otherwise.YES: Colm O’GradaThere are very few things in life that are truly free, and education is certainly not one of them. Misleading and downright false concepts such as ‘free fees’ have helped to generate a culture wherein education, up to and often beyond third level, is seen as a basic right for all. This veil of entitlement has blinded many to the failures of the system and the focus has shifted from what we look for in the output of our education system to what we must have in the input.Our public education system has provided a great deal of valuable service to Irish society over many decades and is undoubtedly a contributory factor in the successes of so many Irish men and women throughout the world. The value of strong fundamental education is unquestionable. In a context of economic challenges and spending cutbacks, the security of free primary and secondary education should be prioritised to ensure strong foundations in learning are provided to all Irish children.Unfortunately, with a shrinking education budget, realities have to be faced. Third level education is expensive; do not let poorly sloganised t-shirts and naïve, misguided protests have you believe otherwise. Every academics’ salary, every chemical used in a lab, every exam paper printed and every unit of energy used to light and heat a building are paid for by someone; the taxpayer. Add to this the cost of constructing new buildings, providing services for students and maintaining the grounds of a university and the combined cost of third level education is far from free.The priority of third level education must be to generate the best quality graduates that we can; graduates that are competitive on a global scale and degrees that are more than just a piece of paper. This education is not cheap, and with cutbacks in government education spending, alternate sources of funding must be sought to ensure future graduates attain the same quality of education that we have come to expect from our best third level institutions.Time and again, it has been demonstrated that the introduction of so-called ‘free fees’ has done little to increase the proportion of those from lower income families continuing into third level education. The barriers to third level education for many low-income families are more than just financial; cultural and societal factors play a greater role in preventing traditionally working class students from attending university. The biggest winners in the ‘free fees’ game has been middle class families, who with a tradition of attending third level education, are now relieved of the burden of paying for their children’s education.By re-introducing fees for the majority of students, we solve several longstanding issues with our third level education system. An increase in funding will undoubtedly benefit students and enhance the quality of their education. More money in the pot means that those who are truly incapable of paying for third level education have greater access to grants and services to help them fund their studies. The investment required in funding a degree would represent an important thought process that should help students and their families consider more carefully whether a particular degree is suitable for them.We focus too much on the total proportion of Irish youths that are in third level education and not enough on the quality of the degrees they receive; university is not for everyone and education is not a replacement for employment. By focusing on quantity rather than quality, we have spited ourselves with a resultant education system that caters to the lowest common denominator. Fees may just be a small part of this problem, but they represent an important part that cannot be ignored.Rebuttal: Cormac DuffyTo say that the issue is that universities emphasise quality over quantity is a dubious assertion at best. When the pro-fees argument emphasises the notion that all money taken in is to improve educational standards, the main assumption that underlies this is that there are too many people in our education system. It’s ridiculous to say that we need graduates that are competitive on an international scale while not being bothered that we put ourselves in a situation where the only ones attaining this quality education are those who can afford it.It’s especially ridiculous to claim this will help those lacking the means to achieve this. That the middle class has always had a culture of third level education and can easily afford fees is simple falsehood. Across the majority of the middle class, the introduction of free fees was the first time a family member attended college. And in recessionary times, families who benefited from the Celtic Tiger are back to living from paycheque to paycheque, not least due to the fact that they are paying higher taxes and ‘social charges’. To add another flat tax in the form of university fees would stretch them to breaking point. Education benefits not just the individual but the nation as a whole and should be paid by the nation through progessive taxing, as with other education.