No fees but student charges will soar
College registration costs facing huge increase in Budget
COLLEGE registration fees are expected to rise substantially again next year, despite the Green Party's commitment on third-level fees in the coalition deal with Fianna Fail.
The current maximum registration fee of €1,500 is being considered for a further hike in the December Budget.
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe still believes students will have to pay fees at some point in the future when the economy improves.
But the new Programme for Government shuts down Mr O'Keeffe's proposals to bring in a new form of student contribution.
But it doesn't include the registration fee, which will continue to be reviewed on an annual basis.
The maximum amount of registration fee is set by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in the Budget.
Last October's Budget allowed for an increase in the student registration charge from €900 to €1,500 in colleges for the 2009/2010 academic year.
The registration fee charged by each college is then set in consultation with the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education.
Whenever the Government allows the fee to be increased, most colleges follow suit immediately.
The registration fee is charged for services provided to students, so it's not the same as college fees.
Environment Minister John Gormley claimed yesterday the registration fees are a matter for the universities to decide.
He said his party will ensure there is no reintroduction of fees. But he said he didn't know if the registration fees would increase. "You're going to have to address those questions to the heads of the universities themselves," he said on RTE's 'This Week'.
Fine Gael said the big loser from the new coalition deal was the higher education sector as there would be no funds available and the current system is unsustainable.
Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes said Mr O'Keeffe was "ditched and dumped" in the Programme for Government negotiations.
"The Minister for Education now sits at the cabinet table with a hatchet in his back from Mr Gormley," he said.
Mr Hayes said the Education Minister's position must be called into question.
"I now predict the student registration scheme will be hiked," he said.
But Mr O'Keeffe's spokesman defended the minister's position, saying the debate he initiated was comprehensive.
"He said that any new form of student contribution must be 'family-proofed' so that students and families wouldn't be unfairly burdened in the context of the budget measures.
"It has become clear that, as families face mounting job losses and sharply declining incomes and living standards, the introduction of a student contribution in whatever form would neither be affordable or fair at this time," the spokesman said.
Despite the premature abandonment of his proposals, the minister is still going to ask the higher education strategy group to consider the report on the third-level student contribution in the context of the longer-term needs of the sector.
"The minister continues to hold the view that, at some point in the future and when economic conditions improve, students will have to support the development of our higher- education sector through a contribution of one kind or another," a spokesman said. Contrary to reports at the weekend, the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools will remain at 28-to-one and won't be restored to 27-to-one on foot of the Greens' deal.
Five hundred extra teachers will be hired and allocated to schools in greatest need, but this won't restore the PRT to the 27 figure which was in place before last year.