Students will pay €500 more after fees U-turn
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn performed a U-turn on a key election promise last night by admitting he wouldn't reverse a €500 hike in college registration fees.
And the minister refused to rule out the introduction of third-level fees and further student charges -- another pre-election pledge.
The Labour Party minister admitted the student registration charge will rise to €2,000 per student in September -- despite promising before the general election that he would not support the €500 increase.
Mr Quinn refused to be drawn on whether there would be a re-introduction of fees to offset a funding crisis in the third-level sector.
The Government is now expected to make a decision on that by the end of the year.
If fees, loans or new charges are brought in, they would kick in from the September 2012 academic year.
The issue is set to be another bone of contention between the coalition partners.
The minister said the issue of finance at third level would have to be addressed, but as yet no proposals were being considered.
"The matter hasn't been discussed. There is a resource issue clearly, just on the sheer numbers," Mr Quinn said.
The minister said the Government would have to look at ways to finance the growing demand in the education sector.
But he added: "I have not ruled anything in or out."
Mr Quinn signed a Union of Students in Ireland pledge during the election campaign that Labour would not reintroduce third-level fees in government, or support an increase in the Student Services Charge.
But the minister said the Government had to accept Budget 2011, under which the registration fee would increase from €1,500 to €2,000.
On the wider issue of a possible re-introduction of fees, Fine Gael proposed a student loans scheme as its official election policy but the Labour Party promised no fees at all.
The question was fudged when the parties went into government together.
Mr Quinn has commissioned a report on funding for the education sector and is not ruling out the introduction of fees and new student charges.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is expected to come back to the minister by the end of the year. A decision will likely be made in time for Budget 2012 at the start of December.
A coalition source said the minister was not going to pre-empt what the HEA report would recommend.
Mr Quinn also announced the CAO points system would be subject to a major overhaul.
He said this review would be part of a programme of education reform that also includes a recasting of both the Junior and Leaving Certificate exams which would take in the region of six years to roll out.
Mr Quinn was speaking after addressing the Royal Irish Academy on the Hunt Report on higher education.
He also told the forum there was a need to build 20 post-primary schools over the next five years, which would cost in the region of €500m.
Each of the schools would cater for 1,000 students, he said.