Written answers

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Third Level Education

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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190. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated loss in funding for higher education institutions, research funding through institutions and loss in income from student accommodation likely in 2020 and 2021 for universities, institutes of technology, further education colleges and English language schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10649/20]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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As part of the collaborative response to this pandemic with key tertiary education stakeholders, the Department has established working groups composed of experts to assess and respond to the impacts of Covid 19 across the Sector. These working groups members are reviewing immediate operations, medium term contingency planning and the review of specific and acute needs within Tertiary Education as well as the English Language Education sector. This process continues to facilitate the provision of key information from stakeholders, that will inform immediate and medium term actions to respond to the rapidly changing circumstances.

Mitigating the impact for Higher Education Providers and safeguarding that capacity against the backdrop of the broader economic crisis is a priority. By ensuring that core provision is maintained and in particular by assessing the level of financial vulnerability that may threaten the viability of any specific institution, the Department, the HEA and representative bodies can work together to respond to this crisis.

As part of the assessment of the financial impact on the HE sector, significant work has been undertaken by the stakeholder group chaired by the Higher Education Authority in consultation with the IUA and other representative bodies to collect information on the increased costs and projected income losses advised by HEIs arising from the crisis, based on an agreed set of assumptions.

In order to mitigate the risk for the viability of individual institutions, my Department is engaging closely with the HEA to provide specific and granular institutional-level detail essential to assess the risk of institutional failure as a means to safeguard future recovery for the sector as a whole. Following consultation with higher education providers and representative bodies, the HEA has now completed a template of required detail and has submitted this very recently to my Department. My officials will now consider and analyse the data provided.

Further Education and Training Institutes are funded from the Exchequer and National Training Fund and do not have private income from sources such as student accommodation, therefore a significant loss of income is not estimated within this sector.

Furthermore my Department has met with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to discuss the potential impact of COVID on the Tertiary Education Sector and the issue has also been highlighted at Government.

The Tertiary Education sector is a key element of the economy’s economic and social infrastructure which also has a crucial role in supporting economic and social recovery. The provision of additional financial support to support Tertiary Education to ensure that it can contribute fully to economic recovery and to meeting priority skill needs will be examined in the context of overall expenditure management and budgetary policy in the forthcoming period and also in light of the future Programme for Government priorities and commitments.

Responsibility for national Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) policy and for the primary competitive funding streams for public investment in research in higher education research resides with the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI). I understand that there is continuing positive engagement between all of the key research funding bodies and the representative bodies for the Higher Education sector. Consistent with similar approaches being adopted by the EU and many other international funders, flexibility is being offered in terms of considering proposals to reallocate costs within project awards, the provision of extensions for those directly impacted in terms of access to labs at this time and the possibility to review work packages within individual awards. The research funding bodies have published FAQ documents linked to the specifics of their own programmes, which provide further detail on the flexibility that they will offer to grant holders at this time. Furthermore, steps being taken under the Government’s Roadmap for Re-opening Society and Business should play an important role in reversing the business disruption experienced in research activities.

It is difficult to predict the demand for student accommodation for the next academic year, and therefore difficult to predict the loss of income from student accommodation which may be faced by third level institutions. Much depends on unfolding events such as all available national and international public health advice, particularly in respect of the extent to which students will be physically present in their institutions. My Department will continue to monitor the situation closely and any loss of income from student accommodation will form part of the overall financial context in which the provision of additional financial support to the third-level education system will be examined.

The vast majority of provision in the English language education (ELE) sector is undertaken by private companies and my Department would not have figures available for ELE schools. However officials are actively engaging with ELE providers and representatives through the Covid Response Working Group to identify and mitigate issues which have arisen as a result of the pandemic.

My Department will continue to engage actively with all key stakeholders to ensure the innovation and sustainable operation of the tertiary education system is safeguarded in light of its importance for the recovery of the economy overall.


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