College funding explainer: The three options to pay for third level

Among the options are increasd State-funding and a student loan scheme

The expert group report on the future of higher education funding studied approaches used in other countries - Norway, The Netherlands, Australia, England and the US - and identified three main funding options the Irish system.

These are:

1. A State-funded system

Under this option, the State would significantly increase its core grant to institutions, the €3,000 undergraduate student contribution fee would be abolished and student income supports would be enhanced.


Higher education would be free at the point of entry for all first-time EU students and for part-time learners, and potentially postgraduate students.

The State’s contribution would increase hugely from the current levels - 64 per cent of all third level funding - to about 80 per cent

2. Increased State funding with continuing student fees

This would see a considerable increase in State funding with retention of the current upfront student contribution: €3,000 per year for undergraduates and continuing fees for postgraduates.

As in the other options, part-time students would be funded in the same manner as full time students and income supports would be enhanced.

The State’s contribution would increase from the current level of 64 per cent of all higher education funding to 72 per cent.

3. Student loan scheme, along with increased State-funding

This would involve the abolition of existing upfront fees for both undergraduates and postgraduates, and their replacement with a system of income contingent loans provided by the State.

Higher education would be free at the point of entry for all students. Student income supports would be enhanced and increased. Repayment of loans would only commence once a graduate’s earning reaches a threshold level and would be at a defined percentage of annual income, collected through the revenue system.

In the expert group report to be published later today, it suggests that tuition costs could be between €4,000 and €5,000 annually. This would mean graduates would receive loans of between €16,000 and €20,000.

The report suggests that graduates could begin to repay the fees when their income reaches €26,000.

Those whose earnings do not reach the threshold would make no repayments. Increased State funding will still be required, and any increases in fee levels must not be offset by reductions in state funding.

The State’s contribution to overall higher education funding would fall from 64 per cent to about 55 to 60 per cent.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent