sectors on economic and financial analysis, policy development and evaluation, business strategy, and regulatory and competition policy.