Cap may be set on number of third level students new report warns
A NEW report commissioned by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn says there may be a need to cap student numbers in third-level education as colleges face up to serious funding cutbacks.
The sector is now reaching crisis point, warns the Higher Education Authority (HEA) report, with the situation opening the door for the introduction of college fees and increased student charges.
The study, published in today's Irish Times, also makes it clear that the quality of higher education will suffer unless extra financial backing is found for the sector.
The government is expected to consider the matter in the coming weeks where Mr Quinn will spell out the extent of the tightening budgetary problems.
Limiting numbers would see institutions given a set allocation of students with a commensurate budget.
This new scenario would in turn put increased pressure on CAO points for third level institutions. This led to the prospect of pupils being unable to attend some colleges even if they had secured sufficient points for their course.
The HEA's findings show a massive decline in funding per student since 2006 and over the past three years, the Government's support per university student fell by 18 per cent.
The reports emphasises the point that further reductions in financial support will dramatically hit the quality and reputation of education at this level in Ireland. Upwards of 160,000 students attended third level institutions here in 2010 with projections for a doubling of that number within 20 years.
With the high cost of higher education in Britain now running at up to €10,000, there is also expected to be increased demand by UK citizens to apply for courses here.
It is estimated that 6,000 Irish students attend colleges in Britain at present but that could also face a downturn because of the increased fees there, putting extra pressure on the Irish system to cope with bigger numbers.
Students here faced registration fee increases from €1,500 to €2,000 for the current year, which raising an extra €40 million for Irish colleges.
Mr Quinn has rowed back on a pre-election promise not to increase student charges because of the worsening economic situation.
A spokesman for the seven university presidents said the sustained cutbacks had created fresh doubts about the sustainability of the university sector, adding that quality of education was already being affected.