A Closer Look: UL and TUD’s financial crises and their student impact

Image Credit: David Hawgood on Wikimedia Commons

Faith Holmes investigates how both the University of Limerick and Technological University Dublin have been subject to unprecedented action by the Higher Education Authority in the past month after financial crises of deficits and overspending, respectively.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has made two unprecedented moves in the past month, invoking section 64 of the HEA Act 2022, ordering reviews to be undertaken at both University College Limerick (UL) and Technological University Dublin (TUD). This is in the face of a 5M overspend on housing and another €10M budget deficit in these universities. Questions now relate to how these controversies will affect students in both UL and TUD, and how the colleges plan to address these crises. 

UL first came under fire in 2019 for their €8.3M purchase of a site formerly owned by Dunnes Stores, valued at €3M two years earlier. Millions of UL’s capital funding have been withheld. When €1.7M of this was returned in 2022, one week later, UL’s governing authority approved the purchase of twenty homes in Rhebogue, Limerick, for 10.88M, which was later increased to €11.9M without approval. Stamp duty could now increase this figure to 12.58M. This means UL paid around 630,000 for houses being sold for 230,000 in the same estate, another overspend by double the market validation. More importantly, these properties never retained planning permission to be used as student accommodation. 

This means UL paid around 630,000 for houses being sold for 230,000 in the same estate.

Meanwhile, in TUD, financial issues have come to a head since its merger, with an €8.6M deficit announced for the 2022-2023 academic year. This was attributed to drops in student enrollment of around 6% last September, which affects the funding TUD receives from the government and the profit generated by fees. This resulted in a vote of no confidence and the eventual resignation of TUD President David Fitzpatrick. 

The situation thus prompted the HEA to conduct a formal review in both colleges.

These controversies raise the issue of their impact on students in both TUD and UL. Speaking to The University Observer, TUDSU President Brian Jordan admitted that “we’re in deficit, we can’t afford this... no matter what it is, if there is a material cost, we won’t get it”. More concerningly, Jordan stated that the deficit, coupled with underfunding of higher education institutions “means that TU Dublin is looking towards increasing Postgraduate fees”, which the union is strictly against as they believe “students should not suffer from the failures of University leadership”. 

“No matter what it is, if there is a material cost, we won’t get it.”

Jordan also questions why student numbers would drop when there have been issues such as a lack of and overpriced student accommodation and resource issues for students in the university. TUDSU does, however, welcome new leadership and welcome the possibility of a “partnership approach” that is more representative of students. 

In a statement given to The University Observer, Senior Communications Manager at TUD Lisa Saputo cites a funding gap that “still remains to be closed” despite government funding and the impact of increasing costs. She states, “TU Dublin wants to assure our students we are taking the elimination of our deficit very seriously and are working on a recovery plan” - which they will share with the HEA at the end of May. 

In the case of UL, property contracts have now been twice executed for potential market validations, which begs the question of how much of this money could have been used towards other sources of viable accommodation or other resources for students. In a statement shared with The University Observer, a spokesperson for UL stated that they are “working with all stakeholders, internal and external, to chart the best way forward and to ensure the University continues to function as normal”. They reinforce that the HEA will finalise a review on Rhebogue and “general governance and culture in the University” shortly. 

The UL Student Life president was contacted for comment but has yet to respond at the time of publication. 

As both universities navigate through the review process, questions remain over funding issues in the university. UL was accused of “throwing money around like confetti” by Brian Stanley TD, the Chair of the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which UL is due to appear at on May 9th. Nevertheless, there is a significant funding gap and reports of lack of resources from students and staff alike in universities all around the country. This is evident in TUD, where deficits will potentially lead to fewer student resources, where the root cause may be issues with accommodation and resources fueled by the government and university management. 

There is a significant funding gap and reports of lack of resources from students and staff alike in universities all around the country.

One way to reverse this trend would be to overhaul the higher education sector by increasing funding and its oversight to cater to the needs of all students. The outcome of the HEA review on both TUD and UL, and UL’s appearance at the PAC, will determine how both colleges will exit these dire situations and inform the future of higher education spending and funding in universities around the country.