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Budget 2006: Announcements on Higher Education


It gives me great pleasure to join with Minister Hanafin here this morning to talk in further detail about the Government’s investment plans for higher education, as set out in the Budget on Wednesday.    As you know, we announced an investment package of €1.2 billion for the sector over the next five years.  Of this, €300 million will be allocated to a new Strategic Innovation Fund and some €900 million has been allocated to a five year capital programme for the sector.  Minister Hanafin will outline further detail of the individual projects that will now be progressed under this capital programme in a few minutes.  

For my part, I would like to briefly put these investments in the wider context.  Ireland’s economic performance has for a number of years now been attracting international attention.  We can attribute our success to a range of factors: our taxation policies; social partnership; our determination to pursue consistent policies for the creation of an attractive business environment; and, crucially, the availability of a talented, flexible and well educated pool of labour.  In respect of the latter factor, the commitment of successive Governments over many years to the development of our education system at primary, secondary and third level has proved to be extremely far-sighted. 

In looking to develop and protect Ireland’s future competitive strengths, we need to exercise similar vision now.   The announcement on Wednesday of major new investment in higher education stems from the Government’s recognition that safeguarding our future growth and prosperity requires investment now in Ireland’s knowledge, skills and innovation capacity.  

Our higher education system has become crucial to Ireland’s national development objectives.  Creativity, skills and knowledge are now our key sources of competitive advantage as we seek to position ourselves at the forefront of developed knowledge economies in the world.  To achieve success in this knowledge age, and to enjoy the social dividends that flow from that, we need to produce quality skilled graduates that can meet the high value jobs needs of the emerging sectors of the economy. 

We need to achieve new levels of performance at third level.  We especially need to develop a fourth level system of research that is benchmarked against the highest international standards.   This will provide a platform for a national system of research and innovation that will be the engine of our future growth.   In producing a supply of quality PhD graduates, it will act as a magnet for international investment here in the knowledge intensive industries.   Investing in third level and fourth level is, therefore, a major national infrastructural priority. 

Achieving the desired change is a complex and challenging task.  It is not simply about volume and capacity, although they are extremely important.  The fundamental challenge relates to quality.  What is demanded is the transformation of third level education and the creation of a new fourth level tier that places Irish research activity at the global cutting edge. 

The €300 million Strategic Innovation Fund for universities and institutes of technology is intended to drive that transformation over the next five years.   Its introduction is a landmark in the historical development of the sector in Ireland. 

A major emphasis under the Strategic Innovation Fund will be on promoting inter-institutional collaboration across the system.  Knowledge is international and intellectual capital is highly mobile in nature.  The quality of higher education in Ireland must be measured, therefore, against the highest standards across the world.  As a small country, we need to maximise the collective strengths of our higher education institutions to achieve system wide excellence, in international terms, at third level and to create a top performing fourth level sector.  The experience of the PRTLI has illustrated that world class excellence can be created within the Irish system when we identify and draw together our best available talent and expertise. 

The infrastructure developments planned under the capital envelope are an essential element of the Government’s commitment.  As you will hear from Minister Hanafin, these are  aimed at upgrading and modernising campus facilities around the country and addressing development needs in areas of national strategic importance. 

Investment in higher education will be identified as a central element of the successor National Development Plan for the period 2007 to 2013.  This represents a significant statement of its core strategic national importance.  The major impact of investments under the current NDP can be seen across key areas of national infrastructure such as roads, public transport, water and waste services, health services and social housing.  It has resulted in an unprecedented enhancement of our economic and social infrastructure.   The successor National Development Plan will seek to build on that progress in further strengthening our core infrastructure to meet the economic and social challenges ahead.  The capacity of our human capital and the role of higher education in developing that will be central.  

The Strategic Innovation Fund will enable the higher education system to achieve a new level of performance and will create a platform for effective return on the wider investments that will be made through to 2013, including investments under the ambitious National Research Plan which is shortly to be considered. 

The Government has ruled out the re-introduction of student fees.  We have recognised, however, that there is a need for increased investment in the sector and we are now delivering on that.  The period of transformation and development that lies ahead is an exciting one and a challenging one.  As Taoiseach, I am determined to see the fruits of the investment that we are now making in this strategically vital sector.   I know that Minister Hanafin shares my determination.   The social and economic benefits that can be yielded are too important to allow this opportunity to pass. 

I will now hand over to Minister Hanafin to outline these spending plans in greater detail. 

Thank you.