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Future of Higher Education in Ireland Debate

Trinity Business School, Room B132, Trinity College

28 January 2020

Good afternoon, everyone,

In my capacity as Provost of Trinity and current chair of the Irish Universities Association, I’m delighted to welcome you all to this important and timely debate on the Future of Irish Higher Education and Research.

The debate is organised by:

  • The Irish Universities Association, the IUA
  • The Union of Students in Ireland, USI
  • The Technological Higher Education Association, THEA and
  • The Royal Irish Academy, the RIA.

Collectively, the organisers represent students, universities and research institutions in Ireland. Their coming together underlines their deep, shared concern about higher education and research in Ireland.

Last Thursday USI, THEA and IUAmade a joint statement, calling for all political parties to commit to invest in higher education to prevent Ireland ‘losing ground’ against international competitors, warning that state funding per student at third level is now 40 per cent less than it was a decade ago.1

Students, academics and researchers are at one on this issue. There's a crisis; this crisis was spelled out in the Cassells Report four years ago. A number of recommendations made, which have not been acted on. We are sitting on a timebomb. And when I say ‘we’ I don’t just mean the higher education sector. I mean ‘we-the-country’. Our economic prosperity depends on an educated and talented workforce. It depends on cutting-edge research for ground-breaking innovation. As we enter a period of huge growth in the student population, our universities are being overtaken in the global rankings by institutions around the world with better public funding.

The time to act is now. We have the resources – do we have the political leadership?

Higher education funding should be an electoral priority for all political parties. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it prioritised in manifestos or debates. However, the organisers of today’s event are helping to inject the necessary urgency into the issue. I thank them.

And I thank, most warmly, the representatives of political parties here today. I know how hard-pressed you are and how many other campaign issues are needful of your attention. We welcome:

    • Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD – Fine Gael
    • Thomas Byrne TD – Fianna Fail
    • Donnchadh O’Laoghaire TD – Sinn Féin
    • Richard Boyd Barrett TD – People Before Profit
    • Senator Ivana Bacik – Labour
    • Aengus Ó Maoláin – Social Democrats, and
    • Cllr Neasa Hourigan - Green Party

To convene the debate, we welcome Shane Coleman, presenter of Newstalk’s flagship Breakfast programme, and regulator contributor to the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent. Previously political editor and business editor of the Sunday Tribune, he's the author of four best-selling books on Irish politics, and is a graduate of Trinity College, and we’re delighted to welcome him back to host this debate. Shane….