| 4°C Dublin

Education key to all our futures

ONE of the most gigantic tasks facing the government that takes office after the General Election will be the reform of the education system. For guidance, it will have the "national strategy" for higher education, drawn up by a team under the chairmanship of Dr Colin Hunt.

The Hunt report addresses head-on some of the thorniest issues in a sector which teems with vested interests and anomalies. For years, an argument has raged as to whether tuition fees should be brought back or student loans introduced. Controversially, it recommends both.

At present, farmers, the self-employed and professionals get more than their fair share of maintenance grants for students. Hunt wants their assets taken into account -- a proposal that will meet with stiff resistance and will be difficult to implement.

But reform is always difficult, and the most important and troublesome aspects of the actual proposals are of less significance than the presence or otherwise of the political will to legislate and implement them.

Any new government, of whatever composition, risks being overwhelmed by the financial and economic situation it inherits. It will have enormous budgetary difficulties. It will not find the figures in the Hunt report palatable -- for example, the calculation that spending on higher education will have to rise from €1.3bn to €1.8bn by 2020.

There is only one answer: to make the issue its top priority. The future, not of the system but the economy, depends on it.