Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science | Higher education costs and access for students to third-level education
To ask the Minister for Further and Higher Education; Research; Innovation and Science the degree to which higher education costs have increased over the past number of years; the extent to which the proportion of the national budget under that heading has varied in the past ten years; his plans to ensure continued access to third level for all students seeking to avail of third-level education; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Higher education costs encompass both costs to the higher education system in delivering provision and costs to the student in accessing higher education.
The Deputy will be aware that the period 2008 to 2015 saw a significant retrenchment in public funding to the higher education system. However, since 2016, public investment in higher education has again been increasing.
In Budget 2023, the Government took important steps that address both the increasing costs of higher education, particularly due to enrolment growth, and the historic underfunding of the sector.
€32.2 million was provided to build capacity in the system for up to an additional 4,125 students, while €40 million was secured under Funding the Future, the agreed policy and funding framework for the sector. This €40 million is the first tranche of funding to address the acknowledged core funding gap of €307 million, with the remainder to be delivered over successive budgets in tandem with agreed reform measures.
As regards the costs of higher education for students, Budget 2023 also included a range of measures to alleviate the pressures on our students, in recognition of the increased cost of living, as well as to advance implementation of the new National Access Plan.
For example, all maintenance grants have now increased, effective from January 2023. The special rate and Band 1 rate of maintenance has increased by 14% and all other maintenance grant rates have increased by 10%.
From the 2023/24 academic year, a reduction of €500 in the student contribution fee will be applied for eligible grant applicants earning between €62,000 and €100,000. This measure will benefit some 42,000 students. The threshold for the student contribution 50% grant will increase from €55,240 to €62,000.
Providing accessible, affordable education to all citizens will continue to be a core priority for me and for this Government.
The budget for further and higher education, research, innovation and science totals €3.89 billion in 2023, just under 3.9% of the total national budget. We have grown our spend significantly since forming the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (from €3.59 billion two years ago) demonstrating the Government’s commitment to helping the sector fully realise its potential in contributing to economic and societal priorities.
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