Tuesday 25 June 2019

Student loans and third-level funding off the agenda

Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Damien Eagers
Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Damien Eagers
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Student loans are off the agenda for the lifetime of this Government, at least, as the hot political potato of who should bear the cost of paying for third-level is put on the long finger.

There is also no prospect of a major increase in State funding for the third-level sector, which would be an alternative to asking students to pay higher fees through a loan scheme.

Universities and institutes of technology are crying out for more resources, but there is no political appetite for either funding option.

In 2016, the Cassells Report said the sector needed an extra €600m a year and set out choices.

But the wait for a funding plan is set to continue, in light of a recent letter from Education Minister Richard Bruton and his departmental colleague Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

The ministers were replying to a request from the Oireachtas Education Committee for the Department of Education to conduct an economic assessment of the various funding options set out in the Cassells Report, to establish the financial implications of each one.

The ministers stated the department would undertake such an examination and also want its remit to be broadened. It came with the caveat not to expect an outcome anytime soon.

"This constitutes a significant body of additional work and it is not possible at this stage to give a timescale. This will need to be considered by the department in the context of the resources required to undertaken this project," the ministers wrote.

The letter - sent in the week before Easter -added that they would update the committee "once there is greater clarity on the scope of the work required to be undertaken".

It was four years ago, in the lifetime of the previous government, that former Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) secretary general Peter Cassells was asked to address the funding issue.

Soon after taking office in 2016, Mr Bruton referred the Cassells Report to the Education Committee with a view to seeking political consensus.

The committee has held hearings and the economic assessment of the options is the final link awaited before reporting back to Mr Bruton.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (Esri) was the original choice to conduct the economic assessment, but when that didn't work out, the committee turned to the Department of Education.

Irish Independent

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