Written answers

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Third Level Institutions

Emer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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238. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the substantial loss in revenue that universities face as a result of the reduction in numbers of international students; his plans to provide additional financial support to universities to overcome same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11060/20]

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 specific and acute needs within Tertiary Education including the financial impacts and challenges for International Education.  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 minimise the risk for the viability of individual institutions, my Department is now engaging closely with the HEA and representative bodies 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.  

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 Higher Education sector is a key element of the economy’s economic and social infrastructure which also has a crucial role in recovery in supporting economic and social recovery.  The provision of additional financial support to support the entire Tertiary Education sector 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. 

Against the backdrop of the projected impact of Covid19 on the financial position of the higher education system, it should also be noted that a significant programme of investment into higher education is continuing in 2020, amounting to additional public investment estimated at €101.8m following on from additional public investment in 2019 of €99.7m – a cumulative increase over the past two years in excess of €200m.

In terms of International Education specifically, in light of current public health circumstances, it is expected that there will be a worldwide reduction in the number of students availing of an international education experience during the next academic year, but the level of this reduction in Ireland will depend on unfolding events such as all available national and international public health advice, particularly in respect of international travel for programmes where a physical presence is needed.    

My Department chairs the High Level Group on International Education, the membership of which is comprised of all relevant stakeholders, including the representative bodies of our higher education institutions. This group is working collaboratively to ensure an appropriate structure for and implementation of relevant and effective measures to mitigate the impact on this valuable economic sector.   

Ireland has been a world leader in supporting international students who were studying in Ireland when the COVID 19 pandemic arrived on our shores. The level of support for our International Students will enhance Ireland’s reputation as a trusted international partner that looks after students who choose to study here.

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

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