Budget 2024 delivered real terms funding increases for both of the Goverment’s education departments when compared with Budget 2023, but real terms decreases when compared with the Mid-Year Expenditure Report 2023.
When compared with Budget 2023, the Department of Education saw an increase in total voted expenditure from €9.625 billion to €10.467 billion, an increase of 8.7 per cent that outstrips the predicted rate of inflation throughout 2023, which stands at 5.3 per cent, as predicted by the IMF, and 6.4 per cent as predicted by the ESRI. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science received an increase in total voted expenditure from €3.888 billion in 2023 to €4.148 billion in 2024, an increase of 6.7 per cent that also outpaces the rate of inflation.
The Department of Education and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science received current expenditure funding increases when compared with the Mid-Year Expenditure Report 2023 of 4.6 per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively, which amount to real terms cuts. In terms of capital expenditure, the Department of Education saw an increase of 9.3 per cent and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science received an increase of 4.5 per cent.
Department of Education
The €10.467 billion allocated to the Department of Education in Budget 2024 contains within it an increase in current core expenditure of €421 million, a 4.4 per cent increase from Budget 2023 that amounts to a real terms cut in current core expenditure. The Government states that the funding will “provide supports to primary and post primary schools, while investing significant resources in special education”, with key measures cited including:
Speaking after the publication of the Budget, Minister for Education Norma Foley TD stated: “The significant increased investment is the largest education budget in the history of the State and reflects the Government’s commitment to a quality inclusive school system and improved learning outcomes for every student.”
However, despite its record level of funding, the education budget has come in for sharp criticism from teachers’ unions, particularly for a failure to tackle Irish class sizes and a reduction in additional funding to meet day-to-day costs such as heating and electricity in schools. Having stood at €90 million in Budget 2023, this figure was cut to €81 million in Budget 2024.
General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation stated Budget 2024 “fails miserably” and said: “There is no getting away from the fact that Ireland’s primary school classes are the highest in the eurozone, remaining almost three pupils per classroom more than the average throughout the EU… It would have been a legitimate hope that a government with a record budget surplus would have taken decisive action. Instead of doing that, today’s no-change announcement will add to overcrowding in schools. Our politicians had a once in a lifetime chance to reach the EU class size average. They missed an open goal.”
Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science
The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science received an increase of €164 million current core expenditure in Budget 2024, a 4.3 per cent increase from Budget 2023 that fails to keep pace with Ireland’s rate of inflation.
Benefits from this level of investment, as outlined by the Government, include:
Also included in the budget was a €3,000 increase to the PhD stipend, which Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD stated is not the “end of the story” after coming in for criticism from the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation of Ireland, which stated the increase did not go far enough. An independent national review of State support published in May 2023 recommended that the stipends be increased to €25,000 per year.
“It is step one,” Harris said. “The independent report … says we need to get to €25,000. This, I think, is the largest increase in PhD stipends in many, many years. This is not the end of the story, far from it.
“I think €25,000 is where we need to get to, but I would argue that by any fair measure €3,000 in one go is a good step. I am pleased that we have been able to do it.”