MINISTER for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, has announced that no new thirdlevel education fees will be charged to students until September 2010. The charges that the Minister intends to bring in will apply only to students who enter into third-level education at that time and will not affect those who are already studying at a university or institute of technology.
Officials are currently fi nishing their proposal which will explore a broad range of options, including fees, loans and graduate taxes and will be presented to the Government before the 7th April budget. It is not yet decided what threshold above which families become liable for the payment of third-level fees, however Mr O’Keeffe has said that those who can afford to pay for their education will be asked to do so.
Criticising the speed at which Mr O’Keeffe is progressing with a proposal on third-level fees, Students’ Union (SU) President, Aodhán Ó Deá commented that he hopes the Minister will not “come out and rush the decision”.
Mr Ó Deá stressed that if third-level fees are not to be introduced until the 2010/11 academic year, then Mr O’Keeffe should put his proposal before the Education Strategy Group instead of making a fi nalised decision on the implementation of third-level fees in the coming weeks.
Mr Ó Deá described the decision not to charge current students third-level fees as a “clever move”, explaining that since students who are currently in third-level education will not be affected by the charges, a “lot of people won’t have the same motivation to go out and protest”.
However he is hopeful that many students will “see that they got the benefit of publically-funded education and why it is so good, and hopefully they’ll still join in with the SU [protests]”.
The Minister is expected to push for a system which will integrate both thirdlevel fees and graduate loans which will be linked to income and aims to use a proportion of the fi nance generated from thirdlevel charges to fund access programmes to third-level education.
Writing exclusively for The University Observer last month, Mr O’Keeffe explained that; “There are strong equity arguments, at a time of diffi cult choices for the public purse, that those who benefi t from higher education and who can afford to contribute to the costs of their higher education should be asked to do so. This is a well-established principle internationally and an important element of resourcing arrangements for the best higher education systems around the world”.