End of third-level fees and more places fail to broaden access for poor


The abolition of student fees and huge expansion in third-level places have failed to broaden access for poor students, according to a report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report also makes a case for the introduction of an income-contingent loan scheme where students could repay the cost of their higher education once they reach a particular salary level after graduation.

The ESRI – which examines demand for graduates up to 2030 – is broadly optimistic about job prospects, especially in engineering. However it is more cautious in areas like law, science and even IT where there could be an oversupply of graduates.

Overall, it concludes, “graduate job opportunities should remain strong in the face of relatively rapid expansion in college places”.

It also notes that graduate shortages could emerge if there is even a modest increase in demand from the high-tech sector.

In the period to 2030, annual graduate supply will exceed domestic labour market demands by about 25 per cent but at least 10 per cent of graduates are likely to emigrate.

The report states the barriers to third-level access for poorer students will only be reduced by a mix of factors at second level including career guidance available to students and non-Deis schools and financial supports available to families.

Main findings

* Students numbers entering higher education will increase by 7 per cent from 41,000 in 2010 to 44,000 by 2020 – and to 51,000 by 2030

* Increases in the registration charge will be most heavily felt by households just above the grant threshold

* “At-risk” students who could drop out might be more effectively accommodated in the further education sector

* Rapid expansion in third-level places has not meant any marked decline in the average CAO score of students