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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Families hit on double with hikes in VHI and college fees

Barry Duggan and Katherine Donnelly

MIDDLE-income families are to be hit on the double - with college fee hikes to come on top of increases in the cost of VHI cover.

Registration fees for a student in college will rise by 50pc over the next four academic years. They will increase by €250 each September to reach €3,000 by 2015.

The revelation came as the VHI announced its third increase in just 13 months.

It means families with two children will end up paying out an extra €600 a year for health insurance.

And more rises are on the way as the Government plans to charge health insurers every time a person with cover uses an accident and emergency unit in a public hospital.

Experts estimate this change in the rules could send prices shooting up by at least 15pc, with the VHI recently warning that it may have to impose 50pc increases because of this change. Meanwhile, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn confirmed yesterday that the increase in registration fees coming into effect this September -- when it rises to €2,250 -- will be the first of four.

Mr Quinn briefly touched on the subject when addressing up to 100 students at the University of Limerick (UL).

It is the first time he has confirmed that students and their families will have to fork out more over the coming four years to receive an education at third level.

"We now have this €2,000 fee, €2,250 next (academic) year, and it is probably increasing up to €3,000," he said.

"That is kind of the downside of the story."

Mr Quinn had been expected to announce a four-year series of increases in the recent Budget but, after protests from student leaders, he kept the bad news to a minimum and announced an increase for next September only.

He had previously pledged not to increase student contributions at all if in government.

Asked yesterday how he felt about reneging on his previous promise to the Union of Students of Ireland, Mr Quinn said it still bothered him.

"With regard to breaking promises, I didn't feel great about it all. I still don't feel great about it, but I have to get on with it," he said.

He compared Irish students' registration fees to that of their English counterparts, which will be up to £9,000 (€10,800) per year from next September -- although Scottish students will continue to receive free third-level education.

Mr Quinn said 41pc of students in undergraduate courses are in receipt of grants "of one kind or another".

"They don't pay the student charges -- the fees. That is likely to remain. Whether fees are the best way of financing universities or whether some kind of loan system is, the jury is out," he said.

"My own philosophical approach to this is I don't think there should be a cash barrier at the entrance to third-level education for anybody that would prevent them for getting an education.

"I think we are going to have to return to the fact where the State funds universities because it is an investment in the economy and in education."

There are currently 139,000 full-time undergraduate students across the country and this year's fees will generate €164m for the State.

The increase of €250 to the annual charge for the next four years is expected to bring in an additional €20m annually.

It is estimated that there will be between 150,000 and 160,000 undergraduate students enrolling in third-level institutions in September 2015 when their fee will be €3,000.

Student dismay at the confirmation of the increase will be matched by disappointment among college heads who want the student contributions set at an even higher rate.

Colleges say it is a struggle to maintain quality in the face of rising student numbers and ongoing cuts in state grants.

Separately, Mr Quinn admitted the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority "haven't a clue if lecturers are doing the job for which they are being paid".

Irish Independent

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