Sunday 25 September 2016

College fees of €5,000 'could help funds crisis'

Published 07/09/2016 | 02:30

Professor Vincent Cunnane, the new president of Limerick Institute of Technology, watches the bricks topple as he plays a game of Jenga with first-year LIT student Patrick O’Brien, from Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Photo: Sean Curtin/True Media
Professor Vincent Cunnane, the new president of Limerick Institute of Technology, watches the bricks topple as he plays a game of Jenga with first-year LIT student Patrick O’Brien, from Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Photo: Sean Curtin/True Media

A university president called for fees of up to €5,000 a year, linked to a student loan system, to help solve the crisis in third-level funding.

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It would mean a major hike in the current €3,000 a year student contribution - but a "study now, pay later" approach would mean families would not face up-front costs.

NUI Galway president Professor Jim Browne. Photo: Frank McGrath
NUI Galway president Professor Jim Browne. Photo: Frank McGrath

NUI Galway president Professor Jim Browne was responding to the widespread decline of Irish universities in the latest global league table. NUI Galway was alone in Ireland as it rose in the QS 2016/17 rankings.

The QS rankings triggered calls from the university sector and employers for more funding, starting in this Budget.

Prof Browne told RTÉ radio that both society and the individual gained from third-level education, so he believed the costs should be shared.

He said he was in favour of a "reasonable fee supported by an income-contingent loan system so nobody was charged at the point of entry".

Prof Browne, pictured right, said that while the £9,000 a year charged in some UK universities was "outrageous", his personal opinion was that €4,500-€5,000 a year would be reasonable, with the State paying about €6,000-€7,000.

The employers' group Ibec added its voice to demands for implementation of a clear funding strategy for the sector.

Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy said the continuing decline of Irish universities in the global rankings would damage our reputation abroad.

He noted that 12 years ago, international think-tank the OECD warned against predominantly relying on State funding. "It suggested the introduction of an income-contingent student loan system. The basis for this recommendation has not changed," he said.

An expert group chaired by Peter Cassells says the higher education system will need an extra €600m a year by 2021.

The Cassells report suggested a range of funding models, but one option includes students sharing the costs through an income-contingent loan scheme.

The Government has referred the report to the Oireachtas education committee. But in the meantime, there is a growing clamour for a significant Budget gesture.

Education Minister Richard Bruton yesterday said that "we don't have the option of doing nothing about the long-term funding of higher education".

Irish Independent

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