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After weeks of dismal economic news out of Ireland this autumn, the Irish government released its National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 on 23 November. The 140-page document openly acknowledges that the plan will “negatively affect the living standards of citizens in the short-term” through the effort to save EUR 15 billion over the next four years. Indeed, the government aims to realise 40% (or EUR 6 billion) of this savings in 2011 alone, in a bold effort to “demonstrate the seriousness of its intent”. In all, two-thirds of the total EUR 15 billion savings is designed to be achieved through spending reductions, while the other one-third will come through tax and revenue-raising measures. How will higher education fare in this scenario? The answer appears to be mixed.
On the one hand, public spending (including that on higher education) must be reduced, yet the government indicates specifically that in its plan “investment in education, innovation, and enterprise has been maintained”. This is a direct nod to the benefits that Ireland has derived from these areas during Ireland’s boom years, as well as an endorsement of the notion that country’s recovery will turn on its ability to compete in the global economy. For universities, this means that the government will continue to invest in efforts to build on connections between enterprise and “third level institutions” (higher education). The commitment to implement Ireland’s international education strategy (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, September 2010) is also expressly reinforced. At the same time, universities will be directly affected by the government’s plan to reduce the expenditures going to public service pay by EUR 1.2 billion, the across-the-board reduction of public service staff numbers by 8%, and the call to increase the student contribution to the costs of higher education.
The boom years in Ireland brought remarkable developments for both the country generally and the higher education sector specifically, particularly in terms of orientations toward both innovation and internationalisation. The next several years look certain to test the resilience of the Irish higher education community in these areas and beyond.
Irish National Recovery Plan 2011-2014