Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education Thomas Byrne TD has called on Minister Richard Bruton to provide further detail on his plans to fund third level education.

Deputy Byrne made the comments following reports that the Minister is considering increasing the National Training Fund in order to raise additional funding for third level institutions.

“There is an ongoing funding crisis for third level education following years of under-investment. The Cassells Report has highlighted that third level education will require an additional €1Bn in funding over the next decade,” explained Deputy Byrne.

“A number of funding options have been put forward by the Cassells Report which is currently being considered by the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills. There is acknowledgment at committee that the current situation simply cannot continue. Fianna Fáil has been pushing for an increase in funding.

“Whatever funding model is recommended out of our current deliberations, universities and higher education and training will inevitably require more exchequer funding. That nettle needs to be grasped. Fianna Fáil has acknowledged that central exchequer funding will inevitably have to be increased for third level. We pushed for this at the last budget and it was extremely difficult to get the Minister to accept this.

“Minister Bruton is considering increasing the National Training Fund levy by 43% in order to provide greater resources for third level. This fund is paid into by businesses right across the country and was originally intended for use to upskill employees. It’s disingenuous for the Minister to dress up the increase as 0.1% of 1% per annum.

“Increasing the National Training Fund will only raise a drop in the ocean for the third level sector and the higher education and training field. It would be a tokenistic gesture at best. It alone will not solve the third level funding crisis as some would have you believe.

“There are fears that this increase could have a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses who are already struggling to stay afloat. I believe a greater emphasis needs to be placed on working together with large businesses. These are often the greatest employers of recent graduates and are in a far stronger position to provide a meaningful contribution to help fund third level institutions.

“Ultimately, Minister Bruton needs to set out how he intends on raising an additional €1Bn in funding for third level. He has flown plenty of kites in recent months. However none of these comes close to raising the sum of money needed to keep our third level institutions competitive.

“The Education Committee has considerable work yet to do following up on proposed courses of action suggested at the Committee. We have had very little if any input or assistance from the Department of Education or the Minister.

“Our third level sector is in trouble; it needs money and needs it quickly. The exchequer is always going to have to play the lead role and the Minister needs to recognise this.”