A grant of I£ 7.6 million (ECU 10 million) is being made available under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area (EEA) for investment in new buildings, equipment and extension facilities at Universities and Technical Colleges in Ireland. These investments are designed to ensure the necessary output of skills required for the Irish economy's growth sectors. The European Investment Bank, the European Union's long-term financing institution, is acting as agent for the EEA in the administration of the grant.

The projects being supported form part of a long-term development programme for the Irish higher education and vocational training sectors and will assist institutes to develop close links with industry, either through research assignments, continued training or by in-company training programmes. The facilities will provide local and national industries with highly qualified technicians and graduates, help develop the quality and of industrial and business training, and improve capacity to assist industry through active R&D.

The funds are for works at: University College Dublin for new Microcomputer and Language centres; University College Cork for Food Business and Marketing courses; University College Galway for a new Environmental R&D centre; Trinity College Dublin for Pharmaceutical Sciences laboratories and Electronic and Computer Engineering facilities; University of Limerick for the new Aeronautical and Environmental laboratories; Dublin City University for an administration and classroom block; National College of Art and Design for the School of Design for Industry; Regional Technical College (RTC) Athlone for the Hotel and Catering Department; RTC Dundalk for new Hotel and Catering Training and Information Technology facilities, and a new library; RTC Letterkenny for lecture and language training areas, computer workshops and a new library; RTC Limerick for the new campus development plan; RTC Sligo for administrative and service facilities; and Dublin Institute of Technology's College of Catering.

The EEA Financial Mechanism originally represented the contribution of six of the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) members towards reducing economic and social disparities in the European Union. With the accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden to the European Union, the EEA members are currently Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The financial mechanism includes provision for ECU 1 500 million in loans from the EIB with interest rate rebates drawn from the Mechanism, and ECU 500 million in grants which are appraised and administered by the EIB. The funds are for investment in the island of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and parts of Spain, with priority given to protection of the environment, transport, and education and training.

The EIB was set up in 1958 to finance capital investment furthering EU policy objectives, in particular regional development; trans-European networks in transport, telecommunications and energy; the international competitiveness and integration of European industry, the activities of small and medium-sized enterprises; environmental protection and improvement; and security of energy supplies. It also provides within certain limits, finance outside the EU within the framework of the EU's co-operation policy with other countries. Owned by the Member States, the EIB raises its funds on capital markets where its bond issues have consistently received an excellent credit rating (AAA).The Financial Mechanism was created in 1994 under the Agreement on the European Economic Area which, in addition to the European Union Member States, also included six countries at that time members of EFTA - Austria, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Sweden. The EFTA/EEA Members gave the EIB the mandate to execute the Financial Mechanism, under guidelines and with the approval of the Financial Mechanism Committee. This enabled the EIB for the first time to manage grant finance for investment projects in the European Union.

The conversion rates used by the EIB for statistical purposes during the current quarter are those obtaining on 31/03/1997 , when 1 ECU  = 0.71 GBP, 6.58 FRF , 1.16 USD,0.74 IEP.