THE Government risks its first major backlash with a hike in college registration fees from next year.
Students are likely to take to the streets again after it emerged that December's Budget could bring the prospect of increased fees.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has ruled out the idea of a scheme whereby graduates would be given a State loan to pay for their education.
And, as a result, hard-pressed families and young people will be forced to turn to banks or other lending institutions to pay their way.
It is estimated that colleges will need an extra €500m a year by 2020 to keep the system up to date.
And it appears increasingly likely that the only way to raise this money will be to charge students. Experts are predicting that registrations fees may have to be increased for the start of the September 2012 term from the ¤2,000 they are now.
Ruling out a loan scheme similar to one that operates in the UK, Mr Quinn said it would take 17 years to refund itself and therefore was of "no value".
"A system that will only become self-financing over 17 years does not help Michael Noonan or Brendan Howlin in today's place," he said.
The minister also suggested that there would be issues with bad debts as some graduates would inevitably attempt to avoid their repayments.
It costs the State €1.3bn a year to fund higher education, but that has to rise to €1.8bn a year by 2020 if quality and rising student numbers are to be maintained.
Mr Quinn said: "The student loan system would, in my view, become an emigrant incentive. And instead of the illegals saying to mammy, 'I can't come home for that funeral because then I won't get back into the United States', it will be 'I can't come home because then I'll have to pay my loan'."
He added: "Part-time education students pay fees, undergraduates are now looking at paying €2,000 for a standard four-year degree. Post graduate doing a master's degree will pay, we'll say €5,000. There are fees."