Extra cash from students 'going into State coffers'
MONEY earmarked to improve services in colleges -- like counselling and medical assistance for vulnerable students -- is being raided by the cash-starved Government.
The move, which will net the Government about €6m to €7m, was described last night by student leaders as a "back-door raid". Peter Mac-Menamin, general secretary of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), said it was the equivalent of the "three-card-trick".
The Higher Education Authority wrote to third-level institutions this week to warn them of the bad news.
The "raid" comes at a time when the colleges are facing the most drastic cuts yet. Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe has already agreed to meet the universities and institutes of technology to discuss their fears over the impact of a 3pc cut in pay.
The race for college places begins on Wednesday with more than 55,000 second level students receiving their Leaving Certificate results. A record number -- in excess of 68,000 students -- have applied for places in colleges and universities this year.
Although students don't pay tuition fees, those who are not on maintenance grants are obliged to pay a charge for examinations and services such as medical services, careers advice, access programmes and sports.
Last night a spokesman for Mr O'Keeffe said that when all higher education funding was taken into account, the overall provision by the Department of Education and Science for the sector amounted to some €2bn for this year.
He said the €75 increase was required to bring the amount contributed by students more in line with the cost to higher education bodies of providing services. In its letter to the colleges, the HEA wrote that the department stated "that this will have the effect of releasing monies within the block grant allocated to these services".
The letter added: "The HEA has been informed by the Department that a reduction will therefore be made in the 2008 block grant, corresponding to 75pc of the amount of the increased revenue that will be generated by the increase in the student services charge."
But Shane Kelly, president of the Union of Students in Ireland, furiously condemned the minister "for raiding the coffers of students' services".
He added: "This is money paid by both students and parents to ensure the provision of the most basic services, including both medial and counselling service.
"With suicide and depression running at an all-time high among young people, this back-door raid on student services will have serious consequences for student medical and counselling services.
"The student services charge is constantly under threat from the Government and universities, as they seek to redirect the money away from essential student services, such as medical and counselling services, in order to pay off significant deficits run up through decades of reckless spending," he said.
"While USI stands opposed to the very idea of registration fees, the very least we could expect is that the money would go where it is supposed to go."
Mr MacMenamin, the TUI general secretary, said the Government's "three-card trick" was pushing the financial burden further on to students.
The €75 increase was 9pc above inflation while the higher education institutions were facing a cut of 3pc in their pay bill, he said.
Student services charges can fund examinations, medical services, chaplaincy, sports facilities, societies, students' union, careers advice and disability services.