Replace annual charge with student loans, says UCD president

Prof Andrew Deeks calls for new model for ‘underfunded’ third-level sector

The student registration charge, which is set to hit €3,000 next year, has become a "barrier to higher education" and should be replaced with a student loan scheme, the recently appointed president of UCD has said.

Prof Andrew Deeks said, among the State's seven university presidents, "it's fair to say there is a shared view that the system is being underfunded at the moment if we are to remain world-class universities". Prof Deeks was speaking following the establishment this week of an expert group to examine funding models for the sector in one of the final acts of Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn's term of office.

International norms

A recent

Higher Education Authority


report showed staff-student ratios were moving out of line with international norms, while the contribution of the State had shrunk from 76 per cent of higher education income in 2007 to 53 per cent this year.

Prof Deeks said: “From my observation, coming from Australia and the UK, Ireland has the worst of both worlds in the sense that we get the smallest amount of money per student compared to Australia and the UK. But the student has to pay the biggest amount up front.

“I’d see this as a barrier to higher education, and also a barrier that doesn’t need to be there because if you look at the systems now in place in Australia and the UK they allow the student to enter university without any up front cost, and then the student contribution is paid retrospectively . . .

“My personal view is that the contribution system that has worked in Australia for the past 20 years now provides a good model. It is a deferred payment of a debt, which is accumulated module by module as students progress through the course.

“I think that has an advantage over a graduate tax in that it means students are very aware of the programmes they are entering into, and the need to perform within those modules to get the benefit.

‘Fairer for parents’

“I think it’s also fairer for parents as the students themselves will pay back the cost of their education as they are benefiting from that education.”

In his first media interview since taking up office in January, Prof Deeks also expressed reservations about adding to the pool of universities a number of planned new technological universities. “I think it would be mistaken to follow Australia and the UK into making all the institutes of technology universities. The result of that, certainly in Australia and the UK, is that then all those universities endeavour to be research-intensive universities, and the country does not need that many research-intensive universities.

“So perhaps we should look more to Asia where they have picked the very best universities and then fund them to be research intensive.”

Online courses

Of the proliferation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which some believe will undermine the economic model of universities, he said: “I don’t see it as being a threat. It may mean academics will change the way they interact with students.” But there are “skills which can’t be developed from interacting with a MOOC”, and these include communication skills, leadership skills and teamwork. “So I think there will always be a place for the university.”

He said UCD planned to use more “blended learning” using new technology but “I don’t see us going a long way down the MOOC track”.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column