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Universities set to run deficits of €15m as some colleges struggle with rising costs

Higher Education Authority officials set to visit TU Dublin and UL amid concern over spending

Universities are projected to run combined deficits this year of about €15 million, as some colleges struggle to cope with rising costs.

About eight of the 18 publicly funded higher education institutions were in the red last year, with some of the biggest spending concerns currently focused at TU Dublin, University College Cork (UCC) and University of Limerick (UL).

All three of these institutions are the subject of close scrutiny by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) after financial issues of concern came to light over recent months.

Details of the deficits are contained in records compiled by the Higher Education Authority, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

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Colleges are facing cost pressures due to a number of factors including rising costs, delayed expenditure linked to the pandemic and increasing staff numbers on foot of rising enrolments.

While the Government maintains that sufficient funding has been made available to the higher education sector, universities argue that they are struggling due to underfunding of backdated public sector pay increases.

Other universities forecast to run deficits in the 2022/23 financial year were Trinity College Dublin, University of Galway, Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), Atlantic Technological University (ATU) and Technological University of the Shannon (TUS).

All institutions have confirmed that they have sufficient cash resources to meet their liabilities in full until the end of this year.

Projected deficits at these institutions are of less concern to the HEA as they are considered “planned” deficits and can be met by the accumulated reserves held by the respective institutions.

For example, University of Galway has a projected deficit of €14 million for last year due to delays incurring expenditure during the pandemic which were exacerbated due to a cyberattack. The University has reserves to meet the deficit.

Trinity also projected a planned operating deficit of €13 million for last year and the university has about €250 million in endowment/investment assets.

Similarly, Mary Immaculate College in Limerick has a projected deficit of €3 million for 2022/23, due to a large programme of minor works which was planned to be met from the college’s accumulated reserves.

There have been concerns over finances at DKIT, by contrast, for a number of years. HEA records state that DKIT projected cash holdings would become” tight” in August/September 2024, although sources say these pressures have since eased.

The pandemic has exacerbated some financial issues. Records, for example, show that higher education institutions reported a healthy financial performance for 2021/22, with aggregate surpluses of €68 million.

Lower costs due to delays in expenditure, particularly staff recruitment and maintenance works, were some of the main contributory factors.

However, these delays in expenditure resulted in higher costs last year as estimated deficits across all higher education institutions climbed to around €30 million.

In the meantime, the HEA is understood to be continuing its close scrutiny of TU Dublin, UCC and UL. Senior officials visited UCC last week, and are due to spend several days on the campus of TU Dublin and UL over the next fortnight.

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