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New thinking on graduate funding

IRISH politicians, looking across the water at the crisis in the British government over student loans, will quail at the thought of trying anything similar here. We can take it for granted that, with a general election looming, the Government will not adopt the recommendations in the Hunt Report, and the opposition parties will insist they never would.

Yet the next government will not be able to escape the uncomfortable realities. As the industry bodies pointed out yesterday, the country is short of graduates for the key manufacturing and service industries which are the only source of economic recovery.

At the same time, the four-year plan calls for a 16pc cut in non-pay spending in education. In higher education, where spending is already low by EU standards, this has begun with a 5pc reduction in the €300m grant to the sector.

It is clear that the taxpayer cannot be the sole source of funding for a first-class higher education system.

Future students will have to see their education, partly as public service, but partly as an investment which they choose to make in their future prospects.

The evidence suggests that even the €25,000 debt which the report foresees in some cases will prove a worthwhile investment in the end.

But, with few jobs currently available here or abroad, such a radical shift may have to wait, not just for a new government, but for clear signs of better economic times.