Wednesday 21 February 2018

Tax will still fund third level even with loan plans

Current fees are €3,000 a year and will remain so next September
Current fees are €3,000 a year and will remain so next September

Katherine Donnelly and Kevin Doyle

Most third-level funding should continue to come from taxpayers even if a loan-system is introduced for student fees, a government commissioned report says.

An expert group, chaired by Peter Cassells, former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, will present the Education Minister with a number of options for funding colleges and universities in the coming weeks.

Among them is a proposal for a system whereby college would free at the point of entry but students would repay the cost in instalments once they start working. One example given is a charge of €25 a week over 15 years.

However, even if a future government adopted this system the report says that the majority of funding for third-level should come from the Exchequer.

The group was set up to consider the long-term sustainable funding of higher education and to identify options for change but its remit does not include formal recommendations.

Current fees are €3,000 a year and will remain so next September. The next increase, with or without a loan system, would apply from September 2017 at the earliest.

The Irish Independent understands that although an end-of-year deadline had been set for the group's report, Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan is unlikely to publish it before the General Election.

That would spare the Government awkward questions about the thorny college fees issue.

It is understood that a lot work on detail still has to be done on and it could be the New Year before the report is complete.

In any event, it will be up to the next Government to decide what to do about the third-level funding issue.

Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Charlie McConalogue said: "College is already expensive and too expensive in many cases for students.

"Higher-level education should be funded by the Exchequer and colleges themselves should raise funds through their own initiatives.

"We would be totally against student fees increasing."

He called on Ms O'Sullivan to publish the report "as soon as possible" so that parties could factor its projections into their plans ahead of the election.

Irish Independent

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