Extra PRSI charges for graduates proposed

 

GRADUATES WOULD face extra PRSI charges, to pay partly for the cost of their third-level education, under Fine Gael proposals published yesterday.

Under the plan, future graduates – but not those currently in third level – would pay for 30 per cent of the cost of educating them. Student registration fees, now running at €1,500 a year, would be abolished.

Dentists, for example, would pay an extra €975 a month for four years or €487 a month for 10 years, but an arts graduate would pay, at most, €190 per month over five years.

Once fully in place, the scheme would raise €500 million a year in ring-fenced income for universities and institutes of technology – though the net additional sum raised would be €325 million, given the loss of the student registration fees.

The proposal would not affect any student currently in third level, Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes said yesterday, when he launched the proposal along with party leader Enda Kenny.

Rejecting charges that the plan would encourage graduates to emigrate, Mr Hayes said the bill would remain “alive” until they returned to Ireland; or else the State could reach agreements with other countries to levy the charge on graduates while they are abroad.

Dentists cost the State €195,000 to train, which leaves graduates liable for €58,500 of the bill under the plan. Doctors, on the other hand, cost €77,000 to educate, according to figures which, Fine Gael said, it was given by the Higher Education Authority.

Medical graduates would thus be responsible for meeting €23,100 of the cost: €385 a month extra in PRSI costs over five years, or €192.50 a month over 10 years.

But Fine Gael ruled out the reintroduction of third-level college fees, which were abolished during the rainbow government’s period in office in the mid-1990s.

And it rejected student loans, as happens in Australia. Banks, Mr Hayes said, should not be involved in education choices.

His colleague, Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames, said most existing third-level students favoured the Fine Gael proposal because they “are conscious of the burden facing their parents at this time”.

The number of third-level students has expanded since fees were abolished, rising from 120,000 in 1996 to about 170,000 now which was “an amazing achievement in just 12 short years,” Mr Hayes said.

However, major reforms are required, including greater specialisation, efficiencies and value for money, he warned. Currently, there are “about 10 or 11” colleges teaching economics here.

The State should not pursue its ambition of having 72 per cent of all second-level graduates in third level by 2013, Mr Hayes said.

Mr Kenny said the party’s plan would help “to reposition our universities and institutes to become world leaders in education”.

In response to the proposals, the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe said Fine Gael has failed to say when it will introduce its proposed PRSI changes.

Other countries use a variety of means to fund third-level, including tuition fees or student loans: “If Ireland’s higher education system is to develop and meet future demands in an environment of increasingly tight public resources, then the sector’s level of dependence on exchequer funding must now come under review,” said the Minister.

A Labour Party MEP described the plan “as a sneaky tax on education”. Proinsias De Rossa said it would be “a misuse of the social insurance fund, which is intended to insure people against sickness, disability, accidents, unemployment and support in old age, it should not be used as a sneaky tax on education.