Third level fees debate 'a distraction'


The debate over whether to reintroduce third level fees is "a calculated distraction" which is meant to draw attention away from the severe impact expenditure cuts will have on undergraduate students, it was claimed today.

The chair of Institutes of Technology Ireland (IOTI) and president of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), Marion Coy, said that expenditure cuts directed by the Government and imposed by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), may have a detrimental effect on disadvantaged students in particular.

The debate over university fees was initiated after Minister for Education Batt O'Keefe told The Irish Timeson Monday that the return of third-level fees was back on the agenda. However, he stressed that charges would only be imposed on families whose incomes were well above the national average.

Last month, Mr O'Keeffe angered university presidents when he said he would be looking for cuts of at least 3 per cent cut in payroll costs from third-level institutions and the vocational education system.

University presidents are considering a range of options in response to the cuts - including the withdrawal of some third-level courses.

Speaking this afternoon, Ms Coy said capacity for further efficiencies was severely limited.

"The Institutes want to respond strongly to the increase this year in CAO applicants. The real short and medium term issue for Institutes of Technology is providing quality courses for these students. Cuts will have a negative impact on the range and number of programmes available," said Ms Coy.

The Institutes are particularly concerned that cuts will have a disproportionate impact on undergraduate students, and in particular disadvantaged students, the group which must be educated to the highest standards to drive change in our rapidly evolving open economy. Cuts will also make it inevitable that the government's own targets set out in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education cannot be met."

"IOTI is also dismayed that while the student services fee is being increased this year from €825 to €900, 75 per cent of the increased revenue is being clawed back by the Department. This is a particularly negative development since this fee income is used exclusively for student services such as counselling and health which will now be curtailed," she added.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has said that the threat of third level fees looms over Leaving Certificate students.

"Most of those who got their results today will now be awaiting CAO offers with some anxiety. Unfortunately this year the concerns of students and their families will be increased by the government's threat to reintroduce third level fees," said the party's education spokesman Ruairí Quinn.

"I hope that nobody will be deterred from entering third level, by Minister O'Keeffe's proposal and the best contribution he could make to ensuring that these students fulfill their full educational potential is to drop this crazy plan," he added.

Separately, a protest was held in Dublin today over the proposed re-introduction of university fees.

A new representative body, the National Youth Organisation (NYO), is behind the protest, which its chairman, Aidan McGrath, claims is "the first ever youth protest in Irish history", given the involvement of young people under the age of 18.