Fianna Fáil pledges new cabinet minister to tackle higher education 'crisis'
Fianna Fáil has pledged to appoint a cabinet minister for higher education as part of a broader reconfiguration of government departments.
However, party leader Micheál Martin has refused to identify which cabinet ministry he would scrap in order to facilitate a new Department of Higher Education and Research separate from the Department of Education.
Mr Martin announced the proposal for a new cabinet post yesterday as Fianna Fáil advances its plans for government if it wins the next general election.
The former education minister said there was an "undeniable funding crisis" facing higher education and called for its radical reorganisation, including a new department and a "renewed agenda" for the sector.
"I set an agenda there today in terms of trying to bring investment in higher education research central to the political debate, because it's been marginalised now for far too long, yet historically it has been the driver of our economic development and in the future will be the driver of our economic development as well as creating an inclusive and informed society," he said.
He said Fianna Fáil had not decided which cabinet ministry would be scrapped. "I am not going there yet," Mr Martin said when asked.
The Constitution allows for a maximum of 15 members of cabinet, including the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.
Mr Martin did, however, identify issues with the establishment of the Departments of Rural Affairs and Children "because of the absence of a proper thought-through proposal".
He added: "So we're looking at the broader make-up of government because the climate change agenda is there as well and it's all over the place in different government departments at the moment.
"So when I say reconfiguration, we must make sure the shape of government into the future matches the challenges facing Irish society into the future," he added.
Speaking at an Irish Universities Association event, Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil would maintain student fees at current levels and consider a voluntary loan system. He said he favoured greater Exchequer funding of higher education.