State third level funding per student is half what it was ten years ago, according to the body representing Ireland's seven universities.

In a pre-budget submission, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) has called for a significant increase in core funding from the State, as well as capital investment of more than €5bn over the next 12 years.

In its six-page submission, the IUA details what it calls the "calamitous" fall in State funding for the sector.

It said that in 2008 the State spent an average of €8,720 per student, but by last year that had fallen to €4,397.

Pointing to the decline of Irish universities in international rankings, the IUA said the next budget must "urgently address" underlying quality issues arising from a decade of underfunding.

The association said the budget must also build capacity to enable the sector to cater for the significant growth in student numbers.

The universities have called for a €130m increase in day-to-day funding for next year and for €104 million in 2019 for capital upgrades.

The universities said the latter sum is required to address what it said were critical upgrades of essential equipment and infrastructure.

It said a legacy of a decade-long neglect of essential repair and maintenance had resulted in "a catalogue of 'red-letter' health and safety-related issues".

The IUA also called for greater freedom for the sector when it came to hiring and managing staff.

In its submission, it complained that "rigid centrally controlled measures" introduced during the recession had stifled the capacity of the universities to respond flexibly to the needs of the economy and the workforce and to compete effectively in "the international higher education market".

It said universities would deliver best for the country if they were given the capacity to manage their own affairs.

IUA Director General Jim Miley said the organisation was calling on politicians across the Oireachtas to "stop kicking the can down the road" when it came to coming up with a plan for the funding of third level.

A failure to address the problem would, he said, damage students' prospects, and threaten the future competitiveness of the economy.

In a statement, the Department of Education and Skills said €100m more is being invested in Higher Education than two years ago and a "significant programme" of investment has begun.

More than €2bn has also been committed under the National Development plan in additional capital funding, which will also allow spaces for 2,100 full-time students in 2018.

It added that "all decisions in relation to the measures introduced as part of Budget 2019 will be considered as part of the normal budgetary process".