With the General Election less than two weeks away, and with all of the political parties having published their manifestos, The University Observer has broken down what all of them say about higher education.
After nearly a decade of Fine Gael led governments, the funding crisis in Ireland’s 3rd level education has only worsened. The 2020 election has been focussed on the issues of housing and health, but it is important to examine what else the main parties are promising on other issues. Although government funding of Higher Education may seem abstract, for current and future students it can massively improve the quality of education they receive, as well as determine their quality of life in university.
The bar for adequate funding of universities has been established; in 2016 the Cassell’s report was published, and it outlined what needed to be done to ensure that Ireland’s third level sector is funded adequately. It highlighted the underfunding issues that have been the norm since the recession.
The Cassell’s report found that the third level sector required an additional €600m per year, which would need to be raised to an additional €1b per year by 2030. There are three possible funding models; 1) Abolish student contribution charge and create a fully state funded model, 2) Retain the contribution charge and increase state funding, or 3) Introduce a student loan scheme, which would be dependent on income. Despite the report being published in 2016, so far nothing has been done about it.
With these figures in mind, let’s examine what the parties are promising in their 2020 manifestos.
The Fine Gael manifesto makes no mention of the Cassell’s report. They have made the following commitments;
- No increase in registration fees
- Continue the increase in public funding (this is in reference to the additional €74m allocated for higher education in the 2020 budget) - they do not give an exact figure for how much they will increase the funding by
- Make an additional €300m available by the second half of the Project Ireland 2040
In a nutshell: While they do promise extra funding, it is not enough according to the Cassell’s report. They make vague promises to increase the funding, but many will question their seriousness given that they have presided over the funding crisis for almost a decade.
Unlike Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil do mention the Cassell’s Report. However, they have only pledged an additional €100m per year in higher education funding. They have pledged the following;
- A freeze on student fees
- A full restoration of postgrad grants, at a cost of €44m
- Increase the undergraduate maintenance grant by 20% at a cost of €34m
- Increase Student Assistance Fund by €4.9m
- Enhance gender balance for senior academics
In a nutshell: Fianna Fáil offer more concrete proposals on higher education than Fine Gael, however their promises fall far short of the funding that is required.
The Sinn Féin manifesto is more radical than the other two largest parties. The mention that there has been a funding crisis, but make no mention of the Cassell’s report or give any concrete figures with relation to additional funding. They also promise:
- Abolish third level student fees at a cost of €243m
- Increase student maintenance grant by 10%
In a nutshell: The abolition of student fees would be welcomed by many, but this may raise problems when it comes to international students applying, and whether this would require some sort of quota.
The Green Party manifesto says almost nothing about higher education, aside from a sentence that pledges that they will fund higher education. They give no figures and make no concrete pledges.
People Before Profit
People Before Profit are in a position of knowing that they will not be in power after the election, and as such they can promise what they want in their manifesto. They promise to;
- Abolish all fees
- Restore maintenance grants
- Restore funding to pre-crash levels
- End university’s over-reliance on philanthropic donations
- Ensure living wages and job security for college workers
- Provide state funded student accommodation
In a nutshell: This is easily the most radical of the manifestos. They talk about job security in the 3rd level sector, which isn’t mentioned in other manifestos.
Labour’s manifesto does not go into much detail when it comes to the facts and figures, but they do mention the following;
- Develop an implementation strategy to increase university funding
- Investigate drawing on the National Training Fund to fund Higher Education
In a nutshell: Labour’s plans are very vague, and they mention nothing in the way of figures.