€500 rise in third-level 'fee' cannot be revoked, says Quinn


MINISTER FOR Education Ruairí Quinn cannot reverse the €500 increase in the student contribution fee at third level because Ireland has “lost control over our own chequebook”.

Speaking in the Dáil during education questions he said he was “determined to return to a point at which the Government has the economic freedom to make freely-determined decisions” but they were not there yet and “the next two budgets must ensure that we reach that point quickly”.

Sinn Féin education spokesman Seán Crowe had called on the Minister to drop the €500 increase in third-level charges for students, which brings the annual cost for a student to €2,000. Mr Crowe said many families were now having to decide “which son or daughter will be pulled out of education”.

He also highlighted particular difficulties for students who were lone parents and outside the threshold for grant-in-aid. He said “their chances of moving to full-time education, moving on with their lives and breaking the cycle of familial poverty will be gone” because of the fee increase.

Mr Crowe added in other years they could approach the students union for assistance but the union did not have the funds now because of the demand.

Mr Quinn told him that he was “articulating what the loss of economic sovereignty means”.

The Sinn Féin TD had asked Mr Quinn to honour the pledge he made in February to reverse the €500 increase, announced by the previous government. Mr Crowe said he was referring to the pledge not to embarrass anyone, but to ask the Minister if he accepted that many students and their families “are in a worse position financially this year than was the case when the pledge was made”.

Mr Quinn said the decision to increase the student contribution from €1,500 to €2,000 was made in the December 2010 budget by the previous government. The incoming Government adopted the “entire array” of economic decisions contained in that budget because “it had no other option”.

Last year 46 per cent of students received grants and their student contribution would be paid by the State, he said. An “additional category” where 50 per cent of the student contribution was paid, was being included in the student grant scheme. Tax reliefs were also in place so that second and subsequent siblings would not have to pay the full cost increase.