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Education minister refuses to rule out third level fees – again

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has stopped short of ruling out third-level fees but said the issue has not been discussed at Cabinet level.

The senior Labour minister, who signed a pledge before the election against student charges, said he had not come under any pressure from Government colleagues over a return to fees.

"The matter hasn't been discussed. There is a resource issue clearly, just on the sheer numbers," Mr Quinn said.

"The whole question of finance is going to have to be addressed but there are no proposals at the present being considered."

The minister said the Government would have to look at ways to finance the growing demand in the education sector.

But he added: "I have not ruled anything in or anything out."

Mr Quinn signed a Union of Students in Ireland (USI) pledge during the election campaign that Labour would not reintroduce third-level fees in government, or support an increase in the Student Services Charge.

But the minister said the Government had to accept Budget 2011, which will see the registration fee increase from €1,500 to €2,000.

"It's what I said at the time and it's what I intend to try and do but I recognise that I have limited room for manoeuvre than perhaps I thought I did have," the minister said.

In a speech on the future of the third-level system at the Royal Irish Academy in central Dublin, Mr Quinn warned of a huge growth in demand in education over the next two decades, which he claimed was projected conservatively at 72pc.

He said 20 new post-primary schools would be needed over the next five years totalling around half a billion euro.

Mr Quinn also reiterated his concerns about the current points system associated with the Leaving Certificate, claiming it should be examined in line with the review of the second-level curriculum.

"The benefits of any senior cycle curriculum reform will be undermined if we do not address the demands and pressures that the current points system places on both teachers and students," he said.