Ireland's seven universities are facing a major funding crisis due to the decimation of revenue streams caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to documents seen by RTÉ's This Week, factors such as the collapse of international student fee income, rental of on-campus accommodation and commercial revenues will cost the universities €374m in the 2020 and 2021 financial years.
The details of the financial crisis facing the sector are contained in a document sent from the Irish Universities Association to Government and other stakeholders in the education sector this weekend.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 Irish universities have played a leading role in the national response. They are providing testing facilities, contact tracing and expertise in virus research.
But the pandemic has created a financial crisis in the sector with the cumulative impact of Covid-19 amounting to a net loss of €374m.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) says that a number of revenue sources have been decimated by Covid-19. It is estimated that the loss in fee income from international students will be €181m.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
Director General of the IUA Jim Miley said there is concern that travel restrictions in countries like India and China could cause a huge drop in international students. It is believed that as many as 80% of first year international students may be unable to attend Irish universities in September.
The universities will try to fill the places from domestic students although it is recognised that this may be a difficult challenge.
The document outlines that the "average fee income from international students is a multiple of that of domestic students meaning that international student fee income has been cross-subsidising other students."
"One-for-one replacement of international students by domestic students will, therefore, leave a substantial shortfall in fees income," it adds.
A €34m decline in revenue from rental of on-campus accommodation, especially during the summer months, has also been predicted.
A further drop of €86m in commercial revenues is expected. This arises from the prolonged closure of key tourism and event facilities such as the Book of Kells in Trinity College Dublin and The Helix venue in DCU. The major disruption of research activities is expected to cost €37m.
The IUA has asked the Government for supports including a new €230m Stability Fund to help students and their families in the aftermath of the crisis. This fund would focus on enhanced access programmes, improved SUSI grant and well-being supports.
The fund should also be used for extra Irish student places to replace the expected drop in international students and the related fees loss. It also includes a dedicated fund to support a major international marketing campaign to attract international students.
The IUA says the international student business is worth almost €400m annually in export earnings to the Irish economy.
A €20m international student recruitment fund has been sought to drive the recovery of the international student business with €10m to go to an 'Education in Ireland' promotion campaign and the remaining €10m to universities and other third level colleges for their individual recruitment campaigns.
The 'Partners in the recovery: Enabling Irish Universities to Support Re-booting Ireland’ document proposes the establishment of a Transformation Fund to support an enhanced skills development programme.
The IUA also said that in order for Ireland to "maintain our edge as a competitive FDI destination, we propose a Research and Innovation Fund with at least €80m per year extra to support the future talent and innovation pipeline".
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the projected financial impact of Covid-19 on the higher and tertiary education system is being assessed by the department as part of its ongoing analysis of the impact of the pandemic on the education sector overall.
The provision of additional financial support to aid the third level sector "to ensure that it can contribute fully to economic recovery will be examined in the context of overall expenditure management and budgetary policy in light of the major impacts of Covid-19 on economic activity and employment across all sectors of the economy".