Hayes proposes graduate tax to fund third-level education

 

THE INTRODUCTION of a graduate tax or levy as a means of funding third-level education instead of the return of college fees has been proposed by Fine Gael spokesman on education, Brian Hayes.

In a speech to the Fine Gael national conference in Wexford last night, Mr Hayes outlined his plan whereby graduates would pay a contribution, deductible at source, for a number of years after they entered the labour force.

One way of doing this would be through an extra PRSI charge. Mr Hayes said: "Paying a small proportion of your income over a period after you graduate, although difficult to sell, would in my view be a fairer solution to this issue."

Noting that the recent Budget had increased college registration charges from €900 to €1,500, Mr Hayes said: "Whatever happens in the future, this party will never support the reintroduction of fees, I give you my word on that." The increase in registration charges was "a regressive stealth tax that is designed to plug a financial hole that is now emerging in many third-level colleges".

However, Mr Hayes added that the present system could not continue.

"It would be dishonest of me to suggest that the current funding mechanism for higher education in this country is sustainable in the long run.

"More colleges now find themselves in a difficult financial position because funding has not kept pace with the radical increase in numbers, and salary costs now represent a much greater proportion of overall budgets within our universities and institutes."

The income deduction could be ringfenced for higher education, but before a new funding arrangement was put in place, there would have to be fundamental reform of the sector and he hoped to publish a Green Paper on this area.

There should be more rigorous assessment of standards; greater access to third level for students from poorer backgrounds; improved co-operation between colleges; more teaching or student contact hours and greater focus on meeting labour force skill requirements.

"We're not going back to the reintroduction of fees; I have given you an assurance on that. I am equally against a loan system, as I believe that it's overly bureaucratic and would discourage students to participate in higher education as they would be saddled with significant amounts of debt just after leaving college," he said.

He suggested it was not unreasonable "to ask graduates to pay a contribution, deductible at source, for a number of years after they enter the labour force? One way of making a contribution could be through the existing PRSI system, it's one option amongst many.

"Paying a small proportion of your income over a period after you graduate, although difficult to sell, would in my view be a fairer solution to this issue. There are many ways you could do this.

"Whatever system you put in place needs to be clear, straightforward and above all else encourages students to go to and stay in college. We don't need new agencies to administer this. Making a contribution at source means that a new fund could be ringfenced for the sole use of higher education," Mr Hayes said.