Minister refuses to rule out increase in €2,000 college fee
STUDENTS could be facing a rise in their €2,000 college registration fees for the second year in a row after Education Minister Ruairi Quinn refused to rule it out yesterday.
Mr Quinn promised before the general election last February that there would be no rise in fees "either by front door or back door".
But yesterday, he refused to rule out an increase in college registration fees or a cap on the numbers going to college in the Budget in three weeks' time.
As an estimated 20,000 students who took part in yesterday's march through the capital to voice their anger over possible increases to college fees and cuts to maintenance grants, he said the government decision had " yet to be finalised".
Last year, registration fees were increased from €1,500 to €2,000 in the Budget -- and this has not been reversed despite an election promise from Mr Quinn to do so.
Mr Quinn gave a private briefing to Labour party backbenchers yesterday about the challenges he is facing -- but gave no assurances about college fees to them either.
Labour Clare TD Michael McNamara said that a rise in fees would not help people to go to college.
"All the indications are that it's a possibility. I'm very worried by the fact that the Tanaiste and the Minister for Education haven't categorically denied that there might be a registration fee increase," he said.
Third-level institutions currently get €1.1bn per year from the State but say they need an extra €500m to cope with a 30pc increase in admissions over the next decade.
Yesterday, Mr Quinn attempted to place the blame for the potential rise in fees on the previous government -- which agreed in the IMF-EU bailout deal to get students to pay more for college over the next three years.
"This country has lost its economic sovereignty. . . we don't control either our chequebook or our policy in relation to a whole range of public expenditure," he said.
Fianna Fail TD Brendan Smith pointed out that Mr Quinn had been aware of the economic situation when he promised not to increase fees during the election campaign.
"People out there are anxious to have certainty in relation to this issue. Students who aspire to go to third level want to know what the financial position is," he said.
The issue is particularly sensitive for Labour, because it was former Education Minister Niamh Breathnach who abolished third-level fees in 1995.
The number of students going to third level rose subsequently from 100,000 in 1997 to 160,000 last year.
Mr Quinn said he was now going to consider a report on third level funding from the Higher Education Authority.
In the Dail yesterday, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin accused Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore of "cheating students" to win votes before an election.