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Information Notice - Classification of Universities

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The Central Statistics Office (CSO) is responsible for the official reporting of Ireland’s Government Finance Statistics (GFS) and the Excessive Deficit Procedure notification (EDP) for Ireland. This includes the reporting of official measures of government deficit and debt as required under the Stability and Growth Pact.

Part of this work requires the CSO to define the scope of the public sector in Ireland and to identify any organisations that may be considered under public control according to the relevant statistical legislation. The legally binding criteria for deciding if an organisation is part of the public sector for statistical purposes are set out in the European System of Accounts 2010 (ESA 2010) with further guidance given in the Manual on Government Deficit and Debt (MGDD 2016).  Bodies which are publicly controlled and non-market in nature according to ESA 2010 are included in the government sector for the purpose of reporting GFS and EDP data.  Bodies which are publicly controlled and market operators are not part of the government sector.

The CSO has recently reviewed the classification of the seven universities governed by the Universities Act, 1997. A summary of the findings of this review are set out below. 

The seven universities governed by the Universities Act, 1997 are:

  • Dublin City University
  • Maynooth University
  • NUI Galway
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • University College Dublin
  • University College Cork
  • University of Limerick

Up to 2013 these universities had been classified as Non Profit Institutions Serving Households (S.15), i.e. as privately controlled non-market bodies.   In 2013 the CSO reclassified the universities as market producers in S.11 (Non-Financial Corporations) following discussions with Eurostat at, and post, the 2012 EDP Dialogue Visit to Ireland   

At the EDP Dialogue Visit in January 2017, Eurostat and the CSO revisited the assessment of the control of universities.  An action point was set for the CSO to review this classification under ESA 2010. This review involved an assessment of whether the universities were (a) autonomous institutions (institutional units), (b) under public or private control, and (c) market or non-market.

The review subsequently conducted by the CSO comprised an assessment of the provisions of the Universities Act, 1997 and also more recent developments including: the 2012 Code of Governance for Irish Universities; the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030; and general public sector pay legislation according to the control criteria of ESA 2010. 

Upon completing the review the CSO have concluded that the provisions of the Universities Act around the legal status of the universities, their ability to take economic decisions and to make decisions about their courses of study and academic programme ensured sufficient autonomy to allow the continued classification of the universities as institutional units.   

In terms of control, the Universities Act, 1997 gives specific powers to the Minister in relation to the appointment of a Visitor and ultimate dismissal of the governing body of a university in certain circumstances. Other recent developments including the application of Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest legislation to the universities as well as the development and implementation of the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 have further formalised the relationship between universities and government authorities.  On this basis, therefore, the CSO concluded that the seven universities governed by the Universities Act, 1997 should be considered to be under public control. 

An analysis of recent financial data confirmed the continued market status of the universities.

The CSO assessment concluded that the seven universities governed by the Universities Act, 1997 should be classified as publicly controlled market producers.  This means that the stock of liabilities of the universities is included in the contingent liabilities of government, but is not on the balance sheet of government and their revenue and expenditure are not counted as part of government revenue and expenditure. The CSO will monitor the market nature of the universities annually, as is the case for all publicly controlled corporations. 

Preliminary findings were notified to Eurostat in late 2017 and the CSO assessment was finalised and provided to Eurostat in early 2018.  This document, which contains the details of the CSO decision (redacted where necessary for statistical confidentiality) is available here.

During the March 2018 EDP notification process Eurostat confirmed the CSO classification decision.

Central Statistics Office

April 2018.