Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD and Minister of State for Skills Niall Collins TD have announced the beginning of an ambitious new phase of capital programmes in the further and higher education sectors.
In what represents a step change for the sector, some 45% of the total allocation of €430 million will be directed to further education and training, including the expansion of skills centres and apprenticeship programmes across the country and the establishment of Further Education and Training Colleges of the Future. The funding available to the FET sector through these new programmes alone will be more than triple the total capital expenditure in the FET sector over the past four years.
In addition, the new programmes will see significant capital investment in the higher education sector, including a programme dedicated to strengthening Technological Universities.
Speaking, Minister Harris said, “this is a really exciting time for third level education. As we progress the policy for a unified tertiary system, it is vitally important we invest in infrastructure across the system. Capital investment is essential to realising our full potential and ambitions. This new phase will involve targeted capital investments of some €430 million over four years, in addition to existing grant schemes and support for projects already approved to proceed by my department.”
“The next phase of investment will position the further and higher education sectors to together cater for rising demand by offering a comprehensive range of complementary options for learners. This includes increasing numbers of school leavers seeking further and higher education places – including apprenticeships – as well as those seeking to reskill and upskill throughout their lives. Capital investment will also support an ambitious transformation agenda, realising the full potential of digital technologies and ensuring that our campuses are flexible and future-proofed.”
“We will specifically target funding to support our new Technological Universities as drivers of regional growth and development. We will also significantly step up investment in further education and training infrastructure, in order to realise the FET College of the Future as part of a more ambitious, more strategic approach to the FET estate. The Climate Action Plan provides important context to our work and climate-related considerations will form part of our assessment approach. I want to thank the Higher Education Authority and SOLAS for managing these ambitious investments in third level education, and for working with the sector and partners to ensure our learners and staff reap the benefits for years to come.”
The funds will be managed by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for the higher education sector and SOLAS for the FET sector. Both agencies will write to sectoral bodies with details of the application processes in the coming days.
The four new programmes, with a combined funding envelope of €430 million to 2025, are as follows:
- A Technological Sector Strategic Projects Fund focused on investments that provide essential additional capacity and strengthen the role of Technological Universities as drivers of regional development.
- A second round of the Higher Education Strategic Infrastructure Fund, which is open to all higher education institutions and will co-fund strategic projects to a maximum of 50%.
- A FET College of the Future Major Projects Fund, which will support projects that can help drive reform of the FET sector, including consolidation of provision in high quality facilities, integration of further education and training, realisation of centres of excellence, and unified tertiary planning.
- A Strategic Infrastructure Upgrade Fund, which will support smaller-scale investments in existing FET infrastructure, ensuring that works are progressed within the context of an overall strategic plan for the building and aligned with FET College of the Future principles.
Minister Collins said, “this new phase of capital investment will make a significant contribution to supporting the skills pipeline through the creation of additional places across a range of skills areas. The emphasis on support for balanced regional development is very welcome. We are also keen, through our investment approach, to encourage close collaboration between higher and further education providers.”
Each of the four funds has a tailored application process to reflect its specific objectives, within the context of an overall vision for the sector as set out in the National Development Plan. The Technological Sector Strategic Projects Fund and the FET College of the Future Major Projects Fund will involve a two-stage assessment process, commencing with an assessment of the strategic rationale and subsequently, if approved at this stage, moving on to development of a detailed business case.
While there are separate funding streams for higher education institutions and ETBs, collaborative proposals are strongly encouraged and this is addressed in assessment frameworks.