Huge hike in third-level student numbers to cost taxpayer €1bn
Published 03/03/2010 | 05:00
THE Government faces a massive €1bn bill to pay for an explosion in third-level student numbers.
The Department of Finance has been told of new projections for enrolments which are far greater than previously expected.
The revisions, prepared by the Department of Education and Science, say that numbers will rise steadily from 155,100 at present to 215,900 in 10 years and then to a peak of 268,100 a decade later.
The bigger-than-expected growth will put enormous strain on the higher education system which is already costing the taxpayers almost €1.8bn a year.
Political sources said it would inevitably put the issue of fees or a graduate contribution back on the agenda.
This will be raised in the forthcoming national strategy report on higher education,
The projections, which appeared without fanfare on the Department's website in the last few weeks, are based on a number of new pressures, including:
• Increasing births since the mid-1990s.
• The impact of recession on unemployment and demand for further and higher education.
• The competition for skills and higher-education graduates internationally as economies trade up the value chain.
The department expects that the proportion of mature students will continue to rise from its current level of 13pc to 19pc by 2016 and to 25pc by 2022. It predicts a faster growth in the number of post graduate students and undergraduates from outside the State.
It expects that 73pc of Leaving Cert students will go on to higher education.
Last night the Higher Education Authority said it agreed with the department's projections given the growth in population and increased demand in higher education.
"Some of that demand could be met to a greater extent by flexible and part-time learning. However, there are huge resource implications of such dramatic growth," a spokesperson said.
The current spending on a third-level student is around €10,500 a year.
Primary school numbers are also rising rapidly and will increase by 64,000 pupils within eight years, necessitating an additional 2,285 mainstream classrooms by then and the same number of teachers.
Second-level enrolments are climbing from 315,000 at present to a predicted record high of 373,400 by 2024/25. Further education numbers are expected to rise from their current level of 38,000.
A spokesman for Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe said he had secured sustained investment in the school building programme and was rising to the challenge of projected enrolments while at the same time providing high-quality classrooms for pupils coming on stream now.
But the INTO union said that "the only way the increased capacity will be delivered is with additional investment".
It said that teacher supply would be critical to ensuring that all pupils received a quality primary education.
"In the past the supply of trained teachers has lagged behind the pupil population, meaning many children were taught by persons with no qualifications," a spokesman said.
The INTO said the minister should review his decision to slash the intake onto graduate courses of teacher education.
The INTO also said the issue of future school patronage needed to be resolved in an open and transparent manner and it re-iterated its demand for a forum on school governance.