Third-level fees cannot be ruled out, says Quinn


MINISTER for Education Ruairí Quinn has again refused to rule out the return of college fees as he acknowledged the funding crisis in the higher education sector.

The Minister told yesterday’s meeting of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) the funding crisis in higher education will “not go away” for many years to come.

Asked if new charges were planned he said: “I honestly can’t say. We are looking for efficiencies in the system at third level.

“I am not ruling anything in or out until we get into the detailed negotiations with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure . . . I have said to Brendan Howlin that I will deliver.”

At present, the €9 billion education budget accounts for 16 per cent of Government spending.

Mr Quinn said he was examining new, “more creative ways” of reducing spending.

He also hinted that possible cuts in the capital budget for higher education may help to alleviate the funding crisis.

The Government’s approach to fees is likely to be shaped by a forthcoming report on third-level funding. Mr Quinn has asked the the authority to examine the funding crisis ahead of expected Cabinet discussions in the autumn on possible new charges.

The authority’s report is expected to conclude that the current funding model is unsustainable. Earlier this year, the Hunt report said annual funding for higher education must increase by €500 million a year, from €1.3 billion to €1.8 billion by 2020 if academic quality and the full range of student services were to be maintained.

Mr Quinn, has also conceded it is “hard to see” how higher education can meet the targets set for it by Government without new revenue streams.

From September, students face a €2,000 registration fee – up from €1,500 last year. During the election campaign, Mr Quinn made a commitment to reverse the increase in the fee but he has rowed back on this.

Authority chairman John Hennessy said he hoped the forthcoming funding or sustainability study will “form a sound basis for the policy decisions that need to be made in this complex but vital area”.

He was speaking at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the legislation establishing the the authority.

He also pointed out how close to 70 per cent of current school leavers proceed to higher education compared with just 10 per cent in the 1960s. On graduate standards, Mr Hennessy said Ireland continued to enjoy an enviable reputation for the quality of our graduates and the system that nurtures them. “But there are, increasingly, dissonant voices in the chorus of approval. And we ignore them at our gravest peril, economic and social.”


SeptemberStudent contribution charges (formerly the student registration charge ) to increase from €1,500 to €2,000

Late SeptemberHigher Education Authority to publish interim report on funding needs of third level; expected to say current funding model is unsustainable. Will put loans/fees back on political agenda.

October/NovemberDepartment of Education to identify possible cuts in €1.3 billion higher education budget. Possible Cabinet discussions on student charges. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to decide on new fees and/or student loans ahead of the December budget.

DecemberAuthority to publish detailed final report on funding.