FINE Gael and Labour have failed to agree a common position over the controversial issue of introducing asset tests to help decide who gets higher education grants.
Labour said it favoured the proposal in principle but Fine Gael kicked the hot political issue to touch, saying the overall funding of colleges needed to be looked at first.
As disclosed in the Irish Independent, the forthcoming Hunt report on higher education paves the way for consideration of both assets and income in deciding on grant applications.
The current assessment model, which is based on declared income, "does not command public confidence" said the report, which claimed that the absence of any consideration of assets and wealth had limited the State's scope to target resources at young people most in need.
Labour education spokesperson Ruairi Quinn said he was not surprised at the Hunt findings, given the perception that the system was being abused.
He favoured, in principle, a test which could consider business assets. But he ruled out taking the family home into consideration as this would raise all sorts of issues such as the net or resale value and the question of mortgages.
His counterpart in Fine Gael, Fergus O'Dowd, refused to make any commitment. He said that before considering the criteria for third level grants eligibility, the broader issue of how to fund the sector must be tackled.
"Fianna Fail and the Greens have sidestepped the issue by reintroducing fees by the back door through higher registration charges and cutting student grants -- placing a very difficult burden on families,'' Mr O'Dowd said, adding that Fine Gael was the only party which had published a policy on third level funding, free at the point of entry for students, which encouraged fair access for all students regardless of background or income.
"We support a contribution from graduates and consider a deferred payment option is preferable," he added.