Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has ruled out a rise in the €3,000 student charge as part of the upcoming third-level funding reform package.
Mr Harris has already dismissed the idea of loans as a way of raising the charge by deferring the financial pain through a ‘study-now, pay later’ approach.
Yesterday, the minister repeated his opposition to student loans, describing them as a “failed policy” and also ruled out an increase in the charge itself.
Far from increasing the €3,000 charge as part of the funding solution, Mr Harris is under pressure from student leaders to reduce it, as, since Brexit, Ireland has the highest third-level fees in the EU.
Mr Harris is preparing to bring proposals to Cabinet soon on a long-promised package to put funding of higher education on a sustainable footing.
The minister is considering an analysis from the EU, arising from the funding options in the 2016 Cassells Report, which set out three choices, all of which would require more State investment, but to varying degrees.
One was the introduction of student loans, where no fees would be paid upfront and graduates would repay the cost once they hit a certain income, and another was the abolition of the student contribution and significantly higher State investment.
The third option involved leaving the student charge in place, while also increasing State funding, but by a lesser amount than if charge was abolished.
Mr Harris said yesterday that there were “some big decisions ahead of us in relation to future funding” and said he expected to progress the issue before the end of the year.
He said at pending decision on reform, the Government was “not standing idly by”, and Budget 2022 had awarded €200 million additional funding for the universities between the end of this year and next year to strengthen their financial positions.
The minister said that funding for higher education had increased significantly and was now at its highest level , although he acknowledged that there were also more students in the system.
Earlier this week, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) was critical that the funding did not allow for extra investment in teaching and/or research activities in 2022 and expressed disappointment that the Budget had not started the reform process.
The minister has linked putting funding for higher education on a new footing with modernisation of the sector as set out in the Higher Education Authority Act, 2021.
The proposed legislation is aimed enhancing performance, financial management, governance and transparency in third-level colleges.