Third-level fees for wealthy would raise €500m, O'Keeffe report claims


THE RETURN of third-level fees appears more likely after a study commissioned by Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe said the move would generate more than €500 million a year.

The Labour Party, however, said the figure grossly exaggerates the take from fees and flatly contradicts estimates prepared for former education minister Noel Dempsey.

Dr Noel Woods, an economist at University College Cork found that a family income threshold of €120,000 for fees would generate €530 million in revenue. An income threshold of €160,000 per household would generate €220 million a year while an income threshold of €140,000 would raise €290 million.

Dr Woods based his figures on CSO figures calculating the numbers of households in the various income brackets, and the numbers within each group at third level.

Mr O'Keeffe has signalled that fees would only be considered for those who can afford to pay. He has indicated only those earning €100,000 or more would be liable for fees.

The Department of Education is refusing to make any comment on the Woods study. But his findings will bolster the case being put by Mr O'Keeffe for the return of fees.

In an interview in today's Irish Timesthe Minister says those who can afford to pay fees should be asked to make a contribution. Mr O'Keeffe wants fees to generate badly-needed income for colleges. But he also stresses how additional income will give him the resources to widen access and boost support for disadvantaged students.

The Minister is the first to put fees back on the agenda since the Dempsey initiative five years ago, which would have seen fees introduced for all households earning more than €100,000 but was scuppered by opposition from the PDs and Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

Mr O'Keeffe is likely to bring proposals to Cabinet on fees early next year. He also commissioned a report on the Australian student-loan model, where students repay the cost of their education when they get jobs. He has also asked a tax expert to examine how the self-employed and farmers could be charged college fees.

Labour's education spokesman Ruairí Quinn questioned the accuracy of figures in the Woods report. He said the €530 million it quoted is "more than 35 times the amount that Noel Dempsey estimated would be brought in from the reintroduction of fees. It is significant that the analysis itself has not been published, nor is it clear what methodology was used to achieve this figure."

He said the €530 million figure should be treated with great caution as it was clear the universities and the Department of Education were co-operating in a campaign to prepare public opinion for the reintroduction of third-level fees.

"The Labour Party remains resolutely opposed to the re-introduction of third-level fees and committed to the principle of free education at all levels. Even if fees were initially only applied to those earning €100,000 or more, it would be only a matter of time before threshold levels were dropped and the vast majority of families would again be facing fees."