Students will be forced to pay €2,500 registration fees
STUDENTS will be forced to pay €2,500 in college registration fees -- a 66pc increase on present levels -- under charges expected to be agreed at a cabinet Budget meeting today.
This is an increase of €1,000 on the current €1,500 fee.
The Irish Independent has learnt that the massive increase -- though less than a €3,000 fee that was on the table -- will be rubber-stamped by ministers.
Also on the cards is a €500 charge for students taking one-, two- and three-year Post Leaving Certificate courses.
The registration charge hike will come as a huge blow to parents and students already struggling under the weight of pay cuts and other Budget measures and will affect about 70,000 undergraduates.
A further 65,000 who are on higher education grants will be exempt as will postgraduates who do not pay the charge.
Grants holders are drawn from lower income, farming and the self-employed categories.
To qualify for a full grant of €3,250, a student would need to come from a family with an annual 'reckonable' income of less than €41,110. The money is used for non-teaching purposes on areas such as registration, exams, and student services such as careers advice.
The initial proposal of an increase to €3,000 was strongly opposed by the Green Party, which argued for a lower figure of €2,000. Sources said last night that the Greens would reluctantly accept the €2,500 if other promises in the renewed programme to protect educational services were honoured.
Last year, the Greens successfully fought off a plan by the then Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe for a graduate contribution towards their education.
Its education spokesman Paul Gogarty conceded last night that some increase in the registration charge was inevitable, but stressed that the party would not accept tuition fees by the back door. Nor would it accept a "slash and burn" approach to education.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen denied there were tensions within the Coalition over the Green Party's demands to protect education funding and class sizes.
Mr Cowen admitted that third-level funding was under discussion ahead of the draconian Budget, but insisted there was "no tension" with Green Party ministers Eamon Ryan and John Gormley.
Meanwhile, new figures show that the real cost of educating a student varies from €8,000 for an arts undergraduate to €25,000 for the non-clinical years of a medical education. The figures include both teaching and non-teaching costs.
The increase of €1,000 in the registration charges will offset inevitable cuts in the annual grants to third-level colleges.
NUI Galway president Prof Jim Browne and UCC president Dr Michael Murphy backed proposals to increase college registration fees.
Any such increase should be accompanied by systems to support those unable to pay, said Prof Browne, who added that universities favoured a student loan system.
But political sources said this was not an option at the moment because of the huge start-up costs.
Cork Institute of Technology president Dr Brendan Murphy said that with the State clearly unable to provide the necessary funding to colleges and institutes, all funding options had to be considered. "If you are going to bring back fees, you can call it a registration charge or just straight fees or whatever," he added.
The increase is certain to inflame students who are planning a massive protest in Dublin tomorrow. Union of Students in Ireland president Gary Redmond said huge increases in the registration fee would force students to drop out of college and prevent thousands of potential students from entering college in the future.
"The recession has brought with it a lack of part-time and summer jobs for students. Many students' parents have lost their jobs or suffered reduced incomes, and are likely to be hit by further cuts in the upcoming Budget.
"It is a simple fact that students and their families will not be able to afford a registration fee hike," he added.