O'Keeffe seeks to ease fears on third level fees

 

MINISTER FOR Education Batt O’Keeffe has moved to ease middle class concerns about his plans for third level fees.

He said his forthcoming proposals will not have a “dramatic effect’’ on the overall standard of living among ordinary families.

The Minister’s proposals on the fees have been delayed on several occasions; they are now unlikely to be published until after the European and local elections and the two byelections on June 5th.

Yesterday, Mr O’Keeffe said he had no intention of targeting middle-income families in his proposals. He said his fee package was being revised in light of the supplementary budget and the extra burden this placed on families.

He had been due to circulate a discussion paper on the issue to Cabinet colleagues next week, but this has been delayed due to a series of clarifications on legal issues which he is seeking.

Yesterday, he told The Irish Times: “People say it is being strung out. I understand and appreciate that criticism. But we have to take stock of the supplementary Budget and the financial impact it is having on families. I have to stand back from it . . . and ensure that I don’t impose additional burdens on families who are already finding things difficult.”

The Minister said he was anxious to get some feedback from Cabinet colleagues – including four former ministers for education – to his outline proposals.

“I will put all the options to the Cabinet, get their observations and come back with a recommendation,” he said, stressing that any move on a third level contribution would be a matter for the Cabinet as this issue did not form part of the programme for government.

He expressed confidence that his proposals will generate badly needed fresh funding for higher education.

Mr O’Keeffe also said he was disappointed at the continuing failure of university presidents and other highly-paid academics to take a significant voluntary pay cut.

Last week, UCC president Dr Michael Murphy accepted a 2 per cent cut in his €275,000 salary. But about 50 other academics – earning over €200,000 a year – have refused any pay cut.

The Minister pointed out that secretaries general and high-ranking civil servants had taken a pay cut of almost 20 per cent.

“I would have expected that people on similar salaries would do exactly the same,” he said.