Third level funding report due
A report on third level funding that could open the way for the return of college fees is expected to be published in September.
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn - who has refused to rule out the return of fees - has asked the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to examine the funding crisis ahead of expected Cabinet discussions in the autumn on possible new charges.
The authority report is expected to conclude the current funding model is unsustainable. Earlier this year, the Hunt Report said annual funding for higher education must increase by €500 million a year, from €1.3 billion to €1.8 billion by 2020 if academic quality and the full range of student services were to be maintained.
Mr Quinn, has also conceded it is "hard to see'' how higher education can meet the targets set for it by Government without new revenue streams.
From September, students face a €2,000 registration fee - up from €1500 last year. During the election campaign , Mr Quinn made a commitment to reverse the increase in the student contribution fee, but he has rowed back on this pledge.
Speaking today, Higher Education Authority chairman John Hennessy said he hoped the upcoming funding or sustainability study will "form a sound basis for the policy decisions that need to be made in this complex but vital area'' of higher education.
He was speaking at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the legislation establishing the authority. Today, he said, close to 70 per cent of all school leavers proceed to higher education compared with just 10 per cent in the 1960s.
Notwithstanding our current difficulties, he said, Ireland's success and its continuing underlying strengths are due in large measure to the educational vision of our predecessors during that period.
"Higher education in Ireland remains crucial to our future success as a society and an economy. And any society that wishes to continue to prosper must constantly re-energise its systems, processes and institutions," Mr Hennessy said.
"Ireland generally, and our higher education system in particular, are no exceptions. The current financial environment is undoubtedly bleak, but in all other respects, the conditions for transformation of our education system are good. The quality of strategic planning at institution level has improved greatly over the last decade, and the Hunt Report provides a template for planning at the national level - for the first time in many years," he said.
Mr Hennessy said the State's third level colleges have shown an "admirable capacity to respond to national imperatives such as labour market challenges; financial restrictions; and the research, development and innovation agendas.''
He also praised the "clear policy and political leadership'' of Mr Quinn in relation to higher education.
Mr Hennessy also explained how the the Higher Education Authority, "in keeping with our founding principles . . . have always promoted and nurtured the autonomy of institutions. The HEA engages with higher education institutions in a spirit of mutual respect, of trust and of partnership".
On graduate standards, he said Ireland continued to enjoy an enviable reputation for the quality of our graduates and the system that nurtures them. "But there are, increasingly, dissonant voices in the chorus of approval. And we ignore them at our gravest peril, economic and social."
For that reason, he said the Higher Education Authority strongly supports recent measures including the review of the Junior Cert; the Project Maths programme; new measures to boost numeracy and literacy in primary schools; and Mr Quinn's desire to see reform in the assessment approach at Leaving Certificate.