Sunday 25 September 2016

Someone must pay for third-level education

Published 06/09/2016 | 02:30

Trinity College Dublin
Trinity College Dublin

There is a contradiction about universities; the bigger and more recognised they become, the harder they are to get into. For all that, the news that Irish universities are dropping down international league tables is troubling. This country has attracted some of the world's leading companies on the grounds that we have a skilled, highly educated work force. Governments all over the world have correctly identified education as the being the gateway to the future.

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Therefore, any narrowing of that gateway, through lack of investment or support, has to be resisted at all costs.

Today, we reveal the true cost of the failure to invest in our leading third-level institutions, and the toll that cuts and staff shortages have taken. We are now in real danger of damaging our global reputation for graduate quality and research. The gravity of the situation has led to a warning from university presidents that critical decisions on how we finance higher education must be confronted urgently.

TCD provost Dr Patrick Prendergast and UCD president Prof Andrew Deeks have issued a joint call for the implementation of the Cassells report on the funding of third-level. The issue, deemed too hot to handle politically, is that somebody has to foot the bill. A rebalancing of the equation between what the State and the student can afford must be looked at. Whether this means a student loan scheme, with the establishment of a State regulator to make sure fees are kept within reason, has to be addressed.

The latest rankings show Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has plunged 20 places in a year to 98th in the QS World University Rankings 2016/17. UCD has slipped 22 places to 174th. Dr Prendergast and Prof Deeks believe our universities have fallen so far behind because successive governments have not invested sufficiently in education.

For this to occur, as student numbers are growing inexorably, can no longer be ignored.

Obama is right: we need a global deal on tax rates

European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager's ruling that Apple should pay €13bn in back taxes has opened a Pandora's box. Yesterday President Obama attempted to close it. Ms Vestager's conclusion that tax arrangements  - struck between Ireland and Apple in 1991 and 2007 - broke European rules on state aid was simplistic and ill-advised. Ms Vestager singled out this country as being delinquent for offering illegal State aid.

President Obama has suggested that the US had to move in concert with other countries on tax avoidance, as some US allies were "racing to the bottom" with their tax policies.

The key to framing a solution is not in unilaterally penalising Ireland, but in framing a response that can embrace the complexities of the global market. The conditions and causes that defined Apple's tax arrangements in Ireland in 1991 could not be more different than those that prevail today. Multinationals operate in liquid markets; trying to put tax arrangements on a solid basis requires concrete international agreement. Expecting a country like Ireland to square this circle unilaterally is absurd. Mr Obama is therefore correct to suggest that there must be transatlantic buy-in to clarify tax arrangements.

If there has been a race to the bottom, it is because America has been remiss in putting in a floor to secure a firm and agreed tax base for its corporations. It was the US that allowed its multinationals to take advantage of favourable international rates. Mr Obama signalled that the US is changing to address this. Coordination is the key to restoring certainty to tax arrangements, and the sooner this is achieved the better.

Irish Independent

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