Irish universities contribute almost €9 billion to the Irish economy every year, according to a new report published today by the Irish Universities Association (IUA).
The report, published as part of the IUA’s Save Our Spark campaign, was conducted by independent economic research group Indecon. It is the first of its kind in Ireland, and found that Irish universities contributed €8.89 billion to the Irish economy in 2017/18, a significant return on the €1 billion invested in higher education every year.
The report also found a 50 per cent increase since 2000 in the number of students enrolled in the country’s seven universities.
In addition, the report found that university graduates generate revenue for the government at a level “significantly beyond” those with no third-level education. University graduates with an undergraduate degree have a 95 per cent probability of employment, a figure that rises to 96 per cent for graduates with a master’s degree and 97 per cent for people with a PhD.
Universities also make a major contribution to the economy through research and innovation, the report says, with a total research impact of €1.5 billion.
“Universities”, the report says, “have attracted increasing numbers of international students in recent years with more than 100 countries represented across the seven universities”. In 2017/18, there were 16,701 non-Irish students living in Ireland, resulting in an annual export income of €386 million. Of the non-Irish students, 35 per cent come from Asia, 34 per cent from America, and 21 per cent from the EU.
Ireland is the most educated country in the EU, according to the IUA’s report. Forty-six per cent of adults between 25 and 64 years old possess a third-level qualification, as opposed to the EU average of 31 per cent. Irish university graduates contribute an average of €62,000 to the Exchequer over the course of their lifetime.
In a press statement, IUA Director General Jim Miley said the report “provides a compelling case for the Government and the Oireachtas to prioritise the reform of the funding model for higher education”.
“Next Sunday”, he said, “will mark the 1,000th day since the Cassells Report, the Government-appointed Expert Group, identified the scale of the funding gap for higher education and made clear recommendations about dealing with it”.
“The Indecon Report shows that more State investment in university education isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the profitable thing to do.”
The release of the report comes as universities warn they may be forced to cap placed for Irish students due to the “intolerable strain on the already under-resourced university system”.
According to the Irish Times, IUA Director General Jim Miley said that “as numbers grow, universities are fearful that they will be put in a position where places for Irish students would have to be curtailed or replaced by higher fee-paying international students”.
Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated that there will be no further fee increases for third-level students and ruled out the possibility of the introduction of a student loan scheme.
Speaking to Irish Examiner, Varadkar said that “in terms of student contributions, I am very reluctant to see student contributions being raised”.
“I am very reluctant to go down the model of a student loan system because I see in other countries how that leaves students graduating from college with very large debts”, he said.
The Save Our Spark campaign was launched by the IUA last October, aiming to highlight the need for government investment in higher education. In a press statement at the time, Miley said: “Our universities are where the Irish spark burns brightest and the key to protecting that spark is securing better state funding. The Government simply can’t continue to ignore this crisis.”
In March, students staged a series of walkouts from campuses across the country as part of the Union of Students in Ireland’s (USI) new Fund the Future campaign.