Sunday 22 September 2019

Third-level funding reform scrapped until after election due to lack of Dáil majority

Vision: Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne. Photo: Tom Burke
Vision: Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne. Photo: Tom Burke
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Plans to tackle the funding crisis in Ireland's third-level institutions are being scrapped until after the next election as the Government insists the sector already receives significant amounts of taxpayers' money.

Despite universities warning that nearly €140m in extra funding is needed to cater for rising student numbers, the Government signalled yesterday it would not move on the three-year-old Cassells report, which lays out options for the future funding of the sector.

Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor said: "There is significant investment by the taxpayer into higher education and it's not all about higher education today, it's also about apprenticeships."

Her comments came shortly after Education Minister Joe McHugh claimed the Government's lack of a Dáil majority was hampering attempts to tackle the issue.

"I think it will take a new Government composition to bring a big fundamental change around this," he told RTÉ - a signal that the issue will not be dealt with until after the next election.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor repeatedly stressed alternatives to higher level education after congratulating Leaving Cert students from Rockford Manor School in Blackrock.

"I would say to students please look at apprenticeships, look at your colleges of further education all around the country giving various choices of subject areas and you can go through the institutes of technology," she said.

She added that not every student "wants to go on the one pathway" to higher education, pointing out that the Government had invested tens of millions of euro in apprenticeships. "That's the message that I want to get out today, it is not all about someone who got the 600 points plus," she said.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor added: "The taxpayer is putting in a significant amount of money but we will be working and I can assure you that Minister Joe McHugh and I are working with the Minister for Finance to ensure that there is extra funding."

However, the remarks of Mr McHugh, the senior minister at the Department of Education, indicate the Government will not move on the issue.

Mr McHugh has already ruled out increasing tuition fees from their current level of €3,000 or bringing in a student loan scheme. But the Irish Universities Association said he needed to say what the Government is planning to do.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the Government's failure to act on the Cassells report showed it has "absolutely no vision" for third-level. "It's not good enough to continue to kick this problem down the road and say it's a problem for a future government to address. A decision must be made," Mr Byrne said.

Irish Independent

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