Provost Patrick Prendergast has warned that Ireland’s universities are in a “serious financial situation” as a result of revenue drop-offs amid the coronavirus pandemic, arguing “education shouldn’t be way down the list” when it comes to state funding priorities.
In an interview with Pat Kenny on Newstalk today, Prendergast – who said last week that Trinity stands to lose up to €120 million in revenue in the coming two years – urged the government “as a matter of urgency” to step in and offset universities’ financial losses.
In recent months, Prendergast has become increasingly impatient with a government approach to higher education he says has forced the sector to embrace commercialisation, and today he was combative. Universities, he said, are going to lose out on much of the revenue they generate, “yet we have to deliver 100 per cent of our activities under even more challenging circumstances”.
Asked about the inevitability of education being deprioritised by the government in difficult economic circumstances, Prendergast said that “education shouldn’t be way down the list. Education should be on the top of the list”.
“We’d be saying it’s just not good enough that education – third-level, secondary or primary – should be way down the list.”
In January, at a higher education debate before the general election, Prendergast said Ireland was “sitting on a timebomb” when it came to third-level funding. Today, he said the pandemic “has made the fuse a lot shorter – that’s for sure”.
He said a lack of government investment has prompted universities to “become more businesslike in how they do things”, but added: “Now that it’s challenged because of fewer international students, I do think the government does need as a matter of urgency to step in.”
“What we know one way or the other is that the need for higher education will continue, but we won’t have as much of the revenue as we’ve had in the past from international students.”
Prendergast also defended the merits of the Cassells report – the 2016 review of higher education funding that recommended additional annual funding of €600 million by 2021. “The Cassells report, I thought, was an excellent report”, he said, “but it went off into the long grass, and that’s where it still is”.