Friday 19 December 2014

Invest in education and reap the return

Published 17/11/2012 | 17:00

ONE of the tragedies of our age is that we are often educating our brightest and best for export to other countries which will benefit from their talents and skills.

That sad fact must be uppermost in the minds of Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and his senior officials when they consider a new report which recommends that high-earning graduates pay back some of their education costs in the future.

The scheme is the brainchild of the think-tank, the Economic and Social Research Institute, and they argue that such systems already operate successfully in other countries.

It is clear that our third-level education institutions need new funding sources. It is also a simple fact that most highly trained graduates ultimately have much higher earning-power in their future careers than others who leave education earlier.

The proposed scheme would only see the charges under a so-called 'Income Contingent Loan' kick in once the graduate earns above a certain threshold.

The taxpayer would still put the money for college costs upfront and the repayments would only later be levied against the successful graduates.

There is, of course, the accompanying danger that this could further incentivise emigration. It could further deprive the economy of much-needed skills for Ireland to innovate, develop and compete in a global economy. It could also bring the distress and heartbreak of enforced separation to more Irish families.

But our third-level education system must also have fairness both for those who participate in it and those who do not.

At any time, but most especially in this straitened economic era, it is reasonable that those who will benefit most over their entire lifetimes from third-level education should pay more.

Much will depend on the operational detail of this ESRI-backed scheme and we have yet to see these full details. It could be implemented without further adding to the queues of young people leaving this country.

For now our advice to the minister would be: proceed with caution – but proceed.

Irish Independent

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