Funding third-level education

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 01:09

Sir, – UCD’s new president Andrew Deeks has rightly highlighted the funding crisis in higher education (“Replace annual charge with student loans, says UCD president”, July 5th). He correctly identifies a significant access barrier in the form of growing up-front registration fees.

However, the alternative Prof Deeks proposes – full student responsibility for tuition in the guise of deferred loans – would undermine the ideal of public education in a different but equally serious way. The UK experience has shown that the purpose of student fees is not necessarily to save money for the state – which ends up absorbing a great deal of bad debt – but rather to create a consumer mentality in students; to instil new forms of market-based discipline in academic labour and consumption.

Indeed Prof Deeks suggests that if students build up debt based on the modules they study, they would feel “the need to get the benefit”. The theory is that market mechanisms of payment and exchange would lead students to work more, demand more, and thus to raise the standard of university education.

Yet a consumer philosophy distorts the core function of university education. Indeed there is little evidence to support the idea that market mechanisms improve the standard of university education.

In the US, the last three decades or so have seen an exponential growth in student tuition fees yet, correspondingly, an alarming increase in the proportion of adjunct and casualised teaching staff, as corporatised universities spend an ever greater proportion of their income on baubles and gimmicks with little educational value.

That is the experience we should contemplate before we consider endorsing student debt as a tool of market discipline. – Yours, etc,

Dr EOIN DALY,

School of Law,

NUI Galway,

University Road,

Galway.