Apr 24, 2009 - 5:31:05 PM
Trinity College, Dublin.|
IBEC, the Irish business lobby group today, today welcomed the Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe's confirmation that the Government is considering the reintroduction of tuition fees to help address the serious under-funding in the third-level sector. IBEC said the current funding system was unsustainable and called for a detailed examination to see which alternative system, involving the re-introduction of private contributions, would be most suitable.
IBEC Head of Education and Social Policy Tony Donohoe said: "The free fees policy is unsustainable for economic and social reasons. Investment in higher education is essential to support the development of an economy based on learning and innovation. Even before the current downturn, there was widespread acceptance that it would be impossible to develop a globally competitive third-level system by relying on state funding alone.
"If tuition fees for undergraduate study are reintroduced, the additional income must not be offset against reductions in state funding and should represent a real increase in resources for third-level education," he said.
"The current policy is inequitable because it provides substantial subsidies to students whose families could well afford to pay tuition fees. It also discriminates against part-time students who are required to pay tuition fees. When the OECD examined this issue, it stated that no evidence was produced that the decision in 1995 to abolish fees had more than a limited, if any, impact on the disparity of participation rates amongst the different social/occupational classes.
"Therefore, any re-introduction of fees must be accompanied by a sound student finance system. This should include a significantly reformed means-tested support scheme, under which a fee waiver and adequate maintenance support is available to assist the less well-off and other students with particular needs.
"There are a number of different approaches to the re-introduction of a private contribution to the funding of higher education, such as subsidised loans and graduate contribution schemes. The suitability of these scheme to the Irish situation requires detailed analysis and careful consideration. It is important that whatever system is put in place will strengthen third-level education without undermining wider participation and social inclusion," Donohoe concluded.
Finfacts Comment: In a perfect world where there wasn't a culture of viewing the public treasury as fair game by so many groups, the IBEC position could be viewed as rational.
Despite the search for spending cuts, there is no signal of significant reform. Minister Martin Cullen takes three assistants to the Beijing Olympics for 2 weeks that will cost at least €100,000 even though there are permanent Irish diplomatic staff based in Beijing. This may seem a minor issue but when I worked in a 20,000+ multinational, the CEO traveled alone when visiting overseas units.
Add all the feather-bedding and wasteful spending together and it would be very significant.
As to a significantly reformed means-tested support scheme, the third level grants scheme has been available to wealthy farmers since its inception and it could be argued that in the Irish system, it would be difficult to devise a fair system.
Diarmuid Doyle of the Sunday Tribune wrote yesterday that between 1998 and 2004, for example, following the introduction of free fees for degrees, the number of children of skilled workers participating in third-level education jumped from 32% to 50%. The participation rate in Dublin's north inner city rose from nine percent to 23%. This has been achieved at a cost of approximately 0.2 per cent of our GDP.
Batt O'Keeffe and colleagues were the biggest beneficiaries of the public sector pay stakes since 1997 and they are not going to feel the pain of any cutbacks that they will propose. However, they should be held to account when they tell people down the economic pyramid to eat cake.
- - Michael Hennigan