O'Keeffe remains in favour of third-level college fees

 

MINISTER FOR Education Batt O’Keeffe said yesterday he remained in favour of third-level college fees and they could be introduced in the future.

A decision not to proceed with the fees was taken in the talks between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party last week on a renewed Programme for Government.

Speaking in Cork yesterday, Mr O’Keeffe said the Government planned to “park” college fees for the immediate future, but he declined to rule out their reintroduction at a later stage.

He said he still held the view that students should pay towards their tuition.

In light of the revised Programme for Government, the Minister said other ways of funding including more donations from the private sector would now be needed to keep the third-level system running .

“There is no point in my saying that I am not in favour of third- level contributions. I am. And I think it will be necessary. What this Government has said is that in the middle of one of the worst recessions since 1929 we are going to park increases because of the impact they might have on families at this point in time.

“This is something that I could understand the views on both sides of Government, that I can understand that this is something that we could readily park given that it was going to have no immediate impact on funding,” he said.

Mr O’Keeffe said he had been consulted in relation to the talks over the revised Programme for Government and denied media suggestions that he had been undermined.

Separately yesterday, education sources said an increase in the €1,500 college registration fee appeared unlikely because of a possible legal challenge.

With the new Programme for Government ruling out fees, there has been increased speculation that the registration charge will increase. But education sources say any such move could be challenged as it undermined “free fees” legislation.

At present, colleges receive more than €400 million from the exchequer in lieu of fees, which were abolished in 1995. The registration charge, which was increased from €900 to €1,500 in most colleges this year, is supposed to be ring-fenced for student services. Education sources say any attempt to increase the charge to support more general costs could face a legal challenge.

Registration fees are decided annually by third-level institutions in consultation with the Higher Education Authority and the department when a range of issues are being discussed in relation to these institutions’ budgets.

Mr O’Keeffe said last night that the budget increase from €900 to €1,500 brought the amount contributed by students more into line with the actual cost of providing services to them.

“It should be noted that the registration fee is charged in respect of certain services to students and it’s not a student contribution fee more generally towards the full range of costs in a higher education institution,” he said.

“In the past, the charge did not represent the total allocation made towards student services from all institutions’ budgets. In effect, the institutions had been using the core grant to subsidise the provision of these services.”

Labour TD Ruairí Quinn called on the Minister to clarify that the Programme for Government rules out any form of third-level fees, including a hike in the registration fees, over the lifetime of this Government. He said registration charges were just fees by another name.

Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes accused the Minister of being either “clueless or misleading ’’ on registration charges.

“The Minister stated that the Government cannot increase the €1,500 registration fee, which is completely untrue.

“This statement comes on the heels of two other Cabinet colleagues, namely Ministers Gormley and Ryan, who yesterday refused to rule out further hikes in the student registration fee.”

Student registration charges

Who sets them?

Registration fees are decided annually by third-level institutions in consultation with the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education of Science.

What are they for?

The charge is levied by third-level institutions to defray the costs of exams, registration and student services.

It is not intended as a fee to pay for more general student costs as there is “free fees” legislation in place since the abolition of fees in 1995.

How much is charged?

Last October’s budget allowed for an increase in the student registration charge from €900 to €1,500 for the 2009/2010 academic year.

Will they go up ?

Colleges would welcome more funding and the Government would also like to raise the charge. But there is concern about possible legal challenges.