Ask Brian: What chance is there of a loans scheme for higher education?

Plan for loans are dead in the water – awaiting a decent burial

Ireland currently has the second-highest fees – in the form of a €3,000 registration charge or fees of €8-€10,000 at postgrad level – for higher education in the EU. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Ireland currently has the second-highest fees – in the form of a €3,000 registration charge or fees of €8-€10,000 at postgrad level – for higher education in the EU. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

I’m a parent of a student that’s due to go to third level. We don’t qualify for grants, but the €3,000 fee is a very big burden. Is there any chance of a loan scheme being introduced to replace fees? Recommendations to introduce an income-contingent loan scheme for higher education – outlined as one of a number of options in the Cassells report – are dead in the water, awaiting a decent burial.

The growth in student numbers at primary level in the past 10 years, which will now work its way through the second-level system, alongside the huge growth in the support provided to students with special needs, seem to have pushed the needs of our third-level sector to the back of the queue in term of State funding.

Ireland currently has the second-highest fees – in the form of a €3,000 registration charge or fees of €8-€10,000 at postgrad level – for higher education in the EU. When the UK leaves, we will become the most expensive.

High fees are the norm in many English-speaking countries – the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand.

What, you may ask, has this got to do with the case for increased charges in Ireland, given that our young people have always studied either at home or in these countries?

Over the past five years, the number of Irish students signing up for degree programmes taught through the medium of English in other EU countries has gone from a handful to several thousand.

After Ireland, Dutch universities charge an average of €2,000 at both undergrad and postgrad levels. Germany and the Scandinavian countries provide third level for free to all qualifiying EU citizens.

With accommodation costs at astronomical levels in many of our cities, the financial cost comparisons which will take place within families across the country when college choices are being made will put a cap on the level of fees which any domestic third-level education provider can levy.

Prior to the publication of Cassells, it was generally accepted that a loan scheme would be the preferred political response. Following the surge to Labour among young people in the UK’s general election last year – attributed by many to the party’s promise to abolish third-level fees – the political mood to propose a loan scheme in Ireland has cooled to a distinct chill.

The Minister for Education’s recent decision to undertake further research on the matter is the kiss of death to the proposal.

In the absence of a major increase in State funding, many colleges are looking to international students to generate extra funds.

Having seen a neighbour’s home within walking distance of UCD sell recently to a Chinese family for €850,000 so that their daughter can come to study in UCD, there is huge potential to attract even more international students to our shores to bolster the finances available to our third-level colleges.