'Student loans need cross-party consensus'
Any move to introduce a student loan scheme, linked to higher college fees, will require cross-party support, according to Education Minister Richard Bruton.
The minister said yesterday that Fine Gael was open to the idea of an income-contingent loan scheme, but "now it was clearly for everyone to discuss".
Mr Bruton acknowledged that the third-level system needed more investment "and we need to get more out of it for people who come from disadvantaged areas, but we need to find more resources."
A State-backed loan scheme is one of three options presented in a paper on future funding on higher education, drawn up by an expert group chaired by Peter Cassells, former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions (Ictu).
It would bring to an end to the current practice of paying fees up front, but student groups have raised concerns that a loan system - where graduates repay the cost of college once they hit a certain income - would facilitate stealth increases.
The current student contribution is €3,000 a year.
According to the Cassells report, higher education needs an additional €1bn a year on top of its current funding level of €1.7bn, and the question is who should pay that.
All three options set out in the report would involve increased Exchequer funding, but a student loan scheme would reduce the extra required from the State.
The Cassells report will be referred to an Oireachtas committee for discussion before any decisions are taken.
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