Quinn cites high student charge in response to call for fees
MINISTER FOR Education Ruairí Quinn has been urged to consider the full reintroduction of college fees.
During Dáil question time Independent Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly said funding had been cut by 18 per cent for each student since 2008 and, with likely cuts of 30 per cent up to 2015, “we are looking at an approximately 50 per cent drop in funding per student. That will destroy our third-level system.
“It’s not a pleasant political message for anybody in this chamber to send,” he said.
“My concern is that without something like that our students will be left in second-rate institutions.”
The Minister said he was not satisfied that they had “got the right economies within the higher education system”.
He compared the Irish system with Singapore which has one teacher-training college for both primary and secondary students. “We have 22 and there are 43 courses.”
Mr Quinn added that Irish undergraduates were already paying a contribution. “It is not called a fee but it is, de facto, a fee.” It is going up by €250 this year from €2,000 and it will rise again to €3,000.
Mr Quinn said that was a higher fee than in many countries including the Netherlands where fees are €1,700 a year. “We have crossed that particular Rubicon.”
He added that 42 per cent of undergraduates were on grants to pay their fees and maintenance.
Mr Donnelly agreed with the inefficiencies regarding teacher training colleges, saying, “70 per cent of new hires have come from Hibernia College which is essentially zero cost to the State while we have five teaching colleges at enormous cost to the State”.
He said the “first thing to do is find all of these inefficiencies quickly and ruthlessly”.
Mr Donnelly said he had spoken to the head of human resources at one of the largest multinational companies in the country “and he said Irish graduates were becoming unemployable.
“He was talking about the decline in standards in the past 10 to 15 years.”
The HR executive also felt “the quality of our master’s and PhD graduates, relative to European, US or Canadian graduates, had become so unequal that they do not even advertise the jobs” in Ireland.
The Wicklow TD said figures had shown that free fees had not improved the quality of access and zero or low-interest loans should be considered.
But the Minister said the “socio-economic spread of participation in higher-level education has been transformed”.