STUDENT leaders will take a historic decision today on whether to abandon their blanket opposition to third-level fees.
Almost 300 delegates at the annual Union of Students in Ireland (USI) conference in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, will vote on whether the time has come to change the long-standing policy.
USI has maintained strong pressure on Education Minister Ruairi Quinn not to re-introduce full fees, so any softening of its position will be significant.
There will be five choices in a PR-style referendum, the outcome of which will be decided by eliminating the responses with the least support.
Delegates will be asked to rank in order of preference a graduate tax, fully exchequer funded fees, full upfront fees, the current student contribution/registration fee, a student loan scheme or none of these.
USI is conscious that the current student contribution is a burden for many but also recognises the growing concern about the level of funding available to colleges.
For those not in receipt of a grant, the current student contribution is €2,000 a year, rising to €2,250 in September and up to €3,000 by 2015. But that is well below what it costs to educate a student.
A recent referendum on the issue at Trinity College Dublin backed a student loan scheme and the TCD delegation to the USI congress will vote accordingly.