Tuesday 16 July 2019

New thinking on funding for fairer tuition fees is needed, says DCU chief

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A university president has called for a radical new approach to third-level funding that would limit the number of students paid for by the State, while others, who could afford it, would be liable for full fees.

Professor Brian MacCraith of Dublin City University (DCU) said there were "people who can afford to go to university, in the same way as they can afford to pay for private schools".

He floated the idea as he expressed impatience at the lack of action on tackling the third-level funding issue and said it was time to explore new approaches to protect the quality of education.

Mr MacCraith also called for universities to be removed from some of the shackles of State control and to be allowed "operate in a more entrepreneurial fashion" like a "semi-state" company.

He referred to the resignation of Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) who, he said, "felt very constrained to advance anything and did the noble thing and walked away".

On funding, Prof MacCraith said two years after the publication of the Cassells report on third level funding, there was "no sign of it being implemented". He added: "I don't believe it is going to happen."

The Cassells Report called for an extra €600m a year for the system, either through significantly more State funding or higher fees, linked to a student loan system, which have no political support.

Speaking at the Kennedy Summer School, in New Ross, Co Wexford, Prof MacCraith said with investment per student less than half of that it was a decade ago "something has to be done".

He likened it to a patient presenting with a temperature of 104 degrees who, instead of being treated, was told it would take six more months of tests to deal with the problem.

Prof MacCraith said he understood that the Government faced the dilemma of competing spending demands, but universities had responsibilities to deliver a quality education to students and there was a direct correlation between quality and the level of investment per student.

After a decade of cuts, the Government has started to increase funding for higher education, but Prof MacCraith said there was no change in investment per individual student.

He noted that there would be an additional 40,000 students in higher education by 2030.

He said his ideas on new funding models were not fully worked out, but he suggested that, one way would start with agreement - based on international benchmarks - on the unit cost per student of delivering a high quality education.

Based on that, the Exchequer would cover the cost of whatever number of students was deemed appropriate, "with first rights given to those who were most economically disadvantaged, and, other people who could afford to pay the economic cost, would pay".

Irish Independent

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