Funding higher education

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:08

Sir, – In both your profile of UCD’s new president Prof Andrew Deeks (“In terms of world profile, UCD is punching below its weight”, July 5th) and a recent editorial (July 8th), you refer to the “UK funding model” for higher education.

There is, in fact, no such thing, education being one of the few areas devolved to the parliaments and assemblies. The model being referred to is primarily that of England, which has some of the most unaffordable fee levels in the world. Yes, students have loans, but such a system effectively establishes debt as one of the “graduate attributes” of those for whom there is little choice should they seek an education.

Levels of default, in the longer term, in such systems need also to be factored in and underwritten. These may well be attractive models to university managers in that the problem of payment is outsourced to a loans company, although in every country where fees and loans are introduced, the state’s more general contribution rapidly declines, threatening the viability of subjects, departments and even institutions.

This approach is in stark contrast to the situation in Scotland, which is still (at least until September) part of the UK. There, on abolishing the “fee by another name” that was implemented by a previous Labour-LibDem coalition, the first minister stated that those who live in Scotland will have to wait “until the rocks melt with the Sun” before they’d pay fees for such a fundamental public good.

That small country, incidentally, has a number of universities in the top 100 or 200 in all the ranking systems. Far from the fees-plus-loans systems of England or Australia, higher education being paid for through a proper, progressive income tax system is a more common European approach and can deliver where there is the political will to regard education as an investment rather than a burden. – Yours, etc,

IAIN MacLAREN,

Knockferry,

Rosscahill,

Co Galway.