Friday 24 February 2017

College fees to return and student registration to rise

> Student loan deal is ruled out
> Further hike in registration charge

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

FAMILIES face the prospect of third-level fees without any government loan deal to soften the blow. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has firmly ruled out a previously mooted scheme where graduates would repay the State for their college education.

It narrows the options for funding the extra €500m a year experts say the system will need by 2020 -- meaning the return of fees is the only realistic outcome.

And it is increasingly likely that the Government will turn to parents and ask them to dip into their own savings or borrow to pay third-level fees upfront.

A further increase in the €2,000-a-year student registration fee is now virtually certain for the academic year starting in September 2012.

That charge has already risen by €500 this year.

Any government decision on more substantial reform of higher education funding will await a report being prepared for the minister.

Mr Quinn outlined his views on the state-funded student loan system in a statement to the Irish Independent.

The minister said such a scheme would take 17 years to refund itself and therefore was of "no value".

"A system that will only become self-financing over 17 years does not help Michael Noonan or Brendan Howlin in today's place," he said.

The minister also warned that it would turn into an "emigrant incentive" with graduates going abroad and staying there to avoid repayments.

Mr Quinn acknowledged that the higher education system was underfunded, adding that new ways of financing had to be explored.

It costs the State €1.3bn a year to fund higher education, but that has to rise to €1.8bn a year by 2020 if quality and rising student numbers are to be maintained.

That was the view of the Hunt report on higher education published earlier this year, which triggered the funding review being carried out by the Higher Education Authority for the minister.

A spokesperson for the minister emphasised that no decision had been made to bring back third-level fees.

State-funded student loan schemes work on the basis that graduates repay the cost of their higher education once they hit a certain salary. But they are fraught with difficulties.

Mr Quinn said a loan system sounded like a good idea until you got behind the data.

Students would not start paying it back until after their four years in college, when they got a job and rose to a point on the salary scale where they were earning enough money to make repayments.

The minister said: "The student loan system would, in my view, become an emigrant incentive. And instead of the illegals saying to Mammy, 'I can't come home for that funeral because then I won't get back into the United States', it will be 'I can't come home because then I'll have to pay my loan'."

He added that, in the US, "unlike here, if you have a mortgage and you get into difficulties and you cannot pay it back, you can give back the keys to your house to the mortgage company and walk.

"If you have a student loan, no matter which of the 50 states you live in, that loan is enforceable at a federal level. Here, you can't give back your house, but you can skip off and live in Britain or America and we couldn't enforce the student loan." He said 25pc of student loans defaulted in Australia.

The minister stressed the importance of a good education system, which he described as a "pension fund for the rest of the nation".

But he added that there was no such thing as free education.

"Part-time education students pay fees, undergraduates are now looking at paying €2,000 for a standard four-year degree. Postgraduates doing a Master's degree will pay, we'll say €5,000. There are fees."

The question was whether "we keep them rising . . . or do we find another way of financing it."

Irish Independent

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