Irish graduates enjoy the highest income return from their degrees of all member states in the OECD, a conference on third-level funding has heard.
Someone with higher education in Ireland earns about €350,000 more over the course of their lifetime than a student whose education ended at secondary level, Patricia Mangeol, a senior education official with the OECD, said.
The net return to the State through higher taxation is about €220,000 per graduate, which is the highest return of all the member states and double the OECD average, according to Ms Mangeol.
The OECD figures were presented at a conference of the Irish Universities Association, which heard from stakeholders in Ireland, as well as overseas experts, on the funding challenge facing the sector here.
Speaking at the conference, Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan rejected claims that the creation of a working group on sustainability was just a ploy to push a decision on fees beyond the next general election.
“No, that’s not true. The group was set up in order to give the appropriate amount of consideration to this very important issue.”
She said her predecessor Ruairí Quinn had brought “clarity around the student contribution”, giving a time frame for increases and “the last raise in the amount” was coming in 2015/16 bringing the charge to €3,000.
“I have no problem making decisions, but I do want to make sure that we get a well thought-through report that has consulted very widely in the sector. But, no, we are not kicking it to touch.”
The Minister also rejected claims from universities that they were over-regulated, adding that she planned to proceed with the Universities Bill – which would tighten controls on pay and remuneration – despite their opposition.
“It’s not the first piece of legislation but it is still on the agenda, and I do think it’s important that we have appropriate controls with regard to these matters. We have them in other sectors, and it is part of Government policy that we control public spending.”
Explaining the relatively high return for third-level education here, Ms Mangeol said it was a product of the comparatively low unemployment rate for graduates – 7 per cent versus 20 per cent among school-leavers – and the relatively low cost of studying here by international standards.
The data from Ireland and elsewhere showed that people with tertiary education – namely higher or further education – “still fare better”.
While there was a “strong suspicion of underemployment” among graduates, pointing to the need for a greater focus on apprenticeships, this had yet to come through the data, Ms Mangeol added.
The conference heard that only 20 per cent of higher education funding in Ireland comes from private sources, and this was well below most countries although not those in Scandinavia where the sector is almost entirely state-funded.
Referring to this imbalance, Art Hauptman, a Washington-based public policy consultant, said it was not feasible for the exchequer to cover the cost of the increasing number of students entering the system.
“The public can fund a 30 to 40 per cent participation rate but it cannot fund 60 to 70 per cent,” and he said incentives for private funding should be introduced.