Student loan scheme would cost graduates up to €40 a week
A student loan scheme is now formally on the table as an option for tackling the third-level funding crisis.
The "study now, pay later" proposal would mean no upfront fees, but graduates would repay the cost of their degree once their earnings reached a certain level.
It could result in graduates paying back, on average, between about €25-€40 a week over a 15-year period.
The prospect of student loans has already provoked much controversy, because of fears that it would become a stalking horse for higher fees, and is opposed by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
But an income-contingent student loan scheme is described as one of three "credible and feasible" options in the final report from an expert group set up to consider ways of meeting the rising cost of higher education.
Another option would be a system predominantly funded by the State, which would involve the abolition of the existing student contribution - currently €3,000 a year.
The third scenario is based on the existing funding model, with continuing upfront student contributions at €3,000 a year - and a considerable increase in what the State pays.
The expert group says higher education needs an extra €1bn a year, on top of its current funding level of €1.7bn, about €1.1bn of which is paid by the State, in direct grants and in fees for low-income students.