Third-level fees report 'delayed until after elections'
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn and his department have "mothballed" a controversial fees report on the funding crisis in Ireland's third-level sector until after the local and European elections in late May.
The Irish Independent has confirmed that the Higher Education Authority (HEA) had submitted the report to the department, but it has been rejected as "incomplete".
It is now expected a new draft of the Higher Education Sustainability Report won't be published until the autumn at the earliest, after the elections.
Funding within the third- level sector has been cut by more than 15pc, to €1.5bn, since 2008, while numbers attending college have soared.
As a result of trying to bridge the gap, Mr Quinn has increased the registration fees to €3,000 per student for next year, up from €2,000 in 2010.
However, the Government's 2011 strategy on higher education, the Hunt Report, forecasted that overall funding would need to rise to €1.8bn by 2020 and €2.25bn by 2030 just to "maintain current levels of resources-per-student".
Figures within the university sector have this weekend criticised the delay over how third- level education will be funded and have rejected the criticisms made by the department.
One university president told this newspaper: "There is no reason for the delay. Actually, there is a need for speed. There is a funding crisis in Irish third- level education, and we cannot afford to have this mothballed because of electoral fears."
In a statement, the HEA said: "On funding, there are a number of options and we have done considerable work on those. The ultimate decision is a political one on future funding models."
Mr Quinn has also been criticised by Fianna Fail's Education spokesman Charlie McConalogue for "continuously kicking this significant problem down the line".
Speaking yesterday to this newspaper, Mr McConalogue said: "Those starting their Leaving Cert cycle this year have no idea how college will be funded when they go in two years' time. That is totally unacceptable."
Mr Quinn's spokeswoman said she "strongly rejected" the report has been delayed until after the elections. She said updated Programme for Government documents committed to producing the final report by the end of the year.
Mr Quinn is said to be "open-minded" as to what model of funding for third level will eventually be introduced.