FG's plan to 'tax' graduates faces legal challenge
A FINE Gael-led government will face a High Court challenge if it proceeds with plans to make 40,000 students starting college in the autumn pay back part of the cost of sending them to third level.
Graduates will be faced with debts ranging from €8,000 for a business degree to €54,000 for a newly qualified dentist when they finish college, under plans for a "graduate contribution".
Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd confirmed last night that the new scheme will apply to those starting college later this year.
However, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has warned that it will take legal action if Fine Gael proceeds with its plan.
USI president Gary Redmond said the legal advice to the union was that students who applied to the CAO this year had a "legitimate expectation" that the present funding arrangements would continue.
The real cost per course varies enormously with degrees such as arts and commerce much cheaper than those requiring expensive equipment, such as medicine and dentistry.
Mr O'Dowd acknowledged that some graduates will have very high debts, but said professions such as medicine and dentistry attract high salaries and graduates in these disciplines should be able to repay what they owed.
He said Fine Gael accepted that the student service charge would increase from €1,500 to €2,000, as had been agreed by the outgoing government.
Labour has signed a petition promising to retain it at €1,500 and has campaigned against the Fine Gael plan for a graduate contribution which, it said, will lead to more emigration.
But Labour's education spokesman Ruairi Quinn told the Irish Independent this would not be a "deal breaker" in any coalition talks with Fine Gael.
The plan has also alarmed Engineers Ireland, whose director general John Power opposed what he called a "scattergun approach" to funding.
What was needed was a targeted approach where students would be incentivised to sign up for courses such as engineering that would lead to job creation, he said.
The chief executive of the Irish Dental Association, Fintan Hourihan, said a debt of €54,000 would deter a lot of students from studying dentistry.