Cabinet to consider student fee of €3,000


THIRD LEVEL:A FLAT student contribution fee of €3,000 is expected to be among the options considered in Cabinet in the coming months on changes to third-level fees.

However, fees of at least €5,000 a year for those who can afford them remains an option.

The proposed flat rate student contribution charge was floated by Department of Education officials in submissions to the Department of Finance last year. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has insisted all options are under review as he seeks cuts in the department’s €9 billion budget.

Mr Quinn is looking to find a sustainable funding base for the higher-education sector which needs an extra €500 million a year to cope with a projected 30 per cent increase in admissions over the next decade.

Next month the student contribution charge will increase from €1,500 to €2,000. While the increase has provoked anger from students and parents, it will deliver only €55 million in gross additional revenue for the colleges. The State spends about €1.1 billion a year on higher education.

Two years ago, a report prepared for the last government conceded that increases in the student contribution charge would “raise affordability issues for some students”.

It also said higher student fees would have an impact on participation levels at third level. This, it said, raised “significant wider social and economic issues”.

The paper – commissioned by former minister for education Batt O’Keeffe – backed a student loan scheme. This was ruled out this week by Mr Quinn in a move which narrows his options.

The O’Keeffe report envisaged fees of €5,038 for arts, €7,284 for medicine, €6,590 for science and €5,062 for business.

Official figures show that in 2008, 28 per cent of full-time undergraduates came from families with gross incomes of more than €80,000. Some 15 per cent came from families with a gross income of more than €100,000.

Yesterday the department denied a report it was seeking to raise the school starting age to five and abolish transition year in a new wave of cutbacks.

The department said: “No decisions whatsoever have been taken in relation to changing the school-going age of children or abolishing the transition year.

“The report in the Irish Independent is based on historic documents that were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

“They relate to options put forward by the Department of Education as part of the estimates process under the previous Fianna Fáil-Green government.

“The article is not based on current proposals by the Department of Education and Skills as part of the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure [CRE]. Work on the comprehensive review of expenditure is currently ongoing across all Government departments, including the Department of Education and Skills.

“Under the CRE, all areas of public expenditure are subject to scrutiny. The CRE will be a critical building block in formulating Government’s budgetary policy for 2012 and beyond, and the results of the comprehensive review process will be brought before Government for consideration and decision in the budget and estimates process later this year.”